“Every wedding is a royal wedding”

That was my favorite line from the homily/sermon, btw, from last Friday’s liturgy at Westminster Abbey. As a Catholic liturgist, I was interested in a lot more than what the Duchess of Cambridge would be wearing (but what was that glued to Princess Beatrice’s forehead?!). Overall, I thought the liturgy was a fine example of many good liturgical principles. It had one of the best-proclaimed readings I’ve heard at any wedding. (And it inadvertently boosted traffic to this site.) And I loved the Ubi caritas nod at the end of one of the commissioned anthems. Not being familiar with Anglican liturgy, I was surprised that the marriage ritual happened first, followed by everything else. Rev. Bosco Peters clears up a lot of questions about that here and has a few of his own. What effect might this very public liturgy have on what couples will be asking for their weddings, Anglican or not?


  1. I have a priest friend who never much enjoyed the celebration of weddings. He would tell the couple that they could decorate the church etc. according to their desires so long as they would agree to a nuptial Mass celebrated strictly according to the 1970 Missal rubrics. He would have no other input into the wedding other than to show up that morning, witness the vows, and celebrate the Nuptial Mass.

    I don’t know if this is the best pastoral approach. Yet given the histrionics that often accompany weddings, I can understand my priest friend’s desire to have no involvement other than as celebrant.

      1. Common Worship, the collection of books from which the royal wedding rite came, says “priest” for the one saying the clergy bits. But in other rites like Holy Communion, it uses “president,” which is an actual word and (in my opinion) is the real word for “presider.” But I know others say a word can mean only one thing and a president can be only the chief executive of something. I say a president can be simply one who presides, and that’s what the priest often does. At a wedding, the president presides, and the bride and groom celebrate. Works for me!

    1. Thanks Tom, for the correction. Yes, the priest presides over the wedding ceremony but celebrates the Mass.

      1. The priest is the officiant, not the presider. He officiates at a wedding (but does not preside over it), and his primary role is as a witness of the exchange of consent by the couple on behalf of the Church. They, as Tom points out, are the ministers of the sacrament, not the priest.

        The officiant may be a deacon instead of a priest. In some countries, lay persons are empowered to officiate and witness the couple’s consent. The use of the word presider is inappropriate, in my view.

  2. I’m hoping that the bride’s relatively modest dress will influence other brides so that I don’t have to practice custody of the eyes when I do weddings.

    I should say that I have yet to encounter a true “bridezilla,” which leads me to wonder if they are more myth than fact.

    1. Fritz: when you witness weddings, what vestments do you wear? A dalmatic? an alb and stole? I ask only because I’ve never been to a wedding where a deacon has presided.

      I suspect that some clergy do not like weddings precisely because of the “bridezilla” phenomenon. While I think that “reality tv” shows exaggerate this personality type, some brides (and grooms, lest we forget) can get obsessive about the ceremony and lose sight of the liturgical and sacramental aspects of marriage.

      1. That’s an interesting question. A quick glance at “The Rites” suggests that at a marriage outside Mass a priest wears surplice and stole (alb not an option) or cope.

        Is there any precedent for a deacon wearing a stole with a cope (as one would assume the rubric means for the priest, not a cope w/o a stole for the administration of a sacrament)? If not, it would seem that surplice and stole would be appropriate for a deacon.

      2. I typically wear an alb and stole. I wore a dalmatic once — I can’t remember why, maybe the bride requested it — but have since avoided doing so because it does not seem to be envisioned by the rubrics. I know some of my fellow deacons do wear dalmatics. I don’t wear a surplice because I don’t own one (nor a cassock).

        I presume the rubric for vesture at a wedding celebrated outside of Mass applies to a deacon as well as a priest, meaning that a deacon could wear a cope just as a priest could (I’ve never done that because, believe it or not, my parish doesn’t own a cope; I’m working on that). The way the rubric is written is odd, since it makes it sound as if the cope is an alternative, not an addition, to the stole. But, as Samuel notes, it is hard to imagine that the stole would be omitted in the celebration of a sacrament.

      3. My understanding is that copes, at least historically, have been used by a wide variety of ministers, e.g. by cantors leading solemn vespers, and not restricted to priests and deacons and those above in rank.

        If these options are still available, perhaps it might motivation the parish to invest in more copes.

      4. Actually we have created Bridezillas. We have not adequately addressed the entrance rite at the Sacrament of Marriage. This is something in need of reform. When you meet with Bridezillas their first concern is what are you going to play when I come down the isle. We perpetuate this by playing Here Comes the Bridezilla.

      5. Anyone possessing Holy Orders (bishops, priests, deacons) can definitely use the cope in addition to the stole. The dalmatic, although a diaconal vestment, isn’t really used anymore outside of Mass (unless there is a procession/Benediction/something that would make “changing” after Mass impractical.) In fact, I think the cope is very nice since it adds a little class to the looks of things (and makes the appearance of the alb less important!)

