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Father Paul MacNeil

Planning your Wedding

The few months of planning before a wedding can be far from peaceful. Planning a wedding can be particularly difficult because it involves not only your future spouse, but your best friend, your new mother-in-law, your grandmother and your parish priest. Most couples start out trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings and to accommodate everyone’s idea of what your wedding day should be. Trying to negotiate the potential mine fields can turn a wedding into one of the most anxiety ridden events of your life.

The problem is that people view weddings as a cultural event, not a religious one. And usually it is the cultural aspects of the wedding which rule the day and the religious aspects get lost in the shuffle. You may think you are planning your own wedding ceremony but more often than not, and without even knowing it, you are basing your plans on your mother’s wedding day, what you saw at a friend’s wedding, or images from your favorite movie or reality TV show.

Couples often try to accommodate too many extremes in order to keep the peace, or they bring in too many “extras” to enhance the liturgy only to find that what they want is not acceptable by the Church’s standards. During this period of planning, try and be aware of the cultural, familial and personal influences that are guiding your choices. Some can contribute to making this a meaningful and prayerful event. But we have seen many couples overload the simplicity of the marriage rite with extras that distracted from the commitment they were making and rendered the marriage liturgy mundane and disappointing.

What will you be doing?

Your marriage is first and foremost a sacrament. Through your wedding vows, you will reveal the loving presence of God as revealed through Christ and His Church. You should be concentrating on the unity you will be bringing into your lives, your commitment, and the blending of two people into one. But, quite frankly, what many couples are concerned about on their wedding day is how they will enter the church and making sure the groom does not see the bride until the last possible second before the ceremony begins.

The priest will help you plan your wedding liturgy. He will help you to look at the sacramental nature of this day. He will discuss with you those things that will not be allowed to interfere with the sacredness of the ceremony.

The Essential Symbol

You are the essential symbol of the sacrament; not the arches made of flowers, not the dress or the rings. You, your love, and your commitment to each other are the essential symbols and the liturgy is designed around this fact. Filling up the Church with distracting clutter and overdone and over the top wedding decor diminishes your role. You are the minister of the sacrament, not the priest. You are the one who speaks the words that brings about the reality of the sacrament. Your consent made before God and before your guests make this a marriage. Everything else is window dressing and, if not properly attended to, can detract from the sacredness of the sacrament.

If it is you who reveals the presence of God to those around you, then why is the bride hiding before the ceremony, only to be revealed to her husband as she is brought down the aisle? This is a custom that comes from Medieval times when women were considered property and were literally dragged up the aisle and handed over to the groom’s family. The bride and groom should act as hosts, standing together before the ceremony begins, welcoming their guests to the liturgy.

The entrance procession should be more liturgical in nature with the bride and groom walking together, with both sets of parents, the best man and maid of honour and other attendants ahead of them. They should be lead into the church by a server with a cross and the priest. Remember you are revealing God and how God has moved through you and your family, brought you together as one and now leads you to the altar where He will join you together for life. This is far more sacramental and meaningful than starting off your ceremony with the bride hiding at the back and the groom nervously pacing in the sacristy.

What do you believe?

Your wedding liturgy communicates what you believe. What you do in the liturgy demonstrates this. So speak your vows loudly and clearly, respond to the prayers and the songs. Don’t just sit there posing for the pictures.

A wedding ceremony is not a staged event in which only a few have starring roles. These guidelines are meant to help you make this a sacred day. They will suggest some things which will seem new and different to you, but they are true to the Church and to the faith of the worshiping community.

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