An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


Christians have apparently worn finger-rings with Christian symbols since the third or fourth centuries. Rings have been associated with fidelity. There are several specific Christian uses of rings.

Wedding Rings. It was a Roman custom for the man to give the woman a ring at the time of betrothal. The use of wedding rings by Christians is derived from this custom. Wedding rings may be exchanged by the husband and wife at the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (BCP, p. 427). These rings are signs of the vows by which the husband and wife bind themselves to each other. The rings are blessed by the priest at the marriage before they are exchanged by the man and woman. A ring may be given by the husband, the wife, or both. The giver of the ring places the ring on the ring-finger of the other’s hand, addresses the other by name, and says, “I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (BCP, p. 427). The BCP allows an alternative ending, “in the Name of God,” for the trinitarian conclusion to the statement that is made when the ring is given. Another suitable symbol of the vows may be used instead of rings (BCP, p. 437). The BCP service for the Blessing of a Civil Marriage also includes a blessing of rings (p. 434).

Episcopal Rings. In the late middle ages, the rite for the ordination of bishops came to include the delivery of instruments of office. An episcopal ring was given to the newly ordained bishop, along with staff and miter. The episcopal ring was a signet ring. It may have been used as an official seal. Some episcopal rings contained relics. The use of episcopal rings has been dated to the seventh century. At the ordination of a bishop in the Episcopal Church, a ring, staff, and miter, or other suitable insignia of office may be presented to the newly-ordained bishop. This follows the presentation of the Bible and the formula of presentation (BCP, p. 553). Modern episcopal rings are often made of gold and ornamented with an amethyst. The episcopal ring is usually worn on the ring-finger of the bishop’s right hand. Similar rings are worn by abbots and some abbesses.

Rings are also worn by professed members of religious orders. Some Christians wear rings with Christian symbols as an expression of devotion. Rosary rings have ten small knobs which are used in saying the rosary.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.