What Do You Promise on Your Wedding Day?

What Do You Promise on Your Wedding Day?

As a priest, one of the biggest joys in my ministry is to assist at a marriage. In today’s society, where provisionality and relativism reign, the act of contracting marriage has become a heroic act: an act in which a man and a woman publicly declare that everlasting love is still possible!

At the same time, though, we should not forget that marriage is not a product of human genius. Human beings did not invent marriage: God did. For our benefit, the central part of the wedding ceremony—the marriage consent[1]—condenses the essence of what marriage is according to God’s design.

I, (name), take you, (name), to be my wife/husband.\ I promise to be faithful to you,\ in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health,\ to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.

Marriage Consent

Are you currently dating and preparing yourself for marriage? Are you a spouse? Or, are you simply somebody interested in knowing more about marriage? If you answer in the affirmative, this article is written for you. Let us together reflect on the words of the marriage consent.

brides smiling wedding day

1. Marriage: a Free Act

The first word of the marriage consent is I. I am the one getting married: not my parents, not my extended families, not my friends … but myself.

This is a robust assertion of one’s freedom: I am the one making the decision. Marriage is free: if there is no freedom, there is no marriage. I do not enter into marriage because my parents tell me to; because I fear the negative judgment of others; or because I have already made down payments to my wedding vendors! Instead, I marry this other person freely, because I want to.

fulton sheen book three to get married

Three to Get Married (Catholic Insight)

Fulton J. Sheen

Centering on the essence of love and its implications for marriage, this book is an edifying read for engaged couples, married couples, marriage counselors, and priests alike.

2. Spouses: Ministers of Christ

In marriage, therefore, this 'I' is never solitary. Now, the 'you' enters the scene: I … take you … to be my wife … to be my husband. Marriage is unique among the sacraments because, in it, the spouses themselves—not the priest!—are the “ministers of Christ’s grace [who] mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church.”[2] This very consent constitutes marriage.[3]

Moreover, it is to be noted that this you is in singular—te, in its Latin original. This highlights one of the essential properties of marriage, which is unity. Matrimony is possible only between one man andone woman. Any other combination is ruled out; there is no marriage between one man and two women (or more); between one woman and two men (or more); between one man and another man; nor between one woman and another woman. Matrimony, according to God’s original plan, is between one man and one woman.[4] It is not a product of human genius, but God’s sovereign design.

old couple holding hands romantic marriage

3. Marriage: One, Indissoluble, and Open to Life

The phrase that comes next is to be my wife … to be my husband. Something grand and mysterious normally has more than one name. Why? Because no single name can exhaust its immense reality. Think of the Eucharist: at least nine names of the Eucharist are listed in the Catechism![5]

A similar phenomenon happens with marriage. At least there are four names in Latin—the mother of several major European languages—that designate the mystery of marriage. Let us briefly go through each of them.


The first name in my list is nuptiae (Lt. nubere, to veil), wherefrom comes the English term ‘nuptials.’ The Latin noun nuptus means 'covering' or 'veil.' This is in reality a synecdoche—the using of a part of something to refer to its whole (as in saying “I’ve got wheels” to mean “I have a car”). Thus, the veiling of the bride in the celebration represents the veiling of the mystery of marriage.

The use of veil in weddings dates back at least to the Greco-Roman times. In a religious context, it stands for modesty and obedience before God as well as for chastity.


The second name is matrimonium, a word composed of the words matris munia (i.e., the mother’s duties). This is another synecdoche. Marriage is here designated by the mother’s responsibilities. The name ‘matrimony,’ hence, points to the procreative end of marriage. Couples, in other words, are called to be open to life.

This openness to life entails unwavering opposition to the use of contraception. Mind you: the Church is not a police officer. She is a wise mother. When she prohibits something, she does so because it goes against your interest!

She tells you, “Don’t use contraception,” because, on the one hand, it disfigures marriage by separating its unitive and procreative purposes which—in God’s original plan—are bound together. There is no separation between “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) and “they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The one who uses contraception, though, only wants sex (union) but not babies (procreation).

parents children kitchen black

Contraception, on the other hand, destroys matrimonial love since, when it is employed, a spouse can no longer say he gives himself unreservedly to the other spouse. Why? Because he at least refuses to give his spouse his fertility—his capability to give her progeny!

Contraception and total self-giving, therefore, are mutually exclusive.


The third name is consortium, formed by con (together with) and sors (destiny). This name suggests that marriage has—apart from the procreative end—a unitive end, namely, the good of the spouses. A couple promises to live in union with one another as each one of them pronounces: I promise to be faithful to you … . Consortium also conveys the idea of indissolubility: I want to be faithful to you in order to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.


The fourth name is conjugum; it is a combination of con (together with) and jugum (yoke). This name suggests that married couples are called to carry the same yoke. For them, yoke represents all the life contradictions they have to face: the good times and the bad, sickness and health, etc.

Those familiar with agriculture will know that a yoke would normally be carried by two animals. However, unlike those animals, married couples are not the only ones carrying the yoke. Christ helps them. He carries the yoke with them. That is why Fulton Sheen asserts that it takes three to get married: God + a man + a woman.

It takes three to make Love in Heaven\ —Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It takes three for Heaven to make love to earth\ —God, Man, and Mary, through whom God became Man.

It takes three to make love in the Holy Family\ —Mary, and Joseph, and the consummation of their love, Jesus.

It takes three to make love in hearts\ —The Lover, the Beloved, and Love.

To that Woman\ Who taught the sublime mystery of Love,\ Mary Immaculate,\ This book is dedicated.

That nations, hearts, and homes may learn\ That love does not so much mean to give oneself to another\ As for both lovers to give themselves to that Passionless Passion,\ Which is God.

—Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married, Prologue
  1. “Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage” (c. 1057 §2).

  2. CCC, 1623.

  3. See The Code of Canon Law, c. 1057 §1.

  4. See Gen 2:24 NRSVCE: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

  5. See CCC, 1328 et seq.