Wedding Planning | Making Traditions Meaningful

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

Like the Catholic Liturgy, wedding celebrations around the world are rich with tradition and history. Rituals become a source of nostalgia for guests who reflect on their own wedding day, they unite couples who participate in the traditions throughout time around the world. Furthermore, they enhance how the bride and groom bring unique personalization and meaningful symbolism to their ceremony and celebration.

Incorporating specific religious, cultural, or secular traditions into your wedding day is not about going through the motions for the sake of a good photograph or to appease a relative. Traditions are valuable opportunities to experience and share the sacramental nature of a wedding, involve beloved family and friends, or enter more deeply into your nuptials.

A brief selection of decisions and traditions are listed below as a catalyst to think creatively about ways to expand wedding standards in order to cultivate and share the deepest realities of your special day.

PHOTOGRAPHY:   VISUAL GRACE

PHOTOGRAPHY: VISUAL GRACE

Wedding Flowers

Besides choosing flowers in season or highlighting your color scheme, a symbolic approach to selecting flowers for your bouquet is to base the floral selection on religious symbolism. Historically, many flowers were named for Our Lady and Jesus. If you or your fiance have a special devotion to the Holy Family or a saint, you may consider honoring your devotion through your wedding flowers or a “Marian bouquet.”

Rehearsal Dinner

When many guests travel from out-of-town for a wedding, it is difficult for the bride, groom, and their families to spend adequate time with these guests. The rehearsal dinner serves an important purpose in honoring the family and friends who will serve at your wedding. But why stop there? If you are hoping to spend quality time with additional guests, expand the traditional rehearsal dinner to a meet-and-greet; invite others to join the celebration after the dinner, so guests can meet and mingle prior to the wedding day.

First Look

The First Look is a tradition with many benefits. First, it is an opportunity to shake some nerves before the ceremony. Second, as a time for prayer before meeting at the altar. Finally, it’s a perfect chance for the wedding photographer to capture special moments on camera. If the first look doesn’t feel like a good fit, brainstorm options to fit within your comfort zone. Perhaps you meet for a coffee date before everyone gets dressed, allowing time for laughs and prayers. Plan to hold hands back-to-back, as a “first touch” for a prayer and photograph before the ceremony. Determine your intention in this meeting, then consider ways to meet those goals.

Honoring Mary

In the Catholic Mass, there is generally an opportunity for the bride and groom to move to a statue of Mary to offer a prayer or a token of love. Even if you and your fiance have not had a strong devotion to Mary prior to your wedding, this is a beautiful opportunity to bring honor our spiritual mother; if you are at a loss for words to Our Lady, she will still shower you with grace on your special day. However, if you desire to make this tradition more meaningful, incorporate preparation for this tradition into your wedding planning process. For example, pray the rosary together as part of your spiritual preparation for marriage. Or work together to write a prayer to Mary and say the prayer when you visit her during your ceremony. You could also include the original prayer in your wedding program as a way to invite wedding guests to pray alongside and with you during that moment.

Significant Devotions, New Traditions

There are not many standard traditions to honor the saints in a wedding ceremony. If you and your fiance have a special devotion to one or several saints, talk to your priest about including a personalized Litany of Saints during the ceremony. When my husband and I offered the idea to our priest, he had never seen it done in a wedding, but we worked together with the music director to choose the right melody and timing--and it was a perfect addition.  

Eliminate Meaningless Norms

For me and my husband, a tradition that didn’t offer significant meaning, value, joy, or intention was the garter toss. We tried brainstorming ideas to parallel the women’s opportunity with the bouquet toss, but nothing came as a good fit. Rather than feeling obligated to partake in a wedding tradition that made us both uncomfortable, we decided to eliminate it from our reception—and no one asked any questions. If you and your fiancé find yourself at a crossroads between wedding norms and personal values, choose your values with courage and fearlessness. Your wedding day is a holy reflection of your innermost love and desire.

These topics are only the tip of the wedding-tradition-iceberg. We hope you will share your experiences with our community on Instagram or Facebook. We would love to hear: what traditions are you planning to incorporate throughout your wedding weekend? In what ways have you infused deeper meaning or symbolism into the religious, cultural, or secular traditions? How do you communicate the value and significance of a tradition with your wedding guests?


