Nov 15, 2005

Music for Catholic Wedding Masses

Online Edition – November 2005

Vol. XI, No. 8

Music for Catholic Wedding Masses

Here Comes the Bride — and There She Goes

by Lucy E. Carroll

Is someone you know planning a holiday wedding? Even if not, it is a simple fact of life that the planning for June weddings begins many months earlier — herewith a bit of musical help. – Editor.

Appropriate music for Catholic weddings is a many-splendored topic! My own parents were married during the last days of the Second World War; in those days it was common to have the wedding ceremony without a Mass surrounding it. Today, however, it is nearly always ensconced within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Here is the crucial issue: this is not just a social affair, it is the mystical, magnificent Eucharistic liturgy. It is a sacred event, and subject to the same considerations as any other Mass. Hymns must have a suitable sacred text, be appropriate to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and be musically sacred in nature. There are some particular issues, however, including the choice of wedding marches and, if there is a soloist, appropriate choice of special solo pieces.

The easiest of these topics is the choice of hymns. Our monastery chaplain has suggested to me that there are two considerations. The first is God’s love for us and ours for God, as a symbol of the love between the bride and groom. The hymn Love Divine All Loves Excelling, text by Charles Wesley, would seem appropriate. Divine love exceeds any human love, we must remember! This text can be sung to the tune Love Divine by Sir John Stainer (Adoremus Hymnal 470), or Hyfrydol (AH 601). It can also be sung to the tune Beecher by John Zundel.

Holy Holy Holy might also serve as a good hymn, for it reminds us that Christ is “perfect in power, in love and purity”. An example for us all! Text by Reginald Heber, tune Nicaea by John Dykes (AH 460).

The second is the idea of the permanence and indissolubility of the marriage bond, which can be symbolized by the indissolubility of the Trinity. If this is appealing, the hymn All Hail Adored Trinity is a suggestion. John Chambers translated Ave colenda Trinitas (11th century Latin hymn); the tune is the Old Hundredth by Louis Bourgeous.

Another fine Trinity hymn is God Father Praise and Glory, text translated from the German by John Rothensteiner; tune Gott Vater Sei Gepriesen from the Limburg Gesängbuch (AH 464). “O most holy Trinity, undivided unity”. The symbolism of undivided unity in the Trinity is a reminder of the undivided unity in the marriage bond.

Communion hymns or solos should relate to the Blessed Sacrament, with theologically correct text.

Solos for weddings are an interesting topic. For many years I played in Protestant churches, some of which permitted non-sacred pieces, and some of which did not. When asked for popular songs, love songs, or ballads, the pastor at the Lutheran church where I spent many years as Music Director always said, “Sacred music in church; save the secular pieces for the reception”. That was the end of the discussion. And so it should be! No matter how the couple may plead for “our song”, it belongs at the reception, not at Mass.

Nevertheless, over the years in Protestant and Catholic churches alike I was besieged with numerous odd requests, perhaps the oddest of which was What Kind of Fool Am I? And there was the more mature bride who requested the old song Deep Purple because her bridesmaids were dressed in … purple! Broadway ballads are often requested, such as Sunrise Sunset (Fiddler on the Roof), One Hand One Heart (West Side Story), and so on. Inappropriate. Save it for the reception. Also to be avoided are blatant love songs such as I Love You Truly and Love is a Many Splendored Thing.

While we are on this topic, it is to be remembered that the Responsorial Psalm should be a Psalm, not a song. Use the correct sacred text without wild alterations, inclusive language, or tweaking.

The wedding marches are an interesting topic, sure to spark debate. It has become really traditional to use the Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin for the Procession, and the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s ballet Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Recession. Observe the words “opera” and “ballet”. Both of these marches were written for the theater stage. Both are fine pieces of music, but are tied into stories of fantasy, murder, sex, and other delights. Are they suitable for Catholic weddings? It should be an easy answer, but it is not. Back in the 1930s or so when the Society of Saint Gregory published its Black List and White List of Catholic Music, those marches were absolutely forbidden, sent to the Black List, and no more discussion, thank you. Today it is left to the local Ordinary (the head of your diocese). Some places have no restrictions, since that music has become so traditional, but some still forbid them. Some have made no statements one way or the other.

Are those pieces truly traditional? I remember attending a marvelous performance of the Mendelssohn ballet. When all the odd creatures came dancing out of the forest, a woman behind me gasped, “They’re playing There Goes the Bride! Why are they playing There Goes the Bride?” In the popular culture, those two pieces are universally known, incorrectly, as Here Comes the Bride, and There Goes the Bride. Most Americans, alas, are unfamiliar with classic opera and ballet and do not know the dramatic references in the music. Even trained musicians I know will call the Bridal Chorus by its Here Comes the Bride alias.

There are lots of good choices for marches, including the Purcell Trumpet Tune, the Trumpet Voluntary in D, the Pachelbel Canon, The Grand March by Alexandre Guilmant, and a host of others that any trained organist can play for you.

In many churches, it is still permitted for the bride to leave her bouquet (or a small symbolic bouquet) at the statue of Our Lady. Since this takes place after the Mass, any sacred Marian antiphon, motet, or hymn will suffice. Some possibilities are an Ave Maria, Salve Regina, or On This Day, O Beautiful Mother.

A final word. In the frantic days immediately after the Second Vatican Council, I remember reading of an “experimental” and short-lived wedding liturgy wherein the bride and groom were to come down the aisle together, singing a hymn. Don’t know anyone anywhere who ever did that, do you?


Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A., is organist and music director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, and adjunct associate professor at Westminster Choir College, Princeton. She is also the creator of Churchmouse Squeaks in AB.

“Monastery Mice” Christmas CD

Fans of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoon may be surprised to learn that the “mice” are a real choir, and the cartoonist, Lucy Carroll, is their real director. Dr. Carroll, whose essays on Church music frequently appear in AB, is organist and choir director at the Carmelite Monastery in Philadelphia.

Rejoice, their Christmas album, was recorded live at the monastery, and includes a thoughtful selection of Christmas hymns and carols, several of them arranged by Dr. Carroll. All proceeds from the CD will benefit the monastery.

To order The Monastery Choir’s Rejoice CD, make check for $14 payable to “Carmelite Monastery”. Note on the envelope “Monastery Christmas CD”. Send to The Monastery Choir, c/o Dr. Lucy Carroll, 712 High Ave., Hatboro, PA 19040-2418. Visit the choir online at



Lucy E. Carroll

Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB, and is the creator of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoons regularly featured in these pages. In Memoriam: Dr. Lucy E. Carroll, DMA