QUAERITUR: homemade marriage vows

From a reader:

I recently attended a Catholic wedding between two Catholics. During the ceremony, I believe the couple did the declaration of intentions according to the Rite of Marriage. When it came to the wedding vows, instead of using the prescribed vows, the couple recited vows that I think they had written themselves. The vows were of a personal nature; specific to each person, as compared to the universal nature of the Church’s vows. I do not remember all of the specifics of the vows, but I have doubts as to whether or not they expressed the same ideas that are in the Church’s vows; i.e. to be true in good times and in bad, etc.

Is this marriage valid? How should I proceed? Do I need more information or should I not worry about it?

First, I must observe that your account is rather sketchy.  You don’t have any clear knowledge of what happened.  That in itself suggests that what was done should not have been done.  It also means that it would be difficult to do anything about it.

Second, if they wrote the texts themselves, I assume they read them from something.  They would have the texts.   However, it might be hard to get that text: “Hey, I think your marriage may be invalid.  Can I have the texts?”   I can see that that approach might be problematic from various points of view.

Third, is this any of your business?  It is the business of the pastor of the parish to see to things like this.  I you are deeply concerned, you could address the issue with the pastor and try to convince him to look into it.  However, if he permitted it in the first place, then he probably doesn’t see anything wrong with it.  I suppose it would be possible to send a note to the local bishop asking if it is permitted for people to write their own vows.  That might get some interest going.

That said, priests should make sure that the rites of the Church should be followed so that there is NO DOUBT about what happened.  If the pastor isn’t smart enough to do this, perhaps he needs to be doing some other good and useful work.

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  1. Alice says:

    Organist here. I asked one of my bosses about this once about this once and he said that as long as the couple wrote vows that intended permanence and fidelity, they would be valid and he thought it might even be licit. He then told me not to tell any of his couples that this was an option. ;)

  2. Among us Lutherans, the form of the vows is recommended rather than prescribed, and the validity of the marriage is not understood to depend upon the form.
    Nonetheless, I make a point of showing couples the various forms available to them in our liturgical formularies, of which there are several, and explaining that these options are clear, elegant and time-honored.
    If they push a little, I tell them horror stories about some of the embarrassing, foolish and regrettable things that people have invented and then said to one another during marriage ceremonies, usually in the 1970s, and encourage them warmly not to consider this route. No couple has yet pushed further.

  3. traditionalorganist says:

    Father, with great respect to you, I think it is precisely because there is such a huge void where Pastors should exercise their duties in the area of sacramental validity/proper practice that has left regular parishioners either ignorant so as to create weird vows, or distrustful, as in the above case. I often find myself on the distrustful side, as for so many years, we’ve been subject to ambiguity and permissiveness.

  4. traditionalorganist says:

    And my above comment is in reference to this being the business of the person asking the question.

  5. Andrew says:

    I wonna marry ya Lorna cos y’re the gal o’my dreams. I wanna look at the sunrise and the sunset with’ya.
    Oh Danny. I wanna cook for ya, I wanna do your laundry.

    Done! Married! Preferably this should take place in the garden with lots of ribbons everywhere and uncle Bob playing the bagpipes.

  6. czemike says:

    The essential part to marriage is the mutual consent of the marrying parties. While it’s certainly questionable to eschew the wisdom of the Church’s formula for expressing that mutual consent, is that consent in any way defective if the couple exchanges saccharine, emotional, stream-of-consciousness vows?

  7. Frank H says:

    This is hitting close to home. When we married, in the glory days of 1982 in Milwaukee, my bride’s uncle, a diocesan priest, was the celebrant. He encouraged us to “be creative” and we were. Home made vows, a couple of secular songs, etc.

    As we grew in knowledge of things liturgical, we would kiddingly wonder if the marriage was valid. On our twentieth anniversary, at a Mass commemorating it, we “repeated” our vows, but this time they were the straightforward version right from the books. I have felt a bit more at ease ever since!

  8. Margaret says:

    @czemike– I’ve heard of a couple whose vows stated “I promise to be true to you as long as I love you.” I would have to question if those vows included the necessary element of permanence.

  9. We have non-Catholic friends who wrote their own vows, designed their own ceremony, etc. etc.

    The amount of work/agony/worry/pain was INCREDIBLE!

    Meanwhile, the only decisions we had to make for our wedding were more on the order of “pink ribbons or magenta?” And we could feel free just to pick whichever was cheaper, because hey, no matter what the flowers looked like, we knew we’d be married at the end! :)

    I think sometimes people fail to appreciate that the Church’s rules actually GIVE us freedom. We picked a few songs and chose from the list of approved readings and we were DONE PLANNING THE CEREMONY. No dark clouds hanging over us as we puzzled through bad Kalil Gibran readings trying to figure out what eating of the same bread yet never of the same loaf MEANT or why it was supposed to have anything to do with marriage. Instead, we could make decisions on the order of “Well, I really like Tobit. But flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone is good, too. Hey, the Church sure picked some great readings!”

    Spending 6 months going back and forth with your fiance trying to plan a wedding ceremony from scratch isn’t freedom…. it’s drudgery.

  10. D says:

    The questioner does not know specifics and seems to be looking for trouble. If this priest is permitting things that are inappropriate or illicit, I am sure that someone will report to the bishop with actual detail and evidence. Furthermore, if a priest is truly disobedient, these reports will come from multiple sources.

    I do wish to add that looking for trouble or misbehavior just for the sake of it is not a worthwhile activity.

  11. The Church worked out what was necessary for validity a long time ago. I think we should stick with it.

  12. priests wife says:

    Deirdre- YES!!!!!! wasn’t it nice to actually be planning your marriage instead of the wedding?

