FIrst, holy Church instructs us in the ends of Matrimony, which are three.
1. The procreation of children. 2. A remedy against sin. 3. A mutual help to each other.
Then the Priest requires the parties to be married, by the terror of the dreadful judgment day, to declare, if they know any impediment, why they may not be lawfully married? which is as much care and caution as can be used by those that are not able to discern the secrets of the heart.
Then follows the Contract in the future tense, whereby these persons mutually promise to the Priest, Gods Minister, before the Congregation, to enter into that holy state of Wedlock, and strictly to keep those sacred laws of marriage which Almighty God hath ordained. This is that, as I conceive, which S. August. de Gen. ad lit. l. 11. c. 4. calls Votorum solennitatem, [the solemnities of vows and promises,], which was in his time and formerly an usual ceremony of marriage: And of very good use is this solemnity; for by this have the persons bound themselves to their duty, by all the obligations that a sacred solemn vow or promise can lay upon the soul.
Then the Priest asks [Who gives this woman to be married to this man?] This was the old custome, that the Bride should be given by the Father or friend, Aug. de Gen. ad lit. 11. c. 41. to which S. Paul may be thought to allude, 2 Cor. 11. 2. I have espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. And Psal. 45. 13. The Queen the Spouse, shall be brought to the King. The reason of this saith Learned Mr. Hooker l. 5. Eccl. Pol. Sect. 73. was, That in ancient times all women which had not Husbands or Fathers to govern them, had their Tutors, without whose authority, there was no act, which they did warrantable; and for this cause they were in marriage delivered unto their husbands by others. Which custom retained, hath still this use, that it puts women in mind of a duty, whereto the very imbecillity of their sex doth bind them, namely, to be always directed and guided by others. Whether this were the very cause of this custom, I will not determine, nor what else was: but whatsoever was the first cause of it, this is certain, that it is a decent custom. For it cannot be thought fit, that a woman, whose chiefest ornament is modesty and shamefacedness, should offer her self before the Congregation to marriage to any person, but should rather be led by the hand of another, and given by him.
After the marriage it self [The man puts a Ring upon the womans finger.] The Ring hath been alwayes used as an especial pledge of faith and fidelity. Nothing more fit to serve as a token of our purposed endless continuance in that which we never ought to revoke; and therefore fitly used in marriage, which is a contract not to be dissolved but by death. Aurum nulla nor at praeter uno digito, quem sponsus oppigner asset pronubo annulo. No woman was permitted to wear gold, save only upon one finger, which the husband had fastned to himself with a wedding Ring. This he puts upon the fourth finger of the left hand, because there is a vein that goes from thence to the heart; by which is signified that the love should be hearty: say some Rituals.
Then follows [With my body I thee worship, &c.]
For the better understanding of this phrase, we must know that anciently there were two sorts of wives; One whereof was called the primary or lawful wife; the other was called the half wife or Concubine. The difference betwixt these two, was only in the differing purpose of the man, betaking himself to the one or the other: If his purpose was only fellowship, there grew to the woman by this means no worship at all; but rather the contrary. In professing that his intent was to add by his person, honour and worship unto hers, he took her plainly and clearly to be his Wife, not his Concubine. This is it which the Civil Law doth mean, when it makes a Wife to differ from a Concubine in dignity. The worship that grew unto her, being taken with declaration of this intent, was, that her children became by this means free and legitimate, heirs to their father: Gen. 25. 5, 6. her self was made a mother over his family: Lastly, she received such advancement of state, as things annexed to his person might augment her with. Yea, a right of participation was thereby given her both in him, and even in all things which were his; and therefore he saies not only [With my body I thee worship,] but also, with all my worldly goods; thee endow. The former branch having granted the principal, the later granteth that which is annexed thereto, Hooker Eccl. Pol. l. 5. Sect. 73.
The Jews anciently used the same phrase [Godwin Jew. Customs.] Be unto me a wife, and I according to the word of God, will worship, honour and maintain thee, according to the manner of husbands amongst the Iews, who worship, honour and maintain their wives. And that no man quarrel at this harmless phrase, let him take notice, that to worship here signifies, to make worshipful or honourable, as you may see, 1 Sam. 2. 30. For where our last Translation reads it, Him that honours me, I will honour; in the old Translation, which our Common-Prayer book uses, it is, Him that worships me, I will worship; that is, I will make worshipful, for that way only can God be said to worship man.
