How should a Christian wedding be different from a non-Christian wedding?

JANUARY 28, 2016


How should a Christian wedding be different from a non-Christian wedding?


The primary difference between a Christian wedding and non-Christian wedding is Christ.

Christians who marry are making a commitment to Christ, as well as to each other, and that commitment should be obvious to everyone who attends the wedding.

In a non-Christian wedding, the couple – particularly the bride – is usually the focal point. In a Christian wedding, Christ is the focal point.

A Christian couple who truly want to glorify Christ through their wedding can start with the early preparations, beginning with biblical premarital counselling with their pastor. Premarital counselling based upon sound biblical principles outlines the roles of the husband and wife as they relate to each other and to their prospective children (Ephesians 5:22–6:4; Colossians 3:18-21). 

The wedding affirms before God and friends and family that the couple’s desire is to live according to God’s plan for the family.

The wedding ceremony should also be a reflection of the couple’s dedication to the glory of Jesus Christ. Every part of the service, from the music to the vows to the message delivered by the officiator, should reflect that commitment.

Music should be reverent and Christ-honouring, not worldly or flippant.

Vows should be taken with the couple’s full understanding that the words they speak to one another constitute a lifetime commitment and with the knowledge that what they promise to one another, they are promising to God. The message delivered by the pastor should reflect these truths and commitment.

A Christian couple should choose their attendants carefully and with their commitment to Christ in mind. Bridesmaids and groomsmen aren’t simply there to dress up the ceremony. Their presence testifies to their agreement with, and their promise to support, the commitment of the couple to honour Christ in their marriage. 

Along that line, the bridal gown and bridesmaids’ dresses should be modest and appropriate for standing before God. There is no room for low-cut, revealing clothing in a Christ-honouring ceremony*.

If there is a reception, it should be equally Christ-honouring.

Although non-Christian family members are often present at Christian weddings and receptions, serving alcohol at a Christian reception sends the wrong message to the unbelievers, a message that says there really is very little difference between those who profess Christ as Lord and those who do not. Even if the believers who plan the wedding see nothing wrong with alcohol and partake of it with a clear conscience, other Christians may be offended by the presence of alcohol, and we are not to use our liberty to cause anyone to stumble.

A couple whose wedding is Christ-honouring will remember the beauty and seriousness of the wedding for a lifetime and will find it a wonderful way to begin their life together.




*I recently received this invitation displaying a sleeveless bridal gown for a Catholic wedding and I do hope that the bride was not wearing a similar one to church:



Most unfortunately, many Indian Catholic brides even from a non-Westernized background choose to wear dresses that are both sleeveless and low-necked.

While visiting the Cathedral routinely, I have witnessed nuptial Masses where the bridal gown is sleeveless, strapless, bare-backed, short in length, and looked like the ones immediately below:



Catholic brides who seek to glorify Christ and not themselves should be dressed more like these:




Bride & Groom Dress Etiquette for a Catholic Wedding

While it is not a set rule of the Catholic Church, some priests require the bride — and her bridesmaids — to cover their shoulders during the ceremony as a sign of respect.

Brides should avoid plunging necklines and gowns that reveal too much cleavage. Skin-tight gowns and dresses cut above the knee are frowned upon. These kinds of dresses can call for an uncomfortable moment when the couple is asked to kneel during prayer.

Both the bride and groom should also make an effort to cover any tattoos and to remove any unconventional piercings during the ceremony. Again, while it is not required, it is considered sign of respect for the pastor and for the sanctity of the marriage. 



Modesty and Reverence Guidelines for Weddings

Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Mankato, Minnesota, USA

Be a good witness for Christ in your reverence and modesty.

Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet. [Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2522]

For Grooms

As you are called to be the spiritual head of your family, made in the image of Christ who was crucified for his bride the Church, you should make certain the holy nature of marriage is protected during the Liturgy. Thus, you should openly discuss with your fiancé the importance of modesty. In choosing a dignified gown and modest attire for the wedding party, others will be discouraged from stealing the dignity of any member of the wedding party by glances and the resulting impure thoughts.

If there will be a Mass or a service of communion, please explain to those in attendance the holy nature of communion, wherein one receives the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Catholics believe communion brings the recipient to an intimate union with our Lord – this is likened to the marriage of one’s soul with Christ. The Church—not wanting to defile this union—therefore limits this sacrament to persons who have made the unique commitment of being baptized Catholic and are in a state of graceConfession will be granted to anyone who asks for it prior to the wedding; a special time can be allotted for this if requested. Please communicate this message to all persons attending the wedding.

For Brides

Take time to pray about and choose [with discernment] the different parts of the liturgy for your wedding with your fiancé.

