This probably isn't a surprise to most, but when you get married in the Catholic Church, you don't get to write your own vows. For some, this might be difficult to accept as the wedding industry attempts to ingrain in brides that their wedding day is preeminently theirs and every detail and moment of the day should reflect them alone.
Moreover, movies, TV shows, and real-life weddings often show in beautiful, humorous, and tear-jerking ways that vows can be a way to express the unique love shared between the bride and groom--a love not shared by any other couple. Being told you must use vows shared with countless other couples can be a bit of a letdown.
However, the problem the Church has with couples writing their own vows is that, by doing so, they pledge themselves to their own idea of what marriage is rather than what the Church teaches marriage is. What, then, does the Church teach that marriage is?
There's a part in C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces that I think movingly encapsulates the Christian truth about marriage. In the passage that follows, the character of Psyche is about to be sacrificed to a monster. Despite her fate, she is surprisingly full of equanimity and tells her sister:
"And how would it be better if I had lived? I suppose I should have been given to some king in the end...And there you can see again how little difference there is between dying and being married. To leave your home — to lose you...to lose one's maidenhead — to bear a child — they are all deaths."
Amidst wedding day daydreams of dresses and flowers and perfect color palettes, the idea of marriage as a death might seem emphatically unromantic. But as with death, there is a veil that covers marriage preventing us from fully seeing what is beyond. No matter the amount of preparation you put into marriage, you still can't fully understand what you're getting into until you're actually in thick of it.
In fact, marriage is more than just a death, in the sense that you can't see beyond the threshold of the wedding day.
Like any vocation, marriage is a crucifixion. When you answer 'Yes' to God's call in your life, you choose to nail your will to Christ's on the Cross.
And herein lies the paradoxical truth of weddings and marriage that stands at odds with the culture's understanding: we're told your wedding day is only about you and your spouse, a celebration of you, a grand display of your wills to marry now, but then to do what you will later.
The Church tells you your wedding and your marriage are not about you. Or rather, they are about you insofar as they are about Christ. Marriage is designed for the salvation of your soul and of the the souls your marriage touches for the glory of Christ. Your wedding day is the willing renunciation of your will.
How can we then presume to be able to put together more fitting words for entering into a mystery we cannot fully understand? Who better than the Church can give us the right words to renounce our wills and unite them to the Cross?
Like a mother teaching her small child to speak, she teaches you to speak the right words. In her wisdom, she gives you words carefully crafted and passed down through the centuries. They are words that clearly spell out the gravity of what you are doing: making a solemn vow in front of God and man--a vow that cannot be put asunder by will or undone in times of difficulty or distress.
Yes, they are words shared by a multitude of other couples, but for that reason they bind you more closely to the whole Body of Christ. They are words you will be asked to repeat in your thoughts, words, and actions every day of your marriage. And they are words imbued with sacramental grace, to help you and your spouse become a living sign to the world of the love between Christ and His Church.
About the Author: Dominika Ramos is a native of Houston, Texas though she dreams of spending her days frolicking in the English countryside. She and her husband met at the University of St. Thomas, where she studied English literature, and they were married at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham on the Feast of the Visitation in 2014. Her life is currently composed of running Pax Paper, a hand-lettering and illustration business, blogging about the transcendental aspects of motherhood (among other things) at A Quiet Quest, and chasing after her rambunctious and delightful toddler son.