Here Comes the Bride - 22nd March 2015

Three areas where there is a gap between the Church’s understanding and popular expectations with regard to the wedding liturgy are the “bridal procession”, music and signing the register.
The official Rite of Marriage says:

If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers go first, followed by the priest, and then the bride and bridegroom. According to local custom, they may be escorted by at least their parents and the two witnesses. Meanwhile, the entrance song is sung.

The Church recognises that a marriage is a commitment of two mature adults and this is reflected in how it envisages the entrance procession will happen. Although it has been a long time since most brides lived under the watchful eye of their father, they still choose to process down the aisle on his arm to be “given away” to the groom waiting nervously at the altar.

Couples often want their marriage ceremony to include popular songs that hold special meaning for them. This can be a minefield to navigate.

Catholic liturgical music is music that gives worship to God. Songs that do not have this focus are best kept for the reception. It is not a matter of priests being narrow-minded and banning “secular” music. The distinction between “sacred” and “secular” music is unclear and unhelpful anyway. There are secular songs which express beautifully the religious dimension of love while some so-called “religious” songs are shallow and sentimental.

The following questions are a useful guide for making good choices of songs for weddings:

• Do the words express a Christian view of love? Will the words help the guests understand that marriage is a religious event in which God is present?
• Will the music and words only serve to remind people of recent movies, video clips or stage shows?
• Will the guests be able to join in the singing or will they feel like spectators at a performance?
• Does each piece of music respect the spirit and purpose of that part of the celebration where it will be used?
• Will many of the guests be from another Christian tradition? What music do we have in common that we might use?
• Are the musicians competent? Semi-talented friends and family performing in a strange church with unfamiliar acoustics may prove an embarrassment. It is usually better to use the parish’s own experienced music ministers.

Couples sometimes expect to sign the register on the altar at the end of their marriage service. No provision is made the Rite of Marriage for signing at any point in the liturgy. This is because the signing of papers is a requirement under the Marriage Act of the Commonwealth of Australia and has no relationship to the liturgy of marriage. However, since priests and deacons act as authorised celebrants for the Commonwealth, it has become customary to include the signing of the State's documents in the context of the wedding liturgy.

The altar is the table of Christ’s sacrifice, so it is inappropriate to sign marriage papers there.

Another side table is provided for this purpose and it is best done at the conclusion of the wedding liturgy, after the blessing and before the couple leaves the church.

Elizabeth Harrington