Wedding music and other difficulties….

Most priests, if they are lucky and smart, have a trained music director or organist to whom they can refer the Bride (sometimes with the groom) to finalize music for weddings. Then he can refer them and avoid a ton of trouble. Yet, occasionally he has to duck for cover when the flak from the battle between bride and organist gets thick.

Don’t get me wrong, everything generally goes fine and most brides and grooms are just fine. But every now and then, there’s a bride (and sometimes a groom) who are the irresistible force that meet the immoveable object (i.e. the organist).

Sometimes it is also the organist. At times in my 23 + years I have actually wondered why certain organist were so adamant about not playing certain songs, e.g. the Wedding Marches by Wagner (from Lohengrin) and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (from Mid Summer Night’s Dream). They seemed classical, what’s do bad about them? “But doesn’t the bride know that one of them is the wedding march of a prostitute?!” protests the organist. “No,” say I, “And neither does anyone else.” So sometimes its the organist.

But more often it is the couple wishing and desiring their favorite song(s). Perhaps it was the song playing in the bar when they first met. Or the theme song from the first movie they saw together. You get the idea, charming, but secular and egocentric. The unchurched or lukewarm couples have the biggest struggle understanding that some songs just aren’t good for church, or for processions, which should be stately and measured.

The dialogue with the organist usually goes something like this:

Bride: I want “Baby it’s You” sung as I come down the aisle.
Organist: That’s not a very good idea.
Bride: Why not?!
Organist: It’s secular, it’s not right for Church
Bride: But it’s my favorite song and its my wedding.
Organist: It would be better to save it for the reception, maybe the first dance.
Bride: We already HAVE a song for the first dance. I want “Baby it’s You.”
Organist: (shaking head) nahw…….Here listen to this song, It’s called Jesu Joy of man’s desiring, it’s so pretty.
Bride: (ignoring the playing of the organist) But it’s MY wedding!
Organist: I don’t think so…..we just can’t do it.
Bride: Don’t you understand?! It’s my wedding and I’ve always dreamed of walking down the aisle to this song.
Organist: But the song just hit the charts last year.
Bride: It’s my wedding.
Organist: No, “Baby it’s You”  just won’t work.
Bride: (motioning to groom) John, we’re leaving, I will take this up with the priest…..

I only mention the bride her because she does most of the talking in 99% of the cases. Weddings are by and large days crafted by women. Most men would have it done quietly and quickly.

Now again, most couples aren’t this insistent, but there are some. Thankfully I am blessed with a great Music Director and my brides of recent years have been very understanding of Church norms. But I’ll say I’ve been involved in some pretty big “set-to’s” in the past.

The fact is too many weddings are seen as “this is my wedding.” Actually it is not. The liturgy belongs to the whole Church and some limits must be involved. Efforts are usually made to accommodate legitimate requests of couples and families, but in the end, the Church is not just a movie set on which to conduct, “my special day.” Neither is the Church simply a backdrop for photos, or a hall that is rented. It is God’s house, it is the temple of the Lord, it is the sacred liturgy. Marriages are not a ceremony, they are a Sacrament, and, as in every Sacrament, the focus is to be more on the Lord and what he is doing, than things like dresses, flowers, and camera angles.

It is understandable that, at the human level, there are traditions and wishes to be respected, but the concerns above must balance the idiosyncrasies that too often set up. The Church has rules, ultimately, to avoid fights, not cause them. When there are limits and norms, that are understood and agreed upon, the whole matter goes more smoothly. And most of these norms are founded in long human experience. For any one couple this may be their “big day” and something they do only once (we pray). All the more reason to look to and respect norms and traditions gained from years, even decades and centuries of experience. And all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Cor 14:40)

Just a few thoughts on a Friday evening where, no doubt, more than a few wedding rehearsals have take place in Catholic parishes. And please take all this in the spirit of levity that it is offered.

Here’s a fun video from Tim Hawkins on inappropriate wedding songs:

41 Replies to “Wedding music and other difficulties….”

  1. But the song just hit the charts last year

    Perhaps this might be useful as a “bring the request to a screeching halt” response — COPYRIGHT.

