Planning for a wedding requires careful organisation and effort. It is easy for the couple to be so caught up in the practical details of the reception and invitations that they lose sight of the most important element of the big day - the ceremony itself. In On the Way To The Wedding Elizabeth Hughes provides information and details of options available as you design a service to suit your particular needs.
The book offers the long and short form of the marriage ceremony in the Roman Catholic, Church of England, Church of Ireland and Methodist traditions. There are sixteen sample marriage ceremonies, which can be adapted for any form of service. They explore such themes as fidelity, maturity, trust and commitment through prayer and Scripture. Readings and poems are provided to help you make your paritcular wedding day memorable. On the Way To The Wedding also includes services prepared for couples to mark a significant anniversary, making this the ideal book for those celebrating their married life as well as those planning their wedding day.
Elizabeth Hughes has taught theology at universities and colleges in England, Ireland and America. She is interested in the way that religious ritual highlights and reveals the significance of human experience. She works as a pastoral consultant providing pre-marriage courses and post-ordination anc clergy training.
- SECTION A: INTRODUCTION
On The Way To The Wedding...
From the moment the proposal is made and accepted, you are on your way to the wedding. For some, the journey towards the big day will involve a social round of family introductions and celebrations. Others may encounter stress as friends and family come to terms with their choice and the changes involved. Whatever the response to the initial announcement, the decision to marry is a life-changing event that alters the legal status of your relationship, and requires you to choose the best way to celebrate your loving commitment.
The journey to walk up the aisle is beset with decisions about clothes, cakes and costs. You can become so concerned with these issues that the ceremony is left to the priest or minister to deliver fully formed, without your own involvement.
At times, the way to the wedding may look like the Yellow Brick Road, requiring bravery, brilliance and passion, as you realise that negotiating menus, wedding and guest lists requires the diplomatic skill of a United Nations official. There is talk about a couple for whom the preparations were a walk in the park, free from stress, surprises and disagreements. But most dismiss this as a cruel myth.
You are about to take the biggest step of your life and nerves are par for the course. Elements of wedding preparation can seem like an assault course designed to test your love and commitment. Paradoxically, you become very reliant on the support of your families just at the moment when you are separating from them to establish a new home and new family with your partner.
With your wedding, both sets of parents have reached a significant point in their own parenting. They have raised children who wish to emulate their example of marriage and new family life. They have a reason to rejoice and gather friends to celebrate.
This Book Will Help You...
- To think through the issues and factors that influence your choice of wedding ceremony;
- To organise a religious ceremony according to the Christian religious tradition;
- To biblical readings and prayers to express the variety of hopes and feelings present at the outset of your marriage.
The Decision To Marry
- Marriage changes the legal status of your relationship.
- The couple should take care to comply with the legal requirements for contracting a civil marriage. You should check that the venue you have chosen for your marriage is licensed to hold marriage ceremonies. The registrar will advise you of your obligations.
- In the case of those seeking sacramental marriage check that church law entitles you to use this venue/church for your marriage ceremony. The priest/vicar/minister involved in your wedding ceremony will advise you in this matter.
- Marriage is based on the moral decision of two people to be faithful to their vows of permanent and exclusive fidelity.
- The central element of any marriage service is the promise to remain faithful to our chosen partner for life. These promises are binding when someone with a mature mind undertakes these vows freely, having a firm intention to keep them.
- Marriage introduces the couple into a lifetime of relational growth and development.
- The wedding is the point at which the couple takes the first step into a challenging relationship. The ceremony points out that no one can read the future and what it may bring. The decision to marry and support each other through good and bad times is made in the knowledge that we are called to greater maturity, flexibility and compassion.
- Marriage is recognised and receives social support in society represented by the presence of friends and family at the wedding ceremony.
- The guests and witnesses at a wedding represent the support which society provides for those who marry. In years to come, the couple will depend on family and friends for assistance and advice.
- Marriage is a life-changing moment that requires celebration in a solemn and ceremonial context.
- The decision to marry is not made lightly. The implications of the words said and the promises made determine the life of those who marry. Throughout human history, wedding ceremonies have been important and serious public events whose language and sentiments differ from day-to-day conversation. The language used in solemn ceremonies underlines the gravity of the promises made and marks the movement from one stage of life to another.
- Many people base their life on religious beliefs and values, placing great importance on the religious ritual that inaugurates their marriage.
- When people decide to marry in church they are celebrating their love for each other as a gift from God, and acknowledging that they need Gods help to maintain their commitments and build a life together. As a couple think about the readings and prayers to be used in the wedding ceremony, they are exploring the values on which they will base their life together.