  3. I liked the music selections as I do the annual music selections for the Nine Lessons and Carols of Christmas Eve and for much of the same reasons.

    First most of the music is familiar, and has been used before, really important for ritual.

    I was glad to let the choir sing Parry’s Introit since they will do a much better job than I would. But is familiar music that I can hear in my mind just looking at the program page, so it is something I can participate in fully without singing it myself. A lot of the other music by the choir was also familiar to me.

    The Hymns sung by the congregation seemed to be ones that most people were singing probably because they were again familiar.

    Many of the selections recalled their prior use in other services.

    In this liturgy as in Nine Lessons there was ONE new piece, in this case the Ubi Caritas.It was great music, and on a familiar theme.

    The winning recipe in both this service and Nine Lessons appears to be a lot of familiar music, a lot of it expected and used before on other occasions, much of it sung by the choir, but also much of it sung by the people, or something people are so familiar with that they could sing it and finally one thing new.

    One of my favor phrases from Taft: liturgy is ritual, people have a right to not be surprised or confused.

    Or the social science literature, people prefer only a moderate degree of novelty. This is abundantly documented for music. Music directors of symphonies know better than to put more than one new piece on the program. People want to hear their favorites, perhaps with a slightly novel interpretation. People often delight in the way that choices were made among their favorites.

    Our parishes never seem to ask themselves how familiar a piece is to the congregation or how easily could they sing it.

    1. Good comments! This is my beef with big regional church gatherings where the people in charge of music approach the event like it’s a blank canvas on which they need to express maximum creativity and do nothing familiar and everything dramatic. My response is that what’s special about the event is not what they’re going to create for us but the simple fact that we’re all together in this wonderful gathering, and to do the familiar things together will be the best possible thing.

    2. Part of the problem is that musicians tend to project their boredom with familiarity onto congregations. This is a natural phenomenon, given that musicians often rehearse a given piece many times (and, if they are singing more than one service on a given weekend, also performing it more often), whereas the congregants just sing it once.

      Liturgical musicians must self-correct for this cognitive bias.

      1. Yes, I agree that this is a large part of the problem. The cognitive worlds of musical and liturgical experience of music ministers and other liturgical ministers are very different from the cognitive worlds of the people in the congregation.

        All involved in liturgical planning should be thinking about how they are building the shared cognitive worlds of the average members of the community, about what has been done in the past and what will be done in the future. (That seemed to have happened for the royal wedding).

        The key beginning of liturgy planning is to know which songs the congregation knows well, and to begin with them, and only gradually introduce new songs into the community repertory, no more than one song at a time.

        The research tells us that familiarity leads to increased liking, and that it actually takes a fair amount of repetitive use for it to lead to eventual boredom. If you mass the repetition both the increases in liking and the eventual boredom happen more quickly. Even when repetition leads to boredom, interest can easily be revived and maintained by doing a song only a few times a year. So it is not like people become permanently bored (however musicians who have different expectations may become permanently bored).

        A key element in new music planning is the sequence of congregational experiences that will lead to familiarity, liking, willingness to sing while avoiding either really frequent use that might lead to boredom or too infrequent use that might lead to unfamiliarity (congregations change in our mobile world).

        Having the choir sing the new song as a prelude or preparation song, or post-communion hymn is a good way of easing the congregation into greater familiarity; as is practicing the new song before Mass.

        I particularly like practice sessions before Mass that do several verses of one new song, followed by one verse of each other familiar song, a familiarity booster shot right before Mass.

      2. Thanks Karl and Jack. So does anyone think we can persuade the bishops that we should introduce the new Mass settings gradually?

      3. Sadly, no. The bishops worked out a single cliff-point approach largely to accommodate the needs of major publishers, it seems.

        For years, I advocated for the idea of grandfathering (at least for, say, 3 years, but with an understanding that pastors should not be using that as an excuse or rationalization to delay and defer until a successor takes up the burden too late) settings of texts that had received recognitio at the time of publication, but the idea was ignored – instead, people seem to prefer an all or nothing approach. (Btw, I feel the same way in abstract about what will happen when the pending translation is superseded in the future, as it will likely be, sometime.)

        I am skeptical about the value of “re-worked” settings and would be more inclined to favor new compositions; that’s just my sense of how the neural grooves are best receptive.

  4. Thanks for pointing to my post. (As a priest serving in an Anglican Church) I was as surprised as you at “the marriage ritual happened first” (as I make clear in my post). As to the comment here that refers to the priest being called the “celebrant” at a Eucharist – my preference is to see all as celebrating the Eucharist together – the priest presides.

    Christ is risen!


