Wedding rings in Christianity
If the ring has pagan, magical properties, then why does it form such an important part of a Christian wedding ceremony? Does the wedding ring have any religious significance?
Religious significance of the ring
Like many other pagan symbols, the ring has been adopted into Christian ceremonies and rites.
There is no biblical reference decreeing the wedding ring as a requirement. The requirement is that people promise to love one another, and the ring is used to symbolise this.
Bar-code, tattoo and Q-code
Christians could just as easily use a written contract, tattoo a bar-code on the forehead, or any other long-lasting sign. But it was handy in the early days to simply adopt an existing and familiar identifier (the ring) to show that an agreement had been made.
In addition to the wedding band, rings are used as powerful symbols in other parts of the Church. For example the gold Fisherman's Ring, annulus piscatorius, decorated with a depiction of St. Peter in a boat casting his net, is worn by the Roman Catholic pope. A bishop wears a ring to signify his union with the Church. Certain orders of nuns do not marry yet wear wedding rings to signify their 'spiritual marriage to Christ'.
And that gives us a clue to the significance of the ring in a Christian ceremony: Just as one might be worn today by bishops but not priests, the ring was worn by leaders as a symbol or seal of authority.
The symbol of authority is also used in a Christian wedding ceremony. The ring-giving symbolises one person transferring their authoritative rights to the other person. It is given as a token that one person is also transferring their valuable property to the other. And it is given as a symbol that one person promises to love the other. For most people, there are no magical, supernatural or even religious connotations to this. (Love is above those things anyway.)
The Catholic Church introduced the ring into the ceremony in the Middle Ages. The groom would slide the wedding ring part way up and then down his bride's right thumb, then her first finger, and then her middle finger, whilst saying: "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" before finally placing it on the next finger in line; the ring finger.
Protestants started using the ring a little while after the Catholics. In 1549, the wedding ring finger changed from right hand to the left hand for Protestants but Catholics continued to place the ring on the right hand.
The ring is not obligatory but today, almost all married Christians. wear wedding rings, doubtlessly helped by the Christianization of the old vena amoris tale, plus a bit of pressure from the likes of Cartier and BVLGARI.
What the Bible says about rings
© Photo by Sumie Sato
Lavie factory, Tokyo
There are several passages mentioning rings: Gen. 24:22, 30, 53 (given as a token of fidelity); Esth. 8:2, 8; and Luke 15:22 (given as a token of adoption). These are rings worn as a sign of authority or privilege (Gen. 41:42) rather than merely decoration. There is no specific mention of rings used as part of a wedding ceremony.
What the Church says about rings
The ecclesiastical laws in England are derived from the Roman pontiffs. The canon law of marriage according to the English Parliament and the Common Prayer Book, is the basis of marriage throughout Europe. Marriages in the Episcopal Church are governed by the Rubric, which directs that:
"the man shall give unto the woman a ring, laying the same upon the book; and the priest, taking the ring, shall deliver it unto the man to put it on the fourth finger of the woman's left hand."
The exchange of wedding rings is often accompanied by standard vows, which vary slightly according to the religion and denomination. For example,
Harey at mekuddeshet
li b'taba'at zo k'dat
(Behold, thou art consecrated unto me
with this ring
according to the Law of Moses
and of Israel).
- Anglican, Episcopal, Protestant:
I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow (or 'love'),
and with all that I am and all that I have, I honour you,
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
With this ring I thee wed,
and with my worldly goods I thee endow,
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
This ring I give you,
in token and pledge
of our constant faith
and abiding love.
- Latin Rite Catholic:
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
take and wear this ring as sign
of my love and faithfulness.
With this ring,
I wed you,
and pledge you my love,
now and forever.
A bit late to ask, but is this page important?
Perhaps the people who place most importance on wedding rings are jewellers. For the rest of us, rings, whilst meaningful, should not be permitted to obscure more important matters.
There is more to Christianity than worrying about whether wearing a wedding ring is covered by the old prohibition we read in Timothy and Peter.
Not following expected social etiquette can result in being seen as aloof. If we dare argue the Scriptures, the wedding ring should not be considered an ornament. Neither should our Christianity be merely decorative.
Return to Wedding Rings
A priest may bless the rings and this is considered by some, especially Catholics, to make the rings sacramental.
Just as the Puritans did in the 16th century Elizabethan era, today's Religious Society Of Friends (Quakers) generally frown on rings since they consider them to be pagan symbols of medieval superstition. The Amish, Adventists and others also manage to get married perfectly well without the wedding ring.
Indeed, as L.F. kindly pointed out to us, there is not even mention of a 'wedding ceremony'; just 'wedding feasts'. No wedding vows, either.
Rubric: a title or article in certain ancient common-law books.
Even so, most priests, rabbis, imam and other ministers would celebrate a wedding where no rings were desired by the couple.