QUAERITUR: wedding processions

You would not believe the dopey things people want to do during weddings.

I had a question from a reader about marriage processions.

I had a (hopefully quick) question. I am getting married soon and just found out about entrance processional guidelines set by the USCCB HERE and HERE:

This appears to be a post-Vatican II development, and despite my google searches, I was unable to find how processionals worked pre-Vatican II. What were the Church’s guidelines? Also, what is your opinion on the new processionals, if they are in fact different?

Yes… they were very different.

Here is a good example.

Well… maybe that wasn’t the pre-Vatican II video.  Sorry.  Must have gotten mixed up with… well… I dunno….

I believe this sort of thing was handled by local custom more than by legislation. 

After all, it is before Mass or the wedding rite.  There are no clerics involved, so issues of precedence are not regulated.  There could be civil authorities, but that is not regulated by rubrics.

It would not surprise me were there no indications of any kind before the Council, since the silliness season didn’t begin until later.

In any event, here is what the Rite of Marriage says about the entrance procession:

If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers [e.g., lectors, altar servers] go first, followed by the priest, and then the bride and bridegroom. According to local custom, they may be escorted by at least their parents and the two witnesses. Meanwhile, the entrance song is sung. (#20)


This seems consistent with common sense.

Seasoned married Catholics might chime in with memories of their pre-Vatican II marriage processions.

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  1. StevenDunn says:

    My parish just celebrated its first Latin Rite wedding since the Council this past Saturday. The priest and we servers came out first, from the sacristy, and waited at the foot of the altar, with the priest one step above. The father walked the bride down the aisle, but I forget who walked with the groom. His mother, I think. After that the bridesmaids and groomsmen walked down in pairs, and each stood on opposite sides of the kneelers where the bride and groom were positioned. No secular music, though, at either the entrance or exit.

  2. FrCharles says:

    I tend to agree. Since the bridal or wedding procession precedes the Mass (or the ceremony without Mass)I don’t worry about it. Indeed, my experience is that this is a way to contain a bride’s ‘creativity’ so that we can then proceed with the actual Roman Rite with decorum and with as few bonus features as possible (e.g. ‘unity’ candles, sand pourings, flower babies being pulled in wagons, pet processions, forced self-consecrations at Mary’s altar by imperious grandmothers, etc.)

    Both my pastor and I always try to sell brides on having an actual liturgical procession, but succeed only rarely and so allow an extra-liturgical bridal procession as long as it is dignified and related to local custom and tradition. I was glad to see that the one in the video. Someday I hope to be free to offer brides the EF as well, to which they now have a right.

  3. Maggie says:

    Two of my best friends were married in a beautiful, reverent, traditional (albeit Novus Ordo) Mass a few years ago. Their parents were seated before the processional. The servers preceded the priest, followed by attendants. Lastly, the couple came in together. Since this was unusual, they included an explanation in the program, citing their entrance as an “old Catholic tradition,” where the bride and groom enter together to signify that they come to the marriage as one. I asked my friend about it later, and she mentioned that the notion of “giving the bride away” didn’t quite jive with the Church’s view of marriage- ie, that both man and woman come together freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully, and they administer the sacrament to each other. Because they’d already seen each other, both bride and groom were out greeting guests as they arrived instead of a long receiving line at the end.

    Has anyone else ever heard of this?

  4. becket1 says:

    That must have been a Neocatechumenal Way wedding.

  5. Papabile says:

    That was entirely common in Germany, Italy, and France prior to the Council. Giving the bride away is almost completely a English/Protestant custom. It was tolerated by the Church, but is not found anywhere until after the Reformation.

  6. Bernie says:

    Much nonsense goes on at weddings nowadays. My priest friends complain about it all the time. I say put a lid on it right from the start: “Here is how your procession will look.” Then present them with the two options. Then describe to the bride how the rest of the ceremony will proceed. “By the way, here are your music choices” and, “Sobriety on the part of all members of the wedding party at the rehearsal is a requirement for having a wedding in this church.” Other than perhaps an unseemly superabundance of flowers and over the top bridal gowns, weddings under the old rite were reverent, truly meaningful, and appropriate and pretty much the way Steven Dunn describes above.

  7. AGA says:

    becket1, thanks for the laugh.. :)

  8. Giving the bride away is not an English/Protestant custom. It was a Frankish and Saxon and Norman custom, and it has to do with betrothal stuff.

