The Rev. Terry McCloskey has a joke he sometimes tells when conducting weddings at Redemptorist Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo.
“There was a wedding where the groom was extremely nervous. When the minister asked the bride if she promised to love, honor and obey her husband, she responded, ‘Do you think I’m crazy?’
“The nervous groom promptly stated, ’I do.’ ”
Actually, at most churches, “obey” is not in the vows, not even in Kate Middleton’s as she married Prince William. As we enter the wedding season, each faith has its own way to consecrate marriage.
Despite the levity, McCloskey emphasizes that the marriage ceremony is both a joyful and a serious ritual in the Roman Catholic Church as it is in the world’s major faiths.
Redemptorist averages 65 to 70 weddings each year, and McCloskey performs his share of them.
It is a service, with family and friends reading Scriptures and the priest reading from the Gospel and giving a homily.
“Then I ask the couple several questions: Are you coming freely without reservations and will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your life and will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his church?”
Next, the two join their right hands and declare their consent before God and the church.
Both parties need not be Catholic, but during the counseling sessions the priest asks the Catholic person if they will do what they can to bring the children up in the Catholic church.
The church provides several formulas that the couple can use as their vows. Then, in some cases, Mass is celebrated. McCloskey said, however, he discourages this if there will be a lot of non-Catholics attending the ceremony so they won’t feel uncomfortable. Non-Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist in the Catholic church.
At the end of the ceremony, he said, “Sometimes the couple will take a bouquet of flowers to the Blessed Mary [statue] and say a prayer, asking for her blessing and help in their married life.”
King and queen
In the Jewish tradition, the bride and groom are likened to a queen and king.
As a prelude to the ceremony, the groom greets his family and friends around a table. In another room, the bride is seated in a chair and greets guests.
Then the groom is danced from his room to the bride’s room, and after looking at her, he puts the veil over her face, said Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner, a modern orthodox congregation in Overland Park, Kan.
“This goes back to when Jacob was tricked into thinking he was marrying Rachel and it was Leah,” he said. “The tradition is to make sure the groom is marrying the right woman.”
The Jewish wedding is a celebration, he said.
“One feature that makes a Jewish marriage unique is that it focuses on various rituals that make the marriage go into effect,” he said.
“The main ceremony is when the bride and groom stand under a canopy called a chuppah. It is open on all four sides, symbolizing the tent of Sarah and Abraham, and that Jewish homes are open to hospitality.
“The official act of betrothal is when the groom takes a ring that belongs to him and presents it to the bride by placing it on her right index finger. This act is called “kiddushin,” taken from the Hebrew word “kedusha,” which means holiness, Rockoff said.
“This ritual is performed in the sight of qualified witnesses in order to make it binding.”
Then friends, family and honored rabbis give seven blessings of praise. This is followed by the breaking of the glass, Rockoff said.
“One explanation for this is that even in times of celebration, not all is perfect in the world,” he said. “And for the Jewish people our temple was destroyed and had not yet been rebuilt. We recall that by breaking the glass.
“Another reason is we want to temper the joy of the occasion so that it does not lead to frivolity. Breaking the glass reminds us that this is a sacred occasion.”
The wedding ceremony is a sacred event, said the Rev. Glen Miles, senior minister at Kansas City’s Country Club Christian Church, where 75 to 80 weddings take place each year.
The bride and groom are not just standing in the presence of the congregation but in the presence of God, he said.
“Early in the ceremony in the invocation, we ask God to be present,” he said.
He asks the parents of the couple, “Who blesses the marriage of this man and this woman?”
He then reads from Scripture.
One of his favorites comes from 1 John 4:7-8, which he says places the focus on the gift of love, and as the couple does acts of love for each other, they are loving God. His homily is from Scripture.
“I love that many couples come to us who are not members of any church, but there is this pull toward the sacred,” Miles said. “They just feel they should be married in a church. Personally, I feel there is a spiritual significance to marrying in a church.”
The vows are a promise between equals, he said; they recall promises God has made us.
“The ring is a circle that is not broken,” he said. “It symbolizes the wholeness that God intends. There is so much brokenness in the world, there should be a place to find wholeness. That is signified by the marriage.”
Miles said lighting the unity candle symbolizes the light of Christ. Many weddings also include communion for the couple as a further connection to Christ, he said.
The Hindu wedding is a long process, with the main ceremony taking two to three hours, said Anand Bhattacharyya, a local Hindu who performs weddings. It also is a religious sacrament.
The sequence varies depending upon the tradition, but all come from Hindu scripture.
The main ceremony usually takes place under a decorated canopy, called mandap. The bride and groom, their parents and close relatives walk in a procession to the mandap, where they take seats.
The priest starts with an invocation, and then the groom and bride exchange garlands, signifying mutual acceptance, Bhattacharyya said.
The bride’s father, or in his absence a senior male relative, gives the bride to the groom, who accepts her. A knot is tied with the ends of her dress and his tunic, signifying the tying of their lives together.
The couple bow to the lord of the universe for his blessings in their lives.
“The next important and ancient part of the ceremony is agni parikrama, meaning ‘walking around the fire,’ ” Bhattacharyya said. “A nuptial fire is installed at the center of the mandap.
“The bride and groom join their palms together, and family members put puffed rice and ghee in their cupped hands. The bride and groom put that into the fire as an offering to the fire god.
“The couple goes around the fire four times, with the bride leading and four more times with the groom leading, offering oblations to the fire after each round.”
The priest prays for health, happiness and a long life for the couple. Next come the seven steps, where the couple walk across seven rocks.
“This signifies the man and the wife journeying together through life, hand in hand, in harmony, love and affection,” he said. “By taking these steps together, the bride and the groom pray for God’s grace, so that in all physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pursuits, the two can work as a team in all times.”
The taking of the marriage vows comes next, with the groom sitting next to the bride, holding her right hand with both his hands.
“It is an age-old Hindu tradition that the groom puts a mark of vermilion powder, a bright red pigment, on the bride’s hair above the forehead,” Bhattacharyya said. “The symbolism of this tradition is that he vows to protect her from all calamities of life.
“The groom also ties a gold amulet strung on a sacred thread around the neck of the bride as a symbol of his enduring commitment to his newly married wife. In most traditions the rings are exchanged at this time.”
Finally, the priest declares the groom and the bride as husband and wife.
In Islam, the purpose is to please God and to build a solid Islamic family in the community, said Adnan Bayazid, who performs many weddings in Kansas City.
Five conditions must be met:
“The agreement is between the male and the female.
“The male guardian of the female agrees to the marriage and accepts the contract on her behalf; the guardian usually is the bride’s father, but she must be in agreement.
“The male should offer a dowry, something to please his bride. It could be money or gold or something she would like.
“There must be witnesses in the Muslim community to the contract and to the ceremony.
“The marriage should be conducted according to the Islamic rules, according to the Qur’an and the conditions of our Prophet [Muhammad]. This is considered an act of worship.”
The witnesses pray for the couple, and the one performing the marriage will give a talk before the signing of the contract.
The guardian says the woman agrees and she signs it; then the male signs. And the person performing the marriage announces that each has agreed.
After this, the celebration begins, with women in one room or on one side of a large hall and the men in another room or on the other side of the hall.