The word ‘wedding’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word wed, meaning a pledge (especially a financial one), and it is this pledge, in its modern form, that constitutes a marriage. For the marriage to be legal in this country it has to take the form of a public declaration, before at least two adult witnesses, that the couple intend to live together as husband and wife, and know of no reason legally why they are not free to marry. They must also fulfil the legal requirements in every respect.
In Church of England services these requirements are bound up in the wording of the marriage ceremony. In ceremonies held at registry offices or in churches of other denominations, both parties must make a public declaration in these or similar words: T do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I (full name) may not be joined in matrimony to (full name of partner)’. Then each must say: ‘I call upon these persons here present to witness that 1 (full name) do take thee (full name of partner) to be my lawful wedded wife/husband’.
In Egypt the marriage contact used to be arranged between the groom and the bride’s deputy; they joined hands and the hands were then covered with a cloth to complete the union.
In Church of England ceremonies the vows taken before God are quite complex, involving the well-known phrases ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part’. These are solemn vows, not to be undertaken lightly; if you do not feel that you can honestly take them it is better to choose a marriage in a registry office rather than be hypocritical. If you are getting married in an Anglican ceremony you will find that the vicar will probably offer you the choice of several different versions of the marriage service; some are traditional, some modern. Choose the type that best suits the kind of vows you want to make and the tone of your wedding in general. In some ceremonies both inside and outside the Anglican church it is possible to write your own vows, so that you can phrase them to emphasise the things you both feel will be important in your marriage. Generally you will repeat the vows in small phrases after the minister, but it is possible to read your vows or to learn them, which can be very moving – but make sure that you have a crib sheet handy in case your mind goes blank!
When a Quaker wedding takes place, the groom holds the bride’s hand and makes this declaration: ‘Friends, I take this, my friend (name of bride) to be my wife, promising, through Divine assistance, to be unto her a loving and faithful husband so long as we both on Earth shall live.’
In one medieval wedding vow the wife promised to be ‘debonair and bwcom, in bed and at board’.
There are three elements that compose a marriage under Jewish tradition.
The first is the groom’s recitation of the wedding vow, an ancient Aramaic vow which when translated means ‘Behold thou art consecrated unto me with this ring according to the law of Moses and of Israel’; he recites this as he places the ring on his bride’s finger. The second element is the reading of the ketubbah, the legal marriage document which spells out the obligations and rights of the bride and groom. This is the Jewish equivalent of the marriage certificate, and is held as a treasured possession by the bride; the text reads along these lines: On the day of the week, the nth day of the month of , in the year corresponding to the of , the holy covenant of marriage was entered into, in , between the bridegroom , and his bride, .The said bridegroom made the following declaration to his bride; be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and of Israel. I faithfully promise that 1 will be a true husband unto thee. I will honour and cherish thee; I will work for thee; I will protect and support thee, and will provide all that is necessary for thy due sustenance, even as it beseemeth a Jewish husband to do. I also take upon myself all such further obligations for thy maintenance during thy lifetime as are prescribed by our religious statutes.
And the said bride plighted her troth unto him, in affection and with sincerity, and has thus taken upon herself the fulfilment of all the duties incumbent upon a Jewish wife. This covenant of marriage was duly executed and witnessed this day according to the usage of Israel’.
The third element that completes the marriage is the symbolic union, the yihud. After the recessional the bride and groom retire into a private room for a short time, where they have some food together; this is often a special wedding broth.
The service – Additional ceremonies
As well as the legal aspect of marriage in this country, and the words that need to be repeated publicly before the marriage is valid, there are various ceremonies that have grown up around the traditional exchange of vows. One is the ceremony of the ring; in most cases the groom gives a ring to the bride, and in some cases she also gives a ring to the groom. These are placed on the ‘ring finger’ with appropriate sentiments, varying from tradition to tradition.
Another ceremony is that of giving the bride away. Traditionally it is the bride’s father that performs this duty, a legacy of the times when marriages were financial contracts made for convenience rather than unions of love. The bride’s father accompanies her down the aisle before the ceremony, stands just behind her at the front of the church, and indicates his assent when the minister says ‘Who gives this woman to be married to this man?’ or similar words. If the bride’s father has died she can be given away by her uncle, brother, grandfather, godfather or family friend; the person chosen should be a man who is close to the bride’s family. If the bride has a stepfather it should still be her real father who gives her away if they are on good terms; if not, or if she rarely sees her real father, then the stepfather will probably be the best choice.
Kissing the bride no longer has the significance that it used to have, when it marked the first kiss the couple had exchanged! Nevertheless, some couples still include it, either as part of the ceremony or simply as an impulsive gesture when they are man and wife. If the minister knows the couple well he too may kiss the bride after the marriage, and so may the two fathers, but is extremely bad form for anyone else to kiss her before the groom has had the chance.
Many traditions still have, in some form or another, a symbolic expression of reluctance on the part of the bride. This may take the form of actually running away, or may be something as symbolic as weeping when she leaves home for the last time; in Roman times the bride was symbolically torn from her mother’s arms. All these acts seem to date from the times when men went out hunting to capture a suitable bride from a neighbouring tribe or village.
