Planning Your Catholic Wedding
Choosing wedding music
“He who sings prays twice,” St. Augustine said. The Church calls music a “necessary” part of the liturgy because it helps the assembly pray together more vibrantly (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1156; cf Sacrosanctum Concilium 112). If it is done well, this special form of prayer unites the whole assembly together in one voice and becomes a window onto divine beauty. Here's a step-by-step guide to choosing Catholic wedding music with that ideal in mind.
In most cases, couples work with their parish music minister to choose music that is beautiful, appropriate, and within the realm of possibility. Your music minister will be able to direct you to a range of possible selections, assist you in finding musicians, and help you obtain reprint permission from the copyright holder (if necessary). As you work with your music minister, keep the following points in mind:
Although couples usually have wide latitude in choosing the music for their wedding ceremony, the pastor and music minister may "veto" your selections for practical or liturgical reasons. In a sense, the whole Church participates in your wedding liturgy, so it's important to ensure that the music is prayerful.
Most music ministers are happy to help couples prepare for their wedding, but keep in mind that many already have their hands full with their regular music ministry duties. You'll win your music minister's appreciation if you offer to work around her schedule, and do some advance preparation before your initial meeting with her.
The Church keeps no official list of “approved” wedding music, but it does offer three criteria for liturgical music that can be applied to your choice of wedding music.
Is it prayerful? The purpose of any Catholic liturgy, including a wedding liturgy, is to give glory to God and to sanctify (make holy) the worshipers. Your wedding music should reflect that purpose; in other words, it should help the assembly to pray and to give thanks to God for your marriage. The criteria of prayerfulness is one reason why popular music—including some of the "classic" wedding marches taken from secular operas—is often not permitted.
Is it accessible? In other words, will the assembly be able to sing along? In Catholic worship, the assembly (everyone attending the wedding) is not an audience, passively watching events unfold at the altar. Catholic liturgy calls on the assembly to actively participate in the prayer of the Church, including its sung prayer. Doing so is one of the most powerful ways your friends and family can express their love and support for you and your spouse.
Is it beautiful? Beauty is a window onto the divine (Catechism #32), so it is not surprising that the Church calls for the music used in its worship to be beautiful. This criteria is obviously somewhat subjective, depending on personal tastes and local culture. Whether your music is beautiful or not may depend less on the particular selection than on the skill of the musicians who sing or play it. A hymn that seemed ho-hum the first time you heard it in church might have great potential in the right hands.
You can read about these criteria in more detail at Catholic wedding music: Striking the right note.
As a general rule, you should check with your parish first before asking or hiring anyone to sing at your wedding. Many parishes have regulations regarding this and may require the use of the parish's music ministry for all weddings taking place in the parish church. It is advisable to find musicians before you choose the music for your wedding. For one thing, your musicians can help you choose great music, and create a beautiful arrangement for it; at the very least, you want to make sure your musicians are capable of playing or singing whatever you choose.
Where will you find the musicians who will lead the music at your wedding? One possibility is to tap into your parish's music ministry; your parish's music minister will be able to tell you what resources are available. Another possibility is to invite musically talented family members or friends to provide music; or you might just hire professional musicians. If you go with these last two options, it is ideal to choose people who are already familiar with the Catholic liturgy and liturgical music. You can read more about different music roles and finding people to fill them at Finding and Choosing Cantors and Instrumentalists (Musicians) for Your Catholic Wedding.
Strictly speaking, music isn't necessary for a valid Catholic wedding, but it is strongly encouraged. You have some latitude regarding just how much music to have during the wedding, and when to have it. Look over the appropriate chart listed below for an indication of when music may be used. Black musical notes () indicate that music usually accompanies a particular part of the wedding liturgy, while gray musical notes () indicate that music may accompany a particular part, although it is not specifically indicated by The Order of Celebrating Matrimony (check with your music minister):
If you are unsure about which chart to view, you may need to choose the form of your wedding.
Finally, start looking for songs, hymns, and other music for your wedding. Your parish music minister can direct you to appropriate resources. Unless he or she objects, you might want to look beyond the limited repertoire of your parish's hymnal; there is a wide range of beautiful liturgical music, including music written specifically for weddings, that many parishes do not regularly use. You can get started by visiting this list of Catholic wedding music, where you can play clips of hymns and instrumental music; the page also provides links to the Catholic wedding music pages of the major Catholic music publishers.
For more information
For examples of diocesan wedding music policies, see the following websites:
by Mary Beth Kunde Anderson and David Anderson
(©2007, 47 pages, Liturgy Training Publications)
Although this book was written for those in the Church who work with couples planning their wedding, couples may find it useful for what its publisher describes as "...an extensive list of congregational psalms, acclamations, hymns and songs." Order it from Amazon by clicking on the title above.