Saturday, December 29, 2012

Catholic wedding traditions that aren't actually Catholic

1. The white dress.  That dress actually came into fashion after Queen Victoria's wedding, though I've heard white had been used in Jewish weddings, as it is the color of light and of purity.  For Christian weddings however, white only came into fashion due to it being a luxury. White cloth is very hard to keep clean and beautiful, so it was a sign of wealth to afford a dress you'd really only be able to wear once.  As time went on, we came to see as a symbol of virginity and of purity, which is why it is the color of choice for Western, Christian brides and especially Catholics, due to our strict sexual morality.

2. "Obeying" your husband. Of course, due to one verse in Ephesians, another in Timothy and some Old Testament ideals, groups of conservative Christians believe that a wife must submit to and obey her husband. People often mistakenly believe that, during a Catholic wedding ceremony, a bride has to promise to obey her husband.  That's actually a tradition that came from the Anglican church. Interestingly enough, the Catholic Church teaches that both a husband and wife must equally consent to the marriage and actually abolished arranged marriages under the Council of Trent.  Unfortunately, that is not always practiced correctly but we do believe in spouses acting as equal partners, even if our more conservative brothers and sisters still hold that the roles of each gender are different.

3. Being "given" away.  This tradition relates to the previous one, in the sense of our religion not always having the best reputation when it comes to seeing women as equals.  Further, in America, brides of all Christian denominations and in some non-religious weddings (haven't been to any other types of religious weddings to be able to comment) tend to walk down the aisle with their fathers, with a belief that he's "giving his little girl" away.  Most would be shocked to learn that the Catholic Church only reluctantly allows this practice, which actually originated in Protestant churches.  Because the bride and groom act as ministers of marriage (the priest doesn't "marry them", he serves as a mere witness) and our strong belief that men and women hold equal consent, the Church isn't comfortable with the idea of women being "given." That's why, even if a bride walks down with her father, the priest isn't allowed to ask, "Who gives this woman in marriage?" Instead, they recommend couples to walk together or at least walk separately with both of their parents but, because this tradition is entrenched within our customs, they allow it, but they describe it as the bride being "escorted."

4. Changing her last name. Most brides in the U.S. change their surnames to their husband's.  In very traditional Christian circles, including Catholic ones, it's recommended to show it as your husband being the head of the house.  Especially when a woman is devoutly Catholic, it can sometimes shock people to find out she has decided to keep the surname she was born with.  Interestingly enough, on Church documents, they still refer to the woman by the surname she born with, even if she has legally taken her husband's surname.  Further, in Latin American and other Catholic countries, women tend to keep their surnames and children are born with two surnames (and known by all of the surnames of their grandparents).  Like walking with her father and promising to obey her husband, this tradition also emerged from northern European and Protestant traditions, which is why it is so predominate in the U.S.

There are aspects of the wedding ceremony that the Catholic church is very strict about and a couple is bound to fidelity, entering a marriage freely and being open to the possibility of children.  The rite is regulated to ensure that these conditions are met and that God is given due glory in the ceremony.  Other than that, they really don't care what color the dress is, whether she's a Mrs. His Name or a Ms. Her Name, how she and her husband structure their marriage, etc. Now, individual couples, families, and priests may have their preferences but that's it.  So, if you know a Catholic bride who wants to shake things up with these traditions, remember that they aren't as enshrined in Catholicism as the public likes to think they are. 

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