Nine numbered sections in Sing To The Lord detail the thoughts and directives of the US bishops on liturgical music for weddings. As a pastoral musician I can tell you planning with engaged couples is a significant component of our service to the Church. Some of my colleagues find this a burden. I stand with those who find it a source of joy.
Sections 216 and 217 set the tone for what follows, and this reminder strikes me as significant:
The Church desires that a person’s wedding day be filled with joy and grace. (SttL 217)
Sometimes this is beyond our control. But when it comes to counseling couples, the bishops acknowledge a two-pronged approach: sound judgment and pastoral sensitivity.
The bishops remind us that it is the couple who enacts the sacrament: they vow to one another; it is not something extracted by the Church or clergy. As such, a couple should be engaged in the planning of the liturgy. Is it a problem when groom, bride, or both have no idea about liturgical music? The task falls to the church musician:
Since oftentimes the only music familiar to the couple is not necessarily suitable to the sacrament, the pastoral musician will make an effort to demonstrate a wide range of music appropriate for the Liturgy. (SttL 218)
Sometimes a couple does come with suggestions. These offerings may be less or more appropriate. More often today than thirty years ago, the engaged persons bring few or no ideas to their consultation with me.
If I don’t know the people well, I ask about their expectations for the wedding. Here are my usual questions:
- Do you envision a high church affair: very dress-up, a certain formality, the importance of dignity?
- Or do you see yourselves having a more laid-back celebration: something more loose-fitting and comfortable?
The answers give me good direction on music. It also puts a couple at ease if they know nearly nothing about music. It’s not like most people do this more than once in a lifetime, right? The other key observation I share with couples is this:
Music and readings can do one of three things:
- They can suggest or allude to a quality in the beloved or in the relationship.
- They can teach or form the listener about love, faithfulness, or the desired quality of the marriage.
- They can say something about God.
Often, all three are in play for a church wedding. Most wedding homilies include some personal aspect of the couple. If a song reflects this also, and is otherwise appropriate for liturgy, that seems within bounds. Most Scripture readings–and weddings songs based on Scripture–speak of love, sacrifice, good faith, commitment, and other virtues and qualities to which a couple might aspire. And of course, anything about God–God’s love, praise of God, gratitude to God, etc.: this is certainly a good direction to consider.