Longtime Latino wedding traditions formally being adopted by Catholic Church in English

Battling cancer, Susie Valla’s grandfather, along with her grandmother, very slowly walked down the flower-lined church aisle in Chihuahua, Mexico.

They linked their granddaughter to her husband with an eternity-shaped rosary as part of a tradition called lazo (rope).

“I’m here for you,” her grandfather said in Spanish. “And I’m so glad you are marrying him.” Once her priest announced that the couple was united, her grandfather let the rosary slip from his hands.

Vallas, whose husband’s family doesn’t speak Spanish, was happy to learn that the Vatican has approved for churches in the U.S. an English translation of the lazo ceremony and another ceremony called the arras (coins). Words to accompany the optional wedding traditions had been approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2010 but had only been available in Spanish. This month, they were added to a printed edition of the English Order of Celebrating Matrimony, which should be in place in all Catholic churches by the end of the year.

“I think it’s very important because it’s a very rich and beautiful ceremony,” said Vallas. For it to make an impact, “it has to be understood for both nationalities and languages.”

Clergy applaud the move as a way of recognizing more recent immigrant groups and the needs of second- or third-generation Hispanic families that don’t necessarily speak Spanish but want to celebrate their culture.

“I am so happy with the Vatican that they integrate the rich traditions [congregants] have been holding for centuries,” said Father Lorenzo Ato, pastor of New York City’s Lower East Side Church of Saint Brigid-Saint Emeric, adding that other conferences had adopted these traditions previously.

Both ceremonies have Spanish roots, Father Ato said. In the arras ceremony, the groom hands the bride 13 coins, one for each month of the year and one more for the poor. Traditionally, the coins symbolized the groom’s commitment to provide for the family and the bride’s commitment to tend to family, all under the auspices of the church.

Esme Krahn, a wedding planner from Virginia who specializes in Latino traditions, used both ceremonies in her first wedding. Many of her clients use arras and lazos that had been handed down in their families for generations, she said. Though the tradition has only been formalized in the U.S. recently, it’s evolved over time.

“It used to be the groom would say ‘this is my wealth that I am sharing with you’ and the bride would say ‘I will take care of the goods you give me and it will be all of ours,’” explained Krahn. “But now the sentiment is ‘we will take care of each other.’”

New York City-based wedding and event planner Xochitl Gonzalez said that she has seen these traditions embraced by all types of Latinos and also Filipinos, but mostly those who are practicing Catholics. But, she suspects, that could change now that there is a translation available.

“I think it will become even more popular and I think even popular beyond ethnic groups. [We’ll] probably see what was considered a Latino tradition become mainstream Catholic tradition,” Gonzalez said. “I think that will be interesting.”

For Valla, the most important part of the lazo ritual was selecting her grandparents to perform the rite.

“You choose very special people for the lazo ceremony,” Valla said. “They have a very old marriage and I was very happy they could make it for us.”