ASK FATHER: Direction of the couple exchanging vows

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

A new (perhaps not new) trend I have witnessed at recent marriages and in social media, during the nuptial vows, is the practice of the witnessing priest standing, back to the people, at the entrance of the sanctuary, and the bride and groom standing near or on the altar steps as they exchange their vows. As a result, the couple is angled towards the priest and congregration rather than the altar, as would normally be the case. Why? I have heard it explained that this practice allows the congregation to clearly see the faces and hear the voices of the couple as they exchange vows. Another explanation is that the congregation represents the Church as it witnesses the marriage, and thus needs to see the bride and groom with clear sight.

Are there rubrics to guide the orientation of the couple during the Rite of Marriage? Is not the primary representative/symbol of the Catholic Church in the church building always Christ himself in the Eucharist? Furthermore, does not this new practice further encourage the ‘showy’, ‘theatrical’ nature of many Nuptial Masses today?

I know of nothing in the rubrics stating which direction the couple should face when they profess their vows.

I suppose that it’s left up to the discretion of the priest.

Some priests just like innovation for the sake of innovation.

Nothing in the rubrics prevents the couple from being suspended by invisible wires above the congregation a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and swooping in to meet each other as they exchange their consent.

Is that next? If so, I want a cool greenish sword.

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30 Responses to ASK FATHER: Direction of the couple exchanging vows

  1. Imrahil says:

    As long as it’s the groom, not any other male person, that walks his bride down the aisle… fine with me.

    (Marriage is about two people exchanging freely their marriage consent, and not about the bride being transferred, as it were as a property, from father to husband.)

  2. TC says:

    Nothing in the rubrics prevents the couple from being suspended by invisible wires above the congregation a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and swooping in to meet each other as they exchange their consent.

    Father, please don’t give people ideas.

  3. frjim4321 says:

    Here the couple responds to the questions facing the presider and witnesses who stand with the assembly. Then for the vows the turn and face each other. The vows are memorized as is the exchange of rings.

    Who knows what we’ll see in the next version of the ritual? Maybe the choreography will be spelled out more clearly. I have heard that attention has been given to the procession which is to be a truly liturgical rather than ceremonial procession. I wonder how that will go over with the brides (and their mothers)?

    Does anybody know a priest who would rather do a wedding than a funeral? [I admit that I once met one.]

  4. frjim4321 says:

    PREVIEW
    I like the preview feature but I’m getting two preview buttons, and it double posted me even though I only pressed the button once. [Something that appeared after the update. Don’t know why yet.]

  5. Bthompson says:

    I prefer the traditional way, not only because it allows me to remain in the sanctuary, but there seems to be some inbuilt symbolism to the couple standing side by side but parallel until they turn towards one another to take their vows. Even in the unwritten rules, stuff means stuff in the sacraments.

    I have a gut level resistance to making liturgical choices for reasons of theatrics or stage blocking.

  6. jjoy says:

    I suppose everything trendy from the 1980s is making a comeback. When my husband and I married in 1986, we were turned towards the congregation. Our friends who had married earlier the same year did it that way, and we thought it was a good idea at the time. Of course, we also had cobbled together a folk group from amongst our friends to do our music.

  7. Ed the Roman says:

    Nothing in the rubrics prevents the couple from being suspended by invisible wires above the congregation a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and swooping in to meet each other as they exchange their consent.

    If I re-marry, that’s how I want to do it.

  8. Ed the Roman says:

    Nothing in the rubrics prevents the couple from being suspended by invisible wires above the congregation a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and swooping in to meet each other as they exchange their consent.

    If I re-marry, that’s how I want to do it.

  9. Ed the Roman says:

    Sorry, I’m seeing two preview buttons. IE11, maybe.

  10. frjim4321 says:

    nope on IE11; I see both buttons in Chrome.

    The fonts for the button labels don’t match.

  11. The Astronomer says:

    Having received the final decree of nullity from the Diocesan Tribunal in Trenton (after two long years years of abstinence, YES it can be done, thanks be to God), my wife and I were married on Friday Dec. 5th using the 1962 traditional missal, by our Pastor, the mighty Father Dan Hesko of St. Catherine Laboure RC Church in Middletown NJ. My bride and I were standing side by side but parallel until we turned towards each another to take our vows. The ceremony was conducted mostly in Latin, will the exception of the vows themselves.