    “Oh, what a lovely song — we’d love to do it. But, sorry, public performance of the song is legally protected by copyright, and we do not have legal permission to perform it. The matter is out of our hands.”

      1. No, actually I had a couple walk out on me when I insisted upon copyright. Seems like a good idea, but wedding couples are individually very nice people, but collectively an irrational monster out to make your life hell for as long as you have work with them.

  2. In our Parish, the supposed to be Bride and Groom are already told that durihg the Mass only Liturgical Songs proper for the season are sang by the Choir and the Community. After the Mass while picture-taking is being done, a relatives or friends can sing very proper love songs. Now during the reception, that’s the Couple’s ball now. Some Churches here, aside from the Priest short homily, a Married Couple who has love each other thru thick and thin, for better and for worst, were given time to give love testimony and gives advise to the wedding couple.

  3. My husband is a trumpet player who has frequently been engaged to play at weddings (although not at our current parish, at which our offers to help with music have largely been ignored). He also will help the couple with music selection. He won’t refuse to play the wedding marches from Lohengrin (sp?) or Midsummer Night’s Dream, but he’ll try to steer the couple toward other selections because he sees them as trite and over-used. He also tries to talk them out of looong processionals because it usually takes the bride about 0.004 seconds to travel from the back to the front of the nave.

    My husband & I of course had awesome music at our wedding. We had a brass quintet, handbells, and choir.

  4. Thank you for writing this. It is a great observation. Most of our brides and grooms make liturgical choices together–and sometimes the groom has stronger musical opinions than the bride or the musician. I wonder if the oposition may be better described as the couple vs church musician. Then it becomes clearer that the need for greater liturgical catechesis extends to the entire laity, not simply to “bridezillas.”



  5. Yes, it is a sacrament — this is often lost in the ‘my day’ bridal swirl. My son recently received the Sacrament of Marriage with his beloved. The wedding was simple. In the small chapel. Less than 20 guests, including the priest and the cantor and the musician. One really had the strong sense that this was a Sacrament of unity with God.
    I often attend the weddings of those I have taught (afterall, anyone really can attend a Catholic wedding — you just can’t force yourself into the reception). In fact, one is happening this afternoon 🙂
    It is always interesting to me. The ones in RCIA who ‘get it’ have the most Catholic traditional weddings. The ones who were in RCIA in order to pass a requirement for Holy Communion or Catholic Marriage…well, that’s another story.
    The emphasis by the priest, deacon, or whomever is guiding the couple throughout the preparation for the sacrament of Marriage MUST be that it IS a sacrament. One wouldn’t insist upon a special non-Christian song as you receive Holy Communion. But it is wicked to think of what some might chose to have sung!

  6. A question Msgr., while I as an organist prefer “Jesu” and another beautiful piece by Charpentier, “Prelude to the Te Deum” (you should take a listen on youtube if you don’t know it!), I did play the theme from the Phantom of the Opera “All I Ask of You” for one couple.

    It was sung by the Bride’s brother who I would guess was a trained opera singer. Yes, it was contemporary and secular, but quite a lovely melody and well sung. Lohengrin and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were also contemporary at one point, and certainly secular. My question is, would you frown upon a song like that being sung?

  7. The best advice I’ve heard came during my years as music director in a very high Anglican parish. The rector would council the couple and point out that in choosing to exchange vows within the church, they were essentially asking Christ to be a third party to their union; an everlasting reminder of the Blessed Trinity. The service, be it Communion or simple vows, was primarily a service of worship and the music and readings should reflect that liturgical solemnity. His final words were, “Please reserve the love songs and Kum-ba-yah for the reception”.

  8. The big offender a few years back (maybe it still is, I don’t know) is that awful Boyz-II-Men/All-4-One (whatever it is) song that goes: “And I swear by the moon and the stars in the sky…” Faugh!

  9. Msgr. Pope,

    I have to disagree with you.

