Wedding rites: religious, civil or symbolic?

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Wedding rites: religious, civil, symbolic? Which one to choose

While some couples are already clear on how they will celebrate their wedding, many others struggle to choose between the different rites possible.

The ceremony is the central moment of every wedding, the most touching, the one where the bride and groom look into each other’s eyes and swear eternal love. It must be chosen carefully, and it should reflect the couple, their personality, and their values.

Let’s see together which are the different wedding rites’ characteristics and how to choose the right one for your big day.

The Catholic religious wedding rite

The most famous one, daydreamed by many brides over the centuries. The religious rite offers the couple the opportunity to make their love meet their faith, promising in front of God to take care of each other.

Getting married in a Catholic Church means giving deep value to religious spirituality and deciding to follow a real faith journey.

Thus, before marriage, it is mandatory to attend a premarital course. Here, the couple is guided by priests on a spiritual and personal growth path, useful for beginning the new life together in the best possible way.


The personalization of the religious rite

Although the image of Catholic marriage is, at least in Italy, one of the most common and loved, we must consider an inherent limitation in this rite: personalization.

If for some spouses, a 360° personalization of their ritual is not as important as the spiritual value, others may wish to experience a truly unique moment designed and artfully customized.

Although religious marriage rites may, in fact, offer flexibility in terms of church set-up, selection of musical instruments during the celebration, and sacred texts, they certainly cannot deviate from specific rules proper to devotion places.

This does not mean, however, that religious rites are all the same! Even if they fall in customization of location and formulas, there are still some margins of choice for the couple, regarding:

  • music and instruments;
  • texts and chants;
  • addition of veiling and coronation.

Music and instruments

Even though there are limits – we will never see Catholic wedding rites playing a piece of house music – the chants and the instruments remain at the spouses’ free choice.


You can opt for the harp, for a romantic and elegant wedding. For the organ, for a traditional wedding, or for the violin, which lends itself well to gritty melodies.

There is also the possibility of a live acoustic guitar, a particular choir – e.g., gospel – or again, lyrical voices for a real classy ceremony. For modern weddings, however, we can insert famous songs at the couple’s entrance or exit.

Readings and chants

As we know, the religious rite is structured according to a precise scheme in which there is no margin for personalization.

However, the couple can choose the readings, two in the Catholic rite: the first taken from the Old Testament and the second from the New. Although it is not possible to select any passage, there is still a wide margin of choice within the celebrant priest’s list. This offers the couple the possibility of using the texts closest to their values ​​and hearts.


In the same way, we can choose the chants, both in terms of titles and style. You can decide which version you like most among the many of the Glory, or you can choose to have the Salm chanted.

We also have countless versions of the Alleluia and of the chant following the sacrament. More traditional, however, may be the Saint, a moment full of spirituality for which excessive creativity is not recommended.

Veiling and Coronation

These two extensions to Catholic marriage rites are little known but highly suggestive.

The ritual of veiling is played during the spouses’ consecration. It consists of placing a white veil, held by closest friends and relatives, on the couple’s heads to represent the Holy Spirit, which will protect the couple’s married life.

On the other hand, the coronation is a rite acquired – and adjusted – from the Orthodox tradition. The coronation consists of placing crowns on the heads of the spouses, made with vegetable or mineral materials, to symbolize closeness to God.

In short, religious marriage is not so standardized: there are many possibilities for customization. And the emotions are assured!

On the other hand, it is possible for non-believer couples or those who want higher personalization to choose the civil ceremony or the symbolic rite. Let’s see them.

Civil marriage

The wedding celebrated in the municipal house, or in one of the authorized locations, is undoubtedly the second most common type of marriage ceremony. The most significant advantage of this rite is the more extensive customization and a considerable saving of time than the religious ritual.


An important opportunity is also the possibility to choose a celebrant different from the mayor/councilor. The delegation allows you to transfer the task of celebrating the wedding to a close person – a relative or a friend – or even to a professional celebrant. The proxy authorizes this person to become a civil status officer for that particular marriage.

However, the location must be licensed. If this is not included in the areas authorized by the municipality for the celebration of weddings, the ceremony cannot take place.

Characteristics of the civil ceremony

Therefore, civil marriage offers excellent possibilities for customization, both in the arrangements, which the wedding planner can manage quite freely, and in the celebrant’s choice, that for some couples could be very important.

Furthermore, the civil ceremony often assures a good saving of time compared to the religious one. Even if some couples complain of a lack of emotion due to too “formal” formulas and locations.


In fact, as we have said, the primary condition for this rite is that the site is elected as a “municipal house”. In many municipalities, only the municipal house – usually the Council Room – is an authorized place, often with lacking space for all guests.

For those who crave to have the maximum personalization level and emotions, the symbolic ritual could be the best choice.

Symbolic rites: an unconventional wedding

If both Catholic and civil marriages have a normative value, we cannot say the same for symbolic weddings. In this case it will indeed be required to go to the municipality and sign the marriage documents.

However, the symbolic rite has a deep emotional value, as it can be customized in every aspect.


From the location – which can be by the sea, in the woods or on a glacier – to the background music – even rock! From the celebrant to the symbolic formulas adopted. In short, the couple will create their own unique magical moment with the wedding planner’s collaboration.

According to different cultures, symbolic rituals are various. However, some common rites in the last years are the following.

Rite of the sand


In this rite, the couple has two jars of painted sand with them. They then pour these together into a larger container, generally accompanied by music or while pronouncing their promises. The most original spouses can use dyed liquids or acrylic paints here.


Rite of the rope

Ancient Irish rite consists of tying the spouses’ hands with a rope, usually red, symbolizing their union in love.

Rite of the candle

In this rite, the couple lights a large candle together, using two tinier candles to symbolize the union that builds a new family.

There are many other symbolic rites, such as many sacred texts and chants, to choose for religious marriage – to which we will dedicate in-depth pieces later. For now, I hope I reach the goal to clarify a little your ideas, particularly on one thing: the ritual must represent yourself, your love, your union, your values. Start with this, and I’m sure you will choose the right one.

Tania Costantino – Full service Wedding Planner in Sicily

Photo Credits:  Gianmarco Vetrano; Ben Yew; Wedding Wonderland