Speak now or forever hold your peace

Hi SD,

I was at a wedding yesterday. It got me thinking, is this cliche or trope really a real thing? Do officiants say this phrase often? “If anyone has a reason why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.” I think it may have happened once or twice in all the weddings I have been to. There is a pregnant silence, and then the wedding continues. Is it common for people to object? What happens if someone has a reason they want to make public about why the two should not be married? Does the priest stop the wedding and mediate? Must they let the person speak? Is the person’s objection valid? Where did this tradition begin?



Yes, it happens. Sham marriages are a thing here. Government link here. And sometimes the police get it wrong.

I’ve officiated seven weddings and have never included the line. It is not required (in Pennsylvania).

Six of my seven couples are still together, the seventh parted due to death.

It used to be a standard part of the ceremony back in the old days. It was basically a polite way of asking if anyone knew of a reason why these two shouldn’t get married, like if one of them was already married in another state. It was more of a formality than anything else in most cases.

I’ve never personally heard of someone actually objecting, but poking around on google I did find a few stories. In one case, the bride’s parents didn’t really approve of the groom, and the father stood up and said that they objected. There was an awkward silence, the priest finally said ok, and they continued with the ceremony. I found a few similar stories where someone stood up and said something, but in most cases the ceremony just continued. There was one story (and this is from the internet with no cite, so who knows if it really happened) where the bride objected, then turned around and thanked one of the bridesmaids for sleeping with her husband-to-be the night before and stormed out of the church.

If anyone ever objected for the actual legal reason the phrase was put into wedding ceremonies, I’m not aware of it. It may have happened at some time though. Wouldn’t surprise me.

Most ceremonies don’t include it these days. When I got married (about 25 years ago) we were given the option to include it if we wanted. We opted not to. The priest said that sometimes people wanted a traditional ceremony just like from the old days, but otherwise it was rarely included.

As I understand it, the most common objection was bigamy. If you knew that one of the people already had a spouse in another town, you were supposed to speak up.

I have no idea how common it has ever been to wait until the ceremony to speak up.

Sham weddings certainly happen, but in any of those cases did someone object at the exact moment in the ceremony where the priest/preacher says “speak now or forever hold your peace”?

When we got married (2012) the minister used the line, but instead of saying “speak now or forever hold your peace” he finished it with " just keep it to yourself!"

My niece got married last weekend (the officiant is ordained by the Universal Life Church, in fact :smiley: ), and he included a very similar line in the ceremony.

I’ve been to about 150-200 Christian weddings and I may have heard it 5 times at most? But I did hear it last weekend at a Nigerian wedding at an African Methodist Episcopal church. I’ve never heard it at a Catholic wedding; only protestant ones. (And the 100 or so non-Christian weddings I’ve been to didn’t include this phrase, but I only know of it at a Christian ceremony trope.)

It’s kind of a last minute “banns”.

Again, to permit people to object to an illegal marriage.

Catholic tradition is to post banns of marriage and also read them from the pulpit during mass on three consecutive holy days before the wedding. Since there was ample opportunity to object to a marriage beforehand, there wasn’t much point to ask for objections during the ceremony. (Banns are no longer required but are often still published in the church bulletin.)

Who killed whom?

I think Kayaker is just saying that you have a 93% chance of surviving a Kayaker officiated wedding. :slight_smile:

From the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (the American offshoot of the Church of England):

Into this holy union N.N… and N.N… now come to be joined.
If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be
married, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace.

From “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” on p. 424 here: https://www.bcponline.org/. I have always heard it in Episcopal weddings (including my own).

I also heard once of a practical joker who ran into a church just as the line was said, looked intently at both bride and groom, said, “Sorry, wrong church,” and then ran out again!

Has no one read Jayne Eyre?

Note the point “When is the pause after that sentence ever broken by reply? Not, perhaps, once in a hundred years.”; and this was written in the 1840s.

It was the “just cause” part that was important (although often dropped in more recent versions). It wasn’t supposed to be an opportunity to say why you didn’t like the couple; it was supposed to prevent the marriage of a couple that was not allowed to marry under the laws of the jurisdiction or church. As mentioned above, possible causes would be that one of the participants had a living spouse, or possibly that someone was marrying his deceased wife’s sister (before that was made legal in the UK).

About once a season on TV.

This was why my minister didn’t like doing weddings for people outside his congregation. He said that under the Aus system, he had a personal ?criminal? liability if he created a bigamous marriage.

In Oz, I have only seen it once, and that was when a South African minister was imported to do the ceremony. He was very clear that the reason for objection had to be a legal one (obviously with an eye to pranksters) and when he did it, the bride turned to the congregation with face full of fierce fury, terrifying any potential smartarses into silence. I assumed it was a SA requirement that he just unnecessarily imported here.

It comes originally from the Book of Common Prayer, where there were two exhortation. First, to the congregation:

“Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.”

Then, to the couple themselves, the exhortation already quoted from Jane Eyre:

“I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.”

(Bronte engages in a bit of dramatic licence, in having an objection from the congregation being made after the second exhortation. In fact anyone in the congregation wishing to object would presumably do so in response to the first exhortation.)

SFAIK these exhorations were an innovation at the time of the Reformation. The Catholic Rituale Romanum in use at the time said that the celebrant was to satisfy himself that the couple were free to marry, but didn’t direct that he do this as part of the service itself. Practice as to doing this varied , I suspect, from place to place, with some places relying on a system of banns, others on licenses, etc. until a more centrally-controlled uniform system was introduced at the time of the Council of Trent, which didn’t involve exhortations of this kind.

I don’t think there was ever a civil legal requirement for these exhortations, except perhaps indirectly, if civil law required a celebrant to celebrate marriages according to the rituals of his particular church, and his particular church had rituals which directed the inclusion of the Anglican exhortations, or some variation on them.