    In the Catholic Church, words have meaning, the same goes with lyrics in music.

    “They seemed classical, what’s do bad about them? “But doesn’t the bride know that one of them is the wedding march of a prostitute?!” protests the organist. “No,” say I, “And neither does anyone else.” So sometimes its the organist.”

    Just because people are unaware that it’s a song about a prostitute, doesn’t negate the fact that it is.

    1. Why do you “have” to disagree with me? Why not just disagree with me? Also is your “disagreement” something compelled (since you say you HAVE to disagree with me) or do you choose to disagree with me? IOW Is your will engaged in this act of disagreement or does nature compel this disagreement? 🙂 Since words have meaning…. (allow a little levity from me here….)

      Another example of puzzling phrases and words is “intellectual dishonesty” How is this different from dishonesty? Is there such a thing as physical dishonesty? or perhaps soulful or spiritual dishonesty? Does dishonesty occur somewhere other than the intellect and will. A curious phrase as well. But I digress…

      Back to your dissent, you mention lyrics. I am trained organist and Church musician but have never seen the lyrics you mention of these songs. Perhaps there are (I am poorly versed in opera). But if there are I doubt most people have heard them.

      My only (serious) point here is that there are far worse things in Church music that the Mendelssohn and Wagner pieces and I personally think we ought to avoid being overly stingy in these matters. IOW We need not insist on things that are arcane to most people who in no way see the songs mentioned as secular or having to do with prostitution.

      Disagree if you choose, (or even if you “have to”) 🙂 I’m not that adamant on this point and certainly don’t insist that organists play the song.

      1. I’m confused. Which one is about a prostitute?

        Mendelssohn’s Wedding March is the intermezzo between Acts IV and V of his incidental music, Op. 61, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ve only seen/read bits and pieces of Shakespeare’s love farce about fairies, but Wikipedia says it involves two Athenian women, the queen of the fairies, and the queen of the Amazons, none of whom seem to be prostitutes.

        Wagner’s Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin is sung after the wedding ceremony by the women of the wedding party, as they accompany the heroine Elsa to the bridal chamber. Elsa is the sister of Duke Gottfried of Brabant (and thus would not seem to be a prostitute), and her new husband is Lohengrin, Knight of the Holy Grail.

        So, which one of these is about a prostitute, if, in fact, either of them are??

        And even if it was about a prostitute being married, how is that a bad or scandalous thing? How is it bad for a sinner to leave her sinful state and enter into something good and holy?

        1. I think I read once that, back when prostitution was legal, before the rise of std’s, the Church used to grant indulgences to people who married reformed prostitutes.

      2. Phew!

        English is my second language (though my native tongue), so forgive my grammatical errors.

        I meant to say, I respectfully disagree.




  10. Good observations but why, then Msgr, do you downplay them by closing with the disclaimer “done in a spirit of levity”? I think that’s a big part of the problem. Church leaders have been too willing to back away from perfectly valid standards.

  11. It is an ancient Mariner,
    And he stoppeth one of three.
    `By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
    Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

    The bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
    And I am next of kin;
    The guests are met, the feast is set:
    Mayst hear the merry din.’

    He holds him with his skinny hand,
    “There was a ship,” quoth he.
    `Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
    Eftsoons his hand dropped he.

    He holds him with his glittering eye –
    The Wedding-Guest stood still,
    And listens like a three years’ child:
    The Mariner hath his will.

    The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
    He cannot choose but hear;
    And thus spake on that ancient man,
    The bright-eyed Mariner.

    from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Quite possibly, the reason that I never got married is that I would have felt obliged, at some point in the wedding ceremony, to stop everything and recite The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by heart–and young women, at that time, on the prowl for a husband could intuitively sense both that I would feel obliged to do such a thing and that I was to lazy to actually memorize the poem.

    God bless all people who still have the wild courage to have sacramental marriages!

