Catholic Weddings and Non-Traditional Music

In my time as a Catholic Cantor, I have had many brides request some very interesting non-traditional pieces of music for their weddings. Now, I am usually totally fine and often excited to oblige these requests when I can. Often times, the pieces chosen have some personal significance to the bride and groom, and I love to see the way they light up when a non-traditional piece is played. However, the Catholic Church has some guidelines to follow that sometimes restricts what can and can't be played during a wedding.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Piece
The Catholic Church has 3 criteria for the music chosen for a wedding. My descriptions are below, but if you want a more "expert" opinion, check out for additional help.

  1. Does it help/inspire people to pray? If you have chosen to have a wedding in the Church, then you want to have the sacred component in your wedding and therefore should choose music that will set the tone for the ceremony or Mass. Now, this doesn't mean you need Gregorian Chant, of course-- there are plenty of contemporary pieces that are uplifting and inspire spirituality... lets just save the techno, rap, metal, and hip-hop for the reception.  
  2. Can the congregation be included? Is the music simple enough that the congregation can join in song if they so chose? This is of course not applicable to instrumental music. However, there are a few pieces  during the ceremony or Mass that are sung (such as the responsorial psalm, Alleluia, etc), and you want to be sure that if aunt Kathy wanted to sing along, she wouldn't have to have a degree in music to do so. If you want an aria, original song, or otherwise complicated material to be sung/played, do it during communion, prayer of the couple, or for meditation. 
  3. Is it beautiful? I know this one sounds silly, and when I ask this, many brides give me a look that says "Duh, or I wouldn't have chosen it." Beautiful music is not only a great way to ensure happy tears all around, it also helps with rule #1 as the catechism states that "beauty is a window onto the divine." This rule doesn't just count toward your choice of music, but to your choice of musicians. ALWAYS audition your musicians before choosing them. Many have MP3s or would be more than happy to sing/play for you beforehand. You don't want to show up on your wedding day and find out that your musicians are tone-deaf. YIKES!

The Two "No No's" Of Wedding Music
Different parishes have different views on the appropriateness of certain pieces of music, but as a general rule, its a bad idea to use the following pieces for your wedding.

"Here Comes The Bride" Wagner's Bridal March
When most western couples think of wedding music, this piece tends to be the first piece to come to mind. You can thank the big-bad media for that one. Despite it's renown, very few brides and grooms choose this as their processional anymore. However, if you ARE considering this piece, I STRONGLY suggest you choose something else. Here is why:

Traditionally, we don't like to use Wagner's Bridal March in the Catholic Church for a couple reasons. It is from the opera Lohengrin and isn't played when the bride is processing into the church, but as part of the bedding ceremony thereafter (Bow chika bow bow). Although the lyrics aren't sung at weddings, they are quite bawdy (perhaps not by today's standards, but the meaning remains), and the church doesn't find it appropriate for a sacred ceremony. Secondly, the marriage the piece was composed for was kind of a joke--the two ended up splitting up in the next scene because the bride wanted to know her husband's name, and she dies dramatically as a result. Lovely. For this reason and the whole nature of the opera, the Church generally feels that the whole opera is making fun of marriage. Not a great way to express your undying love if you ask me.

The Bridal March From "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Mendelssohn

Equally as famous as "Here Comes the Bride," this piece is often played as the recessional at weddings. It's popularity has also waned in recent years, but it can still be heard jubilantly played after the bride and groom have sealed the deal. However, this piece is also on the "no no" list.  

If you remember your Shakespearean studies from high school, you may recall the story of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Well, this piece is played as the opening to the scene where Titania, the fairy queen, has "married" (well, more accurately, bedded) a man named "Bottom" whose head has been transformed into that of a donkey. Kinky? Anyway, the whole reason Titania bedded Bottom in the first place was because her husband (yup...that's right) was trying to punish her for disobedience and used a potion to force her to fall in love with said donkey-face to teach her a lesson (apparently they didn't get the part where you are supposed to marry of your own free will). There are many things about this that the Church frowns upon--adultery, beastiality, abusing ones wife with black magic... the list goes on. And, just like with the Wagner, the biggest grievance the Church has with the piece is that it makes a joke of the sacrament of marriage. 


Now that all this knowledge has been crammed into your head, I hope that it will be easier to choose the music for your wedding. If you need some suggestions for what to choose, visit my blog "Confessions of a Wedding Singer: Top Songs for Christian Wedding Ceremonies" for some of my favorites.