    Truly a glorious and blessed day. There were circumstances in my wife’s former marriage that we were concerned (as was Father) would insert extreme complications into the annulment process, but we steadfastly invoked the intercession St. Padre Pio and the Blessed Virgin under the title ‘Our Lady of Grace.’ Two years later, annulment granted and we’re now hitched, legal as a beagle. Hadn’t heard of the phrase “plight my troth” before, but whatever ‘troth’ is, my wife now has all of mine! ;-)

    Take THAT, Cardinal Kasper….

  12. Bthompson says:

    I prefer the traditional way, not only because it allows me to remain in the sanctuary, but there seems to be some inbuilt symbolism to the couple standing side by side but parallel until they turn towards one another to take their vows. Even in the unwritten rules, stuff means stuff in the sacraments.

    I have a gut level resistance to making liturgical choices for reasons of theatrics or stage blocking.

  13. Bthompson says:

    Double post, sorry. I also have the two preview buttons problem.

  14. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Pater’s comment (at which I duly chuckled) raises a point we need to note: Libertas praesumitur, yes, but that presumption is fairly thin. I think natural law, at least, and probably divine law, require decorum in God’s house. So. Anyway. I can see people going bonkers over a joke. About that couple, I would prefer they face each other, lest a sacrament, rooted in mutual consent, be conferred between people who are not even looking at each other. A view toward the congregation is also a good idea, as they supplement the notion of the “two witnesses” required by form.

  15. defreitas says:

    I have seen that position used a number of times at weddings. I don’t like it and see no real reason for it other than to create novelty. In old paintings sometimes you see the couple depicted standing facing each other, with the priest in the center and his back to the sanctuary. The worse abuse I have ever seen, was at a family wedding in Montreal where the priest took the host, gave it to the groom, who then turned to the bride and said “Clara, the body of Christ” and then placed it in her hand etc… The priest then did exactly the same with the bride and she did the same with the groom. I was completely shocked and let out an “Oh My God!” loud enough for the people around me to stare. Just terrible.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    When I was an altar boy, one of the priests said that the only difference between a wedding and a funeral was the color of the vestments.

  17. The Masked Chicken says:

    So, if I had a jet pack wedding fantasy, it would still be safe :)

    Personally, I think the couple should be facing God, not the congregation. Yes, they are a form of witness, but vows are made to God, not man, so God should have the priority of focus.

    As for the double preview button, the one on the left says, “Preview,” and the one on the right says, “PREVIEW.” Don’t use the button in all caps. The left preview works fine.

    The Chicken

  18. Alice says:

    As an organist, I’ve been to quite a few weddings and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to whether the priest stands in the sanctuary or not for the vows. Sometimes a priest who uses feminine pronouns for God will stay in the sanctuary and a far more traditional priest will stand with the congregation. Sometimes the same priest will change things up from one wedding to the next. From what I’ve been told, when the priest leaves the sanctuary it’s supposed to show that the bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament with the priest standing as witness for the Church. Obviously the bride and groom have to face each other during the vows because it’s rather hard to join right hands otherwise.

  19. Dr. Edward Peters says: lest a sacrament, rooted in mutual consent, be conferred between people who are not even looking at each other

    A chill ran down my spine.

    In my US seminary we were taught that sacraments take place when – I am not making this up – people look into each others eyes.

    The context saves this “looking” thing, I think. When, in a confessional with a grate and curtain, there isn’t any eye-gazing. Nor is there eye gazing in the distribution of Communion… since I pay attention to what I am doing with the Host.

    And then there are those rare exchanges of vows by proxy! (cf. can. 1105)

  20. madisoncanonist says:

    Imrahil, isn’t marriage also about leaving one’s father and mother and clinging to one’s spouse? The Rite allows for parental accompaniment according to local custom (n. 46).

  21. I’ve received the vows of couples in both fashions — i.e., with me standing in front of the altar, and they are facing that way, and with me standing in front of the nave, toward the altar, and the couple now facing more that way. For some time, however, I have only done it the more traditional way.

    As mentioned, the primary orientation of the couple is toward each other; but they are going to tend to face a bit toward the priest or deacon, as he is addressing them. So the merits of the move our genial host was asked about can be as follows:

    > There is not much room right in front of the altar (especially if there are flowers there);
    > The people can better see — but more importantly, hear — the exchange of vows, which is the sacrament.

    Considering all the nonsense that creeps into weddings, despite all (one day I’ll write a book, but under a pseudonym), this is not something I get too excited about. Nevertheless, I opted for the more traditional mode not only because it’s more traditional, but also because the couple then is facing both the altar and the Lord, which seems a better focus than the assembly. And the couple seldom speaks up loudly enough that many will hear them, regardless.

