Every wedding is great and unique. As a priest, having the privilege of witnessing hundreds of weddings over the last 25 years, I can say that no two weddings are ever alike. Each is an expression of the individual couple, their families and especially their ethnicity and culture. Italian weddings have a particular uniqueness about them. An Italian wedding is always a celebration of art, fashion, passion, creativity, and excellent cuisine.
The expression of Italian culture creates a wonderful ambiance: great food, elegant decorations, beautiful music, tasteful floral arrangements, and dancing the Tarantella. In well-planned Italian weddings, flowers are a sine qua non (that which you cannot do without). Flowers bring happiness and they can be found in abundance. In Italy, traditionally, white flowers are mainly used at all weddings. In any Catholic wedding, all of the cultural increments are secondary to the most important part of the wedding day - the exchange of vows.
Whether the celebration of Matrimony takes place within or outside of the Mass, the ceremony commences with a greeting by the priest who warmly welcomes the couple, their family and friends into the house of the Lord to establish a lifelong partnership, imploring the help of heaven and the Lord’s protection. The central aspect is the covenant being established between the couple. The Church calls the exchange of vows “consent,” that is, the act of will by which a man and a woman give themselves to each other and accept the gift of the other. The marriage cannot happen without this declaration of consent which is preceded by three questions from the priest:
“…have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?” “Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?” “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”
The bride and groom respond, “I have” or “I am.”
The Church’s Order for Celebrating Matrimony offers four options for Catholic wedding vows, one of which being the very familiar option and the one we are accustomed to hearing in films: Groom and Bride: I, (name), take you, (name), for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. The priest acknowledges that the couple have declared their consent and prays with one of two prayers, my personal favorite being: May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God who joined together our first parents in paradise, strength and bless in Christ the consent you have declared before the Church, so that what God joins together, no one may put asunder. The priest then invites those present to praise God.
Immediately following is the blessing and giving of rings. The priest sprinkles the rings, as the circumstances so suggest, and gives them to the bride and bridegroom. The couple places the rings on each other’s fingers saying: “Receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I remember well one couple who had purchased their wedding rings many months in advance of their wedding day. In order to keep them safe, they put them in a safe deposit box at their local bank. I thought this was a good idea. At the rehearsal the night before, when I asked if they had the rings, the groom assured me that he planned to get them the following morning on the way to the Church. Again, I thought this was a good idea until the groom arrived at the Church the next day, with anguish in his face, to inform me he did not know that the bank was closed on Saturdays. He did not have the rings! The couple, embarrassed and upset with themselves, were still able to exchange rings by borrowing from their friends.
The celebration continues with the Universal Prayer and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. If the Matrimony takes place within the Mass, immediately following the Our Father, the priest invites the bride and groom to kneel as he extends hands over them and offers the Nuptial Blessing. When completed, there is the Sign of Peace and Holy Communion.
While the wedding Mass may not offer much of a chance for creativity, what follows Mass certainly does, especially for Italians. One bride, knowing how much her husband liked the harp, had a harp commissioned for him as a surprise wedding gift. She took harp lessons and played the song he played for her when he proposed to her. Another couple, upon exiting the Church on their wedding day, rode off together on a Vespa.
I thoroughly enjoy Italian weddings because the unique culture is displayed perfectly.
Fr. James W. Mayer, O.de M.
Pastor, St. Rocco Parish - Cleveland OH,