Be attentive and choose modest, beautiful dresses for yourself and the bridesmaids. Modesty is a virtue that shows forth one’s inner beauty and keeps intact ones dignity. Modesty in dress protects the wearer from being seen as a sexual object and from being the scandalous cause of another person’s fall into sin. On a practical note, this means that the following must be avoided: low-cut fronts showing cleavage, sleeveless dresses, mini-skirt-like bottoms, low cut backsides, open midsections, and/or tight-fitting designs.

Contact the parish office to determine if a questionable choice is appropriate; ask a church-going family member [perhaps a grandmother or minister] about whether he or she believes the standards of decency are being kept. In addition, keep in mind that the majority of current fashions do not maintain the standards of modesty; however, almost all bridal shops offer the possibility of modifications. This presents an opportunity to modify gowns so that they are presentable in Church and for Divine Worship. Certain bridal companies offer ‘modest’ gowns, and are presented in the following links [please inform the parish office if these links are not current]:,,,



Countering Modern Trends in Wedding Gowns

By Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

A letter from a fashion designer and illustrator who is trying to follow Catholic principles arrived in my mail. It was a happy surprise. Miss R.X., who specializes in bridal wear, thanked me for my past articles on fashion and asked if I would elaborate on the topic. It is June, the month of brides, and I am glad to respond to her questions, which I have summarized and placed in a Questions/Answers format.

1. Question: It seems to me that today the sacramental emphasis of marriage is downplayed in Holy Matrimony. Emphasis for the bride is directed on a wedding gown, and the designers are making dresses that are immodest and inappropriate to wear in Church. I’d really like to know what you think about what brides should wear.



In vogue – the strapless wedding dress 

Answer: The bridal gowns that are in fashion today are dresses that are completely inappropriate to wear not only in Church, but anywhere in public. If you look at a Brides magazine or search the web with “wedding dress,” you find pages and pages of strapless dresses. It is clear that the “blushing bride” is considered a thing of the past. 
Apparently, the modern young woman has become so accustomed to exposing her body that she thinks nothing of brazenly displaying it even at the altar before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on her wedding day. How ironic that, on the day the virgin bride should be revealing her body only to her husband for the first time, she reveals a good part of it instead for the whole world to see. 
I think, however, the blame is misplaced by singling out bridal wear designers as the first culprits. There are more culpable parties here. The designers are, after all, ultimately dependent on public demand as well as on the pocketbooks of the parents of brides who finance the wedding. 
Let me say a word about the guidelines the Church used to provide. I have a friend who was married 20 years ago. She and her fiancé went to see the parish priest, who made it clear at the first meeting that she should have an appropriate wedding dress. “No sleeveless, no low neck or back, no sheer material,” he told her. She was a bit miffed at the guidelines, she told me, but later she was very grateful that her wedding dress had been modest and an appropriate example for her children.


Today, couples meet to go over elaborate wedding plans at the “parish center.” There are guidelines and rules for almost everything – throwing rice, floral arrangements, and pew decoration – but nary a word about the bride’s wedding gown. This is a grave omission on the part of the parish priest, who should take every initiative to protect modesty and restore Catholic Morals. 
Speaking to the Bishops of the world in the Marian year 1954, Pope Pius XII warned them of the dangers of exposing not only “thoughtless youth,” but even adults to the “immoral public spectacles” that were becoming so common. This certainly describes the apparel worn by so many brides and bridesmaids today. For this reason, he affirmed, it is necessary “to throw a true light upon the beauty of modesty and exhort all to it, and, on the other hand, to hinder and prevent as much as possible all that incites to evil.” 
“Finally,” the Pope insisted, “it is necessary – even with severity – to lead the world back to good morals. … Now, as all can see, modesty is being gravely sinned against in the manner of dress, especially of women and girls.… Hence it is absolutely essential to warn and exhort every class of society – and especially youth – to abjure these great dangers that are indubitably contrary to Christian and civic virtue and which lay them open to the greatest perils.” 
These words, true and applicable then, remain so today. Modesty of dress must always be preserved, regardless of the epoch, place or culture. Therefore, the priest has an obligation to insist that modest apparel be worn by the bride and other members of the bridal party. 

Princess Mathilde sets a good example for Belgian brides


Next, let me stress that Catholic parents must assume blame for the immodest wedding gowns of their daughters. How many parents cave in to the demands of daughters who insist that they should wear the latest style of wedding gown, which is, unfortunately, gravely immodest? Sadly, many. 


“But you can’t find modest dresses,” the daughter may whine and protest. It is a poor excuse. In fact, you must look harder, but you can find elegant and most appropriate dresses if you are willing to make the effort. 
Statistics show that 22% of our American population is Catholic. This constitutes a significant number. Indeed, from the general population of 300 million, there are around 66 million Catholics – more than the entire population of the U.K. (60 million), France (60.9 million) or Italy (58.2 million). So, let’s set aside the old story that we live in a Protestant country.