  12. Interesting article. I have personally experienced an issue with a Music Director over songs to be used during funerals. First it was my dad’s funeral. My mom was handicapped, my sister didn’t want to get involved with any church stuff, so I was sent to meet with the music director over the liturgy and music. First of all he was surprised I cared much at all about what songs we wanted. My mother was a former church organist and cantor when younger so she had a few requests. One was Panus Angelicus. to be sung. The music director flat out refused to even attempt to find a vocalist for the funeral! He said during the week it’s too hard, too many people work and he couldn’t get anyone. I suggested he call the music dept. at the local community college and he refused. Finally when he saw I was still pushing we compromised – he was able to play the song on the organ with a violin sounding melody.

    Unfortunately a year ago my sister, who was a cradle catholic but until diagnosed with cancer hadn’t been practicing wanted Pie Jesu. Well, she wanted some other songs too, but fortunately she had met with her new spiritual director, a priest, who had already told her those were secular songs and not appropriate for the funeral itself. She could have them perhaps during the visitation or at the luncheon after but not during the Mass. he agreed Pie Jesu would be appropriate. Fortunately, we had a different music director – at the same church as my dad’s funeral had been 8 years ago, who went out of his way to find two vocalists who COULD and WOULD be willing to perform this song. Of course, he made it clear, and of course I understood this, that there would be a financial obligation occurred in hiring the vocalists AND for the extra practice time it would take to perfect it. I said that was fine. It turned out absolutely beautiful and I was so thankful to the music director for going out of his way for my sister’s last request.

    I guess I’m begging music directors out there to be extra sensitive when dealing with family members for funerals. In fact, I highly recommend the priest be involved if the family member indicates strong preferences. This is NOT a time where people are emotionally in a place to be understanding or to take the stress of dealing with a musical director who may either have an attitude (as the first one did) and thankfully my sister had the time to talk to a priest about her other inappropriate choices so the musical director didn’t have to.

    1. The music director flat out refused to even attempt to find a vocalist for the funeral!

      In my time at my parish, I’ve seen and heard many different vocalist/cantors at Mass. And I have said to myself, if I ever need one, I know who I will approach and ask her myself.

      Why leave it to the music director? Take the initiative yourself. And if the wedding or funeral is in the foreseeable future, ask early.

  13. Thanks for this post. I have ministered to the above mentioned couples for years and have come to understand and respect their agendas and more importantly, their lack of understanding in anything liturgical. I do believe and (really try to) practice “charity in all things” but I have drawn the line twice. When my older brother was married, he asked me to sing a famous Bob Dylan song… “Lay Lady, Lay” within the ceremony… in the church.
    I said, “no”. The other instance was a tragic funeral at my church. I provided the music for a wedding of a lovely, young couple about 12 months earlier. They had a baby, and one night, as they were driving home during a rain storm, their car ran into street construction flasher that someone had weighted with a large flat stone. The mother died instantly. Everyone else was uninjured. Needless to say, it was devastating. When we were planning the funeral, the husband really wanted a song that was extremely popular at the time, “Feelings”. He was in such incredible pain that the lyrics spoke to his emotions. I was caught off guard and for a moment speechless. I knew the song quite well and knew it was completely inappropriate on many levels. Once I gathered my thoughts, I suggested we read the lyrics together.
    “Feelings, nothing more than feelings, trying to forget my feelings of love
    Teardrops, rolling down on, my face, trying to forget my, feelings of love
    Feelings, for all my life I’ll feel it. I wish I’d never met you, girl. You’ll never come again.”
    I stopped there and asked the husband, “Is that really how you feel about your wife?” He was shocked at the lyrics and admitted he did not feel that way. He never really listened to the words. He chose Ave Maria instead.

  14. Here’s a squasher to the argument, “It’s my wedding, and that’s my favorite song.”

    WRONG! It’s the CHURCH’S wedding and wedding service, and they are being bestowed upon you.

    (Equally applicable to “It’s my mother’s funeral, and that was her favorite song.”)

