Yes, please
No, thanks
Women & Men in Society
donate Books CDs HOME updates search contact

A Traditional Catholic Wedding - II

The Father & the Bride:
To Lift the Veil or Not?

Marian T. Horvat & Elizabeth A. Lozowski
In our first article, we addressed the proper order of procession for a Catholic wedding. We will now discuss the father’s role in the wedding as well as traditions surrounding the bride’s veil. An important detail to call attention to is that in a Catholic wedding, the father does not take an active role in the ceremony, because a Catholic marriage is a Sacrament that elevates to the supernatural level a contract between a man and a woman.

When Martin Luther denied that marriage was a Sacrament, he relegated it to a mere human contract. For this reason, divorce is allowed among Protestants. However, this also led to exagerate the role of the father and friends in the Protestant marriage rite, so typically depicted in books and movies. (1)

'Giving away of the bride' - A Protestant origin

The ceremony described in the Anglican The Book Of Common Prayer, printed in 1552 by Whitchurch, is the standard Protestant ceremony, which differs from the Catholic marriage rite in two significant ways.

earl Spencer

Earl John Spencer walks his daughter Diana, the future Princess of Wales, down the aisle

First, before the couple declare their intent to be married, the Protestant clergyman states to those present: “Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together: let him now speake, or els hereafter for ever holde hys peace.” In this way, a public audience is almost required for a Protestant ceremony, whereas the Catholic only needs two witnesses to verify the marriage is completed.

Second, after the bride and groom say “I do,” an addition is made with the “giving away of the bride,” a custom that was never included in Catholic weddings. The Protestant clergyman asks: “Who geveth this woman to be maryed unto thys man?” And the Ministre receiving the woman at her father or frendes handes, shal cause the man to take the woman by the ryght hande, and so either to geve their trouth to other.” (2)

It is possible that the common practice of the father escorting the bride down the aisle originated in this Protestant ceremony of giving away the bride. However, this does not necessarily make the tradition a bad one, as long as the Catholic couple understands the nature of marriage as a Sacrament rather than merely a contract.

At the time of the Protestant Revolution, there were abuses of the Sacrament of Marriage, resulting from the fact that the Sacrament was not required to be administered in the presence of a priest.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent required marriages to be conducted in the presence of a priest with two witnesses. The prayers for the Nuptial Mass had been a practice since the early Church. (3)


The father ‘gives away’ his daughter to the groom in a Protestant ceremony

Notwithstanding, marriages were still allowed to be conducted following the local traditions and customs, although it became the norm for Catholics to follow the exact ritual given at the Council of Trent to avoid Protestant innovations. (4)

In the Catholic marriage there are two overlapping realities:
  1. The human contract made by a man and a woman when, according to Natural Law, they give themselves mutually to one another and vow to spend the rest of their lives together;

  2. The Sacrament of marriage in which that contract is elevated to the supernatural level by the fact of the marriage being made in the Church before a priest representing her and giving her blessing. (=
Consequently, the ministers of the natural contract are the spouses; the ministers of the Sacrament are both the spouses and the Church represented by priest.

So who lifts the veil?

Regarding the question of who traditionally lifts the white veil over the bride’s face, we can give no definitive answer. Our research looking through many different etiquette books and Catholic marriage ceremony books has shed little light on this topic: We could find only two brief mentions of the veil, both of which affirm the same custom that does not involve the father of the bride.

grace kelly

John Kelly prepares to walk his veiled daughter Grace into St. Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco

This custom is best described by Emily Post in her 1922 Etiquette book:

“If she [the bride] chooses to wear a veil over her face up the aisle and during the ceremony, the front veil is always a short separate piece about a yard square, gathered on an invisible band, and pinned with a hair pin at either side, after the long veil is arranged. It is taken off by the maid of honor when she gives back the bride’s bouquet at the conclusion of the ceremony.

“The face veil is a rather old-fashioned custom, and is appropriate only for a very young bride of a demure type; the tradition being that a maiden is too shy to face a congregation unveiled, and shows her face only when she is a married woman.” (p. 351)

It seems likely that Emily Post’s explanation of why the bride’s face veil is only lifted at the end of the ceremony is a modern one, for there are certainly more symbolic reasons for the custom. That the veil has been traditionally worn by brides is evident, as can be gleaned from a passage taken from The Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests:

modern wedding

A modern bride says her own vows wearing a veil that does not cover her head

“The word matrimony is derived from the fact that the principal object which a female should propose to herself in marriage is to become a mother; or from the fact that to a mother it belongs to conceive, bring forth and train her offspring. It is also called wedlock (conjugium) from joining together, because a lawful wife is united to her husband, as it were, by a common yoke. It is called nuptials, because, as St. Ambrose observes, the bride veiled her face through modesty - a custom which would also seem to imply that she was to be subject and obedient to her husband.” (pg. 339) (6)

In early Christian times, following the Roman custom, Catholic brides typically wore a wreath of flowers or a crown to “symbolize their victory over the temptations of the flesh.” (7)

As time progressed, customs changed.

medieval wedding

The medieval bride did not wear a white dress & veil

Medieval brides often wore veils, as they were part of the common costume, although not all brides did so. It was common for young virgins to put on the veil after they were married, as is evident from medieval manuscripts. We could not determine whether or not it was a custom for the veil to cover the face during the wedding ceremony. Illustrations of the ceremony in medieval manuscripts do not depict a veiled bride.

