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 Rite of Marriage does provide several different options for the words of consent (#25); for example, you can memorize the words, or simply respond to questions from the priest or deacon assisting at your marriage. The different options are reviewed below.
The vows occur near the beginning of the Rite of Marriage, after a short address by the presider. (To view the complete text of the vows in context, see the Text of the Rite of Marriage.)
No matter which form you choose, the vows are preceded by the Statement of Intentions. The presider will ask you three questions:
"(Name) and (name), have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves 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 bride and groom respond "I will" or "yes" (Rite of Marriage #34). 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 standard version goes like this:
Priest (or deacon): Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, 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 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.
Bride: I, (name), take you, (name), to be my 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.
In dioceses of the United States, the vows may also take the following form:
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, many priests and deacons will have you repeat the words of consent after them, phrase by phrase. The Rite of Marriage doesn't actually suggest this, though; instead, it offers this simple alternative:
Priest: (Name), do you take (name) to be your wife? Do you promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and 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 true to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and honor him all the days of your life?
Bride: I do.
Again, the Rite provides a second option for dioceses in the United States:
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 couple have declared their consent to be married, prays for God's blessing on the couple, and declares, "What God has joined, men must not divide" (Rite of Marriage #26). This is the point at which, sacramentally, the bride and groom become wife and husband.
Many 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 Rite of Marriage, 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.