In many North African marriages either the bride or the groom or both are painted with patterns of henna. These stain the skin and may last for up to several weeks before they wear off. Other traditions Hindu marriages can be very varied; in the laws of Manu, which form the basis of Hindu law, eight separate kinds of marriage are recognised, including mawiage by purchase, by fraud, by rape and by consent. The most common form is by gift of the bride to the bridegroom from her father, without other obligations. The most important marriage ceremony consists of the bride and groom joining hands and taking seven steps, although in some traditions the only ceremony is a feast for the two families.
Amongst the ancient Kumi tribe the strange ceremony of marriage to a mongo tree exists. First the groom and then the bride is married to the tree and embraces it, and it is only after each partner has done this that they are considered man and wife.
The traditional wedding ceremony in Papua required the bride and groom to sit back to back in the middle of a hut, surrounded by the witnesses, while an old man joined their hands and then spat a mouthful of water over them.
The Andaman Islands are populated by an aboriginal race that is considered one of the most primitive in the world. Their marriage ceremony, appropriately, is very simple: the bride is brought to an empty hut and sits down; the bridegroom pretends to run away but is brought to the hut also and made to sit on the bride’s lap. They are considered married.
In an ancient ceremony from Finland the bride and groom each have to swallow a piece of fungus, used as tinder, that has been set alight.
In many Hindu traditions the bride must not speak to or see her groom until the ceremony is completed; in some areas she may even have her eyelids sealed down temporarily with a sticky substance.
In ancient Bedouin tribes the girl runs away into the hills when the marriage time is appointed; the groom goes in search of her, and when he finds her they both stay out overnight in the hills. This constitutes the marriage.
During traditional Druse weddings in the Middle East the groom would place a very elaborate pointed headdress on the bride’s head; this would then be worn by her night and day.
In Persia marriage by proxy used to be the general rule; the bride did not need to be present until the actual consummation of the marriage.
The service – The order of service
The order of service
Most couples have an order of service specially printed for the wedding day; this saves the guests from having to riffle through hymnbooks, service books, etc, as all the necessary information is printed on the one sheet. Even if you are marrying in a traditional Church of England ceremony, there are still numerous variations you may want to make, and several decisions you will need to make regarding the details of the order of service.
Choosing the music will need to be done before you have the orders of service printed; you will probably want to put in the titles of the pieces you choose for before and after the ceremony, and during the signing of the register (see pp 148-149 for suggestions!) In addition, you will almost certainly want some hymns; these should be printed out in full in the order of service sheets. Don’t feel obliged to have all the verses of your favourite hymns if you don’t want them, or if you want to cut down on the time; similarly, don’t be afraid to vary the tune if there is one that you prefer to the tune suggested by the hymnbook. Do try and choose at least one hymn that is very well known by all the congregation; If your choice is very obscure you might find yourselves doing a duet! You will need to sort out the exact order in which the elements of the service occur. Again the Anglican service has a fairly set order, but even this can be varied, for instance by changing when you have the prayers or readings (s), or how many hymns you have before the marriage itself. Most ministers prefer to have the marriage very near the beginning of the service, as most of the other elements prayer, blessing, address – are related to the couple as man and wife.
Generally the minister gives an introduction after the wedding party is assembled at the front of the church, and then a hymn is sung. The marriage usually takes place straight after the first hymn. The minister will fist the purposes of marriage, check the intentions of the bride and groom to be a good wife and husband, ask if there are any legal impediments to the marriage, and then supervise the exchange of vows and of rings. He will then declare the couple to be man and wife.
The order of elements in the service may then be arranged according to your own preferences and the minister’s. He will offer up some prayers for you as a couple, and if you have a friend or friends whom you would like to pray for you publicly this too can be incorporated. Sometimes the bride and groom will choose to pray for one another publicly, asking God’s help as they go on in life as husband and wife.
The minister may give a short address, usually’ words of advice and well-wishing for the couple as they start married life. There are often one or two readings from the Bible; these may be read by the minister, by friends or relations, or by the couple themselves. Usually one or two more hymns are sung, and the religious part of the service is concluded before the wedding party goes Into the vestry, as when they come out they will simply process through the church to the door.
The register is signed by the groom, the bride, the person who performed the wedding and two witnesses. It is best to choose the witnesses beforehand, to save everybody rushing when two are asked for; generally it is the best man and the chief bridesmaid, but the choice could be both mothers, both fathers, or one representative from each family. The time during the signing of the register can be very boring for the wedding guests, so it is customary to have something going on in the church meanwhile, such as somebody singing or the organist playing a particular piece, or perhaps a friend playing a flute or violin solo. Whatever it is, try to print the details in the order of service sheet so that the guests know what is going on and whether they ought to be joining in.
Once you have decided on the details of the service, instruct your printer on what you want on your order of service sheets. These can be printed in the same style as your wedding invitations, although of course they will be more extensive. Print all the information that the guests will need, for instance when they are expected to join in with prayers or responses. Printing the music that the wedding party will enter and leave to will also make sure that the guests stand at the right time!
The service – Checklist/Forward planner
Checklist for order of service
|What music will be used before the bride arrives?||What piece of music will be played as the bride enters?|
|Which hymns do we want sung, and in what order?|
|Will there be an address?||Will there be prayers?|
|What reading or readings do we want?|
|Who will do the readings?|
|Do we want any participation from other friends or relatives, in the way of prayers, music, blessing, etc?|
|What will happen when we are signing the register?||How many orders of service will we need? (Remember you will want one for each guest.)|
|How do we want them designed?|
|What music will be played as we leave the church?||Who will print them?|
|When can we collect them?|