The Meanings of the Wedding Vow

By Christopher Lenart, a parishioner at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Naperville, who is posting once a month, every month, on this blog, writing about faith-related matters

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When we are invited to a wedding, we are excited about the couple. We usually say the couple is perfect for each other. On the wedding day, we hear the couple say “I do” to each other. Do we truly know what they are saying “I do” for? I doubt it because the divorce rate is so high. After the wedding day, the couple forgets what they promised to each other. So, let’s go over the wedding vows.

It is the following:

“I, -—, take you, —, to be my lawfully wedded (husband/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.”

This one sentence is a mouthful, but it is really important to understand if somebody is getting married in the church. Most people might say it is just a sentence, and it doesn’t really matter, but it is. You are saying it in front of God. So, it is a big deal.

Let’s look at the first nine words. You are telling your spouse that you are taking them as your husband or wife and not a friend or a partner. A wife or husband is much more than a friend. You are becoming one in God. After the priest prays over the couple, they are transformed into one. If you look at the wedding candles, you see three candles. Two candles on each side are thinner, but the central candle is bigger and more beautiful. It represents the couple and God as one person.

What does to have and to hold mean? To have is to receive without reservation the total self-gift of the other. In other words, it is giving yourself to them but it is not giving ownership to the other person. That is a big thing that people don’t understand. When a couple gets married, one person might think they own the other person. God wants both people to be free to be their own unique individual but to live as one entity with God. To hold is to have a pledge of physical affection and tenderness to be available in body and soul. It is a promise to cherish and protect the other person and don’t use them whenever they want.

From this day forward means that the couple is one in God starting that day and each day in the future. Some people say, “How can they know if they can be together forever?” Well, that that is where trust in God and faith in each other comes in. God wants to be a part of the marriage. Too many people say, “Let’s live together and see how it goes.” But they forget that it is a sin to sleep together. They could say they would sleep in separate rooms, but the temptation is still there.

For richer for poorer: a couple has to be opened for financial success and failure. Some people get married for the other person’s wealth. This is not only in money but also in fame. Some people just want money or the status. I think this also means that everything each person has is now the couple. This is sometimes hard for each person to understand because they forget that they are one person.

In sickness and in health: this is the same idea as the wealth, but this is with health. People want things to stay the same forever, but this is impossible. If the couple truly loves each other, they will be always be there for each other. My parents were married for 45 years. The last 13 years my mom had Alzheimer’s, and my dad took care of her by himself. He wanted to do it because he loved her so much that nobody could help her like him.

Having Cerebral Palsy myself, I think people don’t want to get involved with a person with a disability because they don’t know how to deal with the disability. This is true, but if you have faith in God, why have this fear? Everybody has the desire for love. Since I am hitting the big 50 next year, things are going through my mind, such as how will I survive after my dad dies? I am an only child, but I have a lot of cousins. They have their own lives to deal with, and they don’t realize that I need help.

I would love to meet a woman who loves me for who I am. I have to be realistic, too, that it might not happen. Like Jesus said when he was going to be crucified, He said: “Not my will be done but yours.” It is the same thing here. I can’t make someone to love me, but God can if He wants to. I only can pray. Yes, I do get angry with God because I am a sinner and want to have my way. I have to trust that God will help me when my dad can’t.

Until death do us part: many people forget this, I think. People always want the easy way out and don’t look at the outcome of their actions. It is too hard, so they file for a divorce and forget they made a promise to God to be married until they die.

If you are married, I hope that this reminds you of your wedding day and going over your vows might be clearer of why you said “I do.”