Wedding Customs, Traditions and Superstitions
Throughout the ages, the marriage ceremony has always been a fertile bed for the seeds of superstition and changing customs. These seeds still thrive among some faith based traditions.
In our North American culture, Christian wedding ceremonies still include many practices that have their origins in old world customs or superstitions. Recently, some modern couples have started to shun these ancient rituals by creating new ones that they feel reflect their current lifestyle more accurately. Today, it is not uncommon to attend a non- Catholic wedding containing some new inventive service, held in an exotic location. These recent additions are an indication that the wedding ceremony is once again evolving in its customs, just as it has done many times throughout past centuries.
As with all periods of transition, these changes may create a sense of confusion among couples as they begin to prepare their Catholic Wedding Ceremony. When today's couples attempt to maneuver through this maze of past and current customs, they are often confronted with many questions.
Do these current trends reflect our Christian values and the mutuality of our relationship? Does society generally expected us to add more sparkle or dramatic flair to our ceremony? Should we incorporate some of these new customs while abandoning others? Which of these elements are truly faith based and which are customs that have been derived from superstition?
Throughout the centuries, the Catholic Church has remained a guardian of God's word through its faith based liturgies, sacraments and traditions. The Catholic Church does not yield to current trends, social pressure or cultural expectations that are contrary to our Christian values. The Rite of Marriage will confirm your love of God. It will express your willingness to spread that love through the unity of marriage, to your children, and to the world. You will administer this prayerful declaration to each other through a prayerful, dignified, sacred liturgy. Your Catholic wedding ceremony will never accommodate additional rituals that merely add a contemporary sparkle or dramatic flair.
Our Church is a universal church and because of this, it is very aware that some customs have cultural origins deeply rooted in religious belief. The Church is attentive to and accepting of national traditions and different cultural customs. The Rite of Marriage accepts some variations throughout the world however; your parish priest is not bound to include any ritual or custom outside of the liturgical Rite of Marriage, as authorized by the Catholic Conference of Bishops in your specific country.
To help sort out the confusion as to which customs are faith based as apposed to those that have originated from superstitions and current cultural norm, CatholicBrides.com has reviewed some of the numerous customs that are being included in modern weddings and their origins.
Let's start with Funk & Wagnalls definition of these terms:
Customs - The habitual practice of a community, established usage
Tradition - The knowledge, doctrines, customs, and practices transmitted from generation to generation. The body of unwritten Christian doctrine handed down through successive generations.
Superstitions - A belief found on irrational fears and marked by a trust in or reverence for charms, omens, sign, the supernatural etc.
The Unity Candle Ceremony - (Custom)
The introduction of the lighting of a Unity Candle into the marriage celebration is a new ritual being requested by couples for inclusion in their Catholic Weddings. Although this practice is a lovely expression of unity, it does not have its origin in the traditions of the Catholic Faith. Unification ceremonies of this type first started appearing about ten years ago in non-religious weddings as a way of expressing unity of the couple. It can signify the joining of their families and also be used as a way to include children from previous marriages.
Along with the unity candle you will find other forms of unification ceremonies such as the rose ceremony, the sand ceremony, the hand washing ceremony, the wine ceremony. The list may go on and on, limited only by the couples' imagination. The common thread throughout all these ceremonies seems to be a desire to acknowledge that the couple has truly become one. As you browse through the many consumer items offered for these ceremonies you will find that the market place is poised to fill that need.
You may or may not request the inclusion of a unity candle ceremony but do not be surprised if your officiate declines to include it. He is not bound to add additional elements that are not found in The Rite of Marriage and regulations will vary from parish to parish. Keep in mind that your Catholic wedding ceremony is already a celebration of unity through liturgy, prayer, the administering of a sacrament and the participation of the congregation. The addition of further rituals will only become a repetition of what has already been expressed throughout your ceremony.
Jumping The Broom - (Custom)
The jumping of the broom is a popular African-American tradition at wedding ceremonies. After the couple has exchanged their wedding vows in the presence of witnesses they will jump over the handle of a broom. This ritual represents the joining of two families in unity as they jump over the threshold into their new life.
This practice was brought to the United States during the time of slavery when, black slaves were forbidden to marry by their slaveholders. It was feared the formation of formal family bonds might have given slaves the ability to organize a revolt, however they still married secretly within their community
Within the rich ceremonial African culture, marriage rituals were important events. The act of jumping the broom became a legal bonding act that provided the marriage with legitimacy and dignity within the community.
This custom reflects a deep respect for ancestral heritage.
Devotion to The Blessed Virgin Mary - (Tradition)
Mary, the mother of Jesus is the ultimate role model for the Catholic bride, as she will strive to mirror Mary's perfect love for God and devotion to her family. Brides often wish to seek the guidance and blessings of The Lord, through a ceremony that requests the intercession ( to request on your behalf ) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, through prayer and the laying of flowers.
In some areas of the country this devotion will be requested to be included in the marriage ceremony and most Catholic guests will be familiar with it. In other areas of North America this addition to the ceremony is not prevalent. Devotions to The Blessed Virgin Mary have always been present in the Catholic faith, however they are not officially included in The Rite of Marriage.
