The Words of Marriage
Words have little meaning in to-day’s world. We are inundated by them through various forms of advertising in which we are being manipulated to buy things we don’t need or even necessarily want.
On a grander social scale, certain words have been employed to sway whole societies to immoral behavior. The child in the womb is called a foetus so that the child is dehumanized and can be disposed of. Reproductive rights become the short-hand for abortion on demand but sounds so much more humane.
Every conceivable behavior becomes a ‘right’ and since we all want freedom, only the troglodyte could be against this new morality. Words are tools to be used to control others. Language becomes a form of aggression. As the old adage goes: ‘verbal engineering precedes social engineering’.
But there is one place at least in our society where words are transparent. The words used are so important that we dress up expensively to even utter them. They are the culmination of a person’s life up to that point and mark the stage for the transition into a new reality. These are our wedding vows. What is amazing is that they take less than 45 seconds for the bride and groom to say. “I take you as my lawfully wedded wife/husband to have and to hold…” This is one instance where we see the power of the spoken word.
Prior to the giving of consent, the man and woman are independent persons. Once they have spoken these words they bring into existence something greater than themselves and which cannot be altered: the marriage bond, their become one-flesh. By their words they bring into existence something which hitherto fore did not exist. It is like the priest saying the words of institution during the Eucharist. Before, there is only bread and wine. After the words are spoken, there is not the Body and Blood of Christ.
The couple may not live out their vows faithfully, but that does not destroy their unity. It bruises it and becomes an obstacle to the flow of love. But the miracle of the words of marriage is that the bond exists until death comes to one of the partners. It is indissoluble and thus there is always hope for every marriage because, with God, the couple can learn to forgive, bring healing to one another, and uncover once again the one-fleshness which is already there. ‘What God has joined together, let no man separate.’