Who giveth this woman… ?
My daughter is getting married in a few weeks time and we are in the midst of wedding fever. My husband cannot understand why my daughter and I needed to spend a whole Saturday and drive all over Sydney choosing the paper for the invitations "for something that has a shelf life of about 30 seconds!" However, the care that is put into aspects of the ceremony, and some traditions we have bumped up against, have set me thinking about the symbolism of the wedding day and what that has to say about marriage.
The first one we encountered was when the minister who is conducting the wedding asked my daughter if she wanted her father to "give her away", saying that many couples dispensed with this today since it was a throw back to when young women were seen as the property of their fathers, to be "given away" on their wedding day.
This tradition, which is formalised in the BCP wording "who giveth this woman to be married to this man", rests on the idea that women are the property of their fathers or husbands and can do nothing without their consent.
This was the case in ancient Israel, where the status of women was generally low, and the main purpose of marriage was for procreation and the perpetuation of a man's name. Marriage involved the payment of a "bride price", which was followed by some kind of wedding celebration and then the bride took up residence in her husband's home.
Later Roman laws were generally fair to women and raised their status: this fair treatment of women was strengthened by Christian teachings on the equality of men and women (Gal 3:28) and led to marriage being built on the free consent of both partners.
Wedding ceremonies were civil affairs in Roman times and the early church, and only gradually did marriage come more and more under the influence of the church. As late as the 10th century the main part of the wedding took place outside the church door, and it was not until the 13th century that the priest took charge of the proceedings. The influence of the church in marriage has waxed and waned over the centuries, to the situation we have in Australia today where only 37% of couples choose a church wedding according to ABS figures. Many of these couples would not be Christians, and it is interesting to consider the breadth of influence that a church wedding can have, even beyond the thought given to the wording of the service.
The question about "giving her away" prompted us to consider our role in her married life when her fiancÃ© "leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). In the midst of all the other wedding planning, thinking about this symbolic action was a helpful prompt for us as parents to reflect on how we need to be as Godly parents to the newly married couple. As a counsellor, too often I see couples struggling with divided loyalties as in laws fail to allow their adult child to leave their family of origin and "cleave" to their spouse.
So will my daughter be given away by her father? You will need to be there to find out!