Before long we again have our June weddings. True, there are also weddings throughout the year; but June seems to be the time when most wedding bells ring.
Did you know that our Church Order has an article about weddings? In Article 70 we read: “Since it is proper that the matrimonial state be confirmed in the presence of Christ’s Church, according to the Form for that purpose, the Consistory shall attend to it.”
This article does raise a few eyebrows. For example, is it correct to say that the matrimonial state shall beconfirmed in the presence of Christ’s Church? Should that not be: That the matrimonial state shall besolemnized in the presence of Christ’s Church? It should. Those who know about the historical background of this article also know how this word ‘confirmed’ crept in. But it still is not correct. We may also ask: Why is this proper? and: What is meant by “the presence of Christ’s Church?” And even: To what must the consistory attend?
It is not my purpose to discuss these questions this time. Since I hope to write about marriage in the near future, I’ll save some of these matters for a later date.
Right now we all understand, I think, that a private wedding in a church auditorium is not a church wedding. A church wedding, according to this article of the Church Order, is a wedding in a regular worship service, with the entire congregation present, under the supervision of the consistory, and with an appropriate sermon for the occasion. Although the ideal time for this would be on Sunday, there is no serious objection to holding service during the week, properly announced on the church bulletin, approved by the consistory, and with the entire congregation present. This our Church Order recommends.
Without going into the why and the wherefore, I simply present you with the fact.
What I had in mind at the outset of this article was to comment on some of the practices at weddings which should be discussed by all of our young people and also by their parents. You understand, of course, I like weddings. That is, I enjoy weddings of young couples who marry in the Lord. I have attended weddings that were more painful to me than many funerals. And I mean that. But those were weddings of young people who made themselves guilty of a mixed marriage. I don’t like that. But we all enjoy sharing the happiness of those who are united in the bond of holy matrimony, in the Lord.
But our weddings are open for improvement. There is, for example, the music that is sung and played at weddings. I do think that the choice of music has undergone some improvement in recent years, but that does not mean that we cannot improve that still more. Well do I remember the time when it was rather common for the soloist to sing, “O Promise Me,” “I Love You Truly,” and the like. We are well rid of those. But we must remember that the music sung and played at weddings must give expression to the real, spiritual significance of our marriages and must add the necessary solemnity to the occasion. Also the wedding marches must be stately, solemn, entirely in harmony with the entire service. The music that is often used, along with “Here Comes The Bride”, hardly does justice to the occasion and often detracts from the reverence that should pervade it. And the fast, loud recessional that sends the bridal party scampering out of the church is entirely improper. I had occasion once to attend a wedding in a Congregational Church where the church organist was the accompanist. He played nothing but the most solemn music throughout the service, even in the recessional. Maybe he was not even aware of it, but some of the music he played was the same tune as a few well known Dutch Psalms. I thought it was very impressive. That does not mean that we have to espy that, but suitable music adds much to a proper atmosphere for solemnizing the holy marriage state of believing young people.
But even that I want to mention only in passing. I have in mind something quite different. This has bothered me for many years, especially because it is something so obviously adopted from the world. We did it without realizing what we were doing. Actually we have robbed our weddings of the beautiful, rich, spiritual significance by a seemingly innocent, yet very wrong practice.
By this time you may be wondering what this is all about. Well, I’m talking about the strong emphasis upon the bride instead of upon the bridegroom.
You understand I am not jealous. I also know that the bride should have her day. This is a big event in her young life, which she has been looking forward to for a long time. It is usually the bride who has the whole wedding planned before the happy occasion arrives. She is the one who gives the orders during rehearsal. She is the one who is so deeply concerned that things are not going to run smoothly. Yet when the big moment arrives, she is as cool as a cucumber, while the groom is so jittery that he hardly remembers his lines. No, I would not want to deprive her of the joy of the occasion.
But why must the groom be the forgotten man? Why must her name be mentioned first? Why is she on the foreground throughout the entire ceremony, and even at the reception, while, as so often happens, the groom seems but to trail along?
You say, “But what is so serious about that? The groom can be the head of the family long enough after they are married.”
But then we certainly must remember that marriage is a symbol of Christ and His Church. The wedding ceremony is used in Scripture to symbolize Christ as He takes His Bride unto Himself in everlasting communion of covenant love and fellowship. The world wants nothing of that. She prefers to corrupt that holy marriage state into a legalized fornication. She mocks with the very idea of joining in marriage. But as church of Jesus Christ we want our covenant youth to be a picture of Christ and His Church also at their weddings. The virgin bride adorned in white as representing the church which is presented to Christ without spot or wrinkle. The groom must realize that in him Christ expresses His love for His Church, even as He lays upon the groom the responsibility of caring for His wife as flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. The groom becomes the head of a family, a friend-servant of Christ in the home as husband and father. Isn’t that calling high enough to be respected at our weddings? And should not the bride gladly assume the position of being a help to her husband; For Adam was first made, and then Eve.
You say, it is not easy to change customs. I grant you that, especially because we are often bound to traditions which are hard to break. We hesitate to be different. And we should not want to be different just for the sake of being different, as so many in the world do today. But Rome was not built in a day. A drastic change of this kind probably cannot be introduced without some discussions, and especially without some advanced planning. But will you think about it? Will you strive in your weddings to emphasize the spiritual and the heavenly, as we should?
Someone told me a short time ago that a wedding was “solemnized” with only the bridegroom and the bride with their attendants standing before the assembly. There was no minister to be seen. The groom and the bride spoke their vows to each other, and only after that did someone arise to declare them husband and wife. That is a far cry from what the fathers were talking about in the Church Order, isn’t it?