More than two million couples are wed every year in the United States, according to government statistics, with September and October ranking among the most popular months to get married. This week's clergy discuss why many of those couples will be going to a synagogue, church or chapel to say their vows.
Rabbi Theodore Tsuruoka, Temple Isaiah of Great Neck:
When I officiate at a wedding, two ceremonies are involved: the civil ceremony, which certifies the civil legal status of the marriage, and the religious sanctification of the marriage before loved ones and God. The former is realized by signing a state-issued marriage license and the latter by signing a ketubah. While the civil ceremony is short and perfunctory, the religious part brings centuries of Jewish tradition including time for the couple to get to know each other between betrothal and the actual wedding. These days the officiating rabbi has an opportunity to counsel the couple prior to the wedding. Some of the symbolic traditions include standing under a canopy, exchanging rings, reading of the ketubah, singing of seven blessings and the breaking of a glass to conclude the ceremony. Added to all of this is the involvement of the family because Judaism sees a wedding as a union of two families as well as the couple, replete with its own customs rich with history. Each wedding is considered one-of-a-kind and represents the re-enactment of the world's creation. The groom and bride become the first Adam and Eve. Should the couple be blessed with children, a religious wedding helps foster continuity of Jewish practices and Judaism itself. A religious wedding puts God on the invitation list, and we imagine God dancing with the couple with joy and delight.
The Rev. Maxine Barnett, curate, The Church of St. Jude, Wantagh:
During a recent premarital counseling session, I asked the couple why they chose to have a religious marriage ceremony. In answering the question, the young couple spoke of their spiritual beliefs as well as the importance of honoring and being surrounded by family members for whom a Christian ceremony holds great meaning. It was also important that this step be taken in a community that welcomes and embraces the diversity that exists in their families. The Episcopal rite indeed affirms a couple's place in a caring faith community. Our prayer book defines marriage as a solemn and public covenant in which the couple receives the blessings of God to fulfill their promises of love and commitment to each other. Throughout the service, the couple is reminded again and again and again that God's love and grace are with them. The vows, prayers and Bible lessons proclaim that love is foundational, and it is God who models for us true and faithful love. The service is set in the midst of community. The couple makes their vows to each other before God as well as the church, represented by the officiant and those who are witnesses. The congregation is asked to do all in its power to uphold the couple in their marriage. There is great benefit in recognizing and celebrating our wider communal ties, and this joyous liturgy reminds us all of our Christian responsibility to love and support one another.
The Rev. Roger C. Williams, pastor, First Baptist Church of Glen Cove:
Religious ceremonies within the context of the life of the church hold significant and symbolic meaning that may not be intentional in a civil ceremony. First, marriage that is celebrated in a religious ceremony allows for the public announcement of a covenant relationship to the religious community. Two people joined together in this way have publicly declared their vows, and as a result of their announcement, their union becomes a part of the community in which they share and practice faith. This is done according to the precedent that the God of Israel set in the Hebrew scriptures. Covenants with Israel were always announced and made public. Israel was both the object and the audience in the public announcement of God's covenant relations. One example of this is seen in the Book of Genesis, where God makes a covenant with Noah that the earth would not again be destroyed by floodwaters. This covenant with Noah was not hidden away from Israel but announced and hence Israel was affirmed as belonging to God. Also, a marriage in a religious ceremony allows for the blessing of God upon the union. The blessings of God are bestowed when a couple through the sharing of vows commits their union to the guidance of God. As a result, they proceed to participate in actions toward each other that reflect their understanding of God's revelation of himself through Scripture and the Christian tradition.