After the Priest hath prayed for grace and Gods assistence, for the married persons, to enable them to keep their solemn vow and contract, then does he as it were seal that bond and contract, by which they have mutually tied themselves, with Gods seal, viz. Those whom God hath joyned together, let no man put asunder.
The persons having consented together in wedlock, and witnessed the same before God and the Church, and plighted their troth each to other, and declared the same by giving and taking of a Ring, and joyning of hands; and the Priest having sealed and ratified all, as it were, with Gods seal, which no man must break, he pronounces them man and wife, in the Name of the Father, Son, and holy Ghost. Which Proclamation, or pronouncing of the married persons to be man and wife, thus in the Church by the Priest, was one of those laws and rites of marriage, which the Church received of the Apostles. Euar. ep. ad Epis. Aphric. Anno 110.
Then the Priest blesses them solemnly according to the old rules, Conc. Carth. 4. c. 13. Of the efficacy of which blessings hath been said formerly.
After this follows the 128 Psalm which was the Epithalamium or marriage-song used by the Jews at Nuptials, says Muscul. in loc.
Then pious and devout prayers for the married persons, and lastly the COMMUNION. Such religious solemnities as these, or some of these, were used by the Jews at marriages: For, their rites and ceremonies of their marriage were publickly performed with blessings and thanksgivings; whence the house was called the House of Praise, and their marriage song Hillulim, praises; the Bridegrooms intimate friends sung the marriage-song, who are called children of the Bride-chamber, S. Matth. 9. 15. [Godwin of Jews mar.] The Primitive Christians had all these which we have. The persons to be married were contracted by the Priest, the marriage was solemnly pronounced in the Church, the married couple were blessed by the Priest, prayers and thanksgivings were used, and the holy Communion administred to them. And these religious rites, the Church received from the Apostles, saies Euarist. Ep. ad Epis. Aphr. And doubtless highly Christian and useful these solemnities are: For first, they beget and nourish in the minds of men, a reverend esteem of this holy mystery, Ephes. 5. 32. and draw them to a greater conscience of wedlock, and to esteem the bond thereof, a thing which cannot without impiety be dissolved. Then, are they great helps to the performance of those duties which God Almighty hath required in married persons; which are so many, and those so weighty, that whosoever duly considers them, and makes a conscience of performing them, must think it needful to make use of all those means of grace, which God Almighty hath appointed. For if we duly consider the great love and charity that this holy state requires, even to the laying down of life, Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, Ephes. 5. 25. of the weighty charge of the education of children, which if well performed procures a blessing, and an advantage to salvation, 1 Tim. 2. 15. She shall be saved in child-bearing, if they continue in faith and charity, &c. so if it be carelesly perform'd, it procures a most heavy curse, 1 Sam. 2. 29, 31. &c. Or lastly, the chastity and holiness necessary to that state of marriage, heightned now up to the representation of the mystical union of Christ with his Church, Eph. 5. 32. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church; to which holy conjunction, our marriage and all our works and affections in the same, should correspond and be conformable. I say, if we consider all these duly, can we think we may spare any of those divine helps to performance; whether they be vows and holy promises to bind us, or our Fathers and Mothers, Gods and the Churches blessings, or holy prayers for Gods assistance; or lastly, the holy Communion that great strengthener of the soul? If mens vices and licentiousness have made this holy service seem unseasonable at this time, reason would that they should labour to reform their lives, and study to be capable of this holy service, and not that the Church should take off her command for the receiving of the holy Communion for their unspeakable good. For would men observe Gods and the Churches commands, and enter into this holy state; not like beasts or heathens at the best, but like Christians with these religious solemnities, the happiness would be greater than can easily be exprest. I know not which way I should be able to shew the happiness of that wedlock, the knot whereof the Church doth fasten and the Sacrament of the Church confirm, saith Tertul. l. 2. ad Uxor.