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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Finding Your Wedding Style + Planning Your Liturgy: A Look Back on Spoken Bride Weddings

Are you recently engaged and just beginning to identify your wedding aesthetic? Did you know Spoken Bride weddings are indexed by color, style, and state?

Click the tags at the bottom of each wedding feature to see similar celebrations. It’s our honor to be invited into the unique, singular beauty of each of our couples’ special days and to share the distinctively Catholic elements that elevate their wedding days and point their guests’ senses heavenward.

Here, a collection of our past features. For our new brides, we hope they help you find your own style and introduce you to some of our incredible couples whom you might not have encountered before. For longtime readers, enjoy this look through the archives! Wherever you’re coming from we desire above all that like us, you’ll take in these stories and step back with nothing but awe, reverence, and gratitude for the Father’s fathomless love for his children.

Cultural traditions

Maria and Santi’s Buenos Aires wedding and bilingual nuptial Mass | Edith and Bomani’s Kenyan Catholic wedding | Elisabeth and Salvador’s El Salvadorian wedding | Lisa and Steve’s elegant resort wedding ,celebrating the bride’s Polish heritage

For the classic bride

Blair and Jordan’s fireside black-tie wedding | Jamie and Seth’s Baltimore wedding with astronomy-inspired details, designed by the bride | Sarah and Christopher’s Kate Spade-inspired wedding | Maggie and Ryan’s walk from literal blindness to true seeing, and their vineyard brunch wedding

Holiday weddings

Emily and Daniël’s Praise and Worship-filled Christmas season wedding | Christina and Kristian’s Austin wedding, with holiday colors and Christmas hymns | Genevieve and Dalton’s festive celebration at Rock ‘N Bowl | Caroline and Matt’s elegant cathedral wedding, rich with family heritage | Kaitlyn and John’s New Year’s wedding in blue, gold, and white | Becca and Phil’s Christmas picnic wedding

For the vintage-lover

Emma and Mark’s 1920s-inspired Arkansas wedding | Ada and Greg’s Texas celebration with her grandmother’s dress and other family heirlooms

Regional-inspired weddings

Fatima and John’s Tuscan-inspired celebration and Italian honeymoon | Brooke and Tim’s taste of Southern Virginia hospitality | Emily and Bradley’s & Katherine and Jonathan’s Louisiana weddings, inspired by French and New Orleans traditions | Erin and Andrew’s relationship guided by Our Lady of Perpetual Help, their Notre Dame Basilica wedding and reception football game | Cynthia and Chad’s Midwestern traditions and the beautiful significance of the Holy Land in their relationship | Sarah and Joseph’s Chesapeake Bay wedding with preppy and nautical details

For the rustic bride

Emily and Ben’s elegant evening on 40 acres of Nashville farmland | Chloe and Joseph’s winter farmhouse weddings and tips for spending as much of your wedding day together as possible | Jamaila and Andy’s NYC courtship and wedding filled with elements from nature

Ever ancient, ever new: unique Catholic devotions

Joan and Matt’s summer wedding, with original music composed by the bride | Kelsey and Jacob’s personal marriage prayer, and tips for writing your own | Susanna and Brad’s vineyard-inspired wedding and reflections on marriage, the priesthood, and religious life | Beth Anne and Tom’s beautiful alternative to a bouquet and garter toss | Robyn and Greg’s Divine Mercy weekend wedding and the role of this devotion in their relationship | Janae and Ryan’s foot-washing during their first look | Rosanna and Matthew’s Norbertine liturgy in English and Latin | Erica and Chris’s decision to say their vows over a crucifix | Laura and Alexandre’s fully sung Mass at a California mission | Bridget and David’s hometown Mass and decision to memorize their vows

For the DIY bride

Angela and Lucas’s farmhouse-chic Indiana wedding | Katherine and Ian’s handmade floral arrangements and reception catered by family | Amy and Jake’s Colorado Springs celebration with hand-lettered details, homemade centerpieces, and a custom crossword

