It is the proposal — typically accompanied by the giving of a ring — that begins the engagement, a time of preparation not only for the wedding but the marriage. While I dare say that the typical American bride spends a good bit of time and energy thinking about her engagement ring, the ring vows and exchange during the wedding ceremony seem like a minor point in the entire affair. However, in a richly personalized ceremony, the symbolism of a ring can be nicely underscored.
The power and imagery of the ring is potent—the circle reminds us of the unending nature of love. It is with no beginning or end. The rings are made of precious metals to symbolize not only the value of the relationship but the strength of the bond. Since the time of the ancient Egyptians, people have said that the vein runs from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart, explaining why most couples wear bands on that finger.
These body adornments are the most immediate sign to the outside world that one person has made an enduring commitment to another.
There are many tidbits of wisdom and folklore surrounding the ring. My good friend Adrienne shared a fun little book with me, Happy is the Bride the Sun Shines On: Wedding Beliefs, Customs, and Traditions by Leslie Jones. Among the many bits of folklore she provides are the following:
1. The groom should make a wish as he puts the ring on the bride’s finger.
2. It’s lucky if the groom buys the wedding ring with money from the sale of something very dear to him
3. The number of diamonds in one’s engagement ring is the number of children the bride will bear
4, It is good luck to have one’s birthstone in her engagement ring, but opals and pearls are bad luck in the ring.
Despite the standard format of most ring ceremonies, there are interesting “flourishes” one may wish to consider. For instance, more and more modern brides are wearing colored gemstones in engagement rings, which offer fabulous notions that can be incorporated into the wording. One of “my” recent brides received an engagement ring which included sapphires from the groom’s mother. To the ceremony, I added a bit about the meaning of this favorite blue gemstone: the sapphire, a precious emblem of heaven, virtue, truth, constancy, and contemplation.
Likewise if a ring is a family heirloom or was custom-designed for the couple, this is a wonderful chance to discuss the love of family or the intent of the bride and groom in designing and selecting the rings. (As I was writing this article, I even noticed that a socially conscious bride and groom can buy co-called conflict free diamonds, from a progressive company, as advertised on the “Offbeat Bride” website!)
The ring exchange may even allow the community of guests to be involved in the ceremony. I recently led a community blessing of the rings at a modest sized wedding. As we prepared to begin the wedding, the couple’s bands were passed person-to-person to each wedding guest. Each individual held the rings in his or her warm hands for a moment, pausing to offer, in silence, a blessing to the couple. The rings eventually made their way back to the bride and groom, for the vows and exchange.
So, I close these musings with a suggestion to brides, grooms and officiants: the wedding ring vows and exchange, like so many other components of the traditional wedding ceremony, offer a unique moment to personalize the ceremony…