Liturgy: How Brides Should Dress
And More on Decorating the Sanctuary
ROME, JUNE 11, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: How should brides dress for a wedding Mass? What would not be appropriate? -- J.Z., Chicago
A: This is a tangled question. The Church has historically granted wide berth to local traditions in weddings and funerals so customs vary from place to place.
There are few universal norms regarding brides and, although white is the traditional color for weddings in the English- speaking world, it is not obligatory, and there is ample room in multiethnic societies for other traditions, such as Asian or East European.
Many dioceses and even parishes do have guidelines in order to respect Christian values such as modesty and a respect for the spirit of Christian poverty.
These guidelines are especially important today, when what is fashionable is inspired by media stars who are not exactly paradigms of Christian virtue.
With regard to dress, these guidelines should emphasize the specifically religious nature of a Christian wedding and positively present modesty within this context. And while they should generally avoid being a list of prohibitions, they do well to provide clear parameters of what is expected.
The guidelines may also deal with other aspects, since weddings are very special occasions and should be treated as such. At the same time excessive opulence should be avoided especially if motivated more from vanity than a desire to emphasize the importance of the sacrament.
I remember a few years ago an Italian bishop publicly scolded a couple for their extravagance when the bride arrived in an open convertible, followed by a pickup holding her train. It seems that the hapless couple were trying to enter the record books for the longest bridal veil when they caught the prelate's eye as he left the chancery.
This is just a singular example of what can happen when the social aspects of marriage predominate over the mystery of man and woman united sacramentally in the bond of Christ.
* * *
Follow-up: Decorating the Sanctuary
Many readers asked for clarifications regarding the May 25 column on decorating the sanctuary. A member of the military asked if a crucifix may be placed upon the altar during the celebration of Mass.
No. 308 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal clearly permits this option, which is often necessary in situations where Mass is celebrated outside of a permanent chapel.
Such a crucifix would usually be placed at the front of the altar in a central position directly in front of the celebrant with the corpus facing toward the altar. In such a case the crucifix should not be so large as to obscure the faithful's view of the sacred action, nor so small as to be practically invisible. There are many thin metal crosses that can perfectly fulfill this task.
Related to what should be on the altar, a reader referred to a custom in one parish: "During Sunday Mass, at the preparation of the gifts, a given family comes up to cover the altar. First, they put down an altar cloth, always the color of the day or feast. Then, they put down a corporal. Then they set down several purificators which will be used at Communion time.
"After Communion, the same family comes forward again. They fold and remove the corporal and any purificators which might still be there, fold up the altar cloth, bow, and take all these items out of sight. The closing prayer, announcements, and blessing, are all said with the altar-table bare, as if stripped as on Good Friday and Holy Saturday."
Perhaps this is a rather radical interpretation of GIRM, No. 306: "Only what is required for the celebration of the Mass may be placed on the mensa of the altar." But this practice certainly does not correspond to liturgical norms.
GIRM No. 117, treating of the articles to be prepared before Mass, states: "The altar is to be covered with at least one white cloth. In addition, on or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation ..."
No. 118 continues: "On the credence table: the chalice, a corporal, a purificator, and, if appropriate, the pall; the paten and, if needed, ciboria; bread for the Communion of the priest who presides, the deacon, the ministers, and the people; cruets containing the wine and the water, unless all of these are presented by the faithful in procession at the Offertory; the vessel of water to be blessed, if the asperges occurs; the Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful; and whatever is needed for the washing of ...
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