- The ceremony is followed by a celebration with friends and family involving food, wine and festivity. We all love a good party and a wedding reception is the traditional way of sharing love and joy with others. After the seriousness and solemnity of the religious events, this is the time for humour and relaxation.
A Reason To Celebrate
We live in an age that, in turn, trivialises love and human relationships and is anxious about them. Television reality shows display the tentative steps of courtship as fairground amusements for the audience. Magazine articles read under the hairdryer pretend to reduce the mysteries of personal attraction to a paint-by-numbers kit.
In the face of this, it is moving when two people acknowledge their love for one another with dignity and decide to marry. This man and woman have moved beyond shallow and transient attachments and discovered the human warmth, comfort and love to which all human beings aspire. They embark upon life together inspired by an idealism and hope that is yet to be tempered by the routine and realism of domestic life.
On the day of your wedding, you take on great commitment and responsibilities. Your lives and futures will be inextricably bound together. You will share your possessions and dreams, and your relationship will be tested by unexpected successes and reversals of fortune.
All of this begins with the ceremony, which gives a public profile to your commitment. Today couples are encouraged to take an active part in preparing their wedding service. People quickly come to terms with decisions about menus, photographs, honeymoons and car-hire, but feel themselves amateurs when it comes to prayers and biblical readings. Others may see this as the special preserve of the priest or minister and see themselves as passive consumers of their own wedding liturgy.
The wedding ceremonies in this book have been written to encourage people to take part in planning the ceremony. They reflect the gravity and solemnity of the occasion and can be adapted to different denominational requirements. The prayers and readings have been chosen to highlight a variety of issues and ambitions close to the heart of couples as they pledge themselves to one another for the rest of their life.
The Law and Christian Celebrations
At the time of going to press great changes are proposed in the laws that govern marriage ceremonies. Changes to the Civil Registration of Marriages Act 2002 are likely to offer greater flexibility regarding the place and church that people may choose for marriage ceremonies. Your local Register Office will give you up-to-date guidance on the law and your priest or minister will explain the conditions governing sacramental marriage within your own Christian denomination.
When Christians gather for worship, they are proclaiming their gratitude and dependence upon God, whose love and care underpins their life and faith. They gather to affirm and strengthen the faith that supports their daily life. The sacraments declare that Gods love is available and active in the world. The daily or weekly Eucharist is the most familiar celebration, when the parish is invited to the table of the Lord. But on other occasions, such as the celebration of an enduring love between a man and a woman, the grace of God lights up the world.
The sacramental principle proclaims that the divine presence is revealed in and through elements of creation. This principle is clearly seen in the ministry of Jesus. In his care for the sick, meals eaten with those on the margins of society, his forgiveness of sinners, and his entire life, death and Resurrection, Gods infinite love was made visible and embodied in human history. Nature continues to provide symbols enabling us to make contact with the pervasive love and presence of God. Bread broken and shared, and wine, water and oil poured out, evoke powerful events in the Christian story into which followers of Christ are incorporated.
A great and holy concentration falls upon all in the Church when two people make promises to maintain a faithful, enduring and lifelong union. The congregation maintains a hush as they exchange rings , symbols of the holding and binding power of that love. Words and golden rings become sacramental channels of Gods love, visible signs, reminding all present of the invisible grace at work in the life of his people. In many ways it might be more accurate to describe marriage as the sacrament which the couple becomes rather than the sacrament which they receive. The unconditional and forgiving love that inspires their relationship becomes the sacramental realisation of the unconditional, forgiving and life-giving love of God for humankind.
This is a high calling, based on more than feeling, and married people need to spend time and effort on their relationship. Marriage is a decision that is confirmed in the process of everyday life. Pledging this quality of love to your spouse is a sacramental vocation because it discloses Gods love and fidelity to others. Frequently, the greatest revelation of the mystery of God is through the love we receive from our parents.
A religious wedding ceremony has a seriousness and gravitas acquired throughout the centuries, as generations of believing men and women have made and remained true to their promises before God. The ceremony writes the couple that marries into the tradition and institution of Christian marriage and evokes powerful memories of past wedding days in the minds of their witnesses and guests. There is no need for excessive romantic declarations or effusive language to create a mood or establish an atmosphere. Solemnity and grace is part of the history and architecture of the service.
Marriage reveals and publicly celebrates Christs presence in the love between a man and a woman. It is also a sign of Christs love for the whole Church, which St Paul described as the Bride of Christ. The man and woman administer the sacrament to each other just as they bring Gods grace to each other. They make vows, promising enduring and faithful love for the rest of their lives. Rings may be exchanged as symbols of these vows. The priest or minister acts as a witness and representative of the Church, which sees marriage and family life as a cornerstone of human happiness. The grace of the sacrament helps and sustains the couple in the joys and stresses of their life together and assures them of the continual blessing of God on their union.
