Picture this. You're at a friend's Catholic wedding. The Mass is beautiful, tears are shed during the vows, and the bridal party looks phenomenal. And then, during Communion, the 70s come back in the most atrocious way with a song that was probably written for folk Masses (and one that you're pretty sure was banned from hymnals by the USCCB for being theologically inaccurate). The beauty of the day is marred, even just a little bit, by the out-of-place hymn.
It probably wasn't the bride or groom's fault. Many times, church music directors will give a short list of recommendations to the bride and groom of hymns that can be done for the offertory and communion, and the happy couple will pick out hymns that look familiar to them. But whether you're part of the happy couple or you're the one who gets to help a couple choose music for their big day, there are things that can be done easily to enhance the beauty of a wedding Mass.
I'm in the final stages of planning my own wedding, and I learned a lot while choosing music. Granted, I'm in a great position because I have many musical family members and friends from music school who are joining forces to create a small choir for my wedding Mass. However, the things I've learned while choosing music with my uncle are applicable on a much broader scale, and I want to share these with you today!
These suggestions are entirely based around a Catholic wedding Mass done in the Ordinary Form, so please bear that in mind as you continue reading.
If you're the bride or groom...
Before I dive into some suggestions, I just wanted to quickly note that beautiful doesn't mean perfect. You may not get exactly which hymns or songs you want at your Mass. What ultimately matters is that what you choose is the best choice for you and your spouse-to-be from the options you have at hand. And don't forget to place your wedding music selection process under the intercession of St. Cecilia!
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind while selecting music for your wedding Mass:
This is the first thing to remember: the music director you're working with may only let you choose from their preselected list. However, you don't know until you ask! If you're offered a list and found, after looking over it, that you just aren't thrilled about the choices on there, it doesn't hurt to ask. The music director you're working with might be open to different choices!
Keep in mind that this is a wedding Mass. A wedding Mass isn't a casual affair because Jesus in the Eucharist is present. This isn't the place to walk down the aisle to Christina Perry's "A Thousand Reasons" or Harry Styles's "Adore You." You might be reading this and think, "I would never ask for that!!" but let me assure you – the music director you're working with has probably been asked at least once for a pop song to be played instead of anything remotely sacred music, and if they won't let you drift from their preselected list, that's probably why. The music you choose for your wedding should always point to the deeper meaning of the liturgy!
What liturgical season is your wedding in? Consider choosing a hymn or piece that was written for the season! My wedding is at the very end of the Easter season (the day before Pentecost, to be exact!) and so during the offertory, Gregor Aichinger's setting of Regina Caeli is being sung. You likely don't have access to a small choir, but that doesn't need to be an impediment. If your wedding is during the Christmas season, consider choosing a carol as either your offertory or communion hymn. If your wedding is during Easter, the Regina Caeli chant might be a great choice (and something unique!) for when the bride brings flowers to Mary. And if you're getting married during Ordinary Time, a hymn about service to others would be a wonderful nod to the sacrament you're entering into!
Consider asking friends or family members who are trained musicians to contribute to the music for your wedding day! You'll likely find that most would be happy to do it as your wedding gift. And if you're a musician (which you probably are if you're reading this blog post), you probably have an assortment of friends to ask! Note: I said trained musicians. This is not the day to ask your fifteen-year-old cousin who's been taking voice lessons for six months but has never sung alone in public to cantor your wedding. Unless your cousin has been cantoring Masses for quite some time (which is plausible, and in that case, could be the exception to this!), the poor kid will get nervous and forget what to do.
If you're a music director...
First, a message of encouragement to you. You are a trained musician. Ideally you've had a college education at the least, but even in the case that you haven't, you have enough training to know what you're doing. You have a beautiful responsibility to guide the couple toward music that will enhance the beauty of the liturgy and point to the mysteries of God's Love that are contained within marriage. This is a wonderful gift that you get to give!
So with that being said, here are some ideas for you:
Remember the beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage. These are two people who are pledging their lives to one another until death do them part. This is one of the most special days of their lives! The music for their wedding Mass should reflect the beauty of the sacrament.
Limited resources don't equal poor selections. I know you probably have really limited resources, and I'm so sympathetic to this. But don't let your limited resources get in the way of choosing beautiful music! Be creative. If you haven't done this already, be intentional about spending time on creating a list for the bride and groom to look at. If you've walked into a job and been handed the list from a previous music director, take the time to go through it and make revisions as needed.
Consider swapping out 70's folk Mass music for Gregorian chants, or hymns based on those texts. For instance: instead of "One Bread, One Body," the Pange Lingua could be done, or O Sanctissima. I was at a friend's wedding recently where she and her husband chose the Litany of Saints for the offertory instead of a hymn, and it was profound. These are not difficult to do, and they lend to the beauty and mystery of the marital union on a much deeper level than "Taste and See" or "Bread of Life."
Hear your couple out. If you have a list that you're pretty strict about having couples stick to, I completely understand why. But it's worth listening to their suggestions anyway. If they're suggesting songs that don't belong in a Mass, this is an opportunity for you to help them understand the Liturgy better! And if their alternatives are pretty solid choices – why not agree to having the Litany of Saints instead of an offertory hymn, even though the Litany of Saints isn't on your list?
To wrap things up:
Whether you're a bride, a groom, or a music director, the music you choose is an important factor in the wedding liturgy. It should reflect the beauty, dignity, and value of the Sacrament of Marriage, pointing all involved and attending toward the profound mysteries of God's love. This is a joyous, profound, and beautiful occasion!
I will leave you with this beautiful quote from Pope St. John Paul the II: "Marriage…is the sacrament in which man and woman, called to become ‘one flesh,’ participate in God’s own creative love. They participate in it both by the fact that, created in the image of God, they are called by reason of this image to a particular union (communio personarum), and because this same union has from the beginning been blessed with the blessing of fruitfulness."
This blessing of fruitfulness is not limited to physical fruit – children – but it is a very spiritual reality, too. This is what marriage is about. May the blessing of fruitfulness begin with the liturgy in which this sacrament takes places, and may the music you choose be a gift to all present.