Holy Matrimony is marriage according to God’s Word. As in other liturgies, the service includes readings of Scripture and preaching as necessary and important elements. Sometimes clergy have omitted the sermon on the supposition that everyone wants to get on to the main event. This is a mistake. The Prayer Book treats all occasions as opportunity to preach and teach. This celebration is one of the most important steps the couple will take, and they may keep the sermon text or video of the ceremony and recall it over the years on anniversaries. Weddings are also ideal opportunities to reach nominal Christians or non-believers with the Gospel.
We come now to the climax of the service: the marriage itself, which has two parts: the couple’s vows before God and the congregation, and the church’s affirmation of these vows in response.
The man and woman face each other and alternately take each other’s right hand and say:
In the Name of God, I, N., take you, N., to be my wife [to be my 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 and to cherish, until we are parted by death, according to God’s holy Word. This is my solemn vow.
In our Western church tradition, the consent of bride and groom is the essential feature of Holy Matrimony. There have been earlier moments of consent in the betrothal period, but the marriage vows seal the deal. The familiar phrases are each important:
- “to have and to hold” refers to the right of sexual access and home-making, but beyond that it means a full shared life together;
- “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health…” recalls the fact that marriage is lived out over a lifetime with all its chances and changes;
- “to love and to cherish…” these words recall the various kinds of marital love;
- “until we are parted by death” marks the end-point, when two mortal bodies are separated in this age but in the hope of eternal life with God.
The solemn vow is the public promise, something like swearing an oath in a court of law with hand on the Bible. Only the covenant of marriage is even more sacred than a legal contract, as it joins two lives together.
The affirmation of these vows is threefold:
- The first comes from the church, as the priest or pastor joins their right hands and declares them husband and wife in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
- The second comes from Jesus Himself who said: “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”
- And the third comes from the people present who say Amen.
The exchange of rings, while not required, is an outward and visible sign of this moment. Rings symbolize the precious and permanent character of Holy Matrimony. After fifty years, neither my wife nor I can slip our rings off any more. In any case, I find they are a constant reminder of the vows we took long years ago.
The final action of the marriage rite is the nuptial blessing by the priest or pastor who speaks God’s Amen to the union of husband and wife. This blessing is the name of the Trinity recalls the divine character of marriage as representing the “mystery of Christ and the Church.” Married couples no longer reflect merely the glory of man but the glory of God!
Priest: May the Lord bless your marriage,
All: Bless your marriage.
May he bless you with children,
Bless you with children.
May he give you joy and happiness,
Joy and happiness.
May love and forgiveness be the banner in your marriage,
Forgiveness and love.
May you be actively involved in the life of the Church,
Be actively involved.
May he bless the works of your hands,
The works of your hands.
May he bless your herds and flocks,
Your herds and flocks.
May your fields yield abundantly,
May Christ be the head of your home,
To bless your going out and your coming in.
Wedding Service, Anglican Church of Kenya