Here is my parish newsletter article for February. It is one of my favorites thus far.
The Curate's Corner
“Plighting a Troth ”
As I write this, my wedding is two days away. Since Roar articles need to be in by the middle of month so that everything that goes into them can be compiled and printed for mailing on the first of the month, I have decided to take a few moments and write down some prenuptial musings.
Being as I am a curate and liturgy planning is one of the things for which I have been specifically trained in seminary, I planned the liturgy and printed the service bulletin for my own wedding. That seems simple enough, but there are actually many options on what can be done in a wedding, such as which blessing to use, if you want to have Communion and if so which Eucharistic prayer to use, and whether both parties exchange rings or just the bride gets the ring. I personally never quite understood the liturgical symbolism of only one person getting a ring, probably because it reminds me too much of Gollum’s “precious” in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
As I was planning the liturgy, I looked back through several different Books of Common Prayer to refresh myself on the background of the Anglican Wedding rite. I know many a Protestant minister who keeps a copy of the Book of Common Prayer on his self specifically to have a frame of reference at which to peek in the event he has to perform a wedding unexpectedly. Quite a few non-Episcopal Protestant weddings use part if not most of the exact language found in the Book of Common Prayer because the theology and power of the service is so strong and appealing.
In our research, my fiancée and I were both greatly amused to find in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer the final phrase in the vows spoken by both the groom and bride which say, “and thereto I plight thee my troth.” I honestly had not the foggiest of ideas what a “troth” was, much less how I was suppose to “plight” one.
When I first read it aloud to my fiancée, she thought I had said “trough” like the food bin in which you feed a hog. Needless to say, we had a good laugh about the mental image of a bride in a white dress slopping a hog during a wedding liturgy. That language was a bit archaic; so, I understand why they updated it in the 1979 BCP revision.
A “troth” is not, in fact, a hog feed bin nor some prehistoric caveman name. A “troth” is the same root word from which we get the more modern word “betrothal.” Dictionary.com gave three definitions as follows: “faithfulness, fidelity, or loyalty,” “truth or verity,” or (as is pertinent to this article) “one's word or promise, esp. in engaging oneself to marry.”
The same basic vows are still made in the current Book of Common Prayer wedding liturgy. Instead of “thereto plighting a troth,” the current part of that section is “This is my solemn vow.” This is something to the modern American ear that, though no longer archaic sounding on its face, can sound just as quaint. I have actually been to a wedding (not Episcopal) where the actual spoken vows were, “for good or for better…so long as our love lasts.”
I was not a liturgical consultant on that wedding, which is probably just as well. That struck me as not really being a vow at all, but a prenuptial contingency plan in liturgical form. According to the catechism in the back of the Prayer Book, marriage is referred to as “Holy Matrimony” and is defined as that “in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.”
To say that the vow is only good “as long as our love will last” is saying that the vows taken are only done and fulfilled with our own, mortal strength. While such things as divorce happen (and sometimes with good reason especially in cases of abuse), the good news of the Anglican wedding liturgy and our theology of marriage is that we are never in marriage alone. The Church is there to strengthen us and give us council, and God, himself, will give us the grace and strength at those times to remain faithful to those vows when our own fallible human nature can no longer find the strength to abide.