The church will never discourage your personal devotions, however the wedding ceremony is seen as a time of inclusion and participation of your guests. if you are requesting to have The presentation of Flowers to Mary , carefully plan this additional portion of the ceremony.
As the ministers of your ceremony, you must strive to avoid any feeling of separation from the unity with your guests In the midst of your wedding ceremony. Including a Hymn or prayer that the entire congregation can sign or say, while you are laying your flowers, would be a way of including your guests.
For those areas of the country where this custom is not the norm, including a short explanation of this addition to your ceremony would also be helpful to both your Catholic and Non-Catholic guests.
For those who desire to have a more private act of prayer you may request a more intimate opportunity, such as before or after the wedding rehearsal. In order to permit time, this request should be made well in advance to your parish priest.
The Lazo (Lasso) - (Tradition)
The tradition of the Lazo or wedding Rosary is prominent in the Hispanic culture and some Asian cultures . This wedding rosary is used to symbolize the unification of the couple through prayer. The traditional belief is if the couple prays the rosary together every night their marriage will endure.
The wedding rosary is actually two individual and complete rosaries which meet and become one before the crucifix. It is placed by the priest over the couple after they have exchanged vows usually as they kneel to receive communion.
The Arras - (Tradition)
The giving of the Arras is also predominant in the Hispanic culture. The Arras is a small box containing thirteen either gold or silver coins. The thirteen coins represents Christ and His twelve Apostles. The groom presents the Arras to the bride after the vows have been exchanged as a symbol of his readiness to provide financial support in their married life. This also signifies good financial stewardship of the household. When the groom gives the coins to the bride she promises to use them wisely.
In these more modern times of two people often contributing financially to the household this custom still reflects the religious intent of a united couple managing finances through prayer.
The Groom Not Seeing The Bride Before The Wedding - (Superstition)
Many of our current wedding "customs" originate from century old superstitions that would avoid incurring bad luck. In ancient times, marriages were considered a business arrangement made between family members, rather than a celebration of love. Marriages cemented alliances between families and insured transfer of land and wealth between them.
Often the groom had not met or even seen his future wife before the ceremony. The bride was kept hidden to eliminate any disapproval of her from the groom. It was feared that once seeing her he may have refused to proceed with the ceremony. This of course would have bought bad luck, by putting the family's financial arrangements in jeopardy.
Today this custom has lost its relevance. Arranged marriages are not very common in our modern North American society nor will the Catholic Church condone a marriage between people who have never met. A Catholic wedding ceremony is a sacrament that couples administer to each other, so it must be a ceremony of mutual consent. Many couples are abandoning this custom of hiding from one another, choosing instead to have private time together for prayer and reflection before the ceremony. They then as a couple greet their guests upon their arrival.
"Arriving Fashionably Late?" (Unacceptable Custom)
Over the years this rude expression seems to have been included into our daily lives as an acceptable practice for social events. To arrive late to a party, may be merely annoying to the hostess, but to arrive late for your own wedding ceremony or as the guest at a wedding ceremony, is completely improper.
To delay the start of the ceremony due to lateness from the bride/groom or any member of the wedding party, shows a complete lack of manners and taste. Lateness demonstrates a lack of respect for the Liturgy itself, and also for your priest or deacon and other members of the ministry that are contributing their time.
As a guest, your late arrival and seating will become a distraction from the ceremony. If you have arrived late, sit at the back with as little disturbance as possible.
Always plan to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier than the set time for ceremony.
The Brides Procession - ( Custom)
Many of today's wedding ceremony customs have been derived from very old world values which have been retained with little knowledge of their conception. As we envision a wedding ceremony it is common to picture the bride's procession down the aisle as she is escorted by her father, but do we really consider the origin of this medieval custom.
The Father who gives away his daughter is following an ancient tradition from hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago when a daughter was considered his property and the groom had to pay a price to take her into his possession. It was also an indication of a transfer of authority from the family home to the conjugal home.
Many modern brides who have lived independently of their families for years are eliminating this custom entirely or choosing to revise it by including their mothers or other family members. The Catholic Church is very open to the elimination of the brides entrance or processional, with its key focus being on the bride, by promoting the entrance of a united couple and their families. The Church would rather emphasize a consenting couple who are ready to administer the sacrament of marriage to each other.
The Best Man and Groomsmen - (Custom)
In times of old, brides were often not arranged or courted into marriage but instead they where captured during neighboring wars. In these times, the duties of what we have come to know as the best man and the groomsmen, were to protect the groom from the fury of those he had previously captured his future bride from. They were ready to give up their lives to ensure the safety of the groom.
The custom of the bride standing to the left of the groom during the wedding ceremony, arose from need rather than etiquette. During the ceremony the groom needed to have his right arm free to defend against any intruders who may have attempted to reclaim his future bride before the conclusion of the ceremony.
In modern ceremonies, the duties of the Best Man is to act as one of the official witnesses to the marriage. Informing him of the history of this honored position, should certainly stir the sense of chivalry in any best man.
