The Enduring Catholic Wedding Practices that Modernity Could Not Change

The Enduring Catholic Wedding Practices that Modernity Could Not Change

“Couples were given a choice, and the immense majority opted out, choosing the traditional wedding ceremony.”

With the coming of summer, Catholics everywhere are getting married as they have from time immemorial. It is not only the fact they are getting married that has remained unchanged but also the manner by which couples tie the knot at the altar.

This is curious in light of the whirlwind of radical changes that swept liturgy and practice in the Catholic Church over the last decades. However, brides still march down the aisle much like those in the time of their parents. Likewise, they pronounce their vows before a priest in similar fashion.

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Indeed, while the institution of marriage itself has suffered in a culture that has made divorce and adultery acceptable, the idea of a traditional wedding endures.

A Revolution that Changed Things

Was this lack of change an oversight? In a liturgical revolution in which nothing was left to chance, it seems improbable. In fact, what most people do not realize is that radical changes were issued. Thankfully, many today are unfamiliar with the radical new ideas that sought to adapt the wedding ceremony to modernity.

However, the fact remains that the heady reformers in the sixties were quick to declare the traditional usages and old rites hopelessly outdated. They decided the old ceremony would have to go since it was not people-oriented or feminist-friendly. It is no surprise that they came up with their own rites.

What Was Changed

Here is an idea of what the new marriage ceremony should have been.

Perhaps the most radical change was the bride’s procession into the church that is one of the most cherished parts of the ceremonial. In the new rite, the father does not give the bride away since it supposedly represents a “patriarchal“ mindset that the modern church no longer accepts. In giving the bride away, the father transfers to the prospective husband the responsibility of protection and support of his daughter. The white bridal veil over the face of the bride in the procession was also not included since it signifies purity and virginity that are sadly no longer assumed today.

In place of these time-honored traditions, the new rites would have the both the bride and the groom entering the church at the same time, symbolizing their equal role in making the marriage work. The priest would not need to wait at the altar but could also process in together with the couple. In the new ceremony, the emphasis was on equality and the active role of the community in supporting the marriage.

The vows were not spoken turned toward God in the Blessed Sacrament but rather facing the congregation. The bride and groom did not look at each other during this solemn moment but to the community. The insinuation was that the Christian community was the marriage’s validating institution.

Equality was accentuated even more by the couple pronouncing their own vows instead of repeating the words after the priest, who now became a mere silent witness to the marriage. The new rite’s advocates claimed all these changes were more scripturally sound than the old rite.

Changes Were Made

Of course, while the new rites failed to catch on, it would be inaccurate to say that the whole ceremony remained the same. The Nuptial Mass certainly followed the trend of modern liturgy. The choice of readings was expanded. Modern translations were made. All sorts of options and sequences were introduced into the ceremony that reflected more modern practice.

However, the traditional bridal procession and the promise ceremonial that characterized weddings from time immemorial did prevail and the new options regarding these very basic parts of the ceremony were largely ignored.

Indeed, as the twentieth century ended, liturgists were still engaged in selling the new rites to the leery faithful. In 2000, for example, a video was produced by Liturgy Training Publications for the Chicago Archdiocese to make Catholics aware of the availability of the updated ritual that had not yet caught on.

What Happened to the New Rite

Some might ask why these unknown new rites failed to be implemented. The answer is found in one word: they were made “optional.” Though supplied, there was never a demand for them.

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Unlike other reforms that were imposed, couples were given a choice, and the immense majority opted out, choosing the traditional wedding ceremony. The expected clamor for updated rites never materialized. It is only logical since artificial norms like these have no organic connection with cultures and traditions. The profound symbolism that permeates the old rites was distilled over centuries and resonates everywhere. In the end, the ceremony turned toward God, not the community, won out, and today no one talks about the attempted egalitarian procession and promises suggested by the reformers.

Admission of Defeat

Church officials have implicitly been forced to acknowledge the failure of their aggiornamento. Most Catholic marriages performed in English have all been done according to the deeply entrenched customs of the past. When new norms were recently issued, they still leave the option open for the new usages but they are careful to accommodate those who want tradition. In fact, the new rites, which begrudgingly allowed for a traditional option, have now become the rare option.

