Wedding Ceremony AisleIt’s a phrase you never want to hear a response to when you’re standing at the aisle, ready to speak your vows and marry the person you love. Yet, Hollywood movies and television shows often rely on it as a dramatic way to disturb someone’s nuptials, usually with someone bursting in and declaring his or her love for one of the soon-to-be-wedded parties. If you’re wondering where this potentially life-altering moment in the ceremony comes from, you’re not alone. Older matrimonial customs rooted in religious and social traditions have contributed to the appearance of this oft-dreaded phrase: “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

The Banns of Marriage

Before the modern era, marriages were often arranged a decade or more in advance, especially for upper class or noble brides and grooms. Even when a person could select his or her life partner, marriages in the Western Christian world were often considered a community affair. In a January 2015 article in The Conversation, history professor Frederik Pedersen revealed that the Catholic Church’s Fourth Lateran Council reflected this sentiment with the rules that it passed in 1215. This council instituted a practice known as the “reading of the banns,” requiring announcements of each couple’s intention to tie the knot be publicly read in their home churches or parishes for three consecutive Sundays.

What was the purpose of the banns? The custom was initially created to safeguard against marriages that could potentially violate church canon law. Since civil laws in medieval and Renaissance-era Europe were heavily impacted by its reigning religious authorities, the church’s agreement or refusal to solemnize a marriage held weight outside the parish doors and in the larger community. During the period in which the banns were read, individuals could notify the local priest if they knew of problems with either the bride, the groom or both:

  • Being third-degree relatives or closer to each other
  • Inability to consent to the marriage
  • Lack of reason or judgment to carry out marital responsibilities
  • Fraud or misrepresentation by either party

The Banns and Modern Wedding Announcements

While the “reading of the banns” was first a Catholic tradition, it was adopted by other denominations, such as the Anglican and Methodist churches. The Guardian reported that the Church of England considered dropping it as a requirement back in 2015. Meanwhile, Roman Catholic authorities have generally left it up to each country’s national conference of bishops to decide whether to continue the custom. The jurisdiction of civil laws over matrimonial affairs has caused the practice to fall out of use, replaced by notices of engagements and marriage license applications published in local newspapers.

One Last Chance During the Ceremony  

A 2017 piece in The Spruce revealed that the phrase “speak now or forever hold your peace” appears in the Christian Book of Common Prayer. Many matrimonial scripts are based on this original format, so they include this statement as an opportunity for concerned parties to bring a glaring issue to a clergy member’s attention. While writer Nina Callaway explains that leaving it in may be required by some churches, she recommends removing this verbiage whenever possible. Instead, you can replace it with a call to your guests to affirm and support your union.

Older ideologies, religious influences and customs have blended together to create many of the marriage practices we take for granted today. If you’re like a lot of couples, you don’t have to worry about a dramatic interruption to your nuptials such as what happens in films like “The Graduate” or “Wedding Crashers.” Just to be safe, consider swapping “speak now or forever hold your peace” out for an opportunity for guests to declare their support of your marriage.


Category: Ceremonies Marriage

weddings culture

Add Your Comment

To post a comment you must log in first.
You may alternatively login with your credentials, below.
Have a question? Ask us now!
Welcome. If you have any questions, I'm happy to help.