Why Do We Say, “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace”?

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Weddings are happy, emotional ceremonies that are designed to serve as an expression of love, hope, and commitment. Why, then, do wedding movies always seem to depict this dramatic part of the ceremony that rarely, if ever, takes place? While the absence of this phrase in real-world ceremonies makes it appear that this phrase was made up by Hollywood directors, that is actually not the case.

Christian Book of Common Prayer

If you have never been to a wedding in a Christian church, you may be confused about this phrase. The phrase “speak now or forever hold your peace,” appears in the prescribed liturgy for marriage in the Christian Book of Common Prayer. Many modern celebrants actually have this phrase altered, and instead, opt for a positive request that their guests will support the marriage and love being celebrated on that day.

Medieval Regulations

In Medieval times, the church began the practice of outlawing marriages between people who were closely related. This was declared in the 4th Lateran Council of 1215, which required that marriages not be made clandestinely in order to make sure that there was no possibility of an illegitimate marriage. For three weeks before the ceremony, priests were required to announce the future marriage and ask anyone aware of forbidden possible unions to “speak now or forever hold your peace.” This is also why we have witnesses to marriages. Today those witnesses manifest as the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen.

Getting Your Community Involved

In modern times, we of course still outlaw incestuous or otherwise illicit marriages but no longer need to rely on the community to enforce them. Instead, we have databases and identification cards. That does not mean that your friends and family should not be involved with your wedding. In fact, the reason people get married with their families and friends in attendance is to garner their support. When you invite people to your wedding, you are asking them to support your love and marriage.

Every marriage will have to survive conflicts and hardships. You need the support of your friends and family to get through these troubled times. This support can help strengthen the bonds of your love and marriage. Of course, you probably expect that your friends and family will support you without you needing to ask them, and you are probably correct in expecting this. Involving them in your ceremony and asking them to support you in your marriage is a meaningful way to ensure you have their support.

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Community Vows of Support

  • Ask that your wedding rings are passed around by your guests while the minister says “These wedding rings are intended to symbolize the love and vows between these two people. As these rings pass through the people they care about the most, please offer your support in their marriage.”
  • Alternatively, ask that the minister say this instead: “Do you all promise to support this couple in their marriage and offer support during conflict or hardship? Will you offer them your guidance when needed, and celebrate happiness with them, and be there for them when necessary?” Your guests should respond “We do.”

What Happens if Someone Does “Speak Now” Instead of “Holding Their Peace”?

If you prefer to use this traditional line, that is okay too. You may be wondering what happens if someone does speak up at this critical point in the wedding. The truth is, it is highly likely that everyone at your wedding supports your marriage. Otherwise, they would not have accepted the invitation. Someone may try to interject during this point, but, most likely, everyone will hush them, and the wedding will continue. Unless the objector has a reason that would legally prevent you from being married, nothing can legally stop the marriage ceremony if someone does “speak now.” If there is someone in your audience aware of information that would prevent you from legally being married, they likely would have said something to you before your actual wedding day.

In the end, enjoy your big day and know that the likelihood of someone speaking up at your wedding is very slim.  And even if they do, there’s nothing they say that can stop you from continuing the ceremony.