America’s Catholic bishops have issued a new translation and instructions following new norms found in the Roman Missal translation implemented in 2011. These new norms go a step further by curiously allowing for other old traditions and customs that make weddings special. For example, the ancient Spanish custom of the groom handing thirteen gold coins to the bride who returns them. The coins (called las arras), represent his promise to provide for his new family, and her trust in his ability to do so.

The present text of the revised rites is deliberately vague about the traditional practices. However there is a clause that leaves leeway for couples to have a ceremony “in the customary manner.” This all but insures that the ancestral wedding opening will be the preferred option.

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There is a lesson to be learned in all this. The Church is a Mother and has always taken wholesome elements of different cultures, improved upon them, and incorporated them into Her liturgy and rites. This can be seen in popular hymns, devotions… and wedding practices. The story of the modern Catholic wedding rites that never became popular is typical of what happens when organic norms and established tradition are disregarded. In such cases, the new “updated” replacement must be either imposed from the top down or, when made optional, it is ignored and forgotten.

  • fderf

    It is contrary to Catholic theology to “give the bride away” as the man and woman must freely give themselves to each other. Any person may escort the bride if that is desired and there is no conflict if the man and woman want to enter the church together. The conflict is in the act of giving away the daughter rather than the daughter giving herself to another.

    • June Gagnon

      Since you refuse to show your own profile, one can only assume you are attempting to promote something “other than holy matrimony”. May your perverted efforts never succeed. As for Catholic Theology, we will consult with our own Priests and Pastors, thank you very much.

      • Dirk Manning

        Giving the bride away is not contrary to Catholic theology since is has nothing to do with theology. It is a time honored practice. We are all aware of the man and woman giving themselves to each other that makes the marriage. The priests is present to represent the church and to bless the union. Obviously, people on this site are trying to split hairs.

    • Leslie Alexander

      Not true. There is no conflict. One is a theological reality and the other cultural. The father giving the daughter away in a family sense has nothing to do with the husband and wife giving themselves to each other.

  • Gentillylace

    But I believe that many, if not most, people who have been baptized in the Catholic Church marry outside the Church — in a civil ceremony (whether an elopement to Las Vegas, as my Catholic father did when marrying my Methodist mother, or an elaborate beach wedding), by a Protestant minister, or even by a friend or relative who has bought a Universal Life Church clergy certification in order to preside at that wedding.

    • Lisa Chappell

      However, practicing Catholics (who were not just baptized but continue to live according to Church teaching) marry inside a Catholic Church by a priest. If they marry a non-Catholic, like my brother did, they often have the other minister present as well.

      • Gentillylace

        Yes, but I believe that most people in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) who were baptized Catholic do not regularly practice Catholicism: they either convert to another faith (often evangelical Protestantism) or do not attend any religious ceremonies on a regular basis. My father was not a practicing Catholic once he became an adult: I think that the only times he went to a Catholic church as an adult were for weddings, funerals and my baptism.

        • Ann

          That is just your belief based on your circumstantial evidence of your father. You cannot speak for all or most Catholics. You are simply surrounded by non practicing or fallen away baptized Catholics. Your argument is not statistically sound. I can provide equal evidence using your method of family members, neighbors, friends and many friends in Europe and Asia who are devout practicing Catholics. It just depends on who you surround yourself with according to your evidence. If you want to have faith Pray, receive the sacraments and surround yourself with people of strong faith. If you want to be weak than make fun of devout Catholics and look to those who only show up twice a year and act like Catholicism is a country club membership.

          • Gentillylace

            You are correct that I am surrounded by lapsed Catholics and other non-churchgoers: I am the only practicing Catholic in my family. I do not make fun of devout Catholics and strive to have faith. Most of my friends are from my parish or are fellow Lay Carmelites. But let me try to see how many Catholics in the US attend Mass at least once a week, even though this is going beyond the topic at hand 🙂

          • Gentillylace

            According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey about Catholics in the US, “The share of all Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week has dropped from 47% in 1974 to 24% in 2012; among ‘strong’ Catholics, it has fallen more than 30 points, from 85% in 1974 to 53% last year.”

            http://www.pewforum.org/2013/03/13/strong-catholic-identity-at-a-four-decade-low-in-us/

          • Do you know what? If they were attending in mortal sin then better a few who are devout than many who are loud, brash and do not have the Lords interests at heart. Keep your good company but find hope. The traditional Latin rite Mass is full of young and families and grows daily. To visit one may refresh your hope!

