I do, do you? Three essential elements of a wedding ceremony.

It is commonly accepted practice (although it is not the law) that there are three elements a wedding ceremony should contain: The asking, the vows, and the pronouncement. Signing the marriage license another piece of the puzzle, of course, and truly the only legallyrequired part, at least in Pennsylvania, where I practice. Personally, I would never sign a license without including the three elements I just outlined.

Some people are confused about the difference between when the officiant asks the question that elicits the response: ‘I do’, and when the couple exchanges their vows. These are separate elements.

I want to illuminate each one. We’ll start with asking the question. This is sometimes called the monitum. In Latin that means ‘warning’ and it speaks to the voluntary aspect of the wedding – that the couple are coming freely to join together. I prefer to call it ‘The Asking,’ because it just seems so much more straight forward. Why make things more complicated than they need to be?

Photo: Lisa Rhinehart Photography (gorgeous as always)

This ‘I do’ part, the asking, is traditionally put this way: do you ‘take’ this man (or woman) to be your husband (or wife). I don’t care for ‘take,’ I prefer: do you welcomeso-and-so as your wife or husband. There are many interesting ways this can be phrased, and I’ve created fun variations and solemn ones.

I was surprised to hear recently that a person officiating (not a professional I might add) used the old phrase: ‘if anybody here knows why this couple should not be joined in marriage, speak now or forever hold your piece.’ Maybe he drew his knowledge of weddings from movies. This bit comes from medieval times when the church had control over who could or couldn’t marry and they needed to know the status of the couple or if appropriate agreements were made. From there it evolved into being more about the consent and support of the community, and maybe even some outstanding debts. It was also used to ensure that close relatives weren’t marrying one another. Almost no one says this anymore.

Once the couple has agreed, answered in the affirmative, we arrive at the main event: THE VOWS – and the oldest traditional wedding vows can be traced back, once again, to the medieval church.

Vows, too, can be very simple or quite complex. I find myself reminding people that they do not have to reinvent this wheel. Sometimes one partner wants to write their own vows and the other is content to choose something. Just remember, the vow is your promise. And it should be spoken out loud, putting it out there in the universe, and more importantly, saying it to your future spouse. Understanding the power of words and saying those words out loud, makes it quite different, and way more powerful, than reading them to yourself or hearing someone else speak.

When working within a religious system that will not allow for much customization of the ceremony, couples who want to put their mark on their nuptials sometimes create long vows often telling their love story. It’s almost the exact opposite with me. Since the entire ceremony created by a Celebrant is customized, it takes a lot of pressure off the vows, allowing them to be sweet, honest, simple and to the point. Because, after all, your promise is not your life story. Leave that to me!

I didn’t list the exchange of rings as a crucial element. Although almost everyone does exchange wedding rings, it’s nice to add little vow for that moment, but I don’t consider it as essential as the other three elements. And that leads us to that final element – the pronouncement.

Again, this can also be creative or simple. I like to get right to the point with words such as ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’, or ‘I now pronounce you married.’ I can add flourishes and fancy language, declaring on this day, and at this place, these two people declared their commitment, blah blah blah, but ultimately the ceremony has to end, and the couple can seal their promise with a kiss. Yes, they kiss. I do believe people kiss each other. You may kiss the brideis another throw-back to when the couple had never most likely never kissed or sometimes even met before the ceremony. And kissing was in the realm of manhood. No, a woman could not initiate a kiss, she was there to be kissed. But many people still find that phrase adorable, and I will certainly use it upon request.

So these three elements, the asking, the vows and the pronouncement can be expressed in many ways, and the language used is important. I just love that. I do. I now pronounce this column done.

Very grateful to the amazing photographer Lisa Rhinehart for the many years now I’ve been using her photos to illustrate my columns. Check her out – she’s amazing!


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