Wedding Gowns Exposing the Body
By Anthony Buono
At a Catholic wedding I attended last week, the bride had a backless, strapless, sleeveless gown on. More and more brides are doing this. Besides the indecency, the principles of modesty are not considered. A modest wedding gown may be getting harder to find, but I don’t think couples consider the bride’s gown as an “essential” part of the ceremony. Some feel that people get too distracted with non-essentials and should focus on the Sacrament. I couldn’t agree more! But the bride’s wedding gown is a critical component. Granted, saying it is “essential” would not be the right word, but it has high importance, primarily in what it represents.
Sacraments have to do with “outward signs” that indicate an inner mystery. “Sign” and “mystery” are the key words. The Sacrament of Marriage is a tremendous mystery. The mystery of two becoming one; the mystery of sacramental grace uniquely given to the two persons; the mystery of Christ entering the marriage union; the mystery of the bride and groom being a living sign of the mystery of Christ’s marriage to His Bride, the Church.
Then there is the mystery of the bride herself, particularly her body.
It’s a shame that so many marriages take place between two people who have already exposed much of their bodies to each other, but especially a woman exposing her body to the man. A wedding night is supposed to be an unveiling of the mystery of the woman that has been kept hidden from the man during their time together before marriage. The wedding ceremony is an exchange of rights to each other’s body. The wedding night (the time of consummation of the marriage) is meant to be an incredibly profound and unique moment for the two — it is when they unveil their bodies to each other to experience that which is reserved only for two people who have publicly given “rights” to each other’s body for those purposes unique to marriage and conjugal love.
We clothe our bodies because we have that sense deep down that we should, and that certain parts are especially sacred and meant for sacred purposes. The continued public display of more and more flesh is an indication that people have lost the sense of shame that Adam and Eve displayed in the Garden of Eden after the fall, which shows how connected sin and clothing the body are. Therefore, the sense of sin is in direct proportion to exposure of the body.
It seems that society has become “desensitized” to sin. But more than this, people have lost the sense of purpose for their bodies, thus, a loss of the sense of mystery. It has become a focus in many ways. I am amazed that many people (even good Catholics) believe that exposing the body does not (or should not) have an effect on the way people behave, and is not something to be overly concerned about. Thus, modesty is a “relative” thing, if anything at all.
This downplaying of the purpose of the body and the disconnection between the body and mystery has, with no surprise, contributed to sexual promiscuity, and that includes Catholics. Virginity and chastity are not held up as the ideals they should be and pre-marital sex becomes a norm and (sorry to say) even an expectation.
But in fact, THE BODY IS A GREAT MYSTERY! A man and a woman should expose as little as possible of their bodies to one another except when appropriate in marriage (certainly, at the very least, never exposing those areas meant for genital sexual expression). Why? Because the body IS sacred! Without the body, we cannot know anything about God. Without the body, we cannot get to heaven. Without the body, we cannot properly worship God. Without the body, we cannot co-create human life and propagate the human race. Without the body, we cannot LOVE!!!
The body has a purpose. Its purpose is so sacred; it is a mystery. Every person should preserve the mystery of love, which is fundamentally a preserving of the mystery of our bodies. Exposing our bodies before marriage is to prematurely “reveal” the mystery, thus ending the mystery that was meant for the wedding night.
There are also the “signs” in a wedding ceremony. The woman’s body, being the great mystery that it is, absolutely should be veiled. And to be covered in a white garment makes sense, too. The color “white” is a symbol of purity, primarily purity of intention to give her whole person to this man. A bride traditionally looks so adorned because she is a priceless mystery that is about to be given. The groom is about to accept this mystery with love and noble intentions, and he will accept her gift of her body, giving him the sole and unique “right” to her body for the purposes of love. The bride will have her veil pulled back and her face will be revealed. The groom will later have the awesome privilege of unveiling her entire body and then, as Scripture so beautifully puts it, will “know her”. In other words, he will accept the right to her body ONLY for the purposes of having that right; namely, the conjugal act that is meant to make her a mother (thus, the definition of the word “matrimony”).
The Body of Christ, the Church, is that tremendous mystery in which Christ brings about new life through the womb of His Bride, the baptismal font, in the sacrament of Baptism. The womb of the woman has as its primary purpose the receiving of the husband’s gift and the conception and development of new life. The mystery of a woman is a visible sign of the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ. The children born are the incarnation of the great mystery of love between a man and woman. The birth of a person into eternal life through the baptismal font of the Church, Christ’s bride, is the great mystery of love between Christ and man. The Incarnation of the Son of God become man is the great mystery of God’s love for the human race; that His Son would take a human body and use that body to consummate His marriage to His Church by dying on the Cross.
The marriage of a man and a woman is a profound invitation to share in the redemption of the world and participation in the Cross. True love, therefore, is sacrificial and a total self-donation to the other.
When you consider the deep mystery of love and marriage, you naturally come to the conclusion that a bride (and women in the wedding party, for that matter) with an exposed body is inappropriate, perhaps even scandalous. But being fully dressed in clothing that lacks the sacramental symbolism is also inappropriate. A marriage ceremony must be given the dignity it deserves. It is right to invest in it and externally represent the sacramental reality. Of course, if finances or some other practical reality prevent making this possible, focus only on the essentials. But don’t underestimate the importance of the gown and the bride’s body being covered. At least wrap something nice around what is still exposed from the gown.