Be Your Own (Liturgical) Wedding Planner: Our Nuptial Mass
Long before I met Kristian, I knew that the part of wedding planning I would most enjoy would be the nuptial Mass. An entire liturgy where my fiance and I get to pick ALL of the music, readings, and even write our own prayers of the faithful!? It was basically heaven for this former theology teacher. :)
I know that's not exactly the case for many couples; even Catholics who take their faith seriously can feel daunted when it comes to planning a liturgy for the first time. That's why I wanted to share a little bit about our planning process, so that any brides/couples who need a little extra liturgical planning guidance won't feel so overwhelmed.
Kristian and I spent hours prayerfully choosing our readings and the music, and I (with the help of a former-student-now-friend who is also an amazing graphic designer) designed a program that I hoped would help everyone at our wedding truly enter into the beauty of the Eucharistic liturgy.
Our Mass was, in a word, heavenly. I know every Mass is a taste of heaven, but there are some Masses where you actually feel that reality instead of simply knowing it intellectually. That was how both Kristian and I felt during the entire liturgy; we both agreed it went by way too fast, and that the reception (as fun and joyful as it was) was almost anti-climactic after getting a window into the Divine for an hour and a half at the St. Louis chapel. I think the photos (taken by Leah Muse Photography) communicate well the joy that permeated the chapel on December 29, 2016, and that has taken deeper root in my heart than I ever thought possible.
Below are my tips for planning your own wedding Mass, which I hope you'll find helpful. Also: stay tuned for a more detailed look at our program (which I'm SO happy with) on Spoken Bride !
1. Make the Mass your #1 priority. It always makes me sad when I go to a Catholic wedding and it is abundantly clear that the Mass was the last thing on their to-do list. Believe me: I get the pressures of planning an awesome party for all of your guests, but the sacrament is the thing, and you can't put too much emphasis on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I know that I experienced the most peace and joy while I was doing anything related to planning the Mass; I can't say that for any other part of the planning process!
If you're worried about budgeting for musicians or paying for the Church, consider asking friends to do the music (I've been to many weddings where this worked really well), or go without flowers in the church/chapel so that you can pay the cantors or organist. I highly recommend getting married during the Christmas or Easter seasons so that you don't even have to worry about flowers; the church will already be decked out beautifully.
2. Before you get engaged: think and pray about Scripture readings that are meaningful to you as a couple.
Once you do get engaged, the priest or deacon who prepares you for the sacrament will likely give you a book with suggested readings. You don't actually have to use those! Feel free to think outside the box, and choose readings that have significance for your relationship and what you hope for in your marriage. For example, Kristian and I chose the Annunciation as our Gospel reading because we want to make Mary's "yes" our own throughout our married life. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Wedding at Cana or Jesus' teaching on marriage and divorce from Mark or Matthew, but know that you don't have to use those.
Note: If you get married on a major Solemnity, you are obligated to use the readings for the day.
3. Think outside the wedding music box. Believe it or not, there are classical pieces you can use as preludes and postludes that go beyond Pachelbel's Canon in D. There are communion hymns far more beautiful than most of what you'll find in a Gather hymnal. If you're not musically-inclined, seek out a trusted musical friend or the advice of the choir director at your parish; I promise they'll be happy to help! Here's what Kristian and I chose:
Preludes and postludes: Since it was a Christmas wedding, this part was really easy. We chose some of our favorite Christmas songs, like "Of the Father's Love Begotten," "Creator of the Stars of Night," and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." I REALLY tried to stay away from cliche wedding music, but "Jesu, Joy" is so beautiful, so Christmas-y, and I asked the cantors to sing it to make it more special. Our postlude was "Joy to the World", because I couldn't think of a more perfect postlude for a Christmas wedding. :)
Hymns: The newest version of the rite of marriage promulgated by the Church encourages couples to include hymns that the entire congregation can sing in their wedding masses. Ours was a Christmas wedding, so we sang "O Come All Ye Faithful" to start and proceed out to "O God Beyond All Praising" (my favorite hymn of ALL time). For the offertory, our cantors did a beautiful rendition of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and our communion hymn was "Ubi Caritas." And, I don't know if it was just that we have so many awesome friends and family or that we had Christmas songs as part of our liturgy, but I've never been to a wedding Mass where so many people in the congregation sang. It was a dream come true.
Mass setting: We decided to chant all of the Mass parts, some in Latin and some in English. This was in part because we both love chant and Latin, and in part because we knew the chant tones would be familiar to many, if not all, of our wedding guests. My recommendation is to decide on a Mass setting that you both love, but is also familiar to others.
Marian meditation/hymn: I love, love, love the Catholic wedding tradition of offering a bouquet of flowers to the Blessed Mother after communion. Since we got married during the Octave of Christmas, Kristian and I decided to present our flowers at the Nativity Scene instead of the icon of Mary. We also chose to have the entire congregation chant the Hail, Holy Queen in Latin instead of having a soloist sing the Ave Maria. Don't get me wrong: I love me some Ave Maria. I just really really REALLY love the Salve and loved that everyone would be able to join us in singing it--and so many of our guests did! It was one of the most heavenly parts of the Mass.
4. Design Your Program with Care: I spent hours crafting the text for my program, because I wanted it to be a catechetical/evangelical guide to our wedding Mass. I put in explanations of each part of the Mass, quotes from the Catechism, quotes from the Church Fathers, quotes from Pope Benedict...there were a lot of quotes. ;) And, to my great delight, quite a few people commented on how much they appreciated it, especially those who weren't Catholic/ super knowledgable about what makes Catholic weddings so unique. If you’re looking for a fantastic wedding program template, I highly recommend the Spoken Bride Shop.
5. Consider incorporating the Croatian tradition of holding a crucifix during your vows. After reading this article years ago, and seeing friends of mine hold the crucifix during their marriage rite, I knew I wanted to do the same when I got married. Thankfully, Kristian was on board and we went in search of the right crucifix to use. We ended up buying one at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City when we were there for a friend's wedding in October, and it was perfect. I can't exaggerated the profundity of holding onto the crucifix and each other's hands while vowing to love and honor each other all the days of our life. We now have our crucifix hanging in the living room, and whenever I pass by I either touch or kiss Jesus' pierced feet as a reminder of the fact that Kristian and I promised to die for one another, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives. I'm certain that in the future, when the inevitable difficulties of daily married life surface, that crucifix will come to mean even more to Kristian and me.