26 July 2007

Wedding Propers

In some respects, determining the Propers for a Lutheran wedding is a rather straightforward task. Appropriate Lections (Readings) of Holy Scripture, Psalmody, prayers and hymnody are recommended in the Church's service books. The Lutheran Service Book Agenda, already one of the most oustanding contributions of the entire LSB project, is an excellent case in point. It offers a list of six Psalms, two Collects (and a fitting Prayer of the Church), four Holy Gospels, seventeen other possible Readings, an Alleluia Verse, and nine suggested hymns. Obviously, one cannot use all of these Propers in any one service, but these provide the pastor with valuable guidance and parameters in preparing for the wedding. Among the Readings, five are highlighted for "special consideration due to long standing usage." Those are: Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:7, 18-24; Ephesians 5:1-2, 22-33; St. Matthew 19:4-6; and St. Mark 10:1-9 (13-16).

As I have previously indicated with respect to the rites and ceremonies of holy matrimony, one ought to follow the direction of the Church's official service books also in this case of the Propers. Nevertheless, by the very nature of the case, greater latitude is allowed for pastoral discretion here, and a host of circumstances will come into play, especially in the case of the hymnody. What I offer, therefore, are simply a few comments on the basis of my own experience.

Among the six Psalms included in the LSB "Propers for Holy Matrimony," I have generally preferred to use either Psalm 127 or 128. Of course, there is nothing to prevent the use of more than one Psalm, and several different Psalms could be incorporated in a variety of ways. A choir or cantor could sing responsively with the congregation on a single Psalm, or could sing a choral setting of one Psalm in addition to a simpler congregational intonation of another. A metrical Psalm paraphrase might also be used, whether as one of the hymns or along with other Psalms. For example, Luther's "May God Bestow on Us His Grace" is a fine hymnic setting of Psalm 67, one of those suggested for holy matrimony in the LSB Agenda. If the wedding is set within the context of the Divine Service, the Psalmody will occur in the form of the Introit and the Gradual.

As far as the Lections (or Readings) are concerned, I do suggest some slight deviation from the indicated preferences of the LSB Agenda. I have generally read three Lections at each wedding, an Old Testament, Epistle and Holy Gospel. For the Old Testament Reading, I have used the appropriate verses from both Genesis 1 and 2 (including also Genesis 1:1 to begin with). The Epistle Reading from Ephesians 5 is really a must, it seems to me, but I have found it beneficial to include verses 15-21 of that chapter, in addition to the versification indicated above. And for the Holy Gospel, I have almost always opted for the Wedding at Cana from St. John 2. I would not use St. Mark 10 apart from exceptional circumstances (such as a remarriage after divorce); and while St. Matthew 19:4-6 is certainly a fine and fitting text, it is taken out of its context (again, the question concerning divorce), and essentially repeats what is already heard from both Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5. The Wedding at Cana (St. John 2:1-11) is such a profoundly significant Gospel, which gets to the Christological heart and center of marriage, and is hearkened to in many of the strongest hymns for holy matrimony. So, even if it may not have such "long standing usage," it is my own strong preference in most cases.

The selection of appropriate hymnody, for a wedding as for almost any service, is probably the most challenging aspect of the Propers. To some extent, it will need to be undertaken with a pastoral sensitivity to the abilities and experience of those who will be gathered for the occasion. In some cases, congregational singing may need to be quite limited and kept simple. Wherever possible, however, it is surely a good thing for the congregation to be included in the Church's collective proclamation and confession, prayer, praise and thanksgiving, which occurs in the singing of hymns. Not simply for its own sake, nor only to get the people "involved," but, as in all things liturgical, for the service and support of God's Word.

Hymnody ought to be selected for its liturgical purpose within its proper liturgical context. That is to say, it is not to be a case of picking a number of "old favorites" and then plopping them here or there, wherever they might be made to "fit." Everything begins with the appointed Lections of the Holy Scriptures, and with the divine gift of marriage, while also taking into account the structure and flow of the service itself. The processional should be musically robust and stately, and, more important, invocational and doxological in its textual character and content. Metrical Psalm paraphrases often tend to make excellent processional hymns. The Office Hymn, in the case of Matins or Vespers (or Evening Prayer), would normally be a morning or evening hymn (though here, again, a metrical Psalm paraphrase is often appropriate). In the case of a wedding, however, the Office Hymn might well be one focusing on marriage. The Hymn of the Day, in the context of the Divine Service, would either be a marriage hymn in particular, or one that confesses well the Lections and other Propers of the service. I have found it helpful, in the context of Matins or Vespers, to include a hymn between the sermon and the wedding rite; in which case, the Office Hymn might be the more usual morning or evening hymn, and the hymn preceding the wedding rite focused more specifically on the theological significance of marriage.

If the wedding occurs in the context of the Divine Service, hymns for the distribution of the Holy Communion would be chosen according to the usual criteria. For that purpose, I tend to use hymns that are highly seasonal in character (according to the season of the Church Year), as well as hymns with a strong connection to the Holy Gospel of the day. In this way, there is a continuity identified between the life of Christ and the gift of His Body and Blood in the Supper. Hymns employing the imagery of the "Marriage Feast of the Lamb" would be ideal in this case.

For the processional out of the church, a hymn of thanksgiving and praise is to be preferred, especially one that offers such doxology by way of confessing again the Word and works of God in Christ. It is also fitting that a hymn at this point should include a more explicit eschatological thrust, looking forward to the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and the consummation of all things in His holy city, New Jerusalem.

In addition to the suggested hymns included in the LSB Agenda, I would offer the following possibilities: Paul Gerhardt's "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me," and "I Will Sing My Maker's Praises." Gerhardt also has two wedding hymns, both translated into English by John Kelly, yet in need of a more eloquent and felicitous rendering (which I hope to facilitate in the near future): "Full of Wonder, Full of Art," and "O Jesus Christ, How Fair and Bright." A wedding hymn by Chad Bird, "O Father, at Creation," was printed in Gottesdienst a number of years ago; it is a nice contribution that fits beautifully with the Lections from Genesis, Ephesians and St. John. "The Church's One Foundation" also works well for the occasion of holy matrimony. Finally, there are the king and the queen of chorales, that is, Philip Nicolai's "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying," and "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," either one of which might serve quite well. (The second stanza of "Wake, Awake," makes a grand processional.)

It should be noted that, in the case of a wedding in the context of a Sunday morning Divine Service, or on a festival day, the Propers for that Sunday or Feast should be used, and the divine gift of marriage preached on the basis of the Holy Gospel appointed for that Lord's Day. By way of example, when my DoRena and her Sam are married on the 31st of May this coming year, the Propers for that occasion will be those appointed for the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord.


Zaripest said...

I REALLY can't wait to see Sam and DoRena's wedding now... ;-)

Stock Market Et Cetera said...

I need help, I am to be wed in an LCMS church, but my fiance is going through the ordination process in the Evangelical Covenant Church. My fiance want the vows to be the same for both of us (declaration of intent as well) and she want them to be free from the words "submit" and "obey". Are there LCMS wedding vows that meet these criteria? I have tried to google it with little avail. you may respond to glenrichie708@yahoo.com.