City weddings

Anna and Mike’s Minneapolis nuptials | Maggie and Eric’s downtown Denver wedding | Chelsy and Ben’s portraits at the Washington, D.C. monuments during the Cherry Blossom Festival | Chelsea and Nick’s Pittsburgh black-tie evening

For the boho bride

Kelly and Peter’s high school sweethearts story and outdoor California reception | Heather and Jude’s transatlantic romance and bayside wedding day

Military weddings

Alana and Stephen’s conversion story and Air Force wedding | Hannah and Jared’s sophisticated Pittsburgh wedding, with the groom in Captain’s dress

Special circumstances and non-Roman rites

Andrea and David’s convalidation ceremony and powerful conversion story | Julia and Francis’s Byzantine liturgy | Dominika and Joseph’s & Gabrielle and Vince’s Ordinariate weddings | Victoria and David’s journey of discernment and conversion | Jenna and Michael’s Italian family-style wedding | Heather and Matthew’s witness to divine love’s healing power and their family-centered wedding with their daughters | Ashley and Ashbee’s black and white WVU wedding and advice for accommodating non-Catholic guests

For the romantic bride

Julie and Rudy’s elegant blush wedding and a love story that began in Fatima | Katherine and Dominic’s hometown wedding and rainy night reception | Elise and Hunter’s long-awaited celebration in the Maryland countryside

Feeling a call to share your proposal or wedding day with our community? Submission info can be found here.

Images by Spoken Bride Vendor Horn Photography & Design, seen in Melissa + Antonio | Springtime Ballroom Wedding

4 Scripts for Explaining Catholic Wedding Traditions to Friends + Family

As you plan your Catholic wedding, you might find friends and family inquiring about the reasons underlying particular marriage traditions in the Church. We’ve been there, and want to be here for you. Often, the default response might be to answer in a defensive way--we defend that which we fiercely love--as we assume anyone asking a question is asking from a place of skepticism or judgment.

While that might be true in some cases, you might find yourself surprised by how many individuals simply have a spirit of curiosity about the Catholic faith and its rituals. Modeling your love after the crucifixion, holding an hour-plus ceremony, and including formal prayer in your wedding are, in many ways, countercultural. To those whom Catholic weddings are unfamiliar, the spirit of inquiry is often genuine. Their questions provide a unique opportunity: to explain these matters with charity, candor, and with an invitation to know more and let the goodness, beauty, and natural reason of the Church speak for itself.

Below, four common questions regarding Catholic wedding liturgies, and how you might answer. We hope you find these points help you articulate why you’ve chosen to marry in the Church, what sets it apart, and most importantly, that they provide the seeds of truly fruitful conversation.

Or perhaps the spirit of curiosity is where you, yourself, are. Questions about the Catholic faith are good; an opening of a new door, not a closing off to inquiry, and an opportunity to learn and contemplate. We hope the questions and answers below offer you the start of greater understanding and critical thought.

Why do you have to get married in an actual church?

It’s not that a a beautiful garden, hotel, or oceanfront venue is an unromantic or insignificant place to profess your lifelong commitment to each other. When Catholics say marriage is a sacrament of the Church, they’re saying they believe earthly things--in this case, the vows spoken by the bride and groom--can literally be transformed by God into something different than what they once were. Once the marriage is consummated, the words spoken at the altar are transformed into a permanent bond breakable only by death.

Because of that belief in sacramental realities, which take place in God’s presence, it makes sense that the sacrament needs to actually take place in his presence. Where is the Lord really, truly present? It’s true that he is all around us in the created world and that prayer can happen anywhere. Yet for Catholics, who believe bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, he is there in a real, metaphysical way in the tabernacle of every church--there resides the Eucharist and there, we believe, resides the living Jesus. It’s amazing to consider that he is there in such a tangible way from the first moments of a bride and groom’s life together.

Speaking of vows, why can’t you write your own?

Every sacrament of the Church has a specific rite that must be followed in order for the sacrament to be valid. If a priest doesn't follow the prescribed language of consecration, for instance, the Eucharist for that Mass is invalid. Getting married is the same: in order for the sacrament to take place; that is, for the couple's bond to literally be transformed and suffused with grace, the bride and groom need to speak the language of the Rite of Marriage. It's more than just inputting certain words and getting out a certain result. It's allowing yourselves and your love to take on something entirely, sacramentally new and humbly inviting God into your life together, knowing it takes three, not two, to live out your promises.

