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A Traditional Catholic Wedding - I

Traditional Customs for the Wedding Procession

Marian T. Horvat & Elizabeth A. Lozowski
A reader asks:

I have a question regarding the wedding procession at a nuptial Mass. I am getting married later this year and I was curious to know if there is a traditional way that this was done.

traditional wedding

Looking for traditional wedding customs

I have seen many different variations at traditional weddings. For instance, I have seen the bridesmaids walk down the aisle followed by the bride with her father. However, I have also seen the groom walk down the aisle with his mother prior to the bride and her father. I have also seen the priest walk down the aisle first. In some weddings, the bridesmaids walk down the aisle alone and in others they walk down the aisle with a groomsmen. I am aware that there is a push for equality today where the father giving away the bride is seen as no longer necessary. As a traditional Catholic, I definitely do not hold that opinion.

Lastly, I have seen variations regarding the white veil over the brides face. In some weddings the groom removes her veil and in others it is her father

I would love to have a traditional wedding ceremony so I am very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts about this and any thing else that may be related to the wedding ceremony.

Thank you and may God bless you.

Dr. Marian Horvat & Miss Elizabeth Lozowski respond:

A traditional Catholic wedding in America takes place at the parish church of the bride. The marriage rite consists in the exchange of vows of the bride and bridegroom. A Nuptial Mass – an ancient ceremony dating back to the early Church – often follows the marriage rite; however, the Mass is not necessary for the wedding to be valid. The great privileges and blessings received from the Nuptial Mass are desired, understandably, and the Church encourages her children to include the Nuptial Mass unless serious reasons prevent them from doing so.

traditional wedding

The Catholic wedding Mass was always before 1 p.m.

Traditionally, a Catholic wedding with the Nuptial Mass would not be held in the afternoon or evening, but would be scheduled before one o'clock in the afternoon, after which time in the past Masses were not allowed to be said.

This rule has been largely ignored today – on account of the Church rubrics now allowing Masses to be said after noon. A restoration of this tradition would be fitting for Catholics who desire to conduct their marriages with the traditional spirit of the Church. It would also discourage the late night partying that often follows weddings held in the late afternoon.

It has become the custom for Catholic weddings to begin with a procession to the Altar. The processional music should not be secular music, as is so common today even in traditional Catholic weddings. For instance, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March or Wagner's Bridal Chorus were never permitted in the past. Rather, choose sacral Catholic music for the processional and recessional. Wedding music will be discussed in greater detail in another article.

In regards to the order of the marriage procession, the Church has never given strict rules of protocol for the procession. Most old Catholic books that speak of the marriage ceremony do not include any instructions for a procession, as this is not strictly a part of the marriage rite.

The most common procession for Americans

The Catholic Marriage Manual, published in 1949, describes the mind of the Church:

“In the matter of etiquette for the processional before, and the recessional after the religious ceremony, customs differ in different places. ... As far as the validity and lawfulness of the marriage are concerned, the only persons whose presence is required, in addition to the couple, are the duly authorized priest and two competent witnesses. For a more elaborate marriage, however, there may also be ushers, bridesmaids, and flower girls, besides the maid of honor and the best man.” (1)

father of bride

The father of the bride traditionally processes in with his daughter; below, Meghan Merkle walks in alone to make a feminist statement

meghan merkle wedding
The common order of procession – also described in the source above – is detailed in American Catholic Etiquette, published in 1961:

“As the first notes of the processional sound, the congregation rises and remains standing throughout the marriage service. The priest enters the Sanctuary accompanied by the altar boys and walks to a point in front of the main Altar just behind the prie-dieu for the bride and bridegroom, and stands facing the congregation and awaiting the bridal couple. He is followed into the Sanctuary by any attending priests, who go to the seats prepared for them and stand in front of them.

“At the same moment the bridegroom and his best man enter the body of the church from the Epistle side and walk across the front of the church, outside the Altar railing, to the Altar gates, which are open. Bridegroom and best man stand at this point, facing the congregation, until the bride and her father reach them.

“As the priest enters the Sanctuary, the bridal procession starts up the aisle. The ushers come first, walking two by two, with about six feet of aisle between the pair. They are matched by size, with the shorter pair leading off. If there is an uneven number of ushers, the head usher or the shortest man, if there is no head usher, starts off first, walking alone, followed by the others in pairs. At the Altar rail they separate, the man on the right side of the aisle going to prie-dieu placed near the right side wall of the Sanctuary, the man on the left going to a similar position near the left Sanctuary wall.

“The bridesmaids follow about six feet behind the last ushers, also walking in matched pairs unless there is an uneven number, in which case the shortest leads, walking alone. The man of honor follows the last bridesmaids, walking alone. If there are page boys, or flower girls, they come next. The bride and her father conclude the procession unless she has train bearers. ... The bridesmaids go to whatever altar prie-dieux were designated for them at the rehearsal.

