Marriage vows have been around for ages—possibly even thousands of years, even before the concept of Christian marriage vows came into the picture.
The modern concept of Christian marriage vows has its roots in a 17th century publication commissioned by James I, titled the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This book was intended to provide people with guidelines regarding life and religion—in addition to information about religion, it included guidelines for ceremonies such as funerals, baptisms, and of course, weddings. The Solemnization of Matrimony found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has now ingrained in modern English weddings—phrases such as ‘dearly beloved, we are gathered here today,’ and vows related to staying together until death parts come from this book.
How Catholic Vows Differ
Most Christians associate marriage vows with phrases that originally came from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, as well as a few Bible verses related to marriage that people commonly include in their wedding vows. However, the Bible itself does not really talk about marriage vows; this differs greatly from Catholic writings, however, as the Catholic religion has some fairly extensive guidelines regarding marriage vows and marriage ceremonies, which are expected to be upheld in a Catholic wedding.
To the Catholic Church, marriage vows are not just important to a couple–they are essential for the marriage; without them, the marriage is not considered valid. The exchange of marriage vows is actually called giving ‘consent’ by the Catholic Church; in other words, the couple is consenting to give themselves to each other through their vows.
Catholic Marriage Vows
The Catholic Rite of Marriage has guidelines for marriage vows that couples are expected to uphold, although they have several options for their vows. Before the vows can take place, the couple is expected to answer three questions: “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourself to each other in marriage?”; “Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”; “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”
The standard version of Catholic marriage vows, as given in the Rite of Marriage, is as follows:
I, (name), take you, (name), to be my (wife/husband). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
There are some acceptable variations of this vow. In some cases, couples may be worried about forgetting the words, which is common during such high stress moments; in this case, it is acceptable for the priest to phrase the vow as a question, which is then answered with “I do” by each party.
In the United States, Catholic vows may have a few slight variations—many American Catholic churches include the phrase “for richer or poorer” and “until death do us part” in addition to the standard phrasing.