But it’s understandable that a couple might want to express their hopes for how they’ll love and serve each other in marriage in their own words. Those who wish to do that can write down these hopes and intentions in letters to each other or can talk together about them.

What about Mary? Why is a part of the Mass dedicated to her?

When you really want something, it can be helpful to have another person helping you get it. Job referrals and references, personal trainers, and therapists fall into this category.

When Catholics pray for something, they believe the saints--men and women from throughout history who were heroically faithful, in ways large and small--can provide the gift of intercession, which means joining in our prayers and offering them to God alongside us. We hold Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the highest regard among the saints for her making her entire life an unreserved yes to God’s will. In praying to her, therefore she brings us to the Lord. We, and our prayers, grow closer to Jesus, through Mary.

That’s not to say every prayer of a person’s heart is answered in exactly the way and time they hope, simply because they prayed for Mary’s intercession, but that her prayers for us, her children, are a great gift. When husband and wife kneel before her during their wedding Mass, they bring their lives to her, asking her to pray for them like any other mother might pray for her children, and to strengthen them in love.

Who’s walking you down the aisle? If not your dad, why?

Although a priest celebrates a couple’s wedding Mass, marriage is actually the only sacrament of the Church wherein the bride and groom, not a priest, actually administer the sacrament. The minister of the sacrament typically processes into the church last, so for couples who choose to acknowledge this, they walk into the church together. For those who do a first look, or who choose to meet for the first time before the procession, it can beautifully signify the bride and groom’s shared role in the sacrament and promises they’re about to enter into.

Couples are also free to choose the tradition of walking in with both parents, or for the bride to process in with her father, which in no way diminishes the couple’s role in the sacrament or their equality as people.

If these outlines for your conversations are helpful, we’d love to know! Share with us, in the comments and on our social media, any other areas of Catholic weddings and marriage for which you’d welcome talking points.

Read more apologetics-related matters:

Explaining the Eucharist to your guests | Talking with friends about cohabitation, Part I | Part II Navigating the revised Rite of Marriage

Catholic Engagement and Wedding Ring Inscription Ideas

 

If you’re engaged (or about to be), you’ve probably already had a conversation about what you’d like to have inscribed on each other’s rings. Some couples surprise each other, some get the same thing on both rings, and some forego the ring inscription entirely.

For Catholic couples, the ring inscription can be more than a way to remember the wedding date; it is an opportunity to celebrate the God who called them to the sacrament of marriage. There are as many ways to do this as there are couples. Our Associate Editor Christina Dehan Jaloway and her husband Kristian have the Italian phrase Ti voglio bene ("I will your good.") inscribed on their rings, whereas Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Calis and her husband have "Before thee we kneel" (from the Memoraretheir favorite Marian prayer) engraved in theirs. If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, we hope the list of possibilities below will inspire you: 

A favorite Scripture verse

Note: If word count is an issue, consider using the Biblical reference instead of having the entire verse inscribed. If you have enough room, some of the shorter verses listed here are a great option:

This is my body given up for you.  (Luke 22:19)

Do whatever he tells you.  (John 2:5)

Duc in altum. (“Into the deep.” Luke 5:4)

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.  (Song of Songs 6:3)

Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:8)

I have found the one whom my soul loves. (Song of Songs 3:4)

Be not afraid. (John 14:27)

Nothing is impossible for God. (Luke 1:46)

A pithy quote from a favorite Saint.

Verso l’alto. (“To the heights.”) --Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

Whatever God wants. -- St. Gianna Molla

Do small things with great love. --St. Teresa of Calcutta

Open wide the doors to Christ. --St. John Paul II

My vocation is love. --St. Therese of Lisieux

Love until it hurts. --St. Teresa of Calcutta

Jesus, I trust in you. --St. Faustina

A line from a favorite prayer

Before thee we kneel. (The Memorare--this is what our Editor-in-Chief, Stephanie, and her husband have on their rings)

Come, Holy Spirit.

Thy will be done.