          • Ann

            Bless you and keep the faith and pray for me and I will keep you in my prayers too.

        • Roger Wales

          Roger Wales (old guy, old convert) to: Gentillylace. You join ‘the media’ in ‘believing’ and spouting made-up statistics in the hope that they will come true. We now have a whole generation of young people who have seen the disastrous breakdown of current society and feel lost. They are joining or returning to the faith in droves, often to ward off mental illness which IS on the rise in young people.

          • Gentillylace

            Even though I believe the statistics of the Pew Survey, I do not *hope* that the statistics are true! I am a Catholic revert who has returned to the faith, indeed to help ward off my history of depression.

          • Roger Wales

            So glad to hear. I apologize for my unwarranted assumption. God Bless you and keep you healthy!

          • KareemAbdul

            Welcome home to both of you!

    • I am Catholic. I married man of questionable Presbyterian upbringing in a Catholic Church having the traditional rite. He himself never even questioned the decision to be married in a church. Others it wasn’t really getting married, he said. Thank God for that! We had to get a dispensation from the bishop- being a mixed marriage, and he signed a document saying I could raise the children in the faith unimpeded. Funnily enough his own father is a lapsed Catholic. And his Presbyterian mother, before she died, (God bless her soul✝) converted to Catholicism several months before she died by the grace of God! Unless the Sacrament is celebrated, the marriage is just another legal written agreement. It’s not a true marriage without the Holy Ghost to bind them.

    • Sheila Wolf

      I would tend to disagree with the statement that “many if not most people who have been baptized in the Catholic Church marry OUTSIDE the church in a civil ceremony.” Do you associate with actual Catholic couples or how do you know who is actually baptized Catholic? Where are you getting your beliefs from? I have friends that say they are “baptized, ” but they are not baptized Catholic. In my opinion this is not true baptism. In my experience, only about 1 in 7 Catholic couples DON’T get married in the Catholic church. For some of them it is because they can’t since they married a non-catholic and then got divorced. They could not get an anullment. One couple I know was married by the JOP and then wanted a church wedding but it was too late.

      • Gentillylace

        I am talking about people who were baptized in the Catholic Church in infancy or early childhood, perhaps had First Holy Communion, but have not regularly attended Mass in years, if ever. I suspect that you are referring to people who attend Mass regularly. It seems that the majority of people baptized in the Catholic Church do not regularly attend Mass. My pastor has told me that the prevailing trend among people baptized in the Catholic Church and do not regularly attend Mass is cohabitation: those people tend to view marriage (whether civil or religious) as dooming the relationship.

  • Sue Theresa Smith

    I speak for myself alone. In my country which is India Civil Marriage is considered more important than any Church or temple marriage. 2015 my daughter got married and for me nothing was more important than seeing her get married in church. Her Civil Marriage took place after a year 2016. Even today when I Thank God for her marriage I never forget to say “For her Church Marriage”. Because that is the only true marriage which took place before God and in his House.

  • Dan

    What a timely article for our family. Just “gave away” my daughter in marriage this past Saturday and it was the proudest day of my life.

  • Eileen Burke Miller

    I’ll always remember walking down the isle (in 1986) with my father for him to ‘give me away’ to my hubby! My father past away in 2007 but was very close with my hubby. They both brought a lot of laughter to the family when they were together and we miss Pop Pops dearly. He is watching us from heaven, and I know is helping to protect and guide our family in life! My dh and I also dedicated our marriage to the Blessed Mother. We processed together to put flowers in front of her statue at our wedding.

  • florida1

    Sad commentary on todays’ lack of morals; I am thrilled when a couple gets Married. Period. Do you know that in many ‘white’ lower-level neighborhoods 60% or more couples just Live together? No marriage no nothing. I live in Indiana and when I go to the local Walmarts most of the white couples I see may have children with them but not a wedding ring in sight! In inner city black neighborhoods the percentage is even higher 78% of all babies (the ones not aborted which now equal over 1/3 of the black race) are born out of wedlock; many of the mothers have No idea who the Father even IS…When was the Last time any of you sat in Mass and heard a Priest preach against and NAME sins??? Fornication is spoken against 92 times (Catholic here who has read the Bible through MANY times) in both parts of Holy Word…Jesus said all who do this sin and all who ‘ok ‘ it will have NO place found for them in Heaven…The so called Catholic schools mostly do not teach against fornication or most other sins so WHERE DO THE YOUTH HEAR that any kind of sex b4 marriage is a SIN?!! Wow folks Jesus Christ is coming and its SOON…I believe it will be in the Baby Boomer generation 1946-1964 which makes the younger boomers in their 50’s. GET READY!