Maid of Honor and Bridesmaids - (Superstition/Custom)
Every bridesmaid who accepts a position in a wedding party understandings that she will likely enter the church dressed if not identical than at least similar to the other bridesmaids in the wedding party. Today, the duty of the bridesmaid is to assist in the bride?s needs. Your Maid or Matron of Honor is usually your second official witness to the marriage. These positions are usually held by close friends or family members.
In ancient times they had a much more ominous duties. The bridesmaids dressed in identical clothing while the bride wore a different dress and a veil. This was done in the hope of confusing the evil spirits that may be descending on the bride. If their disguises failed, the bridesmaids were ready to absorbed any evil spirits that may have been ready to attack the bride.
Considering the origins of these positions of honor, you may once again wish to seek bridesmaids that are ready to deflect the evil spirits of our modern world. Select women that will truly support you in your desire for a more religious rather then a material focus on your wedding day.
The Veil - (Superstition/Custom)
Must a Catholic bride wear a veil? This question along with the inquiry of whether the bride and members of the bridal party should cover their shoulders during the wedding ceremony are often asked. The answer by the way is yes, their shoulders should be covered during the wedding ceremony.
Let's consider the origins of this 2,000 year old custom. As with the origins of many bridal customs, once again we find its roots in the providing of protection from evil spirits. Once society had progressed past it?s fear of evil spirits, the veil was used for a more practical purpose, that being secrecy. It was used for hiding the face of an unfamiliar bride from an arranged bride groom and only removed by the groom after the ceremony.
Later in the eighteenth century the veil evolved into a symbol of modesty and chastity where it remains to this day. Today the modern bride will make her own decision as to whether she would like to promote this custom by the wearing of a veil. It is not a prerequisite of the church but many brides will have some version of it.
Any wedding attire selected for you and your attendants should incorporate a respect for the sacredness and dignity of your ceremony. In North American culture, the uncovered shoulder is not considered disrespectful, however plunging necklines and extremely form fitting dresses can be. In any case, such forms are always inappropriate dress at a wedding liturgy. Every bride radiates true inner joy and beauty on her wedding day, and a degree of modesty in her dress will actually enhance her exquisiteness.
Exchanging Rings - (Tradition)
The exchanging of rings for the sealing of an important agreement has been handed down through our ancestors since recorded time. It is understandable that the exchange of rings would become the symbol of a covenant made between God and the married couple.
Only the location of the ring has varied through the centuries. At different times through history the ring has been directed to be placed on the thumb, the second and third finger then later on to the fourth finger.
Modern folklore dictates that ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand because it is follows a direct artery to the heart. Although this is a very romantic explanation modern anatomists can clearly demonstrate this is not true.
Instead the modern day placement of the ring has a very practical explanation. The left hand was considered less used and the third finger is not any less or more used than any of the other fingers but it cannot be extended comfortably with out the use of the other fingers, making the third finger more convenient for the use of ornaments.
Sorry ladies this is not a very romantic justification, but it is practical.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a sixpence in your shoe - ( Superstition)
How often have we seen images of the mother of the bride proudly handing down a treasured family heirloom to her daughter while she recites this verse. Because this superstition for good luck to the bride has been preserved through a whimsical rhyme, it is still no less of a superstition.
Some mothers may not have access to something old and many brides spend their precious time acquiring something borrowed or something blue, although she can now order a sterling sixpence for her shoe, on line.
If you choose to adhere to these old English promises for good luck because of custom, that's fine. Always keep in mind the true practices that will really bring happiness to your marriage. Prayerful preparation, a religious connection throughout your marriage and following the word of God, is the only way to achieve "Luck" in your marriage.
Rice Throwing - (Custom)
Twenty or thirty years ago, the throwing of bits of paper called confetti was the fashionable way to extend best wishes to a newly married couple. Fortunately, this custom has faded due to the maintenance required for the clean up afterwards. We now see ecologically minded couples offering bottles of bubbles in lieu of confetti to their guests. The newest form of this ever evolving custom has become the releasing of butterflies or doves but where does this custom originate?
All these newer practices originate from the throwing of rice. Rice was a symbol of fertility and long life. Guest threw it over the bride and groom as a wish for children and long life. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the wishing of happiness to the couple. The evolution of customs is always an interesting process.
Just to make this point very clear, throwing rice is now prohibited in most parishes and often by local legislation.
Why we selected a picture of the Celtic Cross for this article.
CatholicBrides.com has had inquires as to why we inserted a picture of the Celtic Cross for this article, Customs, Traditions and Superstitions.
We chose this powerful, ancient symbol because of its ambiguous history. Our research showed that there are a variety of interpretations and legends surrounding the ringed Cross. It is associated with both the Presbyterian and Catholic Church while also being a symbol of ethnic heritage for the Irish, Scotch and Welsh.
Our space does not allow for an in-depth discussion of the origins of the Celtic Cross, as we have found that there are a variety of historical anecdotes. These range from, its origin in the ancient Druid culture through to St. Patrick's modification of it for its use in conversion.
Much like the many customs of the wedding ceremony, the Celtic Cross seems to be steeped in a blend of custom, religious tradition and superstition. It is both beautiful and faithful, yet mysterious in its origin.