|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
— 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
These guidelines are especially important today, when what is fashionable
is inspired by media stars who are not exactly paradigms of Christian
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
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
* * *
Follow-up: How Brides Should Dress [from
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
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
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
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.