The Book of Common Prayer was first published in England in 1549 during the reign of Edward IV, and “Since its introduction in the mid-1500’s it has exerted enormous influence on the religious and literary lives of all who speak the English language.” If you read “The Forme of Solemnizacion of Matrimonie,” you will recognize vows still made today in weddings even when neither bride nor groom are aware of their heritage.
The word solemnization and the warning, “…not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God,” underscore the importance of marriage and the seriousness of the vows that are made. And the very word vow does not mean merely a promise—but a solemn promise.
After the tumult of last week I wanted to reestablish the seriousness and wonder of marriage before moving back into the essentials of today’s assault on it, and so here is the marriage ceremony from the U. S. Book of Common Prayer of 1789, published after the American Revolution, with a few minor variations from the 1892 book.
THE FORM OF
SOLEMNIZATION of MATRIMONY.
The laws respecting Matrimony, whether by publishing the Banns in churches, or by License, being different in the several States, every Minister is left to the direction of those laws, in every thing that regards the civil contract between the parties.
And when the Banns are published, it shall be in the following form: I publish the Banns of Marriage between M. of —-, and N. of —-. If any of you know cause or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second or third] time of asking.
At the day and time appointed for Solemnization of Matrimony, the Persons to be married shall come into the body of the Church, or shall be ready in some proper house, with their friends and neighbours; and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left, the Minister shall say,
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered toge- ther here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church: which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his pres- ence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee, and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. If any man can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.
And also speaking unto the Persons who are to be married, he shall say,
I REQUIRE and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that if any persons are joined together otherwise than as God’s Word doth allow, their marriage is not lawful.
The Minister, if he shall have reason to doubt of the lawfulness of the proposed Marriage, may demand sufficient surety for his indemnification: but if no impediment shall be alleged, or suspected, the Minister shall say to the Man,
M. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?
The Man shall answer,
Then shall the Minister say unto the Woman,
N. WILT thou have this Man to thy wedded husband, to live together after Gods ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?
The Woman shall answer,
Then shall the Minister say,
Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?
Then shall they give their troth to each other in this manner. The Minister, receiving the Woman at her father’s or friend’s hands, shall cause the Man with his right hand to take the Woman by her right hand, and to say after him as followeth.
I M. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.
Then shall they loose their hands; and the Woman with her right hand taking the Man by his right hand, shall likewise say after the Minister:
I N. take thee M. to my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.
Then shall they again loose their hands and the Man shall give unto the Woman a Ring. And the Minister taking the Ring shall deliver it unto the Man, to put it upon the fourth finger of the Woman’s left hand. And the Man holding the Ring there, and taught by the Minister, shall say,
WITH this Ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Then the Man, leaving the Ring upon the fourth finger of the Woman’s left hand, the Minister shall say,
Let us pray
OUR Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. Amen.
ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then shall the Minister join their right hands together, and say,
Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
Then shall the Minister speak unto the company:
FORASMUCH as M. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving a Ring, and by joining hands; I pronounce that they are Man and Wife, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
And the Minister shall add this Blessing:
GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you, and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.
Wedding Ring, Jason Hutchens: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
“vow.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 04 Apr. 2013. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vow>.
Here is a 4-page PDF with a facsimile of the marriage ceremony in the U. S. Book of Common Prayer of 1789.