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Should I have a church, civil or humanist wedding?

It’s a question that will have occurred to most engaged couples in 21st Century Ireland; should I get married in a church, like my forebears, or should I have a civil ceremony? And, to the uninitiated, what the heck is a humanist ceremony? Isn’t that some weird pagan cult-like initiation that gets the bride to lie flat on an altar whilst everyone performs a strange dance around her?


I thought I’d tackle this question, drawing from my few years of experience and observation of performing as a pianist at all of the above. The bottom line: the service delivered to you at the end of the day is the same. You, the couple, exchange vows to each other stating that you will love, honour and cherish one other until death do you part.


So, let’s break each of these ceremonies down in nice, plain English.


The Church Ceremony

The traditional marriage passage in Ireland is the Catholic (or occasionally Church of Ireland) wedding ceremony. This ceremony is led by a priest. He acts as both spiritual and civil registrar in this case. All priests possess the relevant qualifications and paperwork necessary to get you married in the eyes of the state. The main line here is that the church believes that your marriage is consecrated before God and a mass will commonly be tied in with your rite of vows, though you may opt out of this part. The priest typically delivers a heartfelt, couple-centric homily after reading the gospel before moving on to your I dos. In regard to music, you are likely to encounter opposition from a priest if you’re thinking about having a singer belting out Take That’s A Million Love Songs during the offertory. With popular music it’s understandable because the church isn’t in the business of pretending that it’s all about secular themes when it simply isn’t. Certain songs can make it past the liturgical litmus test if they’re reasonably tame but the simplest option of all is to keep your music religious by nature or your entire ceremony instrumental which frees you up to choose anything you like. Priests don’t tend to argue with musical notes; again, it’s the songs’ words, their meaning and delivery that can ruffle feathers, not so much the melody itself (although just be sure to avoid the theme music from Super Mario Smash Brothers).


The Civil Ceremony

The Civil ceremony is led by an official registrar and must legally be held in any place that’s open to the public. By public, I don’t mean in the middle of Eyre Square or O’Connell Street. You’ll still get to hold onto your privacy but it just cannot be held at home or at an office. Typically, it’s held in a hotel or its grounds. I’ve also performed at weddings in the beautiful City Hall in Dublin and I’m sure there are many other civic spots like this around the country.  The ceremony itself is generally simple with lighting of the candles, poems, an address by the registrar and the rite of vows. Interspersed with this is the music, the choice of which is very broad. The format loosely resembles any other type of ceremony with a beginning, middle and end. It’s the best option to go for if you’re interested in simplicity and practicality.


The Humanist Ceremony

Finally, this brings me to the sometimes misunderstood humanist ceremony. This is just a more decorative version of a civil ceremony with its own set of registrants, recognised by the Humanist Association of Ireland. When they hear about a friend or neighbour having a humanist wedding, some people have certain images of paganism conjured up in their mind. Paganism is an ancient belief system in spirits in nature, witchcraft, Celtic/Nordic/African spirituality etc. It involves adherence to a lifestyle and a set of rituals which can range wildly depending on time and place. Humanism is a belief in celebrating human culture, scientific achievement and is strictly non-religious or superstitious. The ceremonies which humanists provide involve much of what you’d see at a civil ceremony with the addition of simple ‘unity ceremonies’ such as placing a letter and a bottle of wine in a box, to be buried and dug up on your tenth anniversary or mixing differing colours of sand as a metaphor for marriage. Again, the musical options at these type of ceremonies are plentiful and I’ve performed quietly in the background against some of these unity ceremonies in the past to give it extra atmosphere.


So which should you choose?

This is highly personal and it may be the case that you’re unsure. The church ceremony suits a couple, either of whom are religious; that is, they adhere to a Christian belief. The civil ceremony is the shortest of the three and is quite practical but always tastefully conducted. The humanist ceremony is a type of civil ceremony incorporating niche ceremonial trends.


As a pianist, available for your wedding ceremony.

My interest lies in bringing your ceremony, whichever you choose, to life with beautiful instrumental piano playing. My years of experience have allowed me to refine my craft so that the music you pick is a seamless enhancement of your wedding ceremony. It’s important to choose not only the right music but to frame it to fit perfectly with your ceremony schedule. This may involve cutting the music down in length or stretching it out when the unexpected occurs. I’ve been around the block with various types of ceremonies and all scenarios so I can honestly promise that I’ll make the music magical on your big day.


Fill out the contact form on this page for a quote from me this evening. I look forward to hearing from you.

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