Monday, May 02, 2005

Wedding - Bell Blues

According to this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, brides in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are singing the blues because the Archdiocese is discouraging the cherished tradition of the bride's father walking her down the aisle at the wedding.

Apparently, the prospect of proscribing this custom had one mother "nearly choking on her astonishment at the suggestion of change". One father was described as getting "teary just thinking about it."

There's quite a bit of high dudgeon at Amy Welborn's as well. Commenters on the story are ascribing this change, variously, to "Feminazis", and "liberals".

As at least one commenter there correctly pointed out, the tradition of the bride's father walking her down the aisle at a wedding is of English origin, and is, generally, not observed outside of English-speaking countries. The whole business of the bride making a grand entrance last of all is part of the whole "it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding" superstition. Needless to say, neither element is at all Catholic, nor even particularly Christian.

But the one thing missing from the Inquirer article, and something I'd be surprised at if Fr. Dan Mackle (head of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese) actually omitted from his discussion, is what the Rite actually says. Fr. Mackle taught the Introduction to Liturgy course in my first year of Theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, and we discussed this matter in class.

The Instruction from the "Rite For Celebrating Marriage During Mass" provides:

19. At the appointed time, the priest, vested for Mass, goes with the ministers to the door of the church, or if more suitable, to the altar. There he greets the bride and bridegroom in a friendly manner, showing the that the Church shares their joy.

Where it is desirable that the rite of welcome be omitted, the celebration of marriage begins at once with Mass.

20. 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 instruction for the "Rite For Celebrating Marriage Outside Mass" has identical provisions on these points.

Note that the actual rite presupposes that the bride and groom process in together and are greeted at the entrance of the church together. If you've ever been to a Catholic wedding in a non-Anglo country, that's usually what you'll see.

So, what the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is trying to do is bring the practice of weddings into consistency with the Universal Church.

Admittedly, it would appear that they have done so in a hamfisted and insensitive way. You can't expect people, conditioned by decades of American custom, TV shows and movies, etc., to just accept such a change overnight.

Personally, I think the entrance rite of the Catholic rite of marriage, as indicated above, is a much better exemplar of the sign and meaning of the whole marriage ceremony and the sacrament of marriage than the Anglo-Saxon custom. As many others have pointed out, the Anglo-Saxon custom has led to a diminution of the groom's role to that of mere appendage in the rite. It has also led to the distortion of the wedding becoming "the bride's day", with the bride as "Princess" whose every whim must be honored.

What I do, when I meet with a couple I am preparing for marriage, is to point out to them that the American custom is not actually part of or really consistent with the Catholic rite. I show them the part of the instruction I excerpt above. I tell them that I would really prefer that they use the Catholic rite as provided, for all the reasons explained above. Then I leave the decision up to them.

Of the 20 or so weddings I've done, two couples have decided to celebrate their wedding according to the Catholic entrance rite. Interestingly, they were two of the more seriously "gung-ho" Catholic couples I've married. Which suggests to me that the place to start in getting Catholics to follow the authentic Catholic rite isn't in preparing them for marriage, but in evangelizing and instructing them to be truly faithful Catholics.