    1. Interesting question. Were it mine to adjudicate, I’d have no problem with them provided the couple took care of paying for them, bringing them in, and left no trace of them when all was done. . .

  5. I can not think of much to add to the comments about music from Jack Rakosky and Karl Liam Saur. I agree that most musicians working in churches do not seem to understand how to make music work for the assembly rather than for themselves or for their choir members.

    Does anyone else find the thought appealing to frequently use choir members to “salt” or “leaven” the assembly in order to encourage congregational singing, and only use them as a performance group on special occasions?

    I would appreciate it if Karl and Jack could place a link in their commentator registration. I would have liked to have complimented them directly for these posts and perhaps continue a narrow discussion away from this blog space.

    1. Actually there are as many “choir members” in the pews, or at least former choir members, myself being one of them. That is one of the reasons why music ministers need to think more about how they relate to them. Would any music minister tell the choir that only half of them need to come to choir practice?

      The royal wedding was a beautiful example of how a choir can do things that the congregation cannot do, or would not want to take to time to do. I see the liturgy as much a dialogue between the choir singing and the people singing as it is between the people and the ministers. I also want to develop and use all the musical talent of the parish, the talents of cantors, ensembles, and instrumentalists. When one hires a talented musician as director most do a good job of developing the various talents of the people that join the choir. So I am not a person who wants to deemphasize the choir or the talents of musicians, quite the contrary.

      I am just trying to expand the music director’s horizons to the “choir” in the pews, to help them see it from their perspective.

      Personally I like the public discourse here on Pray Tell versus e-mail discourse. Perhaps that comes from spending 20 years in public meetings as part of the mental health system. There I was always speaking as much to the different participants in the system as I was to my interlocutors about a particular agenda topic at a public meeting. We did meet under sunshine laws so anyone could come.

      I always appreciate “amen” and especially “alleluia.” We should all probably do more of that. Might balance out some of the quarreling and food fights.

    2. Tom

      I don’t have a personal website, so there’s no link to link, and I don’t publish my email in places where it can be readily picked up for spam (I’m old-fashioned that way). I think our public conversations here are good.

      1. I suspected and respect that this was the situation.

        You can contact me through my blog link, but I try not to post my email in public either.

  6. In our parish, most members of the music ministry help to lead the assembly in song on one or two out of every three Sundays (not all three). On other weeks, they participate as members of the assembly, or even (in a few cases) join the choir of one of the other two parishes in our pastoral region, thus helping us to more effectively lead music for combined celebrations.

    1. Not quite 20 years ago, I was part of a choir that was divided into thirds, and generally sang a three-week rotation. I recommended that the choristers not “on-duty” sit along the rear of the front half of the church, to serve as what I called a “retrochoir” (to borrow from the architectural term) – it noticeably boosted congregational singing. Catholics don’t like 2 things, it seems: (i) having their individual voices stick out, and (ii) being drowned out by organ, amplified instruments or amplified voices; they prefer to have their voices blend with a fair volume of acoustical (that is, unamplified) voices nearby. Note to cantors (and over-miked choirs): if you’re not singing a part that is supposed to be sung by you alone, back away from that mike and no one gets hurt….

  7. Anyone possessing Holy Orders (bishops, priests, deacons) can definitely use the cope in addition to the stole.
    In some churches the cantor, even if he’s a layman, wears a cope. In one church a lady cantor wore one with birds, bees, and crosses embroidered all over it. She looked better than the “presider” and definitely sang a whole lot better than he did too.

  8. Jack said
    “I see the liturgy as much a dialogue between the choir singing and the people singing as it is between the people and the ministers.
    I also want to develop and use all the musical talent of the parish, the talents of cantors, ensembles, and instrumentalists.
    When one hires a talented musician as director most do a good job of developing the various talents of the people that join the choir. So I am not a person who wants to deemphasize the choir or the talents of musicians, quite the contrary.”

    I do not see any basis in the development of liturgy or in the rubrics to see it as a dialog between choir and assembly. Rather I see the choir as part of the assembly, with an assistive and complementary [filling out] role for the most part. It can also be cantor as a group.

    Developing and using all the musical talent available seems to be a musical objective rather than a liturgical objective. It can sometimes get in the way of FCAP of all present. I am particularly concerned by any demonstration of that musical talent which converts a participative assembly, for no matter how short a time, into a receptive audience.

    One limping analogy I use is that, in entertainment terms, the assembly is the star of the show with top billing. Anyone who upstages the star should expect to catch heck for daring to do so. All of the liturgical ministers in this analogy are supporting actors and pit musicians who do not get their own solos. It limps, but it expresses some priorities.

    Unfortunately, I agree with you that most talented musicians hired for church work do a good job of developing the talents in the choir. However, I think that should not be their primary role. I think they should be developing the ability and confidence of the assembly for full, conscious, and active musical participation. That is slower and less immediately rewarding work.