  22. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Indeed. And if I am ever blessed to go to Confession to you, PROMISE me, you will NOT look into my eyes! That said, I hope the bishop who ordains his priests is not looking somewhere else, let alone standing with his back to them. I can think of certain questions arising. :)

  23. texsain says:

    “In my US seminary we were taught that sacraments take place when – I am not making this up – people look into each others eyes.”

    So I guess most Novus Ordo masses where the priests are gazing toward heaven, and all Tridentine masses where the priest has his “back to the people” (DUM! Dum! dum!) are invalid, because he wasn’t gazing into our eyes? And does he have to gaze into each of our eyes simultaneously, or under this understanding does each host become the Body of Christ only when it’s distributed to the communicant, even if by a deacon or EMHC? Oi! What horrors such a simple falsehood could create!

  24. Giuseppe says:

    If there’s any place to pull off a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon wedding, it’s here.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpvHaH36anA

    One of my favorite YouTube clips ever.

  25. Ng says:

    A Green Sword!? Surely Rev. Father, you would rather have a sword that matches the Liturgical colour: Gold or White, lest you fall ire of Chow Yun-Fat!

  26. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Teaching that Sacraments are only transacted by gaze is pretty darned prejudiced against blind people. (Though of course a couple usually would want to gaze into each other’s eyes without any instruction whatsoever!)

    Actually, I suspect that priests staring too much into people’s eyes during Reconciliation would make them freeze up and create hardness of heart. It would turn Confession from a medicine into the Medusan of the soul.

  27. JSBSJ says:

    I am a traditional sort of priest yet – when I have a wedding – I stand at the entrance to the sanctuary with my back to the congregation; I have the couple stand on the first or second step facing outward. Why do I do this? Simply, I dislike being the point of focus in photos, and the vows are what every wedding photographer makes a priority. I don’t think my face should be front and centre, yet – with the traditional arrangement – there I am in every photo. If there were no cameras, I’d have no problem with the traditional way.

  28. ManyMacarons says:

    “Nothing in the rubrics prevents the couple from being suspended by invisible wires above the congregation a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and swooping in to meet each other as they exchange their consent.

    Is that next? If so, I want a cool greenish sword.”

    LOVE THIS ENDING!! Thank You for the Laugh. Maybe my Husband and I can do this for our “renewal” lol.

  29. robtbrown says:

    texsain says:

    “In my US seminary we were taught that sacraments take place when – I am not making this up – people look into each others eyes.”

    Men have used that line on women for years.

    BTW, a friend who at the time was studying in the German theological faculty in Fribourg, Switzerland, told me that the definition they were given for God was: Relations among people.

  30. Imrahil says:

    Dear madisoncanonist,

    well, don’t take me thoroughly seriously… what I probably meant was that the rite says (as you say, and as I believe you) “local custom. Local. Not Hollywood. I have a problem with this local custom intruding into places where it is not custom.

    And I do think the particularly Catholic thing is groom and bride approaching their priest to witness their marriage. Well, even in supposedly Victorian England, the Sherlock Holmes’ stories repeatedly use the plot that person A is called in from the street to witness some marriage right now happening in Church (for a little money). Was there parental accompaniment? I bet there wasn’t. Likewise, in a culture where Renzo could think of marrying Lucy in a valid-but-illicit way by approaching their priest in front of two witnesses at home, telling them “father, this is my wife”, “father, this is my husband” (Manzoni, The Betrothed) – I grant that was illicit, but doesn’t it rather look like two people approaching their priest for their Sacrament, instead of the one being brought by a parent?

    And, of course, in the Bible it’s the man that leaves the parents to cling to his bride. If that really is the reason, it should be maternal accompaniment of the groom, after all, with the bride waiting at the altar.

    Though: the bride cannot wait at the altar. Why not? Because the groom represents Christ and the bride represents the Church. So, if anyone should wait at the altar, it is indeed the groom. I concede. But still… the man shall leave his parents to cling to his bride.

    Anyway…

    having served at a couple of weddings at the altar… and attended some other weddings…

    I’d personally be for a moratorium on 1 Corinthians 13 for, say, ten years. This is part of Holy Scripture of which every word has a precise meaning. It treats the virtue of charity, or love, of which, yes, marital love is one (!) form, but it is not just a touchy-feely concatenation of well-sounding phrases without meaning. It should be respected that way. The (nicely unmodern) Ephesians epistle, or perhaps some Tobit, are more directly to the point anyway.

    (Ah yes, should I ever find a bride, neither the one nor the other will be a problem…)