There are few events in life that are as steeped in tradition as a wedding. And the traditions surrounding weddings come to us through our families, our friends, our culture, and our religious traditions. But every religious tradition handles weddings differently, and some of the things that people expect to see and hear are often not part of the Catholic way of celebrating weddings.
For example, in some traditions, at the conclusion of the procession into the Church, the presiding minister may ask, “Who gives this woman to be married?” And the father of the bride will be expected to respond that he, or he and his wife, do. At Catholic weddings, it’s presumed that the bride—and the groom for that matter—give themselves to each other.
If you’ve ever seen a wedding on a television series, you’re probably familiar with the dramatic possibilities that arise when the minister asks, “If anyone knows any reason why these two should not be wed, let him speak now, or forever hold his peace.” Well, we Catholics don’t do that. In many places, notices of up-coming weddings are published, allowing anyone with objections to come forward before we get to the altar.
Another touching moment in most TV weddings is the phrase, “With this ring, I thee wed.” For us Catholics, the moment of the marriage is the exchange of consent, and the speaking of the vows. The ring is a symbol of the union that has already taken place. We bless wedding rings, and they are exchanged with the phrase, “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Another thing we don’t say at Catholic weddings is “I now pronounce you man and wife.” We believe that the couple becomes husband and wife not because the minister declares them to be such, but because they have given their consent and made their vows to each other. The function of the priest or deacon is to preside and witness these vows, not to make the marriage happen.
Through all of the ceremony, the emphasis is on what the bride and groom do, and not on anyone else. This celebration of love and unity mirrors the love of God for his people. Ideally, it inspires all of us to be more loving, more committed people.