'New' Catholic Wedding Liturgy Takes Center Stage
Even some priests are unfamiliar with Vatican II's suggestions for changes to the wedding ceremony.
BY: Jay Lindsay
BOSTON (AP) - A nervous groom standing at the altar, waiting for his bride. An emotional dad giving away his daughter. A priest reciting the vows as the couple looks into each other's eyes.
Thirty-one years after the Second Vatican Council recommended sweeping changes in marriage ceremonies, the wedding rites have remained virtually unaltered. Even some priests are unfamiliar with Vatican II's suggestions.
The hope is that the video, featuring a couple from the Boston suburb of Milton, will demystify the "new" rites for couples wary of the changes. "Our feeling is that a picture is worth a thousand words," said Maria Leonard, the video's executive producer.
The video was produced by Liturgy Training Publications, which is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The company shot in Massachusetts to accommodate the Rev. Austin Fleming of Concord, who has written a book on the new rites, Leonard said.
The stars are Jim and Denise Ryan, who used the new liturgy at their November wedding.
Among the changes highlighted: Dad doesn't give the bride away--she walks down the aisle with the groom. And the couple administers their own vows, with the priest serving merely as an observer.
Taping took place in July at St. Peter's in Cambridge. Seven hours of shooting were witnessed by the Ryans' friends who stood in as guests. In the video, the Ryans walk down the aisle together, symbolizing their equal role in making the marriage work. The guests become involved through songs and readings, and the couple turns toward them as they recite their own vows.
The emphasis on equality and the active role of the community in supporting a marriage gives the couple a good start and is more scripturally sound than the old rites, Fleming said.
"Theologically it speaks better to what we're about," he said. Denise Ryan said it was fun re-enacting their November wedding, but she had a higher purpose.
"I hope it just opens up the idea that there might be a deeper expression of what's happening, a deeper expression of God's love," she said.
The older rites are based on views that the church no longer accepts, said Lisa Cahill, a theology professor at Boston College, a Catholic school. The practice of the father giving away a bride used to signal a type of transfer of ownership and the veil covering the bride's face was once meant to show the bride's purity, Cahill said.
The fact that the new marriage rites haven't caught on shows Catholics were not clamoring for new wedding rituals and they don't associate the symbols with their original meanings, Cahill said.
"They just connect the bride and the couple with the traditions of the past."
Fleming doesn't think there's an active resistance to the new wedding rites. Many people, including priests, simply aren't familiar with them, he said.
"That's how ingrained (the traditional wedding rite) is," he said. Many people still enjoy a traditional wedding, and Fleming said he never pushes couples to follow the new rites. But he always suggests the new liturgy, and hopes people's questions will be answered by the video--expected to be available in Catholic churches in January.
The slow acceptance of the new rites doesn't surprise him, Fleming said, especially in a church with a reputation for slow change.
"Thirty-one years in a calendar of 2,000?" he said, laughing. "That's a drop in the bucket."