Sacraments lose much of their revelatory power if they are performed carelessly, without reverence and a confident faith. Couples, therefore, are encouraged to think deeply about their wedding ceremony, choosing readings that reflect their own gratitude, hopes and aspirations and finding ways to involve their family and friends in the service. The priest or minister will help and advise those who are new to liturgical preparation to make the occasion personal and memorable.
Becoming Acquainted with your Celebrant
In some circumstances you may not be well known to the priest/minister who helps you prepare and solemnise your marriage. The following pages provide an outline introduction to you and your partner for the priest/ minister. This may be sent prior to meeting or used for discussion at your first engagement. The information offered here will help your priest minister understand your circumstances and priorities within the service. It will open up conversation and enable you and the priest minister to make the ceremony a distinctive celebration of your commitment to life together.
Getting To Know You Form
Names and ages
The religious tradition of each partner
The length of the relationship
How we met
Why we wish to marry
Our hopes and plans for the future
Our decision to marry in church
We would like music/readings/a piece of poetry/ our families/to play a very significant element in the ceremony because
Twelve Months Before the Wedding
- Contact the parish in which you wish to get married to discuss the date and choose a celebrant, and to organise the paperwork needed. If you have ever been married, been divorced or received an annulment, discuss it at this stage. If you are marrying someone from another Christian denomination or of another faith, or have any unusual circumstances affecting the wedding, mention these now;
- If your Church requires you to take part in a marriage preparation course, reserve a place;
- Make arrangements for the wedding reception and photographer.
Six Months Before the Wedding
- Contact the parish to make an appointment to complete the relevant forms;
- Notify the civil registrar if the priest or minister does not act as registrar at the church;
- Think about the readings, music and prayers you would like for the ceremony;
- When you send out the wedding invitations, be sure to
invite the guests to the wedding celebration in the church;
- If you are planning a foreign honeymoon, check that your passports will be valid and check visa requirements for your chosen destination.
Three Months Before the Wedding
- Discuss the outline of the ceremony with the priest or minister helping you with the wedding. He or she will help you to be creative within the denominational guidelines for weddings;
- Contact a florist.
Two Months Before the Wedding
- Identify family members and guests who would like to take an active part in the ceremony;
- Set a time for the wedding rehearsal, if you are having one;
- Check that any music selected for singing is familiar to the guests.
One Month Before the Wedding
- Send copies of the prayers and scriptural readings to those who will read them;
- Keep two sets of spare copies for the rehearsal and The Big Day.
Three Weeks Before the Wedding
- Familiarise yourselves with the wedding ceremony and the readings;
- Speak the words that you will use on the day aloud to one another, so that you feel at ease with them.
One Week Before the Wedding
- Make sure you have everything for the wedding celebration:
Rings - make arrangements for the best man and/or the ring bearer to take charge of these;
Wedding Booklets - make sure that these are printed and have been collected. A named usher should be given the task of distributing them in the church before the service;
Offerings - if these are to be given on the wedding day, nominate someone to deliver the envelope;
Flowers - nominate someone to collect flowers and supervise arrangements in the church.
The Wedding Day
- The best-laid plans often go awry. Wedding rings do get mislaid. These mistakes are often the things you will talk and laugh about in the future. Remember, even if there is a major disaster with the trimmings, all you need to celebrate a wedding is two single people, a man and woman who love one another, who are happy to commit themselves to one another in front of witnesses and are able to make a mature promise to share a lifelong union.
What Kind Of Church Ceremony?
Your wedding day, above all else, is about togetherness. The two people standing before the altar have to feel comfortable with the form chosen to initiate their life as man and wife. These days it is increasingly common for people to marry those of another Christian denomination or different religion. Choosing the form of your wedding ceremony involves being sensitive to the religious culture and tradition of both partners and considering ways in which the guests can understand and appreciate the seriousness and sincerity of the religious celebration.
If the marriage is solemnised between two people who come from the same Christian denomination, or whose churches are in communion, marriage within a Eucharistic celebration may be an appropriate choice. Others may choose the simple marriage ceremony rather than exclude a future spouse and many guests from receiving communion. The Church of England offers a blessing following a civil ceremony to those who do not hold their marriage ceremony in church.
Deciding on the form of the marriage ceremony is a delicate issue and there is no general guidance appropriate for every situation. In discussing this most personal yet public decision, the couple are anticipating many other considerations involving religion, culture and family expectations that lie ahead of them.
