My husband and I recently attended a wedding, our first since getting married ourselves back in May. We were invited to celebrate the nuptials of a very devout Catholic couple, and as I sat in our pew, I was struck by the absolute beauty of Catholic wedding vows and the Nuptial Mass. Now don’t get me wrong- nothing will ever compare to that day, five months ago, when I exchanged wedding vows at my own wedding ceremony, but witnessing the nuptials of another couple after having been married yourself is a powerful experience, particularly when it takes place in a Catholic context.
I was particularly moved by the exchange of vows and rings. If you have ever been to a Catholic wedding, you know that the Church does not look well upon those who want to write their own wedding vows. In fact, it’s strictly forbidden. Catholic couples hoping to get married have an option of two forms of the marriage vows, which go like this:
“I, Shannon, take you, Andrew, 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.”
That’s it. We cannot write our vows ourselves. We cannot mention personal promises that we may or may not break in our future marriage (though we hope that we wouldn’t). We cannot promise to always put the toilet seat down, or to always save the best piece of dessert for our partner. What we can do is profess our faith in a love that will last for the rest of our lives. We can promise to be faithful to our spouses, to love them and honor them all the days of our lives. But the modern world would like to tell us that our vows stifle creativity. That we are promising something impossible. That it is much more plausible to make promises about toilet seats and desserts than lifelong fidelity to one another. Because we never know if we will “fall out of love.” We never know if someone better might come along once the love has faded. But we know that we can do something as simple as put the toilet seat down as long as we stay married. Writing your own vows allows them to be a lot more creative, but they also tend to be a lot less confident about the strength of love.
In the end, I would always choose the vows provided by the Church. There is nothing that I could possibly write that could compare to the beauty and intensity of those simple vows. No, they will not make people laugh. They will probably not end up in current movies or TV shows. But they are a lot more powerful than anything produced by the couple themselves. I appreciate the fact that Andrew puts down the toilet seat and that he always gives me the center brownie (I hate edges), but there was no reason to incorporate these facts into his wedding vows. I appreciate those things, but they will not make or break our marriage. I would much rather hear him promise that he will be faithful to me, that he will love me and honor me all the days of his life. That is the most powerful thing that Andrew could have said to me on our wedding day, and that is exactly what he promised me five months ago.
As I watched our friends repeat the same words that Andrew and I spoke back in May, I was immediately drawn back to a different church in a different town, to a different couple in a different wedding dress and tux, to a different Nuptial Mass. I was immediately drawn back to St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Elmwood Park, NJ, where Andrew and I were married five months ago. In my mind, it was Andrew and I standing on the altar, facing one another and holding hands. It was Andrew promising to be faithful to me, me promising to love and honor him. It was Andrew and I exchanging wedding bands and being declared man and wife. The transition from one Nuptial Mass to another was fluid because there was such continuity between the two celebrations. It might have involved different people. It might have been held at a different church in a different town. It might have been the joining of different families. There were multiple differences, and yet we were celebrating the same love, the love of Christ and the love of the Trinity. Every Catholic wedding ceremony celebrates that love, and every Catholic couple is invited to participate in that love through their marriage.
That is why it was so easy for Andrew and I to recall memories from our own Nuptial Mass. The entire Catholic wedding ceremony, and the wedding vows in particular, are a testimony to the love and fidelity that are at the core of every Christian marriage. It is the type of love that is eternal and unchanging. It is the type of love that is offered to all people at all times. Every Catholic couple is given the chance to remind the world of the love of Christ when they exchange their wedding vows. When bride and groom repeat those promises to one another, they profess the love of Christ for the Church. They participate in the love of the divine Bridegroom for His Bride, and we are all reminded that man has been offered the perfect love of God. He need only accept it.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!