Wearing a wedding or engagement ring is an incredibly popular tradition and, nowadays, is incredibly commercialized.
That does not detract from its significant history and the meaning behind the ring itself.
Typically, Roman Catholics follow the tradition of many Christian countries by wearing their engagement and wedding band on the fourth finger of the left hand. However, Catholics tend to adapt to wherever they are in the world and follow the common culture, so they may choose to wear it elsewhere.
In every country and every religion, different ring traditions are accepted. The ring can go on a different finger, or a different hand, and it will mean different things.
It may very well have something to do with your identity and placement in the world.
Wearing a ring on the left ring finger is symbolic because of the belief that from your left finger extends a vein that connects to your heart (commonly known as the “love vein”).
The tradition of wearing the ring on the right hand was because ancient Romans held the belief that the left hand was less trustworthy.
Switching the ring to different hands or fingers was common in countries where people did not have the means to afford both an engagement ring and wedding ring.
And so to symbolize their union in marriage, they could just buy one ring and move its placement on the hand to assure marriage.
Ring Placement by Religion
Further back in history, Roman Catholics held the belief that wedding rings should be placed on the right hand.
The tradition wasn’t really linked to anything in particular, and when the Protestant reformation happened, the Protestants switched the ring to the left hand.
At first, it was meant to be seen as a symbol of breaking away from the Catholic Church, but it was later adopted by most people, and even Catholics now follow the tradition, leaving the old method behind.
Religion is also a factor in wearing rings.
Sometimes the ring will change hands/fingers during the ceremony or afterward, while some religions have even done away with rings altogether.
One example of a religion that doesn’t commonly use wedding rings is Hinduism; they traditionally do not wear wedding rings, though their surrounding culture may influence some of them to do so.
Most of the time they symbolize their marriage by the ‘sindoor,’ or red dot placed on their forehead.
This means that many people in India and other places where Hinduism is present don’t wear rings.
In Jewish weddings, a ring is placed on the index finger.
These days, wearing a wedding ring on a particular finger has become less and less important.
People no longer are basing their ring or their wedding ceremony on tradition, but their own individual ideas and choices.
While some traditions are still being upheld, there are quite a few which are becoming less and less common as people make up their own minds.
Rings have been known to go on almost every finger, even the thumb. Some early Romans even wanted to use their pinkies!
There are centuries worth of information about where a wedding band should be placed.
In general, the United States, France, Great Britain, and other traditionally English-speaking countries wear the wedding band on the left-hand ring finger.
In eastern Europe countries like Russia and Poland wear their rings on the right hand.
Some countries have done both, or wear it on both hands (commonly by switching the placement of the ring when one transitions from engagement to marriage).
Some countries that follow these traditions are Brazil, Germany, and Spain.
Why do Catholic Priests and Nuns Wear Wedding Bands?
The majority of the time, church tradition says that Catholic Priests cannot be married. This is because they adhere to the law of clerical celibacy.
This means that only men who are not married can be ordained as priests.
Obviously, these days there are exceptions to this rule, and sometimes the men who are married prior to becoming a priest are still allowed to have a spouse.
Traditionally, Catholic priests do not marry or have sexual relations with anyone.
Often nowadays this is not universally applicable, though it is still practiced and Pope Francis (current Catholic Pope) requests only celibate priests.
This may be confusing as you will see many priests wear wedding bands, but oftentimes their wedding band is symbolizing their ‘marriage’ to the church.
In essence, they are saying that they are tied to the church as other people are tied to their spouse and family. It signifies their infinite devotion to the church and teaching people of Christ.
In an interview, Reverand Fr. Emmanuel Salifu of Ghana said “In one of the letters of St. Augustine, we understand that as at the 4th-century bishops were wearing rings, and it symbolizes two things.
First, it symbolizes the fact that they wear to be faithful to their dioceses and to the Word of God, and they were to be prudent in their actions, they were to take their vow, and their expression of love for the church very seriously.
The significance is that he is wedded, and is faithful to his diocese and to the church as the body of Christ.”
By wearing a ring, a priest is living up to his duties and is further recognized as a minister of the church.
Nuns follow the same school of thought. They will also often wear wedding bands despite their celibate lifestyle.
Not only do they wear wedding bands, but they will also often have a wedding ceremony where they are symbolically married to Christ and become the ‘brides of Christ.’
This has been a tradition off and on since the 12th century.
In conclusion, most catholic priests and nuns wear wedding bands even if they are not married.
The specific finger and hand they are wearing it on is dependent upon where they live, their dedication to the Catholic Church, and their own personal choice.
History has changed this tradition so much, and it does not seem to have much impact in our current world, though there are more common themes throughout different areas of the world and across different religions.