Planning Your Catholic Wedding
Choosing Catholic wedding vows
The Catholic wedding vows are the heart—the essential element—of the sacrament of marriage. Through these simple words, the couple exchange their consent to be married; that is, they choose to give themselves to the other, and to accept the gift of the other. The marriage can’t happen without this declaration of consent (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1625 - 1631).
Transitions in the Ritual
The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is currently transitioning to a new edition of the ritual texts used in celebrating Catholic weddings. The “Order of Celebrating Matrimony” will become mandatory across the country starting December 30, 2016. Catholic Wedding Help is in the process of reviewing the newly released edition and updating the related sections of the site to reflect the changes in the Order of Celebrating Matrimony.
Note, the new edition retains the three basics forms for the ceremony (celebrating within Mass, celebrating without Mass, and celebrating between a Catholic and an unbaptized person) with a few changes in order or options for texts or customs. Dioceses may begin using the “Order of Celebrating Matrimony” on September 8, 2016, though the “Rite of Christian Marriage” detailed in this site is still a valid option through December 30 unless a local bishop chooses otherwise. Please talk with your local pastor for guidance on this matter.
Because consent is essential to the marriage, the Church provides the words by which the parties consent to the marriage. This means that you won't be able to write your own Catholic wedding vows, but there are other ways to make a personal expression of love. To find out more, read Can we write our own wedding vows?
The Order of Celebrating Matrimony does provide different options for the words of consent or "vows" as well as how they are said (#96-97), for example, you can memorize the words, or simply respond to questions from the priest or deacon assisting at your marriage. The options are reviewed below.
The vows occur near the beginning of The Celebration of Matrimony, after a short address by the presider. (To view the complete text of the vows in context, see The Order of Celebrating Matrimony.)
No matter which form you choose, the vows are preceded by the Questions before Consent. The presider will ask you three questions:
"(Name) and (name), have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?"
"Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?"
"Are you prepared, to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?"
The bride and groom each respond "I have" or "I am" (Order of Celebrating Matrimony #60). Your formal marriage preparation program should explore the significance of these questions, so that your responses will be both honest and meaningful.
In the United States, couples can choose from two different versions of the Catholic wedding vows (The Order of Celebrating Matrimony #62). The standard version goes like this:
Priest (or deacon): Since it is your intention to enter the convenant of Holy Matrimony, join your right hands and declare your consent before God and his Church.
Groom: I, (name), take you, (name), to be my wife. I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.
Bride: I, (name), take you, (name), to be my husband. I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.
The alternative version is:
Groom: I, (name), take you, (name), for my lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
Bride: I, (name), take you, (name), for my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
Once you've chosen the form of the vows, you'll want to decide whether to memorize the words of consent (vows). There are two advantages to memorizing the vows. First, speaking the vows provides a fuller, richer symbol of your consent to be married. And second, the act of memorizing the words of consent in the months and weeks leading up to the wedding is also a good spiritual practice that will help you to focus on the deeper meaning of your marriage.
If you're worried about forgetting the words, or being too emotional to say them clearly, know the priest or deacon presiding at your wedding will be there to help you if needed. The Order for Celebrating Matrimony #63 also provides the option to give your consent by affirming the vows in the form of a question:
Priest: (Name), do you take (name) to be your wife? Do you promise to be faithful to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and to honor her all the days of your life?
Groom: I do.
Priest: (Name), do you take (name) to be your husband? Do you promise to be faithful to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and to honor him all the days of your life?
Bride: I do.
Or using the alternative version:
Priest: (Name), do you take (name) for your lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?
Groom: I do.
Priest: (Name), do you take (name) for your lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?
Bride: I do.
The priest acknowledges that the bride and groom have declared their consent to be married, prays for God's blessing on the couple, and declares, "What God has joined, let no one put asunder" (Order of Celebrating Matrimony #64). This is the point at which, sacramentally, the bride and groom become wife and husband.
After the priest receives the consent of the couple he invites those present to praise God in a spoken or sung response such as "Thanks be to God" (Order of Celebrating Matrimony #65) .
Sometimes couples choose to insert a song, soloist, or instrumental piece after the vows. There is a certain logic to emphasizing the declaration of consent in this way: it's the high point of the wedding ceremony, after all.
However, many liturgical experts strongly advise against inserting a long song or instrumental piece after the vows, because it interrupts the flow and momentum of the Celebration of Matrimony and the whole liturgy. Solo and instrumental pieces in particular leave the assembly on the sidelines, and the wedding party awkwardly standing around waiting for the music to finish.
Instead, consider using a short, joyful musical acclamation after the exchange of consent and again after the exchange of rings. If you regularly attend Catholic Mass, you've heard this type of sung acclamation before in the Alleluia, the Memorial Acclamation, the Great Amen, and the responsorial psalm. A cantor (song leader) sings the words of the acclamation first, then invites the whole assembly to sing the acclamation. Generally, the acclamation lasts less than 30 seconds. Your parish music minister or wedding coordinator can help you choose an appropriate acclamation.