  15. I’m sure that any church organist with years of experience in a parish would have many many stories to tell about music requests and other funny (and not-so) things that happened. One bride and groom requested only music from Gene Kelly’s movies, especially “Singing in the Rain.” Fortunately there was enough time between the request and the wedding date to explain that these songs would be more appropriate for the reception. AND the pastor at the time was a REAL liturgist, so he backed me up 100% At another wedding, the bride and groom and all the attendants were part of a country-western singing ensemble, and dressed in their “costumes.” The only unusual request was that before the wedding, one of the guitarists be allowed to play a “classical” piece-most beautiful. Another unforgettable wedding was one in which the mother of the bride threatened mayhem if anything went wrong during the wedding. (I wondered if the groom really knew what he was getting into…)This church was on a very busy street with loads of traffic day and night, and no way to block out the ambulances going by. All went well until the very end. The lady photographer decided that it would be wonderful to capture the bride and groom coming down the aisle and out of the church, using the choir loft as her “perch.” She ran up the stairs, set up her tripod, and in the process knocked the cord out of the electronic organ. Consequently the organ music faded down and out, and when she quickly plugged in the cord, the tune went on and up to the correct key. I told her SHE was going to explain to the bride’s mother that SHE, not I, was responsible. After playing for weddings for more than twenty years, my opinion is that the simpler the wedding party, the less hoopla, the more chances for the marriage to last. In other words, the duration of the marriage is in inverse proportion to the number of attendants, which often ran into a dozen or more, with a lengthy written list of all names, their college degrees, accomplishments, etc. etc. on the wedding “program.” A real “production.”

  16. I have (oops — I mean I WANT) to kind of guiltily tell this story (and I’m not sure why). I may then have to go to Confession for thinking it’s kind of funny. My oldest sister (Nancy) was the organist for the wedding of my 2nd oldest sister’s (Holly) wedding. Neither of then are Christian, let alone Catholic (I’ll pray for them), and so I’m not sure why the wedding was held in the Catholic Church. Anyway, Haley wanted a certain song played at the wedding, which the priest said was not appropriate. Nancy, thinking that he really didn’t know music that well anyway, played the song. He never said anything, but she figured he probably just thought she wasn’t a good organist and didn’t realize she was playing the restricted song. This is more than 30 years ago. Do I still have to go to Confession for thinking it’s a little funny, or is there a statute of limitations for sins?

  17. I have attended funerals in the past where the farewell ceremony has been in a building (chapel?) in the cemetery and if one happens to stand at the back, one would be able to witness an official pressing buttons – the one we experienced was ‘Time to say Good-bye’ as the coffin (unassisted!) descended down through a hole in the floor!

  18. Cynthia BC
    Figured I catch you here rather than the last post. Really liked your German Lutheran background.
    I attended a wedding a few years ago in Lancaster County, PA, and it turned out to be an old German Lutheran church. I walked around the cemetery and read all the German names.
    A few years ago I received a request to find a relative for somebody in Germany who had emigrated to the U.S.
    in 1860 and they never heard from her again. Now that was a challenge and I researched so many censuses,
    and even found descendants for him. What made it so interesting was that one of those descendants
    supplied me with photographs and birth and marriage certificates in German (all beautiful, colored documents). Printed right here in NJ
    It really made my day. I was fortunate because that woman married a farmer and stayed in the area
    where she originally settled.
    If you ever have to do any such research, it is fascinating.
    Sorry I got off Msgr’s subject of the day.

  19. We were wed a few years back on December 27 (the Feast of St. John). My wife’s father is a music professor (clarinet performance) and she asked him to play the prelude (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, which was the communion hymn at my parents’ wedding) and the processional (Greensleeves, aka “What child is this”). Furthermore, one of my wife’s grad school roommates was also an organist, and the parish organist graciously allowed her to play the recessional for us, as a wedding gift. She arranged and played a version of the hymn, “Love Came Down at Christmas”.

  20. We’ve recently started including the following paragraph in the information sheet given to couples before they officially make a wedding booking at our church:

    ‘Since a Catholic wedding is a religious ceremony, the policy of St Mary’s is that this must be reflected in the choice of music as well. Musical items must be approved by the officiating priest. If the music has sung words, these must be religious in nature. Non-religious songs, romantic ballads etc, are not appropriate within Catholic liturgy (which is worship of God), and should be reserved for the wedding reception. With purely instrumental musical items, more flexibility is possible, as long as the style is appropriate for a church setting.’

