Faith

A look at wedding traditions

Vows and tradition vary between religions

Posted 6/26/17

The joining of two people in matrimony calls for many different traditions depending on the religion the couple is rooted in.

Most religions recognize a formal assertion of marriage, but there is a difference in how verbal the couple themselves …

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Faith

A look at wedding traditions

Vows and tradition vary between religions

Posted

The joining of two people in matrimony calls for many different traditions depending on the religion the couple is rooted in.

Most religions recognize a formal assertion of marriage, but there is a difference in how verbal the couple themselves are in making the vows. While Western cultures tend to have spoken vows between the couple, many other religions rely on ceremonial and symbolic gestures.

Typical Christian weddings, including Catholic, Protestant, Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist, use what most people see as traditional wedding vows — the couple promises to honor and cherish each other as well as commit to each other through good times and bad. They vow to never part until death, “according to God’s holy ordinance.”

“You can look at the language of the traditional vows and there is something powerful being said,” said Rev. Kevin Burke, a professor of theology at Regis University and a Catholic priest.

But Burke also said sometimes those vows are romanticized.

“`Til death do us part,’ people sometimes say those words because they want the tradition,” Burke said. “They really want those vows to be true, but they’re also realistic to know that life is hard and it’s not always going to work out that way.”

Wedding vows are often influenced by romantic poets and the transcendentalists, Burke said, adding that there’s something important about the philosophy in that movement.

“But there’s a lot of that romantic tradition and a lot of time it confuses vows with romantic visions and dreams,” Burke said. “Happily every after becomes a tag line.”

As a Catholic theologian, Burke said expression at a wedding is important, but what is being expressed becomes the most important.

“I am really interested in how weddings express a deep Biblical vision,” he added.

Burke said one of his favorite Biblical readings was when a couple chose to share the story Moses and the burning bush during their wedding mass.

When he asked why, the couple said they wanted an image of what’s going on in them as they approach their wedding.

“What a great image,” Burke said. “A bush that’s on fire but it’s not being consumed. And isn’t that like the experience of falling in love and it doesn’t burn out but it actually renews itself. I was blown away. It was so beautiful.”

But the thing Burke said he was struck by in this was that the story of Moses and the burning bush is a foundational text in the Jewish religion. He said it’s a reminder that the Christian religion is rooted in Judaism and that God is not sensitive to guilt but the pain of his people.

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But unlike a Christian wedding, a Jewish ceremony is not centered around the exchange of vows. It is about the contract.

A Jewish wedding is historically separated into two ceremonies that have been combined into one in modern times.

The first ceremony, called the Kiddushin, is the betrothal. It includes the contract that the groom writes to the bride. During the ceremony, the contract is given to the woman and it becomes her property.

Russell Arnold, associate professor of religious studies at Regis University, said that in modern Jewish weddings, this can look like vows, with the groom speaking to the bride.

Another key part of the first ceremony is the exchange of property, which is usually a ring. Historically it is only given to the bride, however, Arnold said modern weddings now do exchanges in both directions.

“When the ring is offered, it’s placed on the right index finger,” Arnold said. “The idea is that the right index is the most direct line to the heart. It doesn’t stay there, but in the ceremony, that’s where it’s placed.”

That, Arnold said, is the seal of the contract.

The second half of the ceremony is the actual joining — the seven blessings.

Arnold said there are two things about a Jewish wedding that are culturally prominent: the four-post canopy and the breaking of the glass.

“The posts with a cloth cover creates a symbolic first home,” Arnold said. “But it’s open on all sides, like Abraham’s tent in the Bible.”

The breaking of the glass is a sign of the wedding.

“The most significant meaning is that it’s irreversible,” Arnold said. “What has just happened can’t be undone.”

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Another religion that focuses on actions more than words is Hinduism.

Generally Hindu weddings last three to five days in India. But in the United States, they are often been shortened to one day, said Mohan Sagar, a member of the religious committee at the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple of Colorado in Castle Rock.

First, the bride and groom must be formally accepted into the families.

Next, there is the henna body painting ritual. The bride and her female attendants and family members get their hands and feet painted with red henna, which represents purity and sacredness. Sagar said this is a popular aspect of Hindu weddings because it looks very beautiful.

The actual wedding ceremony varies depending on the region of the family. But Sagar said they all include the grooms making a vow to the father of the bride that he will treat her better than how she was raised. They vow to never leave her, to always seek her and support her until death.

If the father agrees, the groom typically ties a pendant around the bride's neck indicated that he is now married.

“The bride is not viewed as property, the bride is viewed as a gift,” Sagar said. “To give a daughter away is the ultimate act of selflessness. If you are to do that in life, you are assured a place in heaven.”

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One wedding ritual where there are no promises to death is in the Neopagan handfasting ceremony.

Handfasting is an ancient tradition where two people promise themselves to each other for a year and a day. They can also be legal if the couple chooses. If that works out, they can renew each year and if it doesn’t, they can do a hard-parting.

“I find handfastings to be a little more healthy in looking at relationships because it’s not setting up that you’re going to get married until you’re dead,” said Dr. Amy Reed, who goes by the name Andarta in the pagan community, where she is a priestess in the Druid spiritual path.

The Druid path is modeled on ancient Celtic religion and one of the three most prevalent pagan paths in Colorado, Andarta said. The other two, she said are Nordic and Wicca.

“There is a huge pagan community in Colorado,” Andarta said, adding that modern paganism is one of the fastest growing religions. “Colorado has a lot of diversity and it is very nature based. A lot of people are very nature oriented here and drawn to paganism because of that.”

She said she also thinks that current television shows and people being dissatisfied with current mainstream religions are pushing people toward a pagan path.

The handfasting ceremonies vary for each path and each couple. It depends on if they are a nature-based couple or worship a specific god or goddess. Typically guests at the ceremony cast a circle and call on the four corners, east, west, north and south. Then the priestess invites in the gods and then calls on any ancestors. From there, Andarta said its just like any other wedding where the couple promises themselves to each other.

A cord is wrapped around the couple's hands symbolizing that they are joined and traditionally the couple will jump over a broom.

“It all depends on their specific path and their guests,” Andarta said of the rituals. “Some pagans don’t want to to be a full-blown ritual because it may freak out their grandma, who is Southern Baptist.”

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