    Crimony, people. I expect this sort of silliness about handfasting as explained by pagans, but I’m getting tired of Catholics denigrating their own ethnic heritages. You can’t believe most bride books about bridal customs any more than you can believe most baby name books about what names mean, because it’s largely a bunch of urban legends and factoids being reprinted and elaborated, according to the most recent group of prejudices.

    Marriage customs in Catholic countries vary widely. They used to vary more widely, but a lot of the really obscure stuff has gone away. No doubt it will all show up in a bridal magazine tomorrow, albeit in mutated form.

  9. Papabile says:


    To a certain extent, I would agree with you. However, when the Parish presents “music choices” they need to make sure they do not exclude the possibility of what is actually in the liturgical books.

    I got married at a fairly well known Church in DC, and had to fight all the way to the chancery to be allowed to have the chants proper to a Nuptial Mass be allowed at my wedding.

    At the end of the day, it took the personal intervention of the Cardinal Archbishop after I explained that he was not the last stop on my way to clarifying this matter.

    Interestingly, this same Parish (of which I was a member of) forbid many of the secular wedding marches, but allowed “On Eagles Wings”.

    It was literally unbelievable.

    The best part was when the organist, the day of the wedding, was ready to refuse the schola access to the choir loft.

  10. Greg Smisek says:

    Fr. Charles:
    Are you opposed to the custom of prayer by a couple at the Lady altar during their nuptial Mass or just to such a custom being “forced…by imperious grandmothers”?

  11. FrCharles says:

    Please forgive the rudeness of publishing a comment without first saying to the source of the post: Congratulations on your engagement, and may God give you every joy on your wedding day and may your married life be among His richest blessings for you and the world.

  12. FrCharles says:


    I have nothing against the traditional procession to Our Lady’s Altar and the offering of flowers. It’s a beautiful and meaningful custom. One of the old timers here once told me that this used to be the privilege of some sodality or other. Anybody know if that is true?

    It’s just that sometimes–in my experience–this comes to be a part of the wedding for some reason apart from the actual devotion of those getting married. Indeed, doesn’t it seem a tad sacrilegious for two confirmed Catholics to refuse to have a nuptial Mass because the sacrifice offered for them and the Holy Communion they could receive represent a half hour of options that don’t fit into their wedding day plan, but nevertheless try to insist on a procession to another altar in what seems to amount to a ‘photo op’? The same goes a fortiori for those who want to offer flowers to Our Lady but don’t ever approach the altar on Sundays.

  13. Sorry I got so wrought up. In return, I found you some excellent source material!

    Vincent McNabb with some good stuff, including about the wedding procession.

    There’s a description of how this played out at the marriage of Queen Mary I and Prince Philip in a 1935 book called Mary Tudor by Beatrice White. Delightfully, Mary was given away on behalf of the whole realm, by the Marquis of Winchester and the Earls of Derby, Bedford, and Pembroke.

    Basically, the oldest deal was that you’d go to the church with all your friends and relations or your few witnesses (the outdoor procession) to go get married in the view of everyone on the church porch, or in the atrium or vestibule. Later, this turned into getting betrothed out there only, and getting married in church. Either way, you were then supposed to go into church (there’s your procession again) and hear Mass and receive Communion, and in England you were given blessed wine with bread sops and other blessed food after Mass was done.

    So if you’d already been betrothed or married out on the porch, of course the bride and groom would process into church together. If not, then not, unless in memory of it.

    At Mary’s wedding, just as in many Anglosphere weddings today, the groom and his party went into church first and waited for the bride; and Mary and her party came along a half hour later. (Which is about how much time all the pomp and marching would take, at a royal wedding.)

    There’s definitely a place for a series of really historical books on wedding customs, with endnotes for those who need them, but written for a popular audience and full of plenty of gorgeous pictures. I’m surprised no publisher has leapt upon this, as there’s big money in the wedding-dream industry.