    1. “any demonstration . . . for no matter how short a time . . .”

      So you see no proper role for the choir in doing what SC and the reformed ritual books envision it may properly do (that is, offer the more complex chants and sing polyphony)?

    2. Tom,

      We may have different experiences and notions of FCAP:

      When I sing the EP in my mind, even when the priest just says it, I experience FCAP. Saying the EP aloud with the priest, at least for me, makes it less FCAP. I would rather sing it in my mind than say it aloud.

      When I sing the Parry “I was glad” Introit in my mind, I experience FCAP. In fact I would prefer to sing it in my mind, than to join the rest of the congregation in singing the same words to some less inspiring music or reciting the psalm.

      Usually I experience more FCAP when congregations alternate verses or stanzas (left vs. right, males vs. females) than when things are sung straight through by everyone.

      Even when I mentally sing psalms as I walk along the lakeshore, I alternate between two voices, one usually a cantor, the other usually a polyphonic choir. Often I have the verse sung first by the cantor then repeated by the choir.

      So in general my FCAP is enhanced as a member of the congregation when I sing some things with the congregation, sing other things mentally that I know with the choir or cantor, and listen to one or at most two things that I do not know sung by the choir or cantor or ensemble. My FCAP is enhanced by the participation of various music instruments, both as accompanying song, and as instruments without song. My FCAP is always enhanced by singing rather than saying, even though some times I prefer to sing mentally rather than physically. My FCAP is likely to be enhanced by more familiar than less familiar music.

      FCAP is an empirical issue. Maybe people differ widely in what liturgical experiences they would label as FCAP?

      It is one of the many areas of the liturgy where we are likely to find surprises if we ever do the research. My rule of thumb is that about half the important things are not on anyone’s radar screen.

  9. Karl, I think the significant word is “may”.

    I do not think that everything permitted is advisable.
    I think that many things in SC and IGMR are permitted in deference to what people have been accustomed to do; there being no desire to anger people, outlaw practices, just because they are liturgically less desirable. This is good leadership. This is how I read SC in regard to Latin usage also.

    The council was going in new directions, but it did not want to outlaw or denigrate what many treasured. That does not mean that the were primarily interested in preserving these things. They were not. They were primarily interested in guiding in a new direction without abrupt discontinuity. Continuity permitted, change desired, encouraged, to be brought to completion in reasonable time and order.

    However, when we are talking about what is most desirable, I do not think that all the things we may do are things we should do or are desirable to do.

    I have been through far too many discussions where musicians have found the equivalent of legal loopholes to insert music in ways which break the flow of the liturgical celebration. Their citations have been accurate, but their motivations are those of performers seeking a venue rather than of liturgists seeking FCAP. They have been deaf to anything involving displacing the roles of the congregation or disrupting the flow of the liturgy.

    I still have not figured out why some musicians think that the time for silence after communion is a good place to insert musical sounds.

    1. I think your interpretation is too much in the direction of either/or rather than both/and. Mind you, the first choir I left was a choir where the (non-Catholic) choir director made too much of a performance emphasis, so I am not exactly unsympathetic, but then I spent way too many years in choirs where the liturgical powers that be went into hissy fits over anything that smacked of propers, polyphony or even occasional choral anthems. What respect I had for that position eroded completely after living as a congregant (not merely as a choir member) under it for a few years.

      1. I’m in favor of congregational psalmody instead of some of the propers and in favor of communal chant for many other things.

        I think the role of polyphony and instrumentation are to embellish and enhance congregational song rather than replace it. I am strongly opposed to instrumental accompaniment or background during spoken or silent elements of the Mass.

        Occasionally, psalms and commons might consist of congregational refrains alternating with more musically elaborate choral verses. I support the specified texts for the cantors instead being done by a choir.

        I guess I just disagree with you and many others in not seeing a place for choral presentations to a silent congregation within specifically liturgical prayer. There are many other possible forms of public prayer where anthems and such may fit much better.

        Perhaps it is a bias on my part, but I see the use of musical performances before a silent congregation as being already part way back down the slope to minimal, self-conscious, and passive attendance [MSPA versus FCAP] at a clericalist [Father’s] Mass.

      2. The problem of the music director and choir asking the people to sing unfamiliar hymns seems to me to be a greater obstacle to participation by the people. What I have seen in many parishes that have gone to a higher quality music director and choir is that they ask the people to sing hymns that the people do not know.

        I am very willing let the choir sing some hymns that the people do not know very well in order for them to choose some hymns that the people do know well. A lot of the people in the pews just do not sing. Although I know a lot of songs, quite often at Mass I come across one that I do not know and so I just listen unless they sing more than four stanzas when I might begin to get the tune.

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