I love reading Thomas Howard, and the upcoming weddings of several beloved church girls from my past (many of whom have grown to become Church Ladies) reminded me of a beautiful piece he wrote about the significance of wedding traditions:
If the charade – this ancient charade, marked similarly in a hundred centuries in a thousand cultures – if it means anything at all, it means that this man and this woman are stepping up into a great mystery, much greater and more splendid than either of them has any notion of at this point; and that they enter together, with heads bowed in obedience to the rubric, to find out just what it is all about and how it happens that freedom and wholeness for both of them lie, oddly enough, along a way already well trodden and well marked with the rules of the road. This woman, all decked in demure white: Is she not for the moment all women? This ceremonial array: Does it not bespeak something that is close to the center of things, but that we cannot, in the hurly-burly of ordinary daily life, with its shopping bags and laundry and diapers, always quite catch? We need this highly conscious, highly structured, ritual enactment of what is always there – that a woman is a noble creature, bearing as she does the image of God, and that at her approach to her lord, the other one who bears the image of God, it is well that the mystery of her being and of her approach be veiled and clothed in white. We need this to bring home to us what is at stake here. Ceremonies matter. Ancient ceremonies matter. (They weren’t dreamed up yesterday over a Coke or pasted together in a sharing session.) They come from the sources of human imagination responding to the biggest mysteries there are...
And all these friends here: What are we doing, all standing about? Are we not signaling to the bride and groom, and to all who wish to know, and to the hosts of heaven, that this is no private transaction? It is preeminently public, that is, human. Here we announce our solidarity one with another, all of us. We wait upon this man and this woman as they step into this most private, most public, act. We stand about them, bringing in our bodies the whole human race to the spectacle. The ceremony needs us too.
Hence these bridesmaids ... Now they come, themselves decked in fine raiment, stepping punctiliously down the long aisle, not capering, not calling to one another or to the bride, not waving greeting to friends in the congregation. Why all this solemnity?... Because. Because. There is something else going on now. This ritual carries us through the clutter and random tumble to the awareness that in the "ordinary" business of boys and girls, or of men and women, we are close to the central mystery of Creation (male and female created he them), and that this is a mystery worth pausing over and marking on such an occasion. Pinches and claps on the back are fine, but you pause when you look into the shrine. You stop frolicking momentarily. These young women now bear a heavy and glorious ceremonial weight upon them. They are not particularly Jane and Meg and Kate now; they are Jane and Meg and Kate appearing as attendant womanhood, assisting at the holy mysteries.
Much more, well worth reading, here.