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Putting dignity, sanity back into weddings


By Gertrud Mueller Nelson and Christopher Witt
Image Book, 222 pages, $11 paperback


Sacred Threshold is a wonderful new book. Unlike most wedding planners, this one is written for both the bride and the groom.

The book puts the wedding day back into perspective. It’s not about lavishness, but about good taste. It’s about meaning, grace and inviting the presence of the holy.

The authors re-examine what we are quick to call “traditional.” They give us some history and perspective on common wedding practices. Their suggestions are sensitive to a new time where we finally respect the equality and dignity of the sexes. The book is rich with good ideas, great stories and practical suggestions:

  • A wedding dress doesn’t have to be lavish, dramatic or expensive. And if it’s either too suggestive or too girlish, the bride may squirm in due time remembering her immature taste. Let the groom consider buying a good suit with lasting value, circumventing “the wedding industry” that has him renting a tux.
  • The bride’s attendants might be given a color preference and hem-length but allowed the freedom to find or make a dress that suits each figure and style. Groomsmen might wear a suit or slacks and blazer.
  • There’s no need to forgo a down payment on a house to buy flowers. A husband and wife can give each other flowers throughout their marriage, instead of spending a fortune for a single day.
  • Welcoming guests begins with the invitations. Sacred Threshold provides every kind of wording for all kinds of situations.
  • Officially, the bride and the groom are the hosts of their own wedding. Rather than hiding away the bride before the festivities, the bride and groom should consider standing at the door to welcome their guests. Then the ushers can seat them. Before the wedding procession begins, bride and groom can each take a little time alone to gather their wits, calm their nerves and focus on what is about to occur.
  • What we think of as the “traditional bridal procession” undervalues the bride’s dignity by handing her from one man to another man like property. It ignores her mother’s role and leaves the groom waiting at one side like an afterthought. An inclusive wedding procession might have the attendants walk in two by two, followed by the groom between his parents and the bride between hers. Or the bride and groom can walk together at the end of the procession. Or the groom and his family can enter from one side, and the bride and her family from the other.
  • The couple might consider inviting the people assembled at their wedding to sing. They may want an experienced song leader instead of a soloist for the ceremony. This book offers lists of appropriate wedding music.
  • Weddings in church generally call for scriptural readings. Even the most familiar passage is fresh and comes to life if the reader proclaims it clearly. This book instructs the readers and helps them rehearse. It also offers selections from many religious traditions, some excellent poetry and some very good, readable essays.
  • If the bride or groom has been married before, or if they have lived independently for a time and already have what they need for a home, they might indicate this to their wedding guests. They may want to suggest a favorite charity or cause where their friends can make an offering instead of buying gifts.
  • Throwing the bride’s bouquet seems fairly demeaning of the single state, of women and of marriage. Why not present the bouquet to someone who is important in the lives of the couple? In a thoughtful and mutually respectful wedding, removing the bride’s garter and throwing it to the bachelors is also out of place. The practice is a remnant from another time when women were viewed as possessions.

I’m glad I found this book. I have an unofficial ministry preparing couples for marriage and presiding at their weddings. From now on, I’ll recommend Sacred Threshold to every bride and groom I meet. And I’ll recommend it to priests, pastors, rectors and others who want their young people “reading on the same page” with them.

Terrence Halloran lives in Garden Grove, Calif.

National Catholic Reporter, September 25, 1998