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American Weddings

2009 October 25
by Gordon Reid


I had two weddings yesterday, something unheard of in the history of St Clement’s, I think. And, as someone said on another topic: “Very pleasing to Almighty God, and on no account to be repeated!” They were two hours apart, but it was a bit of a rush to clear a couple of hundred people out and get another two hundred in half-way through.

I’ve married people all over Scotland, England and the Continent of Europe in my various jobs before coming to America, and used a variety of rites. But there are some customs that are peculiar to America, though they may have been adopted in Europe too by now.

The one I dislike most is the almost funereal entry procession of the bridesmaids, one at a time and with long intervals between them, though this can sometimes be enlivened by the naughty behaviour of little flower girls or ring bearers. As W.C. Fields once advised actors: “Never appear with animals or children”. I can testify to the danger of both of these: when I was Provost (Dean) of Inverness Cathedral, we had an Epiphany service for a wonderful charity called “Riding for the Disabled”. One little boy, who could not walk, was “The Star in the East” and held up a large silver star from a little cart which was pulled by a donkey. It was all very moving, till the donkey lifted its tail and did what donkeys do. The little boy said: “What a stink!” and dropped the Star. The three Wise Men fell about laughing, and the Verger glared at me, having warned me earlier that this was what would happen.

One of the weddings also had the ceremony of the lighting of a Unity Candle, which I had never done before. This one I rather liked, with it symbolism of taking two separate lights and lighting one bigger light from them. I am just not sure where this fits best into the service; we had it yesterday after the vows and signing of the register.

I almost always use the old Prayer Book wedding service, which is pretty straightforward, though I am always happy for readings to be included. But I have at last given way to pressure, and after the vows and putting on of the rings, I now say: “The Wedding Rite makes no mention of this, but Hollywood insists that I say ‘You may now kiss the bride’.” It is an innocuous custom,  I suppose, but would have made more sense if Cranmer had written it in 1549 than it does nowadays when almost every couple has been living together for months if not years, and have presumably done a good deal more than kiss!

However, I hate to appear curmudgeonly, so smile benevolently, and have only once (in Italy of course) had to say “Break”, like a boxing match referee, when the kiss went on –  and on – and on!

I like weddings very much (for other people!) but knew an old priest in Scotland, who used to say (when provoked) “Weddings are all right, but I prefer a funeral”, and when people would say to him: “O Father, why on earth is that?” his eyes would twinkle, and he would say: “Well, at least there’s some hope in a funeral”. And n0 – it wasn’t me!

7 Responses leave one →
  1. October 25, 2009

    Thanks for this post, very thoughtful and spot on!

    I was recently at a gathering of clergy and we all agreed that officiating at funerals is preferable to officiating at weddings (I would never have thought this before becoming ordained).

    Peter Carey+

  2. Little Black Sambo permalink
    October 27, 2009

    Isn’t the kiss best kept for the Nuptial Mass, where it finds its natural place? (Not, in that case, that the priest should give the couple permission).

  3. October 27, 2009

    Since Masses in St Clement’s, being traditional rite, don’t have any “Kiss of Peace”, that would be difficult.

    • Sandford MacLean permalink
      October 27, 2009

      Isn’t provision made ( in “the traditional rite” nuptial mass ) at the Pax in high masses and pontifical low masses for the husband to kiss “chastely” the bride on her right cheek, he having received the pax from the pax-brede?

  4. Little Black Sambo permalink
    October 28, 2009

    But the kiss of peace – a liturgical, formal kiss – surely takes place in the sanctuary at a high mass. The kiss of bride and groom could be perfectly decorous in its own way. It was done in the Middle Ages at least; I don’t know about more recent practice.

  5. November 14, 2009

    >O Father, why on earth is that?” his eyes would twinkle, and he would say: “Well, at least there’s some hope in a funeral”.

    As Clint Eastwood has reportedly said, “Marriages are made in heaven, but so are thunder and lightning.” :-)

    He also said something like, “There’s one way to have a happy marriage; and when I learn what it is, I’ll get married again.”

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