  13. Chesterton would argue that promises of love do in fact imply permanence, because everyone who loves is given to impromptu vows and promises of an “ever after” and “forever and ever” nature. But of course, it’s better to go with tradition and law, because implications cause arguments when people don’t want to see them anymore.

  14. xgenerationcatholic says:

    I have a cousin who had a Catholic wedding. I don’t know why they stuck with this priest, but apparently he wasn’t too nice to them. At the wedding, he blessed and exchanged the rings and skipped the vows! They are still wondering if they need to go to Las Vegas.

  15. digdigby says:

    A ‘baby Catholic’ here, converted this year, catechism answers still echoing in my head. Is marriage not a sacrament? When is the essential grace conferred and what is bare bones needed from the Priest and from the couple to complete the sacrament. Vera Wang gowns and entering under crossed swords or favorite pop songs range from the irrelevant to the irreverant. During the Warsaw uprising, priests married young underground fighters as they lay dying side by side. I’m curious what such a wedding consisted of?

  16. Digdigby-

    Every Sacrament has Form, Matter, and Minister:


    Form- the vows.
    Matter- The couple
    Minister- The couple!!

    The priest is there as a witness for the universal Church. This is why protestant marriage is considered valid when you convert– you don’t need to re-marry, because as long as you made the vows with the intention of permenance, you’re good.

    You can get married with 2 witnesses in the priest’s office, and it counts.

    However, a wedding Mass is preferred because– why not invite Christ to the wedding– after all, you want him in the marriage! :)

  17. Fr_Sotelo says:

    We were taught that it was not the vows that made the marriage valid, but the intent to be married expressed to the priest. In the 1962 rite, it is something like, “N, will you take N, for your husband/wife, according to the rite of our holy mother the Church?” In the present rite, the priest is more explicit, and asks the couple if they have come of their own free will to be married, if they will love and honor other each for their entire life, and if they will lovingly accept children. I was under the impression that once the couple responds yes to those explicit intentions, the vows are frosting on the cake and that is why the Church was flexible in how they were expressed according to different nations and cultures.

    In the case of doubt, any Catholic couple has the right to ask the local bishop to grant a “sanatio in radice” which decrees the marriage to be valid, retroactively, the to date when the doubtful marriage took place.

    Frank H: Again, I am under the impression that having a couple recite marriage vows at an anniversary or renewal ceremony is a no-no, kind of like repeating the words of consecration over bread and wine after the transubstantiation has taken place. In other words, how can I “take you for my lawful ….” when I already “took you” (past tense) many years ago? A liturgy prof. I had once said, “don’t do things during the sacraments which simply don’t make sense.” Many priests have the couple say something like, “I renew to you the pledge of my love and fidelity which I made on the day of our wedding” and then prays a blessing over them according to the ritual.

  18. digdigby says:

    Thanks! Crystal clear and razor sharp. Today’s Traditional Catholics are so well informed that I’m in awe. One other theological question: once the house sells do you dig up St. Joseph and put him in your new house? (just kidding).

  19. Prof. Basto says:

    Fr. Soleto is right. In the Missal of 1962, the exhange of consent took the form of questions. The questions posed by the representative of the Church were:

    N (name of the Groom). Vis accipere N (name of the Bride). hic præsentem in tuam legitimam uxorem juxta ritum sanctæ matris Ecclesiæ?

    N (Name of the Bride). Vis accipere (name of the Groom). hic præsentem in tuum legitimum maritum juxta ritum sanctæ matris Ecclesiæ?

    The positive answer “Volo”, sufficed for consent.

    In line with the directive of the Second Vatican Council (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, art. 77) the rite of marriage was revised, and the revision was directed by the Council to be conducted “in such a way that the grace of the sacrament is more clearly signified and the duties of the spouses are taught”.

    So, in the new rite of marriage used in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, either by the personal pronouncement of vows (preffered option), or by answering to questions (subsidiary method allowed by the rubrics), the bride and groom are required to express their consent in such a way that the essential proprieties of marriage and duties are clearly manifested. That’s why, before the exchange of consent itself, there is now an interrogation of the bride and the groom on the free character of the consent they will manifest; on their acceptance of the indissoluble character of the marriage bond unto death; and on their acceptance of children and of the duty to raise them in the Church. Those questions are preparatory to the actual exchange of consent (only in the formula of the exchange of consent reference is made to the groom taking the bride as wife and the bride taking the groom as husband by words spoken in the present tense). Then, when consent is manifested (either via the recitation of the vows or by means of questions), reference is again made to the indissoluble character of the bond and also to the duties of spouses (especially the duty of fidelity).

    Of course, since the simplest form in use in the past (and currently used in extraordinary form weddings) sufficed and suffices, any other form invented by the spouses (although illicit) would also suffice for validity, as long as it reflected the intention to enter into marriage as it exists in the Church.

    There would be a problem, though, if the vows were heterodox to the point of denying one of the properities essential to a Catholic marriage.

  20. Gaz says:

    It’s not ecclesial but interesting nevertheless. Doubt was cast upon thousands of civil marriages in Australia recently because many celebrants did not know that a particular form of the vows was required. http://www.smh.com.au/national/invalid-vows-put-weddings-in-doubt-20100821-1397y.html

  21. dspecht says:

    Well, there could be an other problem.

    Was the priest asking and the couples answering or didn´t he ask?

    Because not according to natural law but according to eccl. law (canonical form) it is – probably – necessary that the vows are given questioning and answering. So reads the respective c. in the CIC and so argue some canonists.

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