The marriage of France’s Duke of Anjou with the Duchess of Cadavel from Portugal


Yes, it still has a majority of Protestants if you put all the sects together, but the Catholic Church has become the largest denomination in this country. We have a voice, and it should be heard. We should be calling for a healthy morality. We have enough American Catholics to demand appropriate fashions of our own. 
If a good portion of American Catholics young women were being wisely advised by priests about wedding apparel and guided by parents following Catholic Morals, there would be a strong market for modest, elegant bridal apparel. I am sure there would be designers who would respond to that demand and begin to provide more suitable wedding gowns.

Brides around the world copied the elegant gown and veil of Grace Kelly

2. Question: Looking back at the wedding dress worn by Grace Kelly on her wedding day, we see how times have truly changed, and not for the better! Why don’t we see famous persons following the old traditions? 

Answer: You bring up a very important point that Americans, because of the dominant egalitarian spirit, are often loathe to acknowledge – it is the upper classes that set the trends. What they wear, how they act, their manners and ways of being are watched and copied by others. 
For this reason, Catholic families, especially those of a higher level in society, have an even stronger obligation to set a good example by choosing elegant and modest wedding apparel. Let me point out that many noble families in Europe still follow the traditional morals and standards for wedding apparel, choosing beautiful long-sleeved white gowns and traditional veils for the bride (as you can see in various photos in this article). As a result of this, all of society benefits because their gowns are discussed among the ladies and girls and copied by many. 
If the daughters of Catholic elites of a region or parish would choose appropriate apparel, many soon-to-be-wed women would be quick to emulate them. 

3. Question: Could you comment on the unorthodox procedures being introduced, such as adopting bold colors – even black – for today’s contemporary bride. 

Answer: I find it outrageous – but not surprising – that modern brides are choosing scarlet red or even black dresses for their weddings. The white gown is a symbol of purity, signifying that the bride presents herself virginal and innocent to her husband at this religious ceremony. Since many brides today – even Catholic ones – place little value on being virgins, why should they pretend to be such by choosing the color white for their wedding gowns? 
We should not underestimate the importance of the symbolism of the white gown. This is stressed by Pius XII, who notes, “The white garment of a child on the morning of his First Communion, that of a young woman on the day of her marriage – do these not symbolize the totally immaterial splendor of a soul which is offering the best of itself?” 

The black or scarlet red wedding dress makes a strong, albeit indirect, mockery of the virginity the bride should offer as her most precious gift on her wedding day.

Above, Archduchess Marie Christine of Austria in a fur-cuffed gown. Below, Philomena de Joros from Spain on her father’s arm at her marriage to Jean, supposed heir to France’s throne

4. Question: The fashion business was once a highly respected industry, abounding with talented artisans and couturiers, hailing primarily from France, Italy and Spain. They took their craft seriously, and honed their skills to dress women modestly and as elegantly as possible. Could you offer any thoughts about how the good name and higher standards can return to the fashion industry? 

Answer: Let me direct you to the wise advice of Pius XII in his speech to the International Congress of Master Tailors and Designers on September 10, 1954. He asserts that the fashion industry cannot and must not be indifferent to immoral and vulgar fashions. I think it highly edifying that he would address this group to remind them of their Catholic duty to avoid the evil and immoral fashion trends, which were already appearing in the 1950s. One can only imagine the strong words he would have for the styles of our days. And one can only lament the silence of Pontiffs and Prelates today on this important topic. 
These are his words to Catholics in the fashion industry: 
“Instead of elevating and ennobling the human person, the modern fashions are tending to degrade and debase it. Even if you are not responsible for these deplorable manifestations, you cannot remain indifferent to them. Far from going along with the already too strong inclination toward immodesty, always be careful to respect the norms of decency and good taste, of a sanely understood and perfectly upright elegance. 
“In brief, instead of following the materialist current which is leading so many people astray today, deliberately put yourselves at the service of spiritual ends. It is not possible to partition human life, to fix certain spheres of it in which morality has no word to say. Clothes express in too evident a fashion the tendencies and tastes of a person to escape from certain very clear rules that surpass and must govern the simple aesthetic point of view.” 
In short, the Pontiff reminds designers and couturiers that fashion must be guided by Catholic Morals, and that immodesty is never appropriate. Let us apply his words to the topic of this article, bridal array. When choosing the dresses for the bridal party, Catholic parents and brides should never forget that standards of modesty are not governed by fashion, but vice-versa, fashion must always follow the rules of Catholic Morals. 
It is relativist – and wrong – to make this kind of excuse, “Oh, it’s all right to have sleeveless dresses for the bride and bridesmaids. After all, it’s the style – and much better than the strapless dresses.” This argument relies on a Modernist notion that
morals evolve with the times. It is wrong and should be rejected by good Catholics. 
I hope that many designers like you will follow the perennial Catholic Morals, applying the principles of decency and modesty regarding clothing. This will be the happy beginning of the restoration of the fashion industry. 













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