  14. Oh, and there’s a lot of bride/groom prostrations while blessings are said over them, in the Sarum Rite, which would mean you’d probably want to make sure the floor was super-clean, and which you’d think carpeted floors in churches would encourage. Also, the post-wedding procession into Mass song is actually mandated, which is certainly something one could easily appropriate for one’s own wedding. :)

  15. ssoldie says:

    We had a rehearsel the night before. On a Saturday at 10:00 in the mo of June, the of the day of the wedding, Father and the alter boys after the bell rang came out into the Sanctury, husband to be and best man were up in front on the right side just outside the alter rail, maid of honor went before bride and stood at left side of alter rail, my father and I walked down the aisle. We (husband to be) and myself knelt on special kneeler, in Sanctuary, front pews were for best man and maid of honor. Mass began (see 1957 Marian Missal The Nuptial Service). After Mass, when Father and alter boys had left Sanctuary, I the bride had left and put my wedding bouquet at the statue of Our Blessed Mother to the song’ On This Day Oh Beautiful Mother’,said a small prayer, went back to alter rail where husband and wife, with best man and maid of honor, fallowing, walked back down the aisle and outside to greet all our relatives ,friends and guest’s,and took pictures. P.S. Wedding gown was down to ankles, long sleeved, and up tp neck.

  16. Oh, and there’s a lot of bride/groom prostrations while blessings are said over them, in the Sarum Rite, which would mean you’d probably want to make sure the floor was super-clean, and which you’d think carpeted floors in churches would encourage. Also, the post-wedding procession into Mass song is actually mandated, which is certainly something one could easily appropriate for one’s own wedding. :) And there’s a wedding canopy/veil involved. And so on.

  17. q7swallows says:

    Well, here’s the “traditional” divorce to go with the “wedding” featured:


    (okay, it’s a spoof but it’s on par).

  18. q7swallows says:

    Well, here’s the “divorce” to go with the “wedding” featured:


    (okay, it’s a spoof but it’s on par).

  19. My wedding last year was EF, so the schola chose all the music. I just showed up. :-)

  20. moon1234 says:

    to which they now have a right.

    Hi Father. I would like to think that Priest’s would think of the EF as always being a right that was unreasonably supressed; which error has now been corrected.

  21. vikingjr says:

    I don’t know that I could be considered a seasoned married man, having only been married about six days shy of 3 months, but in our NO wedding, we had a procession beginning w/ the servers, then the bridal party, then my wife and I, and last the priest, and I was told my some present that our wedding was as close to the Tridentine Mass as one could be while staying w/i the realm of the NO. Just thought I would chime in…

  22. Jayna says:

    “Both my pastor and I always try to sell brides on having an actual liturgical procession…”

    You’d never have to sell me on that. I want a Mass, Catholic music, and an overall dignified ceremony. Now I just have to find me one of them fiancés.

  23. Jack007 says:

    Jayna, that’s IT!
    Fr. Z could have his own version of a single’s group!
    How about, “Z Match”?
    Well, it’s an idea anyway… :-)

    Jack in KC

  24. irishgirl says:

    ‘Z Match’-that’s so funny, Jack!

    I’m single, too-and likely to be one forever!

    What an interesting post about Mary Tudor’s weeding, Suburbanbanshee!

  25. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    I’m not so old, but I have seen my mother’s wedding photos, and have the notes from my grandmother’s wedding (with the order of procession). Mom had a standard 1950’s era American Catholic Wedding Ceremony as seen on countless TV shows and movies. Priests and Servers AT the altar, my Dad and the groomsmen in a line in front of the communion rail. Dad & Mom, and witnesses (Dad’s brother, Mom’s sister) went up past the communion rail, everyone else was in the first line of pews on either side. Most of the family weddings I went to growing up were the same, only things that changed were the dresses, until the late 1970s, then things got “interesting.”

    Grandma’s wedding, in a Slovak enclave in Pennsylvania (1934);
    The Priest met the couple at the door to the church, and they all processed in, cross held by bride’s brother, priest, servers. parents, witnesses/attendants (including several children), bride and groom, other family and friends.

    In Germany, in the village I lived in (Rheinland-Pfalz), the usual procedures in the village were the ‘civil’ ceremony at the registrar’s office occurring the same day as the sacrament/church ceremony. Then the ENTIRE village processes to the church from the townhall (we had both a Catholic and a Lutheran parishes).

  26. Stephen says:

    A convert friend of mine discussed this a few months back. We both have plenty of daughters. A traditional way is for the Father of the Bride to escort his daughter down to an awaiting groom and wedding party. The Father gives her away to the Church simbolized in the priest. The Priest/Church then continues with the rite. I liked this idea so much that I discussed it with all the girls and hoped that since I’ll be asked to pay for the event that they would honor this tiny request rich in simbolism. Then there was this tradition http://www.catholic.net/index.php?option=dedestaca&id=2888&grupo=Life%20%20Family&canal=Marriage which we retroactively added to our marriage, and hope to promote widely.

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