“The maid of honor does not follow the bridesmaids into the Sanctuary. When she reaches the Altar gates, she steps to the left of the aisle, makes a half-turn toward the congregation, and stands until the bride and bridegroom enter the Sanctuary. At this point she and the best man turn and enter the Sanctuary simultaneously, separating inside the rail. He goes directly to his prie-dieu beside the bride’s. She returns the bouquet to the bride after the marriage service is completed.


Catholics should avoid overly sentimental father ‘give away’ moments as well as immodest wedding dresses

“The bride comes up the aisle on her father’s right arm. At the gates of the Altar, her father takes her right hand and places it gently on the left arm of her bridegroom. He then steps to his pew, genuflects and joins his wife. The bridal couple enter the sanctuary together and stand before the priest for the ceremony.”

The author of American Catholic Etiquette notes that already in the mid 20th century, before Vatican II, in some parishes the bride’s father was permitted to kiss her and shake his future son-in-law’s hand before laying his daughter’s hand on the bridegroom’s arm.

recessional wedding sicily

The bride & groom continue the wedding recessional through the square in Sicily

The work continues:

“The recessional is usually an exact reverse of the processional, with the bride and bridegroom leading off, followed by the maid of honor, bridesmaids and ushers. The best man is not a part of the recessional but leaves the Church as he entered it.

“An acceptable alternate is for the newly married couple to be followed down the aisle by the maid of honor on the best man’s arm, followed by the bridesmaids, each accompanied by an usher. If there are extra ushers, as frequently happens, two ushers make up the last pair down the aisle. This style is not quite as formal as the other one but is correct and is sometimes preferred because it gives the best man a place in the bridal recessional.

“This method of pairing up bridesmaids and ushers is, as mentioned before, correct for the recessional of the most formal of weddings. But it may not be used for the processional except for a much simpler ceremony, and then only if the bride does not enter on her father’s arm. When the bride has her father as escort, the correct processional is as just described. The processional may be altered in any number of small circumstances to suit the wedding and the Church in which it is held.”
(pgs. 169-171) (2)

Other forms of procession

For simpler weddings described in this book, the bride is not always escorted by her father. The procession order has often varied according to the size of the wedding party, as an example can be seen in the following excerpt from a book published in 1899:


A country wedding & recessional procession

“If you go into the Sanctuary according to custom, let the groom walk first with the Bride at his left. Then follows the groomsman or best man, with the bridesmaid likewise at his left. Make no genuflection until you reach the steps leading to the Altar.

“Let the Groomsman then go to the right of the Groom, and the Bridesmaid to the left of the Bride, and let all four then bend the knee together on the floor of the Sanctuary and ascend together to the platform of the Altar.”

Yet another order of procession is given in a French etiquette book translated to English in 1835:

“The marriage train then advances in the following order: The lady gives her hand to her father, or to one who represents him; then comes the gentleman with his mother, or the lady who represents her, and afterwards the members of the two families in couples.” (4)

As is evident, different countries have different rituals surrounding the marriage ceremony and procession. The Church has always honored local traditions and customs. In Poland, for example, the bride and groom are welcomed together in the doors of the Church by the priest. (5)

To conclude our answer to your first question, therefore, we cannot suggest a procession order that must be followed by everyone. However, considering Feminism’s influence on modern wedding customs – as you noted – a Catholic bride should strive to show a rejection of any modern practices in her ceremony.

What are these modern trends being promoted today?

mmodern woman

A modern bride walks in with her mother to defy tradition

The modern trends in weddings today often favor egalitarianism and undermine the role of the father and the bridegroom over the bride. For this reason – and not for the sake of using an alternate form of procession – feminist brides process down the aisle, not on their father’s arm, but alone or next to the bridegroom. In order to combat this modern denial of the natural order, it would be praiseworthy for a traditional Catholic bride to process down the aisle accompanied by her father.

Whatever ceremony you may choose for your wedding, it is important to stay within your means and not choose anything too extravagant. If you have not already read these two articles on wedding receptions, here and here, we suggest you do so. They offer guidelines for a traditional Catholic celebration.

This other article discusses the importance of modesty in the wedding dress, an important issue often ignored even by conservative or traditional Catholic brides.

Our next article will address your second inquiry about the lifting of the veil.


  1. Rev. Charles A. Callan and Rev. John A. McHugh, The Catholic Marriage Manual. New York: The Edward O’Toole Co, Inc., 1949.
  2. Taken from American Catholic Etiquette by Kay Toy Fenne, (The Neuman Press, 1962, 3rd printing)
  3. Alexander Laurence Alphonsus Klauder, Catholic Practice At Church And At Home: the parishioner's little rule-book; a guide for Catholics in the external practice of their holy religion (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1899. Print).
  4. Elizabeth Celnart, The Gentleman and Lady’s Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment: Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes (Philadelphia: T.K. & P.G. Collins, 1835).


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Posted August 4, 2023

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