Did you and your fiancé or husband inscribe your rings? We’d love to hear what you chose in the comments!

Three Reasons to Have a "First Look"

JIZA ZITO

We have all heard that it is “bad luck” for the groom to see the bride before the wedding,  and many couples take this tradition quite seriously; however, many do not know about the less-than-romantic origins of this tradition.

During the time when arranged marriages were customary, the betrothed couple was not allowed to see each other before the wedding. Marriage, for many families, was essentially a “business deal.”. The father, who was the head of the household, would ideally marry off his daughter to a rich, land-owning male. Once the engagement was contracted, the parents of the bride and groom would keep the couple apart, fearing that if the groom saw the bride before the wedding and found her unattractive, he wouldn’t go through with the marriage.  While today we think of the wedding veil as a lovely must-have accessory,  its original purpose was also to keep the groom from finding out what the bride looked like until the last possible minute, when it was too late to back out of the transaction. Romantic, huh?

More and more couples today are choosing to buck tradition in favor of the “first look” before the wedding ceremony. While the Church has no definitive stance on first looks, every couple has different reasons as to why they would or would not do a first look. Below are three reasons to consider having a first look, and three alternative ideas to consider if you want to have a moment with your groom before the wedding, while saving the “big reveal” for your walk down the aisle.

Maximize your time for photos without sacrificing time at the reception.

While you may have your photographer for 8-10 hours, it’s amazing how fast time flies on the day of your wedding and how easily the timeline can get sidetracked. Most often, portraits with family and the bridal party take longer than expected, and then the next you know, you only have less than 15 minutes to take romantic images of just you and your groom. When you make the first look a priority, it gives you time for those special portraits without being rushed to your cocktail hour or reception. Especially when you also place a large investment into your wedding photography, getting the time to get more photographs of just you and your groom together and in such a candid and special moment can definitely be worth it!

Diminish pre-wedding nerves.

Some couples have a hard time showing emotion in front of a crowd, and understandably so. There is a lot of emotion mounting up to that moment of seeing each other for the first time. When you do a first look with just you and your groom (and your photographer(s) in the background), it gives you both the chance to be yourselves freely while seeing each other for the first time without a crowd of loved ones snapping iPhone photos.

Get some much-needed alone time with your husband.

The first look allows you and your groom to have some alone time before your day gets busy. Unless you set time aside for it later in the day, it’s the only time you both will be alone on your wedding day until you leave the reception. It can also help set the tone for the perfect mood for romantic portraits. Images of just the two of you are also what you’ll decorate your home with and possibly pass down to family, so it makes sense to spend some quality time taking them


Alternatives to the First Look

While a first look has its many perks, it’s not for every couple. Here are some alternative or additional photography ideas for your big day:

A First Look with Dad or Father Figure

If you’re a self-proclaimed Daddy’s girl, or have a close relationship with another male relative, this is a lovely option to consider. Another idea is also for the father to escort the bride to the first look with the groom.

A First Look with the Bridal Party

You have been through the engagement party, the bridal shower, and the bachelorette party. Now your bridesmaids are excited to see your completed look on your wedding day. Have your photographer catch their reactions as they finally see you dressed as a bride!

The “Reach and Pray”

This one is my personal favorite. It’s a beautiful and meaningful way for a bride and groom to come together before the ceremony while still avoiding the pre-wedding first look. You can hold hands around a corner or a door, or keep your eyes closed in a prayerful exchange in your favorite grotto or side chapel.

Elissa Voss Photography

Elissa Voss Photography

No matter what you decide for photographs on your wedding day, communicate with your photographer and make sure you get enough allotted time to capture images of just you and your spouse. These will be the images that you will always cherish.


About the Author: Jiza Zito is Spoken Bride's Creative Director and Co-Founder. She is the owner and wedding photographer of Olive & CypressRead more

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Creating Your Own Wedding Novena

 

CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY

One of the beautiful things about Catholic devotional life is that there is a prayer (or prayers) for every problem and occasion. Novenas in particular are increasing in popularity amongst younger generations of Catholics, thanks to sites like PrayMoreNovenas.com. And while engaged couples can find plenty of novenas to pray in preparation for marriage with a simple Google search, my hope is that this post will inspire you and your fiancé (or your maid of honor/best man) to write your own unique novena to pray with your guests in the nine days leading up to your wedding.

