One little rule for your wedding ceremony

I don’t have a lot of rules about wedding ceremonies. I don’t tell couples what they should believe or what their ceremony should include. I’m fond of saying my one rule is ‘no candles outdoors,’ but in reality I do have another rule, and I’ll get it in a minute. But first I want to talk about what a wedding ceremony is supposed to include. Are there rules, written and unwritten, about what must be said in a marriage ceremony?

Reading her vows. (Photo: Garth Woods)

Collective wisdom tells us there are a several elements that really should be in the ceremony, however these are not legally required in most places. They are as follows…

The officiant should state the names of the couple. Seems obvious, right?

The monitum, also known as the ‘statement of intention’, or as I like to call it, ‘the asking,’ is the part where the officiant asks the couple if they want to go forward and they reply with the ‘I do’ (or something in the affirmative). It’s considered a legal warning, but again, there is no specific part in the law here in Pennsylvania that actually requires it.  Still, it’s a good thing to include.

There is the declaration of marriage, or pronouncement, such as I now pronounce you husband and wife, or I now declare you to be married. I consider this essential.

Signing the marriage license is perhaps the most important part in making a marriage legal, and no officiant should ever be pronouncing a couple married if there is no license.

Written, not memorized.

None of these elements (except the license) are required in Pennsylvania, but that varies from state to state and country to country. I do like to include all of them. I feel each has a very meaningful place in a wedding ceremony. But when it comes to one other element, the vows, things can get tricky.

People often confuse the vow and the monitum. They are not the same thing. The vow is your promise – each partner promising, out loud, to be a best friend, companion, faithful partner, etc. More traditionally people say ‘until death do us part’, but I like the word ‘forevermore’ a little better. There are endless variations on vows and they don’t have to take that tradition form at all, but a promise should be said.

So, a vow is not the ‘I do’ – however I have had a few couples request that we they only say the ‘I do.’ I try to encourage them to exchange vows, explaining the difference and the importance of making their promise to one another, but I haven’t always been able to do that. And since there is no legal requirement they do that, I don’t push too hard.

Signing the license! (photo: Garth Woods)

A few times couples sent me their idea of vows, that turned out to be in the form of the statement of intent, and I was able to rearrange them into both the asking and a vow exchange in a way that made them happy.

Ok, so here it is, my one little rule on this topic: NO MEMORIZING VOWS! You can state your vow in the repeat after me method, or read them to one another. Trying to memorize your vows at such an emotionally charged time in your life is just too difficult. But if you are set on doing it – please have a written copy at the ready!

Reading her vow. (Photo: Garth Woods)

I once had a groom who was an actor and was absolutely certain he could memorize his vows. When we came to that moment in the ceremony I saw a look of panic on his face, and I smoothly pulled out his printed vows and handed them to him. A look of relief flooded his face and since then I always remind people of my little rule: do not assume you can memorize your vows. It’s just too much pressure, and you don’t need that.



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