During the 1500-1800s, the veil gradually was replaced by other forms of head coverings. The tradition of the wedding veil became popular in the 19th century due to Queen Victoria, who popularized the white bridal veil as well as the white gown. Following the English customs, Americans soon adopted the same style, which can still be appreciated for its symbolism of purity and innocence, regardless of its rather recent introduction.

queen Victoria

Queen Victoria popularized the white bridal veil & dress

Certainly, the face veil has become traditional for the English and Americans, popularized by royal brides such as Grace Kelly and Princess Diana who wear face veils. In both of these instances the veil was lifted at different places in the ceremony. Queen Elizabeth II, however, did not wear the face veil at her highly ceremonial and popular ceremony.

In the Catholic wedding of Grace Kelly and the Prince of Monaco, Miss Kelly still wore the veil over her face after her father had entered the pew, but right before the marriage ceremony began, the veil was removed. The only video of the ceremony we could find here does not show who lifts the veil. It does not seem that it could have been her father.

Princess Diana’s veil was removed after the ceremony when she came out of the private room to sign the marriage registry – once again, it is not clear who lifted her veil.

The tradition of the father lifting the veil seems to have become popular in the 20th century, though we were unable to trace it to its source. Considering the custom of “giving away the bride” in the Protestant ceremony, there is a likelihood that it became popular – but not requisite – for the father to lift the veil when he presented his daughter to the bridegroom.

It seems to us that it would be appropriate and symbolic for the father to lift the veil before he takes his place in the pew in a Catholic wedding. For the groom to lift the veil does not appear to be a long-standing custom. There seems to be something tendentially revolutionary in this custom, a type of belittling of the authority of the father over his daughter

Since there is no prescribed rule regarding the veil, we would suggest that the veil be lifted at the conclusion of the ceremony by the maid of honor as the most practical option for a Catholic wedding. Either way, the symbolism is not lost and the Catholic bride is showing the world that she submits to her husband’s authority over her.



Veiling the face: a beautiful & symbolic custom

  3. Chapter XIV: The Nuptial Blessing, in Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution: A Study of the Latin Liturgy up to the Time of Charlemagne. By Louis L. Duchesne. Trans. M. L. McLure. New York: The Macmillon Company, 1919. Internet Archive. Web. 25 May. 2023.
  5. Regarding the principal efficient cause of the marriage as being God's virtue, St. Thomas explains:
    "The first cause of the sacraments is the divine virtue which operates the salvation in them, but the second instrumental cause is the material operations having efficiency by divine institution, and thus the consent in marriage is the cause.” (IV Sententiarum, dist. 27, q. 1, a. 2, sol. 1, ad 1, apud Vacant – Mangenot, Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, t. IX (II), col. 2198)
    Regarding the need of the Church to effect the marriage, great Doctors of the Church teach:
    St. Albert the Great:
    “The marriage can be seen in various aspects, be it as natural office, be it as a Church's good and this can be effected by consent … But in the third way it is as a remedy, and thus it is placed under the keys of the Church and exists by the dispensation of the ministers and that has a form expressed before the Church and receives the benediction of the Church and is effected by the Church, not as a sacrament per se, but as sacrament of the Church in order to be medicine by the power of the Church herself.” (IV Sententiarum, dist. 1, n.14, apud DTC, t. IX (II), col. 2206)
    St. Thomas Aquinas:
    “Marriage, therefore, as far as it consists in the conjunction of man and woman intending to beget and educate the offspring for the worship of God is a sacrament, when and where a blessing is given to those who marry by the ministers of the Church.” (Contra gentiles, I. IV, c. 78, apud ibid.)
    St. Bonaventure:
    “Marriage takes on the aspect of spirituality and grace when it works as a blessing through consent, where the meaning is explained and sanctification is obtained through the blessing, and therefore the spiritual aspect consists mainly in the priestly blessing.” (Dist. 26, a. 2, q. 11, ad 4 apud ibid.)
  6. The Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests. Trans. John McHugh, O.P. and Charles J. Callan, O.P. 11th ed. New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., 1949.
  7. “The bridal crown or wreath is said to be of pre-Christian Greek origin, adopted later by the Romans. Tertullian refers to it as a sign of paganism, but this prejudice was afterwards set aside, and it was in common use among Christians by the time of St. John Chrysostom. The bride and bridegroom were crowned to symbolize their victory over the temptations of the flesh. The rite has been retained by the Greek Church, silver crowns taking the place of floral wreaths.”
    “The bride usually comes to the altar wearing a wreath, which is emblematical of the victory she has won in the preservation of her innocence.” (pg. 659) Spirago, Francis and Richard F. Clark, The Catechism Explained: An Exhaustive Exposition of the Christian Religion, with Special Reference to the Present State of Society and the Spirit of the Age. 1899. Rockford: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc. 1993, pp. 390-391.


Blason de Charlemagne
Follow us

Posted September 20, 2023

Related Topics of Interest

Related Works of Interest

A_civility.gif - 33439 Bytes A_courtesy.gif - 29910 Bytes A_family.gif - 22354 Bytes
C_RCRTen_B.gif - 6810 Bytes Button_Donate.gif - 6240 Bytes C_WomenVatII_R.gif - 6356 Bytes