Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace: What Does It Mean?

By | April 29, 2022


When and where was the last time you heard this phrase? In a Taylor Swift song, as she crooned, ‘Speak Now’ back in 2010? And more recently, on the internet, from those hundreds of funny ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ memes.

We can bet our last dollar that, for most of you, the phrase is associated with weddings or movies or weddings in Hollywood movies. The phrase ‘speak now…’ is announced from the altar at the very beginning of most weddings as part of the ceremony. Over the years, it has transformed into one big Hollywood rom-com trope. It is quite likely that you can recount a few movie scenes where someone objects to a wedding and possibly walks away with their one true love at the last minute. Let us learn more about the phrase, its origins, and alternative practices.

What Does The Phrase ‘Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace’ Mean

The words are uttered by the priest or wedding officiant during the ceremony, right before the bride and the groom are asked for their consent to the marriage. Contrary to what rom-coms would have us believe, it is never a dramatic moment. Typically, the words uttered would be:

“_____ and _____ have invited us to share in this celebration as they affirm their love before us, pledge their faith to one another, and enter into the joys and privileges of marriage. If there is anyone present, who can show just cause why these two persons may not be joined in matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

 And no, this isn’t an invitation to an anguished lover to make a dramatic interjection with the classic ‘I object’ and then lay a higher claim on the bride or groom’s love. Don’t think of trying this one out at any wedding. You will most likely be shown the door. When a priest utters these words, he means that if there is anyone who knows of a legitimate reason for why the marriage in question should not take place, then this is the last chance to declare it. The words ‘forever hold your peace’ or ‘piece’ implies that you must withhold your objections forever if you choose not to speak at that moment.

That begs the question, ‘what does a legitimate objection mean?’ The objections are supposed to be of the legal kind. They might broadly imply, but are not limited to:

  • The couple are related to each other,
  • One or both are underage,
  • One or both are insane, or
  • One or both are already married or in some relationship that nullifies the present one.

So, how did this tradition come into being and why? Head to the next section to find out.

What Are The Origins Of ‘Speak Now, Or Forever Hold Your Peace’

The custom of announcing ‘speak now, or forever hold your peace’ originated in the Middle Ages. It traces its origin to what is known as the ‘banns of marriage.’ While the phrase is taken from the Book of Common Prayer published in 1549, the tradition of announcement and publishing of ‘the banns’ dates back to the early 13th century. Later, much like many other phrases from the Book of Common Prayer, this phrase slowly worked its way into countries colonized or influenced by the British Empire.

Let’s begin with understanding the purpose and need behind the banns, especially the phrase ‘speak now or forever hold your peace.’.

Why Is The Phrase Announced At Weddings?

In medieval times, the world was woefully low on connectivity and irksomely high on religious sectarianism, sexist social practices, and sundry traditions, rules, and regulations. Many risks plagued the inherent legality of marriage. One or both of the parties to the marriage could have already been married, underage, broken a vow of celibacy, been unbaptized, or coerced into marriage. Consanguinity at various levels could automatically nullify marriages. There was also the problem of licit versus legal marriages. For example, in the 12th century, the ‘consent theory’ of marriage came into being. A couple could marry each other by exchanging the words “I take you to be my husband/wife” without witnesses or a priest present to bless the marriage. Such a marriage was called ‘clandestine.’  It was legal (valid) not, licit (allowed). The problem was that men could seduce a willing maiden into a clandestine marriage and then deny any exchange of vows between them. Such men might have been married already or might marry again later.

To combat clandestine marriages, consanguineous marriages, and other forms of unacceptable unions, the 4th Lateran Council of 1215 ordered:

“[W]e absolutely forbid clandestine marriages, and we forbid also that a priest presumes to witness such.…we decree that when marriages are to be contracted, they must be announced publicly in the churches by the priests during a suitable and fixed time, so that if legitimate impediments exist, they may be made known.”

Following this, most churches began to announce upcoming marriages three consecutive Sundays before the marriage took place. These proclamations, typically read aloud by a priest and published in the parish bulletin, were known as “banns” or “banns of marriage.”

However, the tradition has been rendered rather redundant in our well connected, intensely documented age of social media and information glut. But, it still goes on. Read on to find out why and how.

Is It Relevant Today?

Human beings are creatures of habit and practice many traditions mostly because they seem right, charming, or simply ‘how things have always been.’ The purpose of announcing ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ as part of the marriage script remains a last-minute check on the legitimacy of the wedding. There is no harm in being doubly sure, is there?

There is always enough data about a man or a woman readily accessible on government websites. If not, a few trips to government offices or investigative authorities will surely help. There is always some sly spying on Facebook and Instagram. One is bound to unearth most kinds of hidden muck from Google, Facebook, Instagram, and the like.

As for matters such as religious affiliations, statuses, kinship, etc., they are usually discussed and sorted out well ahead of the wedding. Modern couples have healthy communication with each other. Most other pointless objections are most likely to be shushed or shunted out.

Many couples have chosen to either skip the custom or transform the tradition altogether. Not to forget, there have been couples who have used the custom in uniquely crazy ways.

Alternative Practices

Given that this is not an indispensable custom, one can give it any spin one likes or choose to eschew it completely. So, go ahead and choose your personalized spin to this custom. Here are a few ideas:

a. Skip It Entirely

Wedding days are choke-filled with customs, rituals, announcements, vows, obligations, food, drink, dance, and party. A few words off the marriage script is a script that much shorter. Moreover, ‘speak now…’ is almost compulsorily followed by a tense moment of uncomfortable silence. Who needs that?

b. Fake An Objection

Who says marriages need to be sweet, cute, or serious? If you are a sucker for some good drama, then plant someone in the audience and make them do the dramatic “I object.” Watch the crowd gasp for a few moments. How about sitting with your partner and planning an elaborate, well-scripted, funny story of objection? It will afford you and your guests a couple of good laughs, and you can go grinning widely into the “I do” section of your marriage script.

c. Change The Script For A Positive Spin

Many couples choose to flip the ‘objection’ for ‘support.’ It is done by declaring to families and friends that the couple has chosen to enter sacred matrimony and wishes to see their near and dear ones declare their ‘consent’ and eternal support to the newlyweds. The guests are often encouraged to respond with “We do,” mirroring the couples’ vows of “I do.” It is a refreshingly positive take on the tradition and brings about a sense of participation, fellowship, and community.

Conclusion

The age-old ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ custom was brought in to combat various forms of unacceptable unions. However, the tradition, which was once indispensable, has undergone many changes over time and it has now become a matter of preference for the bride and groom. They can now either choose to skip it or give it a positive spin. Moreover, many to-be couples choose to follow this custom in a crazy way by planting a person to fake the objections and leave the guests in splits.

Key Takeaways

  • ‘Speak now or…’ is a phrase uttered by marriage officiants, inviting people to put forth objections, if any, to the wedding.
  • It effectively means the last chance for people to declare any objections; else, they must remain silent forever.
  • The objections should be of the legal kind, like being underage, insane, or already married, etc.
  • The custom dates back to the Middle Ages, and the phrase was adopted from the Bookof Common Prayer published in 1549.

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