In church registers we often come across terms and concepts which are unfamiliar. It’s important to remember theology creates records. In this case, finding terminology in an older alphabetical listing can be frustrating if there is no cross reference. I want to present key marriage terms in the Anglican Communion extracted from one such older work.
The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia
This dictionary is based upon William James Miller’s The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1901) which is available for download online. Although this work is a product of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, as expected, there is a heavy historical United Kingdom emphasis. This makes the dictionary useful for not only your American immigrant research, but also for other places where the Irish settled or simply for your Church of Ireland research.
Dictionary of Episcopal Marriage Terms
The terms below are culturally important because they provide insight into how the Episcopal Church was interacting with popular American culture in 1901. The underlying tone reflects a church in conflict with the wider pluralistic society. These terms, are often long and tedious. However, they do reflect the Episcopal thinking by defining proper procedure and theology in such a culture.
They also answer many important genealogical questions such as how the church viewed a civil marriage as opposed to a church marriage blessed by a priest. I have kept italics where found in the original dictionary as well as preserved the often long sentences, paragraphs and flowery language. This provides extra insight into what your ancestor was hearing and reading.
Banns of Marriage: The word “Bann” is derived from the Saxon word bannen, meaning, to proclaim. The term “Banns of Marriage,” means, therefore, the publication of intended marriages, and are published for three Sundays before the event, in the Church where the ceremony is to take place. The publishing of the Banns in the Church of England is required by law. In the American Prayer Book, provision is made for the publishing of the Banns of Marriage, but as it is not required by law the custom has fallen into disuse.
Bethrothal: That portion of the Marriage Service in which the man and the woman join hands and give their troth (i.e., truth or promise of fidelity) each to the other. This is the Marriage Vow and is usually said at the foot of the chancel steps, the marriage proper (with the ring) taking place at the Altar Rail.
Espousal: That portion of the Marriage Service in which the contracting parties answer “I will” to the questions, “[name] wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife” and “[ name] wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband.” This seems to be the remains of the old form of espousals, which was different and distinct from the Office of Marriage, and which was often performed some weeks or months or perhaps years before. Something similar to what is now called “engagement,” only that it had the blessing of Mother Church upon it. In the Greek Church at the present time there are still two different offices, viz.: the one of espousals and the other of marriage, which are now performed on the same day, although formerly on different days.
Marriage: The sad prevalence of divorce in the United States might not have come to pass if people had clear ideas of what Marriage really is. Marriage is a great deal more than simply a civil contract. It is a divine institution, “an honorable estate, instituted by God in the time of man’s innocency.” It is a religious ceremony and is sacramental in character. It ought, therefore, to be clearly understood that marriage simply by a “squire” or other legal officer, detracts from the sacredness and dignity of “this holy estate,” and belittles the binding character of the “marriage tie.” Even a secular paper could declare, “We do not believe there should be any civil marriages of any kind. Every ceremony should be solemnized by the Church and lifted above the level of a real estate transaction.” In this custom of civil or legal marriages may be found at least one cause, perhaps the principle cause of divorce, for it encourages such a low view of the sacredness of the Marriage Rite.
Taught by our Lord and His Apostles, the Church emphasizes the religious and sacramental character of Holy Matrimony and has always enjoined its solemnization with ecclesiastical ceremonies and by ecclesiastical persons. This is clearly set forth by the earliest Christian writers. Thus St. Ignatius in one of his Epistles says: “It is fitting for those who purpose matrimony to accomplish their union with the sanction of the Bishop, that their marriage may be in the Lord.” Tertullian speaks of marriages being “ratified before God,” and adds, “How can we find words to describe the happiness of that Marriage in which the Church joins together, which the Oblation confirms, the Benediction seals, the Angels proclaim when sealed, and the Father ratifies.” St. Ambrose calls Marriage a Sacrament, and says, “Marriage must be sanctified by the Priest’s sanction and blessing.”
These utterances unfold the mind of the Church in the times nearest the days of our Lord and His Apostles, and in all ages ever since the Church has never abandoned this position in her practice and formularies. A careful study of the Marriage Service in the Prayer Book will show it to be a very clear setting forth of the nature of Marriage. It will also be seen how fully this Service has retained the belief concerning Marriage which the Church has always held since the time of our Lord and His Apostles.
Parish Register: A book in which all births, Baptisms, Confirmations, deaths, and marriages that occur in the Parish are recorded, together with the list of Families and Communicants. The importance of the Parish Register and the care with which it should be kept will appear when it is considered that it is a legal document.
Ring: The custom of the Wedding Ring was probably adopted by the early Church from the marriage customs of the Jews and also of the heathen, as its use has been almost universal. From its shape, having neither beginning nor ending, it is regarded as an emblem of eternity, constancy, and integrity. It is placed on the fourth finger of the woman’s left hand, and the ancient ceremony of doing so was to place it first on the thumb at the Name of the first person of the Trinity; on the next finger, at the Name of the Son; on the third at the Name of the Holy Ghost, and then on the fourth finger, and leaving it there at the word “Amen.” The ring is, also, frequently given at the consecration of a Bishop, to symbolize his espousal with the Church in his Diocese. Thus bestowed, it is a symbol of authority and is called the episcopal Ring.
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