I know it is common for couples today to compose their own wedding vows. When my wife and I married 54 years ago, we never thought of writing our own vows. In our innocence we accepted the traditional words. In turn we said:
I take you 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.
I take you 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.
That was all we said. I then placed a ring on my bride’s finger “as a sign of our marriage vows.” Although it was followed by a Mass, the actual wedding was a brief ceremony taking no more than five minutes. I still have the little wedding pamphlet from that day, and I notice that the priest did not even say, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” It was our brief vows that made us man and wife.
The pamphlet included an introduction that provided the basis for the simple vows. Reading it today I can honestly say that I was not aware at the time of the awesome significance of the words. I realize now that the words represented an ideal that would not be easy to attain.
This union then is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes, and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.
Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that, recognizing their full import, you are nevertheless so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth you belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may be required to make to preserve this common life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love.
No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today, never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on.
I doubt that I read those words back then, or even that I would have understood their full significance if I had read them. It would take a lifetime.
Best wishes to my grandson Michael and his fiancée Christine who will be exchanging vows this coming weekend.
Maybe the best depiction of the exchange of vows can be found in the final scene of the award winning 1946 film, The Best Years of Our Lives. It ends with the simple wedding ceremony of a sailor who after losing both his hands in the war, returned home to find that his childhood sweetheart was still in love with him. Click on this link for the brief video.