    The new paragraph hasn’t been there long enough for me to find out whether it solves the problems, but at least the couple will know the limitations in advance. This way, if they have their heart absolutely set on some pop song, then they have the opportunity of choosing a different church from the start if they wish.

  21. Monsignor,

    Clearly this is one of the many crosses our parish priests must bear. God bless you all for that.

    I remember when my wife and I got married 24 years ago that the pastor told us another bride some years before had wanted the processional to be “Sun Rise, Sun Set” as it was a “family tradition.” I am not certain when that song was composed, but clearly that “tradition” was of recent vintage! Apparently the “tradition” began with her sister – at another church.

    Perhaps even thornier would be the whole topic of liturgical music – perhaps the subject of another post?

    1. It is a rather odd song in any event. You would think a bride would want something from the perspective of the couple, but Sunrise, Sunset is sung from the perspective of the onlookers, and half of it is about the others wondering if/when they’ll get married.

      And besides, the wedding ends with a pogrom. (The marriage in Lohengrin (Wagner’s Bridal Chorus a/k/a Here Comes the Bride) ends in tragedy too.) Although, maybe it is an appropriate song, what with marriage and the Church being under attack and facing persecution these days.

      I don’t know, but I suppose it could also done outside the church, as part of a processional into the church (which would not be part of the Mass) before the processional in the church down the aisle. Instead of people sitting and waiting for the wedding to begin, have everyone gather outside, wedding party, family, and guests, and everyone enter into the church together.

      In any event, a better choice would be the Sabbath Prayer, which is more beautiful anyway (YouTube clip here), although the wording might need to be modified a bit.

  22. My husband and I chose the music for my daughter’ wedding last year… at her request…. thank God! We chose all traditional Catholic music, including Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Ave Maria, etc. We even had the Agnus Dei sung. Our priest knew we were traditionalists and chose an older form of the Wedding Mass. We opted to skip the very stupid Unity Candle. My daughter’s was the only Wedding Mass of all her cousins so far. We still hear comments about how absolutely lovely the wedding was… many of the older attendees felt they had stepped back in time.

  23. ‘Do not dishonor marriage by diabolical feasts. If you banish from them unbecoming, effeminate singing, dances, improper conversation, the pomps of Satan, noise, boisterous laughter, intemperance, with all that is unbecoming in Christians, Christ will be present at the wedding. But it is Satan who presides at those weddings at which voluptuous and disgraceful dancing is indulged in; and, from all the expenses incurred on such occasions, great harm results, and no profit is derived.’

    St. John Chrysostom

  24. I was a chorister at an English Parish Church (Anglican) in the 1970’s and on summer saterdays could earn extra money at weddings, we had three or four a day sometimes! We usually proccesed in front of the bride and I found it hard to keep a straight face as yet again Here comes the bride was played, my sisters who married in the 70’s both chose other tunes ,our Mother was an organist ,and we all used to feel like singing the silly version!
    Our daughter like many Welsh brides chose to have a Harpist as well as the organ for the hymns, and at the request of the groom she learned The Intermezzo from Cavaleria Rusticana as the reccesional and our daughter arrived at the altar to the Welsh traditional air Letty r bugail . My favorite wedding hymn Love Divine was sung ( as it almost always was when I was a chorister!) These days Morning Has Broken is often the nearest thing to a hymn many couples know!

    I dont think either of the old warhorses are about prostitutes, although in Lohengrin some one does impune the ladies reputation,but as a murderer,(falsely) Lohengrin arrives as her champion.In Midsummer Nights Dream all the ladies are virtuous, so the organist was wrong.

    1. Yeah, the “prostitute” thing was a commonly traded reason by both clergy and musicians. Not sure where it came from, from what has been said here it seems to be an urban myth.

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