A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

How Brides Should Dress

ROME, 8 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: How should brides dress for a wedding Mass? What would not be appropriate? J.Z., Chicago

A: This is a tangled question. The Church has historically granted wide berth to local traditions in weddings and funerals so customs vary from place to place.

There are few universal norms regarding brides and, although white is the traditional color for weddings in the English-speaking world, it is not obligatory, and there is ample room in multiethnic societies for other traditions, such as Asian or East European.

Many dioceses and even parishes do have guidelines in order to respect Christian values such as modesty and a respect for the spirit of Christian poverty.

These guidelines are especially important today, when what is fashionable is inspired by media stars who are not exactly paradigms of Christian virtue.

With regard to dress, these guidelines should emphasize the specifically religious nature of a Christian wedding and positively present modesty within this context. And while they should generally avoid being a list of prohibitions, they do well to provide clear parameters of what is expected.

The guidelines may also deal with other aspects, since weddings are very special occasions and should be treated as such. At the same time excessive opulence should be avoided especially if motivated more from vanity than a desire to emphasize the importance of the sacrament.

I remember a few years ago an Italian bishop publicly scolded a couple for their extravagance when the bride arrived in an open convertible, followed by a pickup holding her train. It seems that the hapless couple were trying to enter the record books for the longest bridal veil when they caught the prelate's eye as he left the chancery.

This is just a singular example of what can happen when the social aspects of marriage predominate over the mystery of man and woman united sacramentally in the bond of Christ. ZE04060822

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Follow-up: How Brides Should Dress [from 06-22-2004]

Some readers asked for further comments on the subject of bridal couture and weddings in general (see June 8).

A reader from Westminster, in England, points out that white is the usual color in the Western world because it usually signified the bride’s virginity. For this reason, in most Western cultures, a widow entering a second marriage would almost invariably eschew the formal bridal gown for simpler attire.

Our reader points out that in today’s world: “many brides come to the altar after a long period of cohabitation, often after bearing children.” The reader thus recommends that priests should encourage brides who arrive at marriage in this state to choose a less formal dress “out of modesty and honesty for herself, and through charity to those brides who approach their marriages in a pure state, that their traditional symbolic dress may not be debased or usurped.”

I certainly agree in principle and indeed numerous dioceses and parishes have regulations regarding couples who ask for marriage in irregular situations. Dioceses and parishes often recommend that the couples prefer a less solemn wedding celebration both out of respect for Church teaching and as a gesture of penance for their failings.

The world being what it is, some exceptions may be justified in particular circumstances. These must be carefully weighed by the pastor who prepares the couple for marriage.

In this context it is important to remember that couples approaching marriage are frequently open to higher spiritual values. Quite often they begin to take the practice of their faith more seriously in the light of the commitment they are about to make. These opportunities for evangelization should be used to the full.

In general, therefore, it is necessary to assure that couples approach a Catholic wedding fully aware of the total commitment involved and of the specifically religious nature of the celebration.

A priest should never accede to hold a solemn celebration if he realizes that the couple have superficial motives or if they are only interested in having a nice ceremony.

Some correspondents also inquired about the proper time for weddings, especially during penitential seasons.

Although there is no absolute prohibition on holding marriages during Lent and Advent (see Introduction to Rite of Marriage 13) many dioceses discourage them, especially during Lent. The Diocese of Rome, for example, asks pastors not to schedule weddings during Lent, although exceptions may be made for a just cause.

If a wedding is allowed to be held during Lent or Advent the couple are asked to respect the nature of the season which means that external aspects such as floral decorations should usually be far more frugal or even absent from the celebration.

Also, while a wedding as such may take place on Sunday of Lent or Advent, only the Mass of the day may be celebrated. Few couples would want to marry before a priest wearing penitential purple.

Another correspondent asks: “Is it still appropriate for the bride and groom to kiss after the marriage vows in church? Is clapping allowed after this?”

This ancient rite of the couple exchanging a kiss as a confirmation of their verbal consent survived during the whole Middle Ages. But it disappeared from the Catholic rite in application of the dispositions of the Council of Trent because it often gave rise to irreverence.

In some countries a vestige of this rite exists in that the wife lifts the veil, which until this point covered her face.

The rite may have survived in the Anglican usage and many people may believe that it formed part of Catholic ritual through the depiction of weddings in movies and television—mediums not noted for their attention to the finer points of liturgical history.

Although a spontaneous applause may be hard to avoid at this point of the rite, it should not be encouraged or provoked.

It is far more in keeping with the religious nature of the celebration for the assembly to sing an approved acclamation following the rite of Consent and again after the exchange of rings. ZE04062221
 

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