Q. My daughter does not have a close relationship with my ex-husband, and now that she is getting married, she does not want to have him walk her down the aisle. Do you think it’s appropriate if it’s just me or should I encourage her to include him?
A. In second grade, I dressed as a bride for Halloween. Looking into the future, I knew that the death of my father meant that I would never walk down the aisle in the traditional way. When I got engaged, I pondered how to handle his absence and finally decided to walk down the aisle alone. Why don’t you encourage your daughter and her fiancé to explore the significance of this decision as part of their marriage preparation?
Cultural traditions: a long history
There are many traditions associated with the wedding ceremony. Most of us know the Victorian good-luck verse – a bride should carry something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence for her shoe. In today’s bridal shops, it is still possible to buy a sixpence to wish the bride well. The tradition in which the bride is given away goes back much further in time. When women were considered to be property, this was an exchange between the father and the groom. The verbal expression of this act, “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” wouldn’t be asked during Catholic ceremonies because of its contrast to the liturgical meaning of the sacrament.
Bride and groom give themselves
Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, executive director, USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship, notes that the bride and groom enter freely into the marriage and thus are the ministers of the sacrament. He explains that the entrance procession should reflect their equal entry into marriage: “The rite of marriage suggests that the liturgical ministers (priest, deacon, reader, servers) lead the procession, followed by the bride and bridegroom, each escorted by ‘at least their parents and the witnesses.’” (foryourmarriage.org) Catholic wedding processions also differ from other ceremonies because, as the liturgy begins, all rise in the presence of God: “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.” (www.catholicweddinghelp.com)
As your daughter considers the options for the entrance processional, encourage her to pray with her fiancé. “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:5-6)
Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.