I first encountered the idea of a custom novena for someone’s wedding as a college student at the University of Notre Dame; one of my friends wrote a novena for a soon-to-be-married couple I knew. I thought it was such a wonderful idea that I have since offered to write one for my close friends and family who are preparing for marriage, and was blessed to receive the same gift from my sister Elisa (also my maid of honor) when I got married last year. Even if you don’t have someone who can spearhead the novena for you, writing a novena with your fiancé can be a beautiful way to grow as a couple. Below are simple instructions for how to put a novena together and share it with your guests:

Together with your fiancé, choose nine favorite saints.

These could be your patron saints, saints who have been meaningful to you as a couple, saints whose feast days fall on the days leading up to your wedding, or a combination of all three. My husband and I enjoyed this part of the process, although it was definitely tough to narrow down our list!

Find prayers to those saints that you can customize (or write your own).

Thanks to the internet, this part is surprisingly easy. All you have to do is search for prayers to the saints you’ve chosen and you’ll get lots of options that you can easily customize by inserting your names or changing the wording. If you’re ambitious and have some extra time on your hands, consider writing your own prayers to each Saint. Here’s an example of a modified prayer that I wrote for my sister Elisa’s wedding novena:

St. Joseph, pray for Elisa and Thomas as they begin their life as husband and wife. Pray for Thomas, that he will love Elisa the way that you loved Mary, and that he will teach his children the way you taught your Son. Pray for Elisa, that she will love Thomas the way Mary loved you, and that their union would imitate your holy marriage to Mary. Grant them both, with their future children, the grace of a happy and peaceful death.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of Christ, and for the gift of his earthly foster father, St. Joseph.

Create an email list of guests who you’d like to pray the novena with and for you.

An invitation to pray, even to those who aren’t Catholic, is never a bad thing. However, if you’re concerned that some of your guests may be offended by the idea of praying a novena for you and your fiancé, that’s something to keep in mind when making your list. I also recommend delegating this task to a bridesmaid or groomsman who can commit to sending out the prayer for each day.

Note: You may have older relatives who do not use email or check it regularly, but would love to participate in the novena. Consider printing and mailing copies of the novena to them; they’ll be so grateful.

Write an explanation of 1) what a novena is and 2) how to pray it for those who are unfamiliar with novenas, and send it out with the first day’s prayer.

Even if all of your guests (or everyone on the email list) are Catholic, it’s still helpful to include a brief explanation of novenas in general and yours in particular. It doesn’t need to be long or detailed. This is the explanation I included with my sister’s novena:

What is a Novena?
A novena is a prayer said over the course of nine days, and is popular in Catholic devotion. Novenas are usually prayed for a special intention and through the intercession of a particular Saint. We ask for the intercession of the saints because they are in heaven and are great prayer warriors. We do not worship the Saints or pray "to" them in the same way that we pray to God. We do honor them for their heroic virtue and holiness, and look to their example as we "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" as St. Paul says in Philippians 2:12.
For Elisa and Thomas, each day of the novena is dedicated to one of their favorite Saints. The idea is to have as many of Elisa and Thomas’ family and friends praying for them and their life together on the days leading up to their wedding.
How to pray the novena:
Begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Pray the specific prayer for that day.
End with the Our Father and a Hail Mary.

Pray the final novena prayer together with your wedding party before your rehearsal.

Kristian and I had a holy hour before our rehearsal, so we printed copies of our final novena prayer and invited everyone there to pray it with us. Those who were not at the holy hour could still pray it on their own at home.

In my experience, praying a customized wedding novena is a beautiful way to remain focused on the sacrament of marriage in the final (typically crazy) days of wedding preparation. It’s also a wonderful way to invite your guests to support you, especially those who are far away and unable to attend the wedding. My hope is that Kristian and I will pray our wedding novena each year in the nine days leading up to our anniversary, so that we don’t forget the holy men and women who interceded for us as we entered into married life.

