It's a word you don't hear much any more. For many it has been relegated to the dark ages. It used to be that people would talk about the Sanctity of Marriage. Even within the religious community, who believe in the sacred, there seems to be a drifting from the Sanctity of Marriage.
So what does Sanctity of Marriage really mean?
1 : holiness of life and character : godliness
2 a : the quality or state of being holy or sacred : inviolability
b plural : sacred objects, obligations, or rights
1 a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>
b : the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock
c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
2 : an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially : the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities
3 : an intimate or close union <the marriage of painting and poetry — J. T. Shawcross>
CommitmentMarriage is being able to share life with someone who you love and who loves you, and that is not always easy. "For better or for worse" means that you are there for your spouse in the bad times as well as the good. It is something to be considered holy or sacred.
Marriage is a commitment that takes courage and fortitude. Henry Ward Beecher said, "There never was a person who did anything worth doing who did not receive more than he gave." Marriage is like that. It is worth doing. It is worth giving to without a need to see a return, and yet from it we all receive more than we give. Sharing life together can be extremely fulfilling - especially when that life partner has been with you your entire life.
Couples who's only reason for marrying is that they "love" each other but have do not see the marriage as sacred may have little or no commitment. They may be in for a rude awakening when one day the feelings are not as strong as they used to be, the idiosyncrasies of their partner begin to irritate them and they no longer feel the "love." For that reason it is important to understand the commitment that is being made and enter into it with some solemnity.
The wedding ceremony is a reflection of the marriage. It expresses the commitment that one spouse makes to the other. It is a solemn and reverent occasion. At the same time, it is a celebration of that commitment and of what that commitment means for the future of the couple - of the joys that life will bring for them as they travel through life, and of the sorrows they will share and support each other through.
Knowing this about marriage, what does it mean for the Marriage Ceremony? What does it mean to respect the sanctity of the marriage ceremony itself?
Keep it pure
The commitment that makes a marriage work is a pure commitment. It is not selfish in nature and it does not seek to make a profit from the union. It is a shared commitment that is refreshingly simple and pure. It doesn't have to be fancy, though the celebration of that purity can be lavished with decorations and gifts. Those dressings do not make the ceremony (or the rest of the day) impure as long as they remain decorations in line with the celebration. If they become the whole purpose of the event, then something has gone terribly wrong.
If you are attending a wedding, remember the purpose of the ceremony. You are not attending a concert, a play or even a comedy where you can get a free meal, have a good time and maybe have a couple of free drinks. Remember why you are there - to witness the union of two people, a contract of commitment to share and do life together at a very deep level. Celebrate with them, certainly, but respect the meaning behind what is happening.
Being in the moment is more and more difficult in this day and age as we find ourselves looking at our devices at important moments and being distracted in so many ways. If you were invited to the wedding as a guest, then take the time to be present at the ceremony. That means putting away the cell phone (maybe even turning it off), and watching the occasion with your own eyes, rather than through a viewfinder of a video or photo camera. Behave like a guest, not a tourist.
Rather than concentrating on getting the right angle for the best photo (that's the photographer's job), listen intently to the words being said.
As the bride, rather than worrying if your train is laying right on the floor (is it really that important? and that's the maid of honour's job anyway), be focused on the words being spoken by the officiant and by yourself. Hear the words of your groom and absorb the moment.
As the groom, perhaps you were not as involved in the planning (though grooms are more often now than they ever were), so take it all in, especially your bride, and what she has to say. Appreciate what has brought you to this point and consider what lies ahead for the two of you.
Rather than wondering if dinner will be good at the reception (that's the caterer's job), be present in the moment.
As the bride or groom, you are there to make a commitment to each other. You are participating in a contract of commitment to love one another. Be sure you are fully participating and are not simply one of the witnesses taking it in, on some level agreeing, but disconnected. Enjoy the moments and be fully engaged in them as you share your vows.
As a guest, you will not be getting up with the bride and groom on the stage as they say their vows, but by being there, the bride and groom want you to be part of their ceremony, not just part of the audience. That means you are a witness to their commitments, and you are accountable to help them when things get rough, whether you are a friend, or family, or are connected to them in some other way as part of their life. You are a participant there to give your support.
If you don't support the wedding, should you be there? Support the people if not the marriage - you were invited as a family member or a friend and a participant in their life, so even if you disagree with what is happening in front of you, you can still be there for the individuals and respect their choices.
It's good that you came to the ceremony and you participated. You support the couple and you wish them well. What now?
They need you. They are starting a new life together. They have each other now to share life with, but they will need support from others around them as well. Celebrate with them, but don't abandon them after the wedding. Be there for each of them and for both of them together. You too can help them to face the challenges of life and you can help them keep the sanctity in their marriage.
Perhaps if we saw marriage as a sacred commitment rather than simply the next step in a childhood crush, our marriages would last. Perhaps that same commitment would spill over into the support of our children and of the community at large. Perhaps that is the way it was intended to be. Perhaps there is more to the Sanctity of Marriage than meets the eye. Perhaps it is something worth keeping in your wedding ceremony.
It's something that has worked for my wife and I for almost a quarter century.