Wedding Music Drama

Kathleen Basi’s post Confessions of a Wedding Singer reminded me of the typical Catholic quarrels over the music for our wedding.

I have heard many a priest moan about weddings and how they dread to see a bride-to-be darken their door since it is the end of religion and the beginning of drama. I foolishly thought that Josh and I would be the exception since all we wanted was to get married, and to have that marriage witnessed in the setting of a nuptial mass. The parish that we chose** was one that I had attended frequently for daily mass, and as I had seen them tack a confirmation on to a Saturday morning mass I thought perhaps we could do something similar with our wedding.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

We met with the priest once. He was baffled by our desire for such a simple wedding and thought that I was joking. He told us that we were required to have a cantor, a musician, and two wedding coordinators. The parish would assign the wedding coordinators, and we would choose the musicians by walking up to ones we liked after a Sunday mass and asking if they were free to play on our chosen wedding date. The priest also gave us a booklet from which to choose the readings and prayers.

Josh and I did not need to talk about the organist since there was a dramatic difference in quality, but it took a few months before the one we wanted happened to play at our mass again. We had no idea about names or appearances, so we hung out by the choir loft stairs stalking our prey, er waiting for the organist to come down after mass.

The awesome organist said that she would be happy to play for our wedding, but she had not heard from the parish office and did not want to step on any toes. We were quite confused, so she explained that the parish office was in charge of assigning musicians. Presumably they had assigned a different organist/pianist/guitarist/whatever they wanted to our wedding date since she had not gotten a request. She thought they would probably be able to accommodate a change though, since we had a special request. The priest must just not have known about the updated way that they were running weddings.

Thankfully one of the better cantors had been assigned, since we were not about to request any more changes. We met with the pastoral associate/one of the two wedding coordinators and she asked us lots of logistical questions. Did we want a unity candle? We did not. Would my father be walking me down the aisle? No, we would process together.

The coordinator was supportive of our wishes, but she saw them as a unique expression of our individual preference. As it happened, my preferences had been formed by a few months of reading absolutely everything that I could find regarding the Church’s guidance and requirements for what was liturgically appropriate, as well as the actual particulars of our spirituality.

And then the music fights began.

We painstakingly went through all of the readings and prayers, and then Josh chose most of the music since he cared about that more.

Prelude: Come Holy Ghost Creator Blest
Processional: All Creatures of Our God and King
Offertory: O God of Loveliness
Communion: O Sacred Head Now Wounded
Recessional: Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
Postlude: Lift High the Cross

I chose O Sacred Head Now Wounded for the communion hymn because I thought that it was a time when we would be receiving communion and thinking about Christ, not so much about romance. I also believed that our marriage would be pointless if we were not focused on the life of Christ. And so I chose one of the songs that could always jolt me away from stupid preoccupations and back toward focusing on God.

We soon found out that our choices were liturgically inappropriate because they were not happy enough. The organist said that O Sacred Head Now Wounded was not appropriate for a wedding. Clearly Josh and I weren’t paying attention to music and did not attend church much and were just grasping for any religious song we could think of.

The organist said that we could replace O Sacred Head Now Wounded with a (beautiful) contemporary Song of Songs inspired song. We acquiesced.

The cantor countered that we could not have the Song of Songs song suggested by the organist because it was not liturgically appropriate because the lyrics were about human rather than divine love. We also could not have Lift High the Cross since it was inapropriate to sing about the cross at a wedding. These songs were only for Holy Week.

I wondered if they had moved the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross from Ordinary Time to Lent just for this parish.

I was not willing to fight, but I had to at least try to explain. We really wanted the references to the cross for the same reason that we chose to get married on the feast of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. We were fine with just getting married on a regular day with a regular mass, with regular readings. But if we had to have a special mass with special music and special readings, then we wanted them to be most appropriate.

So I wrote an email trying to clarify:

“I can easily see why the version of “O Sacred Head, Surrounded” that I have heard during Holy Week is not appropriate. But the following verses are what I am actually interested in for the Nuptial Mass:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

It’s certainly not light, and I guess I can understand if it needs to be restricted. But, at the same time, it is important to us to recognize that a Nuptial Mass is actually a celebration of two Sacraments and this seems to express a thoughtful appreciation for the Eucharistic Passion of Christ. Since you mentioned that “Wherever You Go” is not appropriate due to its lack of focus on the Eucharist, I thought this might be worth reconsidering with the actual lyrics I had in mind. Also, it is funny to think that our perspective is apparently so “off”, but we had thought that “Lift High the Cross” was actually a happier complement to “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” since it seems to have a more exultant tune and speaks of the “song of triumph” which moves away from “O Sacred Head”‘s more contemplative focus. ”

In the end they let us have Lift High the Cross because the words weren’t sung, and the tune was happy enough, and the organist won out with the Song of Songs song because the wedding coordinator took her side against the cantor. We got some random Psalm because they organist and cantor had never heard of the ones in the booklet the priest gave us.

The music was beautiful and ended up to be the least of our liturgical concerns on the wedding day. The wedding coordinator suddenly decided that we were required to have a best man and maid of honor (not required by the Church or the state) and also scheduled a funeral for the hour before our wedding.

Mass was mass, and we got married. All was good.

But to this day I have distinctly less sympathy for priests who complain about brides causing wedding drama.

**We had to choose a parish as opposed to already having one chosen for us by virtue of geography and parish bounds because we each moved multiple times while engaged and parishes like to have rules about being registered long before the wedding. Church logistics at its best, yo!

Catholic Fights, Marriage


  1. This makes me want to pull my hair out. Some parishes have such STUPID rules about weddings. Ours goes a bit far the other way, but it boggles imagination to hear that a couple who came in with such a thoughtful, prayerful approach to a wedding could have this sort of experience. If you had come to us we would have cried with joy.

  2. Nayhee

    This doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out, but crack up. Mostly, because i did not have to endure it, no doubt. But seriously, what a riot.

    Hey, why did you wear brown anyway? Did I miss the explanation for that part?

    • admin

      Brown because of the Carmelites. For a few years I wore at least some brown every day.

      And while I think that matching is generally stupid, I thought that it was liturgically appropriate for us to wear the same color. And I was a bit self-conscious about wearing black (even more so than wearing brown), and I hate white suits/tuxes on guys unless it is the khaki on the beach sort of thing.

      I had a lot of lofty ideas, but a quick review of one of my blogs from that time confirms that in reality it came down to the fact that the (brown) dress that I really loved was too expensive, and the green dress that I won on ebay was torn up by the seller’s cat before she sent it to me, and ultimately we just had to find something.

  3. Joy

    Firstly ~ sympathy, I agree with Kathleen; anyone willing to be that focused on the sacrament and the cross at their wedding deserves more respect than you received!

    Secondly ~ Great story, thank you so much for sharing!!

  4. My initial contact with the parish music coordinator about our wedding was like two different conversations. Things were very tense as she had to tell me about approving liturgically appropriate music etc etc. Once I uttered the words “We were thinking about having the Mass parts in Latin….” she definitely loosened up. Apparently that is the code for “I am a faithful Catholic and not a bridezilla.”

    I like your music choices! We are thinking of including “Lift High the Cross” as well, since The Betrothed was born on the Triumph of the Cross.

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