 
CIRCLE HEADSHOT Christina.png

About the Author: Christina Dehan Jaloway is Spoken Bride's Associate Editor. She is the author of the blog The EvangelistaRead more

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Distinctively Catholic Ways to Commemorate the Dead on Your Wedding Day

As you and your beloved prepare to become one, transforming into your own new family at the altar, matters surrounding your families of origin, and their roles in your wedding plans, tend to highlight the nature of your relationships for better and for worse. One particular wound that might rise to the surface of your hearts is the pain of loss: how can you come to terms with the absence of certain loved ones on your wedding day, and how can you commemorate and honor them, holding them in prayer, as you celebrate?

Alongside thoughtful general traditions like lighting candles and displaying photos or albums of those who can’t join you earthside at your wedding, a distinctively Catholic approach to commemorating the dead could look like, first, intercessory prayer, and second, highlighting the uniqueness of every human person. Here, four ways to honor family and friends whom you’ve lost, while actively serving and praying for them:

Invite your wedding guests to pray for the dead.

Particularly if a loved one suffered before his or her death, it’s a common comfort to those left behind to consider that the individual is now at rest or “in a better place.” While, of course, we hold the hope of heavenly freedom for all those we’ve lost, as Catholics we also acknowledge that the road to paradise is merciful, yet just.

Your nuptial Mass presents an invitation to your guests not only to remember those no longer present, but to pray on behalf of their souls. In an In Memoriam section of your Mass program, or during the Prayers of the Faithful, consider writing a brief explanation of intercessory prayer and how it offers an opportunity to continue expressing love and charity for the dead, even when they are no longer with us. Here’s a sample passage from us that you're welcome to include in your text:

When it comes to heaven and eternal rest, Catholics put faith in God’s mercy and justice; that is, “All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 1030). Intercessory prayer is a form of petition in service of another: “In intercession, he who prays looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (CCC 2635). As we lift up our intentions at this point in the Mass, we invite you to pray on behalf of [names of those you’d like to commemorate], all souls heaven-bound in purgatory, and all those you have lost, that they might be made holy and enter into the joy of heaven, the Father’s eternal wedding feast.

Raise a glass to a close loved one who can’t attend your wedding in the flesh.

It’s hard to illustrate the reality and emphasize the special nature of each individual human person to those who didn’t personally know him or her, simply because every person is entirely unique and unrepeatable, containing fathomless depths and complexities. If someone you were particularly close to, such as a parent or sibling, is not with you in body on your wedding day, it can be painful to acknowledge that some friends and relatives of your new spouse will never know him or her in this life.

But you can put forth your best effort at bringing this person’s memory to life. Consider delivering a toast describing your loved one to both those who knew him and those who didn’t, expressing the joy you found in your relationship and its effects on you leading to your wedding day. Sharing a glimpse of special individuals gifts others with a revelation of who they are, in a specific, personal way, and what they’ve meant to you.

Carry or use a special item of your loved one’s on your big day.

This might be a sentimental or religious item, like a Rosary or piece of jewelry, but if such an item isn’t an easily available option, brainstorm other family heirlooms or special belongings that might invoke the memory of the person you’ve lost. Ideas you might consider are serving one of her favorite recipes as part of a dessert table, using her china or servingware for you and your spouse’s wedding cake, or displaying a collection of his or hers as part of your reception décor.

Offer the crosses of your engagement and wedding planning for the repose of the souls of those you’ve lost.

What if, among those who aren’t able to be present at your wedding, there’s an individual you shared a difficult relationship with? For those with whom you struggled or those who hurt you in this life--and even for those with whom you didn’t--there is mercy and redemption in offering your trials for their souls. Through a mounting to-do list, spiritual attack, and stress as your big day approaches, you’ll find joy flows from putting another before yourself. Pray for the repose and salvation of the souls of your absent friends and family, and rest in knowing none of your difficulties are meaningless.

We know and understand that significant life events tend to increase the ache of loss. Know of our prayers for you if you’re planning your wedding day without someone you always thought would be with you on the journey, and don’t hesitate to reach out if we can pray for you in a specific way. If there are particular traditions or practices you’ve taken up or included in your Mass and reception plans, ones that have borne healing or fond memories, we’d love to hear them in the comments and on our social media.