This is the heart of the marriage ceremony. It can be as simple as making an announcement before the assembled witnesses that you take each other as lawfully wedded husband and wife. Or it can be more elaborate…
1. Preliminary Question and Response (Before the public declaration)
Celebrant: The covenant of marriage is one that can be entered into only by persons who are both legally and spiritually free to offer themselves to one another.
GROOM, do you come of your free will and with a conscious desire to be united in marriage with BRIDE?
Groom: I do.
Celebrant: Will you promise to care for BRIDE in the joys and sorrows of life, come what may, and to share the responsibility for growth and enrichment of your life together?
Groom: I will.
2. Public Declaration (Legally required)
“I call upon the people present here to witness that I, GROOM’s NAME, do take you, BRIDE’s NAME, to be my lawful wedded wife”
The legally required wording can be extended to include elaborations such as “for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, in sadness and in joy ..until death do us part” or similar. Alternatively, you may wish to follow your public declaration with a more personal promise to your beloved.
3. Personal Promises or Vows (Following the public declaration)
The Public Declaration is addressed to the whole assembly of guests. If you wish to make your pledge of loving commitment more personal, at this point you may want to turn and speak directly your beloved and make a more personal vow or promise, either in your own words or using some beautiful wording that you have found.
“[Name], you are my beloved,
to love and to cherish,
to have and to hold,
for richer, for poorer,
for better, for worse,
in sickness and in health,
in sadness and in joy,
to share our lives together,
from this day forward.”
There are many beautiful wedding vows freely available on the internet. For a starting point, you might try the veritable encyclopedia of vows from many traditions and in many genres available on myweddingvows.com
Writing your own vows
The idea of writing your own vows, to voice the very personal feelings of love that you have for your partner on your wedding day, can seem very appealing, yet in practice the process can feel somewhat daunting. So here are some ideas to help you write a personal promise that will speak from your own heart directly to the heart of your beloved.
All the authors who write on this topic agree that you need to start with a process of personal reflection, preferably with a pen in hand so that you can note down any words or ideas that come to mind. You’ll want to begin by reflecting upon what you love about your relationship, what it means to you that you are marrying, and the kind of marriage partner that you aspire to be.
Some questions that can guide this process are offered below. To begin with, jot down all the thoughts` that come up in response to each question. Then you can go back through your notes and circle or underline any words that you would like to include in your vow.
What is your favorite memory of your partner?
What are the qualities you love most about your beloved?
When did you know that you were in love / know that this person was the one you wanted to marry?
What does marriage mean to you? Why do you want to be a married person?
What kind of husband/wife do you aspire to be?
How do you want your relationship to change as a result of getting married? What things do you hope will stay the same?
Your next task is to put all these words and ideas together into a seemless whole. Give yourself permission to play. It may take a few drafts to come up with something that you are happy with.
One of the most directly practical suggestions for writing your own vows that I have come across so far is this simple personal vow template from About.com. Try filling in the blanks with your own words.
(Name of your sweetheart),
you are my… (best friend, one true love, the one I want to spend the rest of my life with, etc.)
Today, I take you to be my… (wife, husband, lawfully wedded wife or husband, life partner, etc.)
I promise you that I will be … (faithful, worthy of your trust, worthy of your love, your loving partner, etc.)
I vow to …(honor you, cherish you, love you, respect you, laugh with you, cry with you, support you in your goals, etc.),
(insert here the length of your vow, for example, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.)
The idea of ‘writing your own wedding vows’ is a relatively modern one. If you feel curious, you may like to get a short historical perspective on wedding vows – by reading this blog article by Laura Vivanco entitled “O Promise Me!”: Marriage Vows through History.”