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The willing and deliberate desire for a man and woman to live in mutual love “as long as [they] both shall live” was engendered in them by their Creator (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; Eph. 5:22-33). In God’s plan, they are to be living examples of the communion that all people individually and collectively may share in God through Christ Jesus.
Because marriage is a gift of the Creator that is not negated by the fall into sin, it may be performed by civil authorities, apart from the Church. While such civil ceremonies are good according to “civil righteousness,” they do not speak the Lord’s blessing or implore His grace and aid for a sanctified marriage and home.
In the Lord’s name, the Church through her pastors gives the heavenly Father’s blessing to the willing consent and solemn promises of a man and woman. In this way, the Lord’s blessing elevates the legal marriage to holy matrimony, where His Word and promise are clearly proclaimed. Martin Luther acknowledged this purpose of holy matrimony when he wrote in his Marriage Booklet that:
“when someone asks us [the pastor] to bless them in front of the church or in the church, whether to pray over them or even to marry them, we are obligated to do so. . . . For whoever desires a prayer or blessing from the pastor or bishop, indicates thereby (even if he doesn’t actually say so with his mouth) what kind of peril and necessity is approaching and how great is his need for divine blessing and common prayer for the estate into which he is about to enter. For one daily encounters all too often the kind of misfortune the devil serves up in the estate of marriage through adultery, unfaithfulness, discord, and all kinds of misery.”
Therefore, the Lord speaks His blessing to those who are married so that they may faithfully keep their vows.
The public desire to enter the holy estate of matrimony by mutual vows lived according to the Lord’s Word was traditionally declared in the Marriage Banns. After the intention of the couple to seek the Lord’s blessing is declared, the Church prays that they may live in His strong love and enduring blessing.
The usual place where God’s blessing is publicly given is the rite of Holy Matrimony. Clothed in Scripture reading and prayer, the couple gives their mutual consent and their solemn promises, employing biblically informed words. Their words are followed by the Lord’s blessing, which declares His sturdy and unwavering protection against any evil that may threaten their marriage from without or within. The Lord also blesses them with His favor so that, in this new vocation of husband and wife, they “may please Him in both body and soul and live together in holy love” until life’s end. Relying on these blessings Church prays to the Lord to strengthen the couple in faithfulness and love and to sustain and defend them in all trial and temptation. Then she remembers all families and homes before the Lord’s throne of grace and implores the Lords’ renewed blessing for all people.
Those who were married in a legal civil ceremony may receive the Lord’s blessing in the Blessing of a Civil Marriage. While affirming the lawfulness of their civil marriage, this rite supplies what the government cannot give—the Lord’s Word, the prayer of the Church, and the Lord’s dependable promise of help and protection. It affirms the gift they have already received and offers prayers that they may live in godly harmony.
When the Church desires to celebrate the marital harmony that our Lord’s blessing bestows, the Anniversary or Affirmation of Holy Matrimony is a suitable rite. Thankful for the Lord’s mercy and kindness, the Church rejoices in those solemn vows sustained and blessed by our merciful God and Father. At the same time, she looks forward to the heavenly blessing promised to all—married and unmarried—who faithfully live united to God and in harmony with all people.