Wedding rings. In the rite for the Order of Celebrating Matrimony, the exchange of consent comes first, followed by the blessing and giving of rings. The rings are a sign of the covenant of love between the husband and wife, the fidelity they pledge to each other, the permanence of their union, and an outward sign to others that they are married. Wedding rings are the most common symbol of the sacrament of marriage in Christian art. Mary and Joseph are frequently depicted exchanging rings before a priest in a synagogue or the Temple.
Blessing and giving the rings. The rings are blessed with a prayer offered by the priest or deacon who says, “May the Lord bless these rings, which you give to each other as a sign of love and fidelity,” or “Bless, O Lord, these rings, which we bless in your name, so that those who wear them may remain entirely faithful to each other, abide in peace and your will, and live always in mutual charity,” or “Bless and sanctify your servants in their love, O Lord, and let these rings, a sign of their faithfulness, remind them of their love for one another.” Then they are sprinkled with holy water. Finally, the husband first, and then the bride, places the ring on the spouse’s finger while saying, “Receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Ring finger. The ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand. According to the “Catholic Source Book” by Peter Klein, “It was once believed that a nerve, or a vein of blood, ran from this finger to the heart,” the symbolic seat of love.
Circular shape. A wedding ring is round without beginning or end. The circular shape represents eternity, that a marriage continues unbroken and uninterrupted for the rest of one’s life. It is a love that never ends (see 1 Cor 13:8a).
Hollow interior. A wedding ring has an open center like the inside of a pipe or a piece of conduit. As liquid flows through a pipe or electricity flows through the wires inside a section of conduit, so a steady stream of love flows through the ring from one spouse to another. It is a channel for patience, kindness, humility, politeness, self-control, forgiveness, truthfulness, endurance, compassion and gentleness (see 1 Cor 13:4-7 and Col 3:12-13).
Tight fit. The ring is worn snuggly so it will remain in place and not slip off. It presses against the skin and bone and cannot slide over the knuckle. The close fit represents the tight bond between the husband and wife. Moreover, the firm cling represents the restrictive nature of marriage, a chaste love that is shared exclusively with each other and no one else.
Interlocking rings. One of the most common symbols of marriage is a pair of rings in which one ring is intertwined with the other. It is a sign that the husband and wife are inseparably linked. Sometimes a cross is placed between the rings, which signifies that Jesus is the center and binding force of a Christian marriage, and that they will carry their crosses together. Occasionally two white candles are also added, one within each ring, which indicates their baptismal faith is the foundation of their marriage, and their joint membership in the body of Christ will act as a unifying force in their life together.
Father Van Sloun recently retired as pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. This column is part of a series on the sacrament of marriage. Read more Faith Fundamentals.
Tags: Giving of rings, Marriage, Order of Celebrating Matrimony, Ring finger
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