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The Catholic wedding procession

Here is what the Rite of Marriage says about the entrance procession:

If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers [e.g., lectors, altar servers] go first, followed by the priest, and then the bride and bridegroom. According to local custom, they may be escorted by at least their parents and the two witnesses. Meanwhile, the entrance song is sung. (#20)

Sound unfamiliar? That's because in the United States and elsewhere, it is much more common for the bride to be escorted down the aisle by her father, who then "gives" her to the groom waiting at the altar—a tradition rooted in the days when weddings were viewed as a sort of property transaction (with the woman being the property).

Catholic wedding procession

The wedding procession suggested by the Rite of Marriage better symbolizes the Church's understanding of the complementary role of the husband and wife in marriage.

Another option is to skip the procession altogether; the presider simply greets the bride and groom at the altar (Rite of Marriage #19).

The assembly stands at the beginning of the liturgy, when the entrance song is announced and the procession begins—in other words, the assembly should not remain seated until the bride enters the church. In the Catholic liturgy, standing is a way of acknowledging the presence of God.

The wedding procession is usually accompanied by music. This might take the form of an instrumental or solo piece, or a hymn sung by the whole assembly. Some couples opt to use an instrumental piece during the procession, followed by a gathering hymn sung by the whole assembly once the wedding party and the ministers of the liturgy are in place.

Note that most parishes forbid the use of the traditional wedding march to accompany the procession. The Diocese of Albany explains why:

The so-called “traditional wedding marches” by Wagner and Mendelssohn are not recommended. Both are “theater” pieces which have nothing to do with the Sacred Liturgy. The “Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin, actually accompanies the couple to the bedroom, not the altar! Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream accompanies a farcical wedding (the play is a comedy).

Many other instrumental pieces are permitted. however. The Diocese of Albany suggests the following possibilities:

  • Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (J. S. Bach)
  • Canon in D Major (J. Pachelbel)
  • Trumpet Tune (Purcell/Clarke)
  • Trumpet Voluntary (also known as The Prince of Denmark’s March) (J. Clarke)
  • Trumpet Voluntary (Stanley)
  • Overture from Royal Fireworks Suite (G.F. Handel)
  • Rondeau from Premier Suite (J.J. Mouret)
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