Dominican Father Sergio Serrano, a native of Colombia and the director of the archdiocesan Hispanic Apostolate, has witnessed more than 80 weddings since his ordination in 2007.
There are many unique cultural traditions incorporated into the marriage liturgy for a Hispanic couple, and young couples getting married are eager to keep those cultural ties strong.
“It all depends on the country they come from,” Father Serrano said. “Some of the most popular requests are the lazo, which is a rope or rosary, and the arras, which are gold or silver coins passed from the groom to the bride. They sometime also request the grandmothers walking with them down the aisle.”
El lazo – or lasso in English – is a ritual in which the bride and groom face each other to declare their love, and it usually occurs at the time of the nuptial blessing.
“It’s a rope that is placed around the bride’s and the groom’s shoulders, and the rope forms the number 8, which is a symbol of infinity,” Father Serrano said. When they exchange their vows, it is a way of saying they will have an infinite, everlasting union. Normally, the priest is the one who puts it on them. Sometimes they ask family members to do so. They use it also to remind themselves that they are supposed to be given to each other.”
Oversized rosary used
In many cases, the material for a lazo is an oversized rosary instead of a rope, Father Serrano said, and some couples use orange flowers or crystal.
Las arras are small gold or silver coins which are exchanged during the ceremony.
“It’s a way of saying that everything they have is going to be shared from now on between them,” Father Serrano said. “The coins are supposed to be placed in the husband’s hands first, and then he places the coins in his wife’s hands. And then they let the coins drop to the floor. Normally, they use 13 coins. There are several ideas why the number is 13. There are 12 months of the year, but they put an extra coin in as a sign of generosity. It’s a sign of going beyond what is expected. They normally are gold or silver coins, and they are passed on from family to family.”
Father Serrano said the Hispanic wedding traditions have not slackened, even if a couple has lived all its life in the U.S.
“Actually, more people than you would imagine are asking for it,” he said. “I just had a wedding of a lady in New Orleans, who was from El Salvador, and her husband was an African American from New Orleans. She explained to him what the lazo and the arras were. He wasn’t even Catholic, but when he found out, he said, ‘I would love to do that.’”
It also is a very traditional for churchgoers at a Hispanic wedding to throw rice as the couple leaves the church “as a sign of fertility,” Father Serrano said.
“They throw the rice to wish them good will and to wish that they have fertility. Sometimes they throw seeds or even corn.”
Another common tradition is the use of a mariachi band to play the wedding music, quite often for the processional or recessional.
Father Serrano said another nice custom in some countries is to have the priest bless the wedding rings a month or two before the actual wedding Mass.
This request was made recently by a couple from Ecuador.
“Sometimes these rings are used for the actual wedding,” Father Serrano said. “It’s a little rite they have in Ecuador. I went to the church and put on my alb and stole to bless the rings, and then they have a party. This party is usually just for the close family members. It’s like an engagement blessing.”
Hispanic wedding prep
Father Serrano said he is very happy with marriage preparation for Hispanic couples in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The Hispanic Apostolate offers regular marriage preparation in Spanish, every Tuesday evening.
The various marriage preparation topics are covered over eight Tuesdays. The Hispanic Apostolate makes it convenient because a couple can start at any time in the process.
“They can come to the class in Week 5, meet with the couples who have been there already and go through Weeks 6, 7 and 8, and then they can go back to Week 1, 2 and so on.”
Many couples are coming forward to have their civil marriages convalidated by the church, and some have gone through the annulment process and want to marry in the church.
As for the traditions, the wedding lazo rosary is very popular in Mexican, Filipino and Spanish communities. After the couple has exchanged their vows, the witnesses come forward (the el padrino and la madrina) to drape the rosary around the couple’s shoulders.
The priest can use the following prayer: “Let the union of binding together this rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary be an inspiration to you both. Remember the holiness necessary to preserve your new family can only be obtained by mutual sacrifice and love.”
Las arras (wedding coins or tokens) are especially popular in Spain, Latin America and the Philippines. The 13 coins usually are presented in a well-appointed chest. The priest blesses the coins, and the husband is presented with them. He then passes them on to the bride.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org