  • Brian

    The current Latin editio typica’s rubrics still have the couple processing in together. The approved U.S. adaptation simply left it open ended. Both are legitimate; there’s no need to turn this into a right/left agenda like we do for everything else.

    • Paul Folley

      Brian, it is not a Right/Left agenda thing, but the need to preserve a vital and meaningful tradition. Today’s urge to destroy everything meaningful from the past because it reminds us of hierarchy, is negative, destructive and reducing us to spiritual poverty.

      • Brian

        The problem is that now *everything* is analyzed through the political/polemical lens, to the detriment of measured, authentic discussion. These things can be critiqued without always casting the other side as willfully subversive.

  • Skip

    Sad indeed; marriage ceremonies have have only gotten worse, My grandson and his intended wife, both Baptized Catholic plan to marry, not in a church, but in a country club,not before the witness of a priest but a magistrate. They love the setting of Oceanside and its glamour rather than a house of God. Of course I will disappoint them and not go to such a marriage, which may likely end in the anguish of divorce unless they have it regularized by a priest. It’s all about partying, I think it’s to please their friends who have no religion at all except the religion of fun. They invited me to “come celebrate our love,” whatever that means these days. They are offended and broken- hearted and do not understand why I will not attend since it will be a large family reunion. I would be offending God and not be true to myself or the Holy Faith.

  • Skip

    Sad indeed; marriage ceremonies hve have only gotten worse, My grandson and his intended wife, both Baptized Catholic plan to marry, not in a church but in a country club,not before the witness of a priest but a magistrate. They love the setting of Oceanside and its glamour rather than a house of God. Of course I will not go to such a marriage which may likely end in the anguish of divorce unless they have it regularized by a priest. It’s all about partying, I think and pleasing their friends who have no religion at all except the religion of fun. They invited me to “come celebrate our love,” whatever that means these days. They are broken- hearted and do not understand why I will not attend since it will be a large family reunion as well.

    • Camille Joyner

      Those kids obviously don’t know how to make it fun! When, in 1997, our youngest daughter married in the Church, with a Mass, she had 9 bridesmaids (and of course, 9 groomsmen). the day before the wedding, I told the kids to get their cars to the Officer’s Club on Base, 10 miles away from St. Dominic’s, on the wedding day, and to do it before getting dressed for the wedding. Then, to save money and not pay for 2-3 limos, we sent a hired trolley which just happened, not by plan, to be painted the exact-same shade of garnet as the bridesmaids dresses. The trolley also had a lot of fancy gold trim, (kind of a nod to our daughter’s alma mater, FSU), . The trolley took the groom and his groomsmen to the church first. The guys loaded it with a cooler full of champagne, and left it on board to chill. Then the trolley came back to our house for the 9 bridesmaids). After the wedding ceremony, the disposable paper church runner was re-purposed for the the trolley floor to keep everybody’s clothes (and the bride’s gown) spotless as they rode around town enjoying the bubbly and treating the visiting attendants to a town tour and then arriving on Base at the “O” Club, about 45 minutes later. The trolley saved us a bundle and it really looked great in the photos. The wedding reception included a cocktail party, and then a sit-down dinner for 200 guests. It also featured the best DJ in town, who played numbers for people of all ages, and was excellent in keeping everything moving along. This was all done at the “O” Club, lasted from 3PM to 1AM. We did no crepe paper or balloons because the indoor trees were covered in white lights, lighting was indirect and simply elegant. The building was less than a year old, and overlooked the Gulf of Mexico. Friends and family told us we really knew how to throw a great party, and actually kept talking about it for years afterward. (Hmmm. Might have been that 3PM-12AM open bar, though). Our kids are now married 20 years and have 2 teenaged sons. It remains a rock-solid union, nearly as we can tell. So, you see, with a bit of imagination, a church wedding and Mass, and the “Party of the Year,” somewhere else are ALL possible with a little planning and thought. Maybe your grandson might want to read this and rethink it. .

