Some things never change and suggestions for changes are met with firm opposition by the powers-that-be. Religious wedding ceremonies and the traditions that surround them fall into the ‘some-things-never-change’ category.
The main change that has taken place over the years is that the religious wedding ceremony is being performed in places other than the churches, synagogues, and temples for which they were planned but, although the site of the ceremony may be different, the ceremony itself remains mostly unchanged. The religious wedding ceremonies covered here are in alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone.
The Catholic Wedding Ceremony
Notice that a Nuptial Mass is to be held must be given a minimum of six months in advance and sometimes the advance notice requirement may be as much as a year. The Nuptial Mass may last as long as an hour with the wedding ceremony itself lasting about 20 minutes. The bride and her attendants come down the aisle to the altar where the priest, the groom, and the groomsmen await them. The wedding ceremony is steeped in tradition and has varied little over many
centuries. There is, however, some leeway given in parts of the mass other than the actual
ceremony. The bride, for example, may lay her wedding bouquet at the feet of the Virgin Mary or members of the families may read scripture, recite poetry or sing. The bride and groom remain at the alter throughout the mass standing, sitting of kneeling. Even if the ceremony is held in a location other than the church, the ceremony will not be modified or changed in any way.
The Protestant Wedding Ceremony
Protestant wedding ceremonies vary between different protestant denominations. There are many different protestant denominations. They include Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran and many others. Each denomination has its own rules and requirements regarding marriage and marriage ceremonies. Some denominations require pre-marital counseling while others do not. In general, a protestant wedding ceremony is not a part of an entire protestant church service but is, rather, a stand-alone event. There is usually a lot more leeway allowed in a protestant wedding ceremony than in a Catholic wedding ceremony and Protestant ministers have been known to conduct wedding ceremonies in many different places and under many different sets of circumstances. The common thread among protestant wedding ceremonies is that Jesus is the Son of God and that the relationship of Jesus to the church is like that of the relationship between a husband and wife.
The Jewish Wedding Ceremony
The finer points of the Jewish wedding ceremony vary between the orthodox, conservative and reform branches of Judaism but all marriage ceremonies are characterized by joy and symbolism.
The bride and groom are each escorted by their families along with their attendants to the chuppah where the Rabbi waits. The couple first each take a sip of wine and the Rabbi blesses them. The groom then gives the bride a plain gold wedding band…nothing more is allowed. The groom then reads aloud the ketubah, or marriage contract and gives it to the bride. Next the Seven Blessings are given by a special guest or a family member then there is another symbolic
sip of wine by the bride and groom. The end of the wedding ceremony is with the symbolic stomping of a glass by the groom and those gather shout, “Mazel tov!”
The ceremony usually takes about 20 minutes.
The bride and groom then go to a private room and spend about 20 minutes there before joining the wedding reception. This symbolizes the consummation of the wedding. The wedding feast begins with a blessing of the challah which is a loaf of braided bread, to signify the sharing of families and friends. It is not required that a Jewish wedding ceremony take place in a synagogue and more and more often today, they do not. Each rabbi, however, determines what
is appropriate for the bride and groom to wear, and the choices of music and flowers whether the wedding is conducted in a synagogue or not. Any words added to or taken from the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is done at the discretion of the rabbi who is performing the ceremony.
The Hindu Wedding Ceremony
In India a Hindu wedding ceremony can last an entire day, however, in America it has been modified and only lasts about one and one-half hours. Cultural traditions and pre and post wedding customs can go on for several days, though. The wedding itself is designed to symbolically educate the wedding couple in the lessons of married life. Mantras or prayers are chanted to call for blessing on the marriage.
A Hindu wedding ceremony does not have to be done in a temple but it is most often done there. The bride usually wears a sari in red and gold colors that is decorated with jewels. She is the one who welcomes the groom and the two exchange flower garlands. Protective amulets are tied to the couple’s wrists and prayers are chanted. A member of the bride’s family and then a member of the groom’s family read the lineages of each family. The groom then ties a pendent around the neck of the bride to symbolize his acceptance of the lineage and as a sign of happiness and fidelity.
The couple then makes offerings to each other and sacrifices to the ceremonial fire. They link themselves together with a sash and circle the fire seven times. The groom puts vermilion powder into the part in the bride’s hair to symbolize that she is a married woman. The priest pronounces a blessing and the couple is showered with tumeric rice.
The Muslim Wedding Ceremony
There are several ceremonies that preceded the actual Muslim wedding ceremony itself. First it is always the groom who searches for a suitable wife. The engagement ceremony, the Mangni, is the exchange of rings between the bride and groom. The bride’s clothing for this ceremony is provided by the groom’s family. Next comes the Manjha Ceremony. The bride is anointed with a paste made of turmeric, sandalwood and chameli oil all of which are provided by the groom’s family. The bride is then confined to her home for two days prior to the wedding.
During the Muslim wedding ceremony men and women are in different rooms or are separated by a curtain…but not always. The meher, (a compulsory amount of money given to the bride’s family by the groom’s family) is presented. The bride and groom are both asked if they agree to the marriage then a selected piece from the Koran is read.
The marriage is then registered (nikaahnama). The groom and two male witnesses sign it. The bride will sign at a later time. The groom is then escorted to the women’s section. He presents gifts to the bride’s sisters and receives blessing from the bride’s older female relatives.
The first meal is then served to men and women separately and to the groom’s family in a different room. After this first meal the bride and groom are seated together with a long scarf over their heads. The Koran is placed between them and they can see each others reflections in strategically placed mirrors but they are not allowed to look at each other. The Koran is placed between them and they read prayers directed by the priest.
The bride and groom are then escorted to the house of the bride’s father where they spend the night in separate rooms. The groom is required to sleep in the room with the bride’s younger brothers.
The next morning, the Rukhsat Ceremony which is considered a part of the wedding ceremony is performed. It is a farewell ceremony. The father of the bride places her hand into the hand of the groom and asks that the groom protect her always. The couple then departs for their own home.
The Quaker Wedding Ceremony
Although some congregations do have appointed pastors, most Quakers do not have ministers or priests. They believe that each person is their own minister. In a Quaker wedding, the wedding couple actually marries themselves not, however, before they have satisfied all of the conditions of the community.
There is a monthly business meeting of the Committee for Ministry and Counsel to which the couple desiring to be married at the meeting house must apply at least two or three months in advance. The committee will then appoint a Clearance Committee to oversee the planned wedding. This Clearance Committee will interview the couple together and separately several times over
the course of at least two months to determine the clarity of their intention and their freedom to marry. The Clearance Committee will then give permission for the wedding to take place.
The entire Quaker culture is based upon the idea of simplicity and the wedding ceremony in no different. The couple enters the meeting house and takes their places among the Circle of Friends with no fanfare attached. There will no music.
After a time and when the couple is ready they rise, join hands and make their vows to each other. After the vows have been spoken, the bride, groom, clerk, and overseers sign the
certificate of marriage. Before they leave, every member present at the marriage
will sign the certificate as well.
In some religions there is some wiggle room where a couple’s personal desires for their wedding can be accommodated while in other religions there is none at all. Sometimes a couple must choose between a religious ceremony and a civil ceremony in order to ‘do their own thing’.
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