This should not come as a surprise, as we already have a new translation of the Mass. The liturgy office of the Bishop’s conference has produced a document to prepare us for this change, which brings to our attention a few other matters as well, through the form of ‘frequently asked questions’. Here is the key quotation:
“Can I have my favourite poem?Every wedding liturgy is unique. It will provide a series of images and memories that will give the couple a wealth of memories to recount and reflect upon. Couples will want to prepare the liturgy with care considering such elements as the scripture reading.
“It is also a celebration of the Church, which means that the structure, texts and how the liturgy is celebrated are laid down. Any reading in the Liturgy of the Word should be taken from scripture (the Bible) and cannot be replaced by another text. In a similar way any music played or sung should normally be taken from the Church’s long and living tradition of music.
“Texts should be expressive of the faith of Church. It is important to remember that the Marriage liturgy is one of a sequence of events that make up the whole of the Wedding Celebration. It is not therefore necessary that a favourite poem or song is included within the liturgy; it may be better placed within the wedding reception.”
This is very reassuring. The essential point that it tries to convey is that liturgy is “laid down” and is not a matter of “knit your own”, simply because it is a celebration of the Church as Church, rather than a celebration of individuals: so you do what the entire Church does.
This may of course come as a shock to couples who have garnered their idea of what a wedding should be from various civil celebrations, or from films, or who may have the idea from going to Mass that the priest makes things up as he goes along.
The idea that liturgy is the action of Christ in head and members is, I find, one of the hardest messages to convey. Most people are mystified by this and think that when one wants to keep to the rubrics one is either being fussy or a killjoy; their idea is that it would be so much nicer to be able to do things “in their own way”.
Of course, within the parameters of the liturgy there are a variety of choices to be made, with regard to texts and readings and music, so it is not true that every wedding will be exactly like the next, and the same is true for funerals.
One argument that does strike a chord with those who may wish to have their favourite poem is that the texts of the Church and the Bible in particular are much better than any text we ourselves can come up with. I mean: Pam Ayres or King David? You choose, but it is what’s called a no brainer. Boney M or Mendelssohn? Again, no contest. But this isn’t just taste – it is a matter of keeping elements that cannot accord with the liturgy out of it, and preserving its coherence.
Liturgy is a language, and all languages have grammar; all languages have to reject the intrusion of elements that make no sense in that they contradict grammar. We don’t make up grammar as we go along. Similarly, we need to protest the integrity of our liturgical celebrations.
One thing that this admirable guidance from the bishops’ conference does not address is the question of compliance. Once again it is parish priests who will have to enforce these rules and protect the liturgy as best they can, and have to deal with couples who perhaps are very attached to a favourite poem, and who have, thanks to fifty years of poor catechesis, no real idea of why liturgy is important.