Whatever form of ceremony you choose, all denominations encourage you to take an active part in preparing your wedding service. In recent years, the Methodist Church in particular has encouraged people to use their imaginations in preparing the ceremony in terms of the music and literature used.
Preparing for The Ceremony
Approach a priest or minister as soon as you have decided to get married. He or she will help you to understand everything required to meet legal and church obligations and will go through the range of choices and options for the ceremony itself. It may be useful to prepare for your first meeting by filling in the Getting to Know You Form.
A ceremony is often designed around a favourite piece of Scripture to illuminate hopes for the couples life together. The ceremonies in this book are based on this appraoch, taking an image and developing it through the service. The focus of each of the wedding services is described in A Guide to the Ceremonies.
These days, weddings can be very expensive. There is a tendency for couples to hold their wedding ceremony followed by a reception for family members and close friends, with a larger party for younger friends in the evening. Sometimes the guest list for the daytime events can become quite contentious. This wedding marks the beginning of a marriage, which will be supported by the couples younger friends and work colleagues. Naturally they would like them present at the big event. However, it is also a high point in the life of their families and their parents, who would like relatives and long-standing friends to be present. One way out of this impasse is to invite friends to the wedding service and the evening party. They are usually very happy to be part of the ceremony and join in the relaxed celebration in the evening. Older relatives and friends may feel more comfortable with the family gathering, catching up with family events and gossip and appreciating the jokes in the speeches.
It is important that you start your life together surrounded by the people involved in your history, as well as those you see every day who are on hand to offer support and advice.
Thinking About Your Own Ceremony
Christian worship celebrates and recognises eternal truths. It highlights aspects of life that point beyond themselves to reveal Gods redemptive plan for the world. Christian worship is ultimately about worth-ship. The sacrament of marriage celebrates the faithful union of two people who commit themselves to lifelong love. This is such a momentous step that no amount of words, however individual or poetic, can express all that the ceremony signifies for the people who stand before the altar.
The church provides a ritual that has gathered dignity and seriousness from the sincerity of generations of couples who have used it as a doorway into married life. The traditional words and phrases recited by married couples across the centuries hold romance and commitment for all who hear them. This form joins all who use it into the tradition of Christian marriage.
There is no need, therefore, for the couple to decorate the wedding service with pop songs and novelties to express the depth or uniqueness of their relationship. The traditional form dignifies their intentions and hopes by connecting them with the aspirations of the community of faith. The words pronounced and exchanged during the ceremony reverberate across the centuries, connecting all who live their lives in couples and families.
Of course, styles of married relationship differ, and each couple has their own individual history and priorities. These can be reflected in the ceremony by a careful choice of scriptural readings and prayers.
Perhaps the best way to make the marriage ceremony personal is to reflect together on the responsibilities and opportunities highlighted in the vows and ceremony. As you understand the words of the ceremony as an expression of your own hopes and wishes, you make this ceremony your own.
Freedom of choice is at the heart of any wedding ceremony. The couple freely chooses each other as husband and wife and enters into a permanent loving union using the traditional words of the wedding service.
The ceremonies also involve biblical readings. Biblical stories have the capacity to illuminate and comment on our own situation in life. Couples are encouraged to choose readings for their marriage ceremony that have significance for them. Often people have favourite pieces of Scripture, which they would like to use during their wedding since it expresses some significant aspiration of their own relationship. Those with an appreciation of the way that marriage expands and changes lives may choose to read The Marriage Feast at Cana. Those confident in the support God gives to married people could opt for Lukes vision of God as the father who meets all his childrens needs. A couple with a strong understanding of marriage as Christian vocation may favour a reading that refers to Christs followers as the light of the world.
In planning a service most people start with the gospel reading and then look for Old Testament stories and psalms and a piece from an Epistle that supports and develops the gospel theme. The passages chosen for the themed weddings in this book may be directly useful for those planning their own services.
The wedding celebrant always reads the Gospel. Other wedding guests, confident in their public-speaking skills, can be invited to read the other biblical pieces. This participation of friends and family is a gesture of great support and adds to the ceremony.
The marriage ceremony places a lot of emphasis on the personal relationship of husband and wife. But it would be wrong to think that this exclusive relationship isolates the couple from the wider world.
Marriage is a personal investment in the flourishing of humankind. Through marriage, the couple is incorporated into the fragile human world with a new appreciation of family, and the need everyone experiences for security throughout life.
