A joyful, sacred step

DETROIT (CNS) - Although it's a standard wedding scene in movies, there's a good reason why you won't hear the phrase: "With this ring, I thee wed" at a Catholic marriage ceremony.

"You are wed by your promise" and not by the exchange of rings, said Father Joseph Gagnon, a senior priest in the Detroit Archdiocese.

In Catholic weddings the priest will say a blessing over the rings that couples exchange but the actual moment of the marriage takes place during the vows. The rings symbolize the union that has already taken place.

Asking the question "Who gives this woman to be married?" is another common phrase one would not hear at a Catholic wedding, said Father Gagnon, who has officiated hundreds of marriage ceremonies.

The priest said these words go back to "kind of an ancient formula from the days when women were thought of as chattel or the property of their families, especially her father's family. That is not the present attitude, gratefully."

"It is her choice and his choice," he said of the bride and groom and their decision to come together. No one gives anyone away at a Catholic marriage ceremony.

A common practice highlighting the couple's decision to join together as husband and wife is the entrance practice where the groom is escorted down the aisle by his parents. After he joins the groomsmen at the altar, the bride is escorted down the aisle either by her father or both her parents.

Father Gagnon, a priest for 50 years, said in recent years he's celebrated an increasing numbers of weddings where the bride and groom walk into church and down the aisle together. Many times they also stand at the entrance to the church and welcome family and friends as they arrive to celebrate their special day.

Then there is the statement: "If anyone knows any reason why these two should not be wed, let him speak now, or forever hold his peace." While that has been the turning point in many a movie, you won't hear it at a Catholic wedding. Father Gagnon said publishing the wedding banns in the parish bulletin for the three weeks before the big day can serve the same purpose, although he can't recall any instance where that has ever caused an issue.

Another common tradition of bridal parties walking or even dancing down the aisle to popular music just isn't going to happen at a Catholic wedding.

Father Gagnon noted that while personal touches are nice, they need to be worked out in advance with the priest, deacon or marriage coordinator. No matter how much a particular song means to a couple, all elements of the ceremony must fit with the sacredness of the moment.

His own uncle, a parish organist, was fired "way back in time, for playing 'Turkey in the Straw'" at one wedding, he said.

"Weddings are very powerful times," Father Gagnon said. To stand before family and friends and say: '"I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life,' is a serious step. It's a very joyful step, too."

The priest pointed out that marriage, just like any sacrament, is in large part "communication at its heart."

"In marriage, the value of the public vows affirms before 200 people that this is the one I am taking to be my wife or my husband and to make a home and marriage together," he added.

"I've seen a lot of sheepish people come to weddings and hear these powerful statements that really affirm what a family is and what a marriage is and see it become like a wake-up call."

He said for everyone in the congregation it becomes "a catechetical moment, a teaching moment."

"That's a very powerful thing," he added.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970