Wedding and the Liturgy of the Hours

A few months ago I had the opportunity to plan a liturgist‘s wedding liturgy. He and his bride preferred to celebrate the wedding without Mass for several reasons:

Some of the attendees would be non-Catholic Christians. Celebrating Eucharist would raise major canonical and pastoral issues. The congregation would be divided into different groups instead of being built up as one body: Those who are permitted to receive Communion, those who are excluded from Communion; those who know about the canonical rules but do not care, those who would discuss this for the entire day, and those who do not understand what it is all about and why the Catholic Church is always so complicated.

Some of the attendees would be Catholics who are familiar with Mass and the Rosary but nothing else. It would be a chance for them to experience other parts of the liturgical treasury, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, which bride and bridegroom celebrate regularly in their hometown.

Some the attendees were not familiar with liturgy at all. The complex Eucharistic rites and symbols and gestures and texts would make no sense to them in the context of a wedding. wedding-rings1They would not understand why it takes such a long time after the wedding vows and the blessing before one can eventually congratulate the happy couple and let all the kids run around after the entire boring act that makes it so tough for them to stay quiet and observant.

Last but not least: A deacon was appointed to preside and preach – obviously this was the ultimate reason why there could be no Mass.

Since the wedding was scheduled for 11 a.m. on a Saturday, the Hour of Sext (Sixth Hour) seemed to be the right choice to use as a framework for the celebration. So the Liturgy of the Hours would be combined with the celebration of Matrimony. The order of service would be as follows: The opening rite, a hymn (on Matrimony—there is a beautiful one in the new 2013 edition of the German hymnal Gotteslob), three psalms (we chose 8, 121, and 145b), a reading (John 2:1–11, the Wedding at Cana, which is by the way the Gospel reading in any Byzantine Wedding), the homily, then the ceremony of Matrimony itself up to the concluding rites. You might call it “Sext with Wedding”, such as many monasteries and a few parishes might celebrate “Lauds with Eucharist” or “Vespers with Eucharist”. There are many models in history of how the Liturgy of the Hours can be combined with other liturgies. The Roman Easter Vigil is a combination of Vigils + Baptism + Eucharist. The Byzantine Presanctified Liturgy is Vespers + Communion. Switzerland knows a rite for Lauds (or Vespers) + Liturgy of the Word, especially on Sundays when there is no priest for Mass. The General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours gives exact explanations of how an Hour can be combined with Eucharist, or two Hours with one another.

What surprises me is that the Catholic Church does not provide an order for a wedding in combination with the Liturgy of the Hours. The liturgical books do not even mention that option. What I found instead was this: When a wedding takes place in a Liturgy of the Word (outside of Mass), the biblical readings do not have to follow the same order as in Mass. So my inner liturgist would say we celebrated the Hour of Sext with a Wedding. But my inner canonist says it was a wedding within a Liturgy of the Word where the biblical readings were a bit unusual in their order (three psalms before the Gospel reading) and they were also a bit unusual in the way they were proclaimed (sung together instead of being read by one person).

I know there are scholars who do not like to see the Liturgy of the Hours combined with something else. They say this sort of practice was just born of necessity by medieval clerics who had such vast liturgical obligations that they needed to work them off as efficiently as possible. They say we should leave the Liturgy of the Hours as it is and leave other liturgies as they are as well.

But my experience in this field is quite positive and encouraging. The treasury of the psalms and the ritual outlines of the Liturgy of the Hours can be adopted in many different pastoral situations, by many different groups, and on many different occasions. Regular church attendees can be made familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours (which alarmingly many of them do not know). People with little liturgical experience can find inspiring poetry and come to rest by singing or just listening to the psalms. The psalms themselves can root Christian liturgy in Israel’s faith over and over again. Of course this is not the entire meaning of the Liturgy of the Hours, but all those aspects can easily emanate from the Liturgy of the Hours into other occasions.

I think the liturgical books should permit us to begin any Roman Catholic liturgy – the Rite of Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, the Funeral Liturgy, Baptism, Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction, a Blessing, etc. – with a hymn, three (segments of) psalms, and a reading. This is not just the outline of the Hour of Sext, but a good foundation for anything we do in church.


  1. Official worship authority at local and central levels should provide formulas that encourage those present, including the spouses, to take an active part in the liturgy itself (as opposed to becoming spectators at a ceremony or concert). This is especially needed at celebrations of marriage when the spouses are of different faiths, as Dr. Lumma points out. My wife and fit that description when we married in the 70’s, and we sought and found a ceremony that was inclusive and that met the gravity of the event. Dr. Lumma’s use of psalms puts us in touch with our sacred inheritance, especially if everyone sings them.

  2. A friend from grad school also did this. He wrote one of his major papers on this idea and then put into practice for his own wedding.

  3. Sext is an interesting choice. 11AM isn’t a bad time for Morning Prayer, but I would think the Office of Readings would be optimal for a couple concerned about liturgical propriety. The GILH affirms it can be celebrated at any hour. In context of a Marriage (the Mass is on the level of a Feast with the inclusion of the Gloria) I would think that height of solemnity deserves a “major” celebration. If a reading from the saints were included, I’d opt for Tertullian’s Letter to his wife. Brilliant summation of Christian marriage.

    Another thought would be a format similar to Lessons and Carols. Then a couple and their liturgist could prepare as many readings and psalms as they wished.

    And while I love the John 2 reading, there’s a tradition in the LH to sing a Gospel Canticle. Perhaps John 2 could be rendered in song, but I might suggest Matthew 5:1-12 as an alternative “canticle” if one of the Daytime Hours were used.

    Not being able to explore this was my only (small) regret to getting married at a parish Sunday Mass. My wife would probably dissent from that view, however.

    1. @Todd Flowerday:
      If you combine Lauds with Wedding or Office of Readings with Wedding, the difference to Sext with Wedding should not be too large. You have three psalms/canticles anyway, and the Wedding will for sure end with a sort of solemn hymn. In Lauds it should be the Benedictus, in the Office of Readings the Te Deum, and in our Sext with Wedding we ended the Wedding with the famous hymn “Grosser Gott, wir loben dich” (English: “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”), which is (at least in German) an almost literal translation of the Te Deum.
      Having an additional Patristic reading in the Office of Readings would be very inspiring in my eyes; but I personally know too little about Patristic texts about matrimony.
      And for explanation: The bridal couple were good friends with a Serbian Orthodox priest, and they wanted to ask him to preach at the Wedding, so they were focused on John 2. But before they could ask him, he left Austria and went to the US – but no search for an alternative Gospel came up.

      1. @Liborius Lumma:
        I like the whole idea of your celebration. I just observe that in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours, Gospel passages are not read as readings, but sung. I know about the usage of the Te Deum, but given the inclusion of the Beatitudes in the Wedding Lectionary, I would give it strong consideration as a canticle to be sung rather than read. (I have a small bias to the reading, as it came up on the Sunday my wife and I wed.) A musical rendering of the Wedding at Cana would give it a fitting solemnity if that were chosen. In my mind, I can see a delightful sung dialogue between Christ, his mother, the steward, and a possible acclamation for insertion to be sung by the assembly drawn from verse 14 of the previous chapter, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.”

        I’m far from an expert in Patristics, but that passage from Tertullian is notable in my memory ( Blessings on your marriage.

  4. We already have a rite for marriage outside Mass: a liturgy of the word. It is appropriate for a mixed marriage and may also be appropriate for a marriage between two Catholics if the families and most of the guests are not Catholic.

  5. Here I am years later…. I would love to see any layouts of such a service anyone is willing to share.

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