      • Skip

        No doubt everyone had a grand time in that unusual setting. It seems though that the partying to celebrate the Marriage bond, is perhaps more important to remember. Could you write about the Marriage Rite itself and how the priest prepared them for this Holy Sacrament which they obviously have taken seriously. A line in a popular song of the 70’s describes how fleeting love and marriage has become in these modern times: “In a restless world like this is love is ended before it’s begun.” May the marriage graces of your daughter and son-in-law continue to keep them happy and faithful together to the end of this life and beyond.

  • fderf

    The father giving the bride away is not actually a Catholic tradition at all. (Nor is it a tradition world wide.) The practice was Anglo-Saxon and predated Christianity. It was incorporated into the marriage rite in Britain (Anglican) and has spread to other Protestant denominations. To escort the woman, fine, but it is not to be conflated with giving her away. It is essential that there is no suggestion of lack of freedom present otherwise the validity can be called into question. This is why a priest will not ask the question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”

    • KareemAbdul

      !? Anglo-Saxon culture is from the 400s-600s. It is centuries younger than Church tradition.

  • Paul W Mugar

    JOHN HOR of VAT II: Don’t you think that you ought to exit THE BROTHEL of THE ABOMINATION of DESOLATION before teaching others about THE TRUE CATHOLIC BetROTHALS ??? ???
    In The Lanced Immaculate Heart of Incurable Love and Truth,
    paulus
    Paul W Mugar
    805-233-0336
    MUGARS@MSN.COM

  • Rita Waggoner

    You are wrong. I was married in a Novus Ordo Mass and I walked down the aisle with my dad and wore a veil over my face. My dad handed me to my husband. Please tell the TRUTH and it is wrong to criticize the New Mass and give false information!!!

  • Henry Waggoner

    This article is flawed and is just another lie by SSPX and the like. I was married in a Novus Ordo wedding Mass. My dad walked me down the husband to the groom who was standing near the altar. I had a veil covering my face. It was very traditional and approved by the Church.
    Now I am dissappointed and will consider not donating monthly to your group. You sound like an SSPXer and they are schismatic and not in full communion with the Church.

    May God bring you humility and a spirit of TRUTH.
    Mrs. Waggoner

    • Skip

      Well Henry, You are wrong, wrong. DISQUIS is not by SSPX which is not schismatic and marriages in their churches are indeed valid in spite of what some Bishops have said; their opinions are hardly universal. And what do you mean by “full communion.” There’s no in between; one either in communion with the Church or out of it. Prove what say Go to sspx.org for the facts. God Bless.

      • Rita Waggoner

        I do not know what DISQUIS is.
        I do know that SSPX are not in full communion as explained by several Fraternity of St. Peter priests. It would take too long to explain here, so perhaps just call a FSSP priest. He could explain things a lot better than I! God bless! BTW, this is Henrys mom. For some weird reason I was on my son’s gmail, and he is not happy to get messages about this topic.

        • Skip

          I have been through this discussion many times and still I ask and never get an answer to the question” what is meant by “full-communion”? There is no such thing, you are either in communion with the Church or you are not. I don’t need to inquire from anyone who already has fixed in his mind that the SSPX is outside the Church in spite of what Rome says to the contrary.

          • Rita Waggoner

            Ok, from my understanding, SSPX does not possess canonical status in the Church. Here is a quote of a letter from Pope Benedict XVI dated May, 10, 2009. ” The fact that the Society of St. Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, it’s ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church……In order to make this clear once again: until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and it’s ministers- even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty -do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”

            I believe Pope Francis and SSPX Bishop Fellay are on talking terms and trying to hash out a way for SSPX to be granted canonical status ( full communion status). The Pope has offered SSPX a personal prelature status, but they have not accepted yet.
            You need to go to a good unbiased source to find out the truth of the SSPX status.

  • pixie43

    So NOW we continue to support traditional marriage.
    Husband & I are renewing our vows in September – We have tracked down the priest that married us 25 years ago & although both our parents have moved on to God’s Eternal Rest, our beautiful 19 yr old daughter & handsome 17yr old son will accompany us. Thank you Lord Jesus for blessing our marriage.