Danny Abse wrote a poem Epithalamion in which he described how the love of one human being can lead to the deeper appreciation of the needs of the world:
for today, I took to my human bed
flower and bird and wind and world,
and all the living and all the dead.
It is not surprising, then, that couples place a lot of importance on the prayers offered during this ceremony. Some may refer to the future of those newly married. Others look beyond the personal interests of the day to recognise the needs of others. The prayers included in the themed ceremonies provide examples of how to construct these public prayers. Wedding guests with strong clear voices can be invited to read them on behalf of all present. These prayers provide a strong statement of the way in which marriage commits us to active involvement in the world.
Preparing and planning a wedding ceremony needs time, but it infinitely repays the investment of effort and thought. Those about to be married will find themselves more comfortable in their own ceremony and able to enjoy the support of those around them. The wedding guests, meanwhile, will appreciate the religious preparations as a sign of the seriousness and commitment attached to the celebrations.
Involving Guests In The Ceremony
- As Ministers of the Sacrament
The bride and groom administer the sacrament to one another. At the exchange of vows and rings, they should stand so that the congregation can see them and speak so that they can be clearly heard.
- As Witnesses
The best man and bridesmaid often assume the role of witnesses. They stand by as you exchange your consent and sign their names in the register to declare themselves witnesses of the vows you have taken. During the rest of the day, these people usually help the bride and groom with practical matters.
- As Ushers
Ushers ensure the smooth opening of the ceremony. They are responsible for welcoming and seating the guests according to the agreed seating plan and making sure that everyone is in the church before the arrival of the bride. Readers and others involved in the ceremony should be able to leave and return to their places without undue disruption. Ushers also give out service booklets and tidy up the church after the ceremony.
- As Altar Servers
if the wedding takes place in the context of a Eucharistic or Communion service, friends or family members can assist the priest during the ceremony. They need to know the shape and choreography of the ceremony. If relatives or friends cannot help, the priest will provide servers from the parish rota.
- As Readers
Readers proclaim the Word of God in Scripture as a ministry to all present. Those best able to fulfil this key role understand what they are saying, value the sentiments they are presenting and enunciate clearly and with expression. They should receive their readings one month before the ceremony so that they can rehearse. If they are going to read from the church lectionary, they should be confident of finding their place in the book. In some church traditions, it is customary for the Responsorial Psalm to be sung. A wedding guest may be able to fill this role.
- As Leaders of the Prayers
These should be prepared and led by a lay reader or readers who have rehearsed their material. The convention followed in the Prayers of the Faithful which is offered in this book assumes that they provide an invitation for the congregation to pray for the stated intention. Their words, therefore, are addressed to the people rather than directed towards God. Readers should allow a few moments for silent prayer before continuing with Lord, hear us or the other words that draw the prayer to a close.
If Your Ceremony Involves A Eucharistic Or Communion Celebration Then People May Be Involved:
- As Presenters of the Eucharistic Offerings
The bridesmaids and ushers or other members of the wedding party may form a short procession to bring up the bread and wine at the Offertory.
- As Ministers of the Eucharist
If there is a minister who is authorised to administer communion present in the congregation they may assist the priest or minister if a large number of communicants is anticipated.
- Making a Good Entrance and Exit
Weddings revolve around processions. The wedding party should rehearse their entrance and exit from the church, alert to any potential difficulties that can be caused by such things as central heating grills in the floor, which can trap high-heeled shoes.
- Comfort throughout the Ceremony
The wedding party should feel comfortable in the clothes they have chosen for the day, able to stand, kneel and sit as the ceremony requires.
Music is a welcome addition to any ceremony. Some churches have good facilities for playing CDs and many couples choose
favourite pieces of classical music for their entrance and exit. other couples make use of the church choir or book an organist to play for congregational hymn singing. If the hymns are popular and well known by a congregation used to singing in church, this can be successful. However, the tradition of hymn singing is in decline and many prefer to use musically gifted friends or relatives or small groups hired for the occasion to provide music during the ceremony.
- Inappropriate Humour
Humour and high spirits lighten wedding preparations and afterwards funny speeches are popular and young people enjoy dressing up the honeymoon car. However, levity has no place in the ceremony. The best man who pretends he has lost the rings and the friend who writes help on the soles of the wedding shoes detract from the ceremony. The couple should make it clear that they will not welcome humourous diversions in the church.
- Audibility of Prayers and Readings
Those who read provide a ministry for all present and should rehearse their readings in the church to make sure that they can be heard.
- Photography and Filming
Weddings can be spoiled by the constant interruption of flash photography. During the ministers introduction to the ceremony before the arrival of the bride, guidance can be given on filming and photography and a request that mobile p