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CNP Feedback -
Bad Wedding Marches -

or "Is the Groom Really a Jackass?"

by Gary D. Penkala

Q. Dear CNP:

I wonder why it is not permitted to use The Bridal Chorus and The Wedding March in the Roman Catholic Church. I would like some reasons that I can present to the brides when they ask me about these selections. Does it have something to do with the composers?

Wedding Organist

A. Dear Wedding Organist:

Thankfully, the two pieces you mention, The Bridal Chorus ("Here Comes the Bride") and The Wedding March, are quickly fading from the scene in Catholic weddings. I personally haven't played either one for over thirty years. There are still brides (or brides' mothers) who insist on having these at the "long-dreamed-of" wedding. What can we tell them to defend our rightful refusal to play them?

The first, the former processional, "Here Comes the Bride," is so stereotypically corny that it brings a silly smirk to anyone hearing it -- recollections of Aunt Edith playing it poorly on a harmonium in a Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, or the bratty school-boy version of the lyrics that disparages the bride's size. Aside from these socially-imprinted connotations, there are other reasons this should not be used in a religious ceremony. The music comes from Act III of Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin, and by purely musical standards may be rich and profound. But the plot follows the contorted twists and turns of almost any opera. There is magic, deceit, trickery, superstition, love (of course), and ultimately the death of the unhappy lover. There is nothing sacred about the plot or the music -- why it was ever used at Catholic ceremonies has never adequately been answered.

Many Jewish congregations specifically ban its use due to Wagner's blatant anti-Semitism. The Catholic Church in The Rite for Celebrating Marriage During Mass envisions a totally different opening to the ceremony than what typically takes place. In paragraphs 19 and 20, the Rite says

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 meets the bride and bridegroom in a friendly manner, showing that the Church shares their joy. Where it is desirable the the rite of welcome be omitted, the celebration of marriage begins at once with the Mass.

If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers [cross bearer, altar servers, lector(s)] 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 Rite does not assume the bride to be hiding somewhere to suddenly appear. In 1971 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments did forbid the use of The Bridal Chorus in the Marriage Rite, but for reasons stated in the Rite itself (i.e. that the bride and groom should walk down the aisle with the priest and ministers, and that an Entrance Song is sung to accompany them).

Knowing, unfortunately, how this liturgically proper rubric will dash every girl's dream of a "spotlighted" solo walk down the aisle, I doubt that the common practice will change any day soon. Your defense for refusing to play The Bridal Chorus must be on other grounds than official documents, although if you can talk them into a true Opening Procession, more power to you!

The old recessional, Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" from A Midsummer Night's Dream, is even more incongruously used in sacred ceremonies. If you're familiar with Shakespeare's comedy, you know it's filled with fairy tale creatures and a twisted plot that makes for good drama and humor. The music in question, The Wedding March, accompanies a farcical union in the enchanted forest between the Fairy Queen Titania and Bottom (a man turned into a Jackass). This alone should rule out its use in church, let alone the sterotypical absurdities of the music's use in commercials, movies, and TV's "The Newlywed Game."

Any level-headed couple, as well as their families, should immediately see the foolishness of considering this music for their marriage ceremony. Trouble is, sometimes level heads are hard to find when a wedding date's been set -- and what are those long ears on the groom?

See CNP's suggestions for Wedding Music

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