When witnessing a wedding ceremony, we have all heard the familiar lines and verses, from "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today" to "'Til death do you part" countless times over, probably without giving much thought to their origins and relevance.
When planning your own ceremony, the exchange of vows is the single most important consideration, and one that should be a knowledgeable decision. Traditional wedding vows have many variations that are used in non-denominational marriage ceremonies. Showing portions of your vows in your wedding program is also a great way to reinforce the importance of marriage for your guests.
The most basic non-denominational traditional marriage vows are the Question of Intention and the Standard Civil Ceremony. The Question of Intention, adapted from the traditional Medieval Christian ceremony, commences with the officiant performing the ceremony asking the couple to join hands before asking each, groom first, the following:
"[Name], do you take [Name] to be your wedded [husband/wife] to live together in marriage. Do you promise to love, comfort, honor and keep [him/her] For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And forsaking all others, be faithful only to [him/her] so long as you both shall live?"
Which is answered by "I do" . The official then pronounces them man and wife by the power vested in him or her.
The Standard Civil Ceremony is very similar except that the bride and groom make similar statements for themselves rather than answering questions, as follows:
"[Name], I take you to be my lawfully wedded [husband/wife]. Before these witnesses I vow to love you and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you, with all of your faults and strengths, as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life."
Other commonly used traditional ceremonies are centered on the exchange of rings. There is an official Blessing and Exchange of Rings within the Christian tradition which celebrates the wedding ring as the outward expression of an inner spiritual bond. This is the source of the phrase, "With this ring, I thee wed." The rings are a symbol of an unbroken circle of love, freely given and received equally and with no beginning or end. They serve as a lifelong symbol and reminder of the wedding vows taken and the promises therein.
Any discussion of traditional marriage vows would not be complete without mention of the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This service has remained virtually unchanged since 1662 and is the source of the phrase,
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy matrimony."
Out of all of the examples of traditional wedding vows given here, aspects of each are often borrowed and combined, either by the betrothed or by the officiant, to create a service appropriate to the occasion. No matter what subtle differences there are in the wording of the ceremony, the spirit is the same. All of these words are steeped in rich traditions of the sacred message of a lasting bond.