From the time of our engagement, my wife and I thought carefully about how we could celebrate the sacrament of Matrimony in a way appropriate to the spiritual majesty of the occasion. To begin, we were both struck by words in the 1962 Roman Missal: "The marriage service is a solemn and moving ceremony in which the two partners pledge their word to God and to each other to be loyal and faithful." We understood this passage to mean that the service must be solemn to truly represent the meaning of the sacrament, while it must be moving to visibly convey the grace bestowed on the couple. Beauty is thus related to grace. According to the 1962 Roman Missal, "The beauty of the ceremony which follows here, shows the Church's wish to bestow an abundance of grace on those who contract marriage in accordance with her mind."
(Mozart, Bride's Processional)
Over several months, we considered the teachings of Sacred Scripture (e.g., Matthew 19:6), the counsel of the 1962 Roman Missal, and the connection between the Eucharist and Marriage. All these considerations led us to think carefully about the liturgy of the Mass. We focused primarily on the sacred music, given the importance of music in the liturgy and the opportunity given to the bride and groom to collaborate on choices with the Director of Music and the priest. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), in the Spirit of the Liturgy, writes that “Whether it is Bach or Mozart that we hear in church, we have a sense in either case of what gloria Dei, the glory of God, means. The mystery of infinite beauty is there and enables us to experience the presence of God more truly and vividly.” By revealing the highest purpose of music in the liturgy, this quote moved us profoundly. We wanted the music of the ceremony to do just this: capture the mystery of infinite beauty and help us and our guests experience the presence of God more truly and vividly. Our parish priest shares this understanding of the role of music in the liturgy, writing, "Music is the spirit of the liturgy, helping us to rise above the ordinary and draw closer to Almighty God."
The musical selections were not about our musical preferences alone. We have already mentioned that we chose music suited to the solemnity of the occasion, but we also chose musical pieces that are suited to purpose of sacred music: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter VI). The first purpose has at least two meanings. First, music that glorifies God is music intended in composition and performance for the praise God. Since the music is directed toward praising God, it cannot be directed toward satisfying the pride, vanity, or worldly desires of men and women.
The second meaning of "glory of God" is revealed in the quote above from Spirit of the Liturgy. Benedict XVI suggests that the glory of God is not just a goal but is something experienced. In other words, we know what it means to glorify God when experiencing an internal glimpse of that glory. The greatest musical artists offer such a glimpse of the divine, since art "must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable" (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists). Art accomplishes this goal to the degree that is beautiful: "Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence" (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists).
Our choices of sacred music drew from the Church's musical treasure of "inestimable value" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1156), including Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, and Latin Gregorian Chant. These composers and mass settings are among the greatest treasures in the sacred music repertoire. While planning, we made specific notes about each piece, which we present here in summary form:
Prelude - Prelude in D Major, by J.S. Bach. The prelude instills devotional feeling and holy awe, aiding the transition from the secular world to the spiritual world of the church. We asked the prelude to begin once all had seated, so that it is not simply background music as the crowd trickles in. The Bach prelude is beautiful and powerful. It grabs the attention of the guests, even those who are not religious. It has been written that the purpose of the organ is to support church singing and to instill devotional feeling. The church's new organ and this Bach prelude accomplish both purposes. It is also in D Major, which supports the transition to the processional.
Processional - Vespro Della Beata Vergine, Claudio Monteverdi. Trumpets gloriously announce the procession to the altar. Monteverdi's setting of the call to prayer prepares everyone for the ceremony and reminds all of the need for focus in prayer.
Bride's processional - Laudate Dominum, K339, by W.A. Mozart. Laudate Dominum means "Praise Be to God." Walking down the aisle to her future husband, the bride can only exclaim "Praise be to God!"
Missa de Angelis: Gregorian Chant adds solemnity and reverence to the Mass. The effect on the congregation is immediately noticeable, particularly on those Catholics who thought that the church abandoned chanting and Latin in the Middle Ages, and whose own churches have never used Gregorian Chant and Latin. It offers a sense of spiritual nourishment that too often is missing from worship.
Psalm - Der Herr Denket an Uns, BWV 196: Der Herr Segne Euch, by J.S. Bach: This setting of the Psalm captures the tender love of a parent for their children. The guests listen to Bach's setting and the expert performance of the soloists to aid their contemplation and meditation on the profound words of the text.
Presentation of the Gifts - Gott ist mein König from Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 by J.S. Bach: The trumpets and the shouts of Gott! bring our attention from the wedding celebration to the sacrifice of the Mass.
Eucharist - Et incarnatus est from Great Mass in C Minor, K427, by W.A. Mozart. Pope Francis has been quoted as saying that this piece truly lifts one's mind to God. The Holy Father prayed on his knees for the entire duration of this piece at a Mass on Christmas Eve, 2014. As an aid to the intense devotion and prayer that occurs after receiving communion, this piece is appropriate.
Recessional - Sonata from Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret, BWV 31, by J.S. Bach . This piece captures the pure joy of newlyweds leaving the church as husband and wife.
Postlude - Carillon de Westminster, by Vierne - Ringing of the church bells announces the celebratory occasion. The melody of the famous carillon of Westminster Abbey is a majestic conclusion to the day's events.
In addition, we celebrated our marriage in a church of stunning artistic beauty. Nearly every detail is inspired by the following statement: "God's dwelling place on earth is to be regarded as just as holy as God's dwelling place in heaven." At a 2014 re-dedication ceremony, our pastor wrote "This is what a church is supposed to do: to put us in touch with God, to lift up our hearts and minds to God, to make us realize that no matter who we are, no matter what our status might be, no matter where we fit in this precious life, there is someone bigger than ourselves, and that when we are here, we are at home." Through symbols and artistic beauty, our church lifts the mind to contemplation of heavenly things. As our pastor summarizes, "For centuries, beautiful buildings, devotional art, and inspiring music have drawn people to the church and to God." Our musical selections were carefully chosen to be complementary–rather than in opposition–to the sacred space in lifting minds and hearts to God. Together, music and art enhance our devotion, prayer, and aspirations to holiness.
We've been fortunate to attend beautiful liturgies in the United States and Europe that have provided us with inspiration and models to emulate. We in particular want to mention the following ceremonies: a Solemn High Mass in the Crypt Church at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on December 5, 2014; a Solemn High Mass in the Peterskirche in Munich on March 19th, 2015; and a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the usus recentior at the Sacra Liturgia USA conference in New York City in 2015. We also must recognize the consistently beautiful liturgical celebrations in the Extraordinary Form at St. John the Baptist in Allentown, NJ, and the inspiring and beautiful liturgies at our own church in Lambertville.
Our spiritual advisers, family, and friends joined together to celebrate our wedding ceremony. We thank the Reverend Robert Kolakowski for spiritual guidance, prayer, and support in planning our wedding. The organist, singers, and instrumentalists worked beyond what is generally required and performed with passion and dedication. We must thank the church Director of Religious Education, Veronica McCabe, for her spiritual guidance, management of the ceremony, and leadership. Finally, several online Catholic resources–New Liturgical Movement, Corpus Christi Watershed, and Sancta Missa–provided us with sheet music and, more importantly, thoughtful reflections about beauty, spirituality, and the liturgy.
Finally, a wedding ceremony is only the start to a life of the vocation of marriage. As a wise priest once remarked, "May you put as much effort into your marriage as you put into your wedding ceremony."