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A Christian marriage is an old tradition that emphasizes monogamy, the union of one man to one woman for life. It also honors the presence of Christ as its center, and is believed to represent the unification of Christ with his bride, the Church.
Weddings under the Christian faith are expected to embody these beliefs during the ceremony. From the music, to the sermon of the officiator, and the vows of the couple themselves, everything in the wedding should place Christ at the center. This strict observation of faith can sometimes extend to the attire of the couple and their guests, the details and accessories used in the ceremony, and even how the reception afterwards is to be conducted.
Modern times have allowed separation and divorce when called for by circumstances, and this has even been allowed by the Church in certain countries. However, Christian marriages are taken as a sacred covenant rather than a civil agreement, so many Christians believe that the vows made during the wedding can never be truly broken, and the couple remain married in the eyes of God even after being separated by the law.
Meanings And Symbols in Christian Wedding Traditions
A Christian wedding is rich in traditions and symbolism, and couples are required to follow these in order to be accepted into their preferred church. Each step and the items used in these steps all have meanings related to the practice of the Christian faith.
- Faith is represented in the lifelong commitment that the couple undertakes when they enter a marriage. Despite the knowledge of the trials and challenges that await their future, they walk forward with the belief that with Christ at the center, they will be able to overcome anything.
- Unity is expressed in several occasions during the wedding, such as the rings exchanged by the couple, the veil that is used to cover them both, and the vow of “Till death do us part” that they are required to say aloud in front of their witnesses
- Support from Community is also evident in Christian weddings as they are required to bring witnesses who are close to them and their relationship. The presence of the witnesses will seal the wedding vows as is expected to provide support to the couple during the rough winds that may threaten to tear them apart.
Wedding Traditions in The Christian Faith
As a deeply historical ceremony, there are many rituals and traditions that are mandatory for the couple before they can be allowed to marry. This is why most Christian weddings take months or even years to prepare.
1- Premarital Counseling
A Christian marriage is expected to be a lifelong commitment that not only binds the couple together, but also ties their families together. Because of this, the couple is required to undergo premarital counseling with their officiating priest or pastor before the wedding, to ensure that they are ready and fully understand the responsibilities that they are taking on.
The premarital counseling can also be an avenue to address unresolved psychological, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues both between the couple and as individuals as these may eventually rise to the surface and affect their union.
2- Wedding Dresses
Though dresses traditionally were white, some churches have allowed brides to wear colored wedding dresses in recent years.
The use of a white wedding dress became popular after Queen Victoria wore white to her wedding, making her one of the first women to choose white for their weddings. However, white also signifies the innocence and purity of the bride, and the happiness and celebration of their friends and relatives.
The color white also represents holiness for the Christians, and the white dress is thus meant to embody the presence of Christ in the marriage and the holiness of the Church.
3- Wedding Veil
The veil also represents the purity of the bride and sanctity of marriage and the church. However, it is also symbolic of the sacrifice that Christ when he died on the cross. The Bible narrates that as Jesus passed away, the veil hanging in the temple was split in half, thus eliminating the barrier between Church and God.
Its meaning, when used in a wedding, is quite similar. As the groom lifts the veil and reveals the bride to the rest of the congregation, it represents the abolition of the barrier that used to separate them as a couple. From that time onward, they are considered as one.
Giving Away the Bride
At the very start of the ceremony, after the march of the entourage, the bride slowly walks down the aisle. She is met halfway either by her parents, or someone of authority who is close to her, like a brother or godparent. They continue walking to the altar, where they formally hand over the bride to her waiting groom.
Aside from providing another picture-perfect moment for the photographers, this act of handing over the bride is symbolic of a transfer of responsibility from the parents to the husband. While unmarried, a girl stays under the protection of her parents, especially her father, who is supposed to be the pillar of the household.
When she leaves her home to join her husband, her father passes on the baton to the man who will be her partner and shield for the rest of her life.
Call to Worship
A Christian marriage is not just a commitment between the couple and their relatives, it also involves their church, the congregation, and the community. This is why a Christian wedding would always start with a call to worship, as the officiator asks the guests to gather in prayer to ask for blessings for the couple and help them thank the Lord for the grace bestowed on them. It is also a confirmation that the guests generously give their affirmation to the couple and willingly bear witness to their vows.
Christian weddings also require the couple to make a vow in front of witnesses who are close to them and are familiar with their story. The witnesses will serve as the guide and support of the couple in the future when they go through trials in their marriage.
In the ancient times, wedding vows were presented in the form of a blood covenant, as laid out in Genesis. To do this, the families of the bride and the groom each sacrifice an animal and laid them on each side of the room, and the space in between is left for the couple to walk through, representing the merging of two different parts into a whole.
Though Christian weddings are now officiated by the Church, the tradition of the blood covenant has still left its traces in modern weddings. The wedding entourage still walk down an aisle that is divided in two groups, where one side consists of the relatives of the bride, while the other side is occupied by the relatives of the groom.
Wedding rings are often made of precious metal, usually gold or platinum, which have been proven to stand the test of time. After years of wear, these rings would also lose their shine and show a few scratches on the surface, but it does not make them lose their value. On the contrary, precious metals only appreciate in value as years pass.
This is also symbolic of the couple’s marital experience. There may be arguments, challenges, and they may unintentionally hurt each other, but their faith will help them understand that none of these means that the marriage has lost its meaning. It just needs a little care, then it will look brand new all over again.
Exchanging Of Rings
Rings used in wedding ceremonies are first blessed by the priest or pastor to officially appoint them as a symbolic binding of two separate persons. During the ceremony, the couple is asked to put the ring on the other’s finger as they say their vows out loud, symbolizing their commitment to each other, to the church, and to their community.
As the rings are round with no visible beginning and end, it symbolizes eternity, everlasting love, and equality. It symbolizes that they will stand by this commitment for the rest of their lives. Traditionally, wedding rings have been worn on the fourth ringer, also known as the “ring finger” as it was thought to be directly connected to the heart. But whether to wear it on the right or the left hand depends on the culture, and the practices of the country the couple live in.
Bible Verses and Homily
Most churches allow the couple to choose a bible verse for the readings during the ceremony. This allows the couple to select a meaningful reading that they connect with or have something to do with their personal lives.
However, this should still checked with the officiating priest or pastor, who makes sure that the selected verses are related to teachings about love, the sanctity of the sacrament, honoring the parents, and of putting Christ in the center of the marriage.
The homily itself focuses on the dignity, responsibility, and the sacred duty that will bind the couple once they exchange their vows and the priest or pastor proclaims their marriage. It also reminds them that their love is a grace from God, and so they must treat each other with love and respect as it is a reflection of their faith.
The wedding rituals and traditions of Christian weddings may appear complicated and sometimes, even difficult to accomplish. However, keep in mind that each step was included for a purpose, with the aim of creating a happy, loving, and long-lasting marriage that always puts Christ at the center.