And you know what? Seeing Andrew waiting for me at the altar, tears in his eyes and the most radiant smile on his face, is one of the most cherished memories of my life. I love that we saw each other for the first time that day right as our wedding Mass started and we were about to become one. I will say, though, that my general take on first looks has changed since then. I was coming from the mindset that if I chose to buck a particular wedding tradition, particularly one so tied in with other aspects of waiting for marriage, then my wedding wouldn't be traditional enough or fit in with the holy witness we hoped to express.
Obviously, the Scripture and tradition of the Church are still non-negotiables for me, but I've come to a more subtle understanding of cultural and social traditions surrounding weddings--that's to say that while traditional customs like the bride and groom waiting for the ceremony to lay eyes on each other are very sweet and worthy of consideration, I no longer think tradition alone should be reason enough to choose them. It's good to approach the idea critically, I think, with an understanding that if you don't want to see one another beforehand, it's good not to pursue tradition just for its own sake, and that if you do, it doesn't make you untraditional or somehow violate chastity. If you're trying to decide whether or not to do a first look, here are a few points to consider in your decision-making.
There is great joy in the anticipation of seeing each other at the altar. Like I said, I treasure the memory of locking eyes with my about-to-be husband when the church doors opened and I walked toward him. The Church, the Body of Christ, is about communion, and that's a major aspect of the sacraments, whether they are celebrated in communion or whether they draw us (or draw us back) into communion, or both. It's a privilege for the community to witness the moment the couple first glimpses each other in the fullness of their identities as bride and groom. I asked a few brides about their experiences, and Jenn said, "because it was the firsts time that day, all the weight of the moment and what we were about to do was felt, and it was kind of like seeing each other for the first time all over again." So beautiful. On the other hand…
...A first looks lets you steal a peaceful moment. If there's one thing I wish had been a little different about my wedding day, it's that I literally didn't have one second alone to talk to Andrew or just take in the experience together, until our first dance, at which point we just laughed at the fact we were married, and that we didn't know what to talk about when all eyes were on us dancing! Everyone tells you your wedding day passes in a blur, and though in some ways mine did, I'm also happy to have crystal-clear memories from quite a few moments during the day. But driving off from the reception together, at 11 P.M, felt like the first time all day we could sort of absorb everything that happened. As happy as we were to see each other at the altar, I think that, in hindsight, we would've also really enjoyed having a quieter opportunity to be together and talk before the Mass. I think if I'd seen Andrew for the second time as the Mass began, I would've been even giddier than I actually was, excited to return to him and knowing not just on a visual level, but an emotional one, what was in store for us.
Your wedding portraits will probably look different if you opt to see each other before the ceremony than if you don't. Not better or worse! Just different, because each choice has a different effect on your timeline. Since most weddings are in the afternoon, and since taking bride and groom and wedding party pictures take a while, most photographers will snap these images before the Mass if the couple decides to do a first look, and after if they don't. That means a good deal of your portraits will be from the daytime if you choose a first look, and that you might join your guests at the reception sooner than if you stay taking photos after the ceremony for a while. If you choose to not see each other before the Mass, there will be that bit of extra time for photos in between the ceremony and reception, and your photographer will probably have you duck out of the reception for one or two bride and groom portrait sessions while everyone is dancing and hanging out, wherein you'll end up with more evening or sunset photos. Regardless of which option you choose, remember that your guests are there to see and celebrate you, and it's polite to keep each sesh relatively short.
The Rite of Marriage actually prescribes that the couple walk up to the altar together at the start of the Nuptial Mass. I know! The USCCB also points out this opportunity (this links to a video; skip to about 9 minutes for more on this). I actually had never heard of the tradition of bride and groom entering the Mass together until I went to the wedding of two friends who are both Theology scholars and explained in the program that "Processions, as with everything else in the liturgy, are theologically and symbolically rich. The most important persons of the day come in last: the ministers of the sacrament for which everyone is gathered. The bride and groom, who confer the sacrament of marriage upon one another, enter the church last and together, signifying the import of their role in today's celebration and their equality as celebrants of the sacrament."
I told you they were scholars. Basically, the bride and groom aren't the most important peeps of the day just because, you know, it's their wedding, but because they, not the priest, are the ones ministering the sacrament of marriage--it's an entirely different sort of being the center of attention, one where the real attention is on God and his grace. Anyway, choosing to adhere to this part of the rite and enter the church together sort of necessitates seeing each other beforehand, so incorporating a first look into it is a nice way to celebrate the moments before you walk through the doors. Kate said she and her husband "wanted to walk down the aisle together because we were both coming together before God and liked the symbolism," and incorporated a first look into the time before the Mass.
Each of these points invites you to consider different aspects of planning out your day, but if you're having trouble deciding, I suggest considering both of your top priorities for your wedding (other than conferring a clutch sacrament, that is). Is it photography? Is it making sure you get to spend time with your out-of-state friends? Is it tradition with respect to the why and how, not just tradition for the sake of tradition? Above all, I recommend not viewing a first look as a moral question, but one of practicality and your personal preferences--no matter what you choose, I can promise you won't forget that initial glimpse of each other in your wedding outfits and that first time your eyes meet on your wedding day. Breathe those moments in, bathe in them, remember them.
Are you planning on a first look for your wedding? Are you not? I'd love to hear the reasons behind your choices, and if you're already married, stories of your experiences!