At my youngest sister's wedding, when the phase of the ceremony arrived in which the bride tosses her bouquet, this ritual produced an incident which I and a few others thought marred an otherwise elegant and delightful evening.

Two women, both widows in their 60s, one a grandmother and the other a great-grandmother, were among those vying to catch the bouquet. As luck would have it, the great-grandmother was the one with the longest arms. Thus an event that normally features a bevy of young quail had the character of a gaggle of mature geese. The single, pretty, fresh young things, each of whom anticipated being the lucky one, were aghast and speechless, feeling cheated.

I told both women in private that this phase of the ceremony was normally reserved for, and more suitable to, young, single women, and that I thought their behavior was tacky, tasteless and unbecoming to their current circumstances.

Now that Mom and Pop are gone, I am the senior member of our family. One of my brothers agreed with me, and the other told me that I was out of line and it was none of my business.

Now the fact that a woman does catch the bouquet is no guarantee of a wedding. And I have nothing against women of whatever age or status going that route again. More power to them, n'est-ce pas?

Maybe matronly elements are included in this ritual. I don't know what the protocol is, or even if there is any. I am first and foremost in favor of good taste, class and decorum. One of the widows was my sister.

I've attended 40 or 50 weddings in my 66 years, and this was a first for me. Maybe I do owe the two an apology, which I am not loath to make.

It is not the duty of the senior member of a family of adults to throw criticisms at the junior members on family occasions. Miss Manners appreciates your willingness to apologize and encourages you to do so in a charming way that will leave no hard feelings.

You would owe them that, no matter what the etiquette of bouquet throwing. But oddly enough, this matter, which has to do with surface behavior, is more complicated than the deeper one of relatives' reprimanding one another for social behavior.

Miss Manners notes that you seem to think that bouquet throwing is somehow part of the ceremony.

Weddings consist of the actual ceremony, which is a solemn event, and whatever lighthearted celebration takes place afterward. It is true that there are customs, some very ancient, that are connected with a wedding's social festivities, but they are not as laden with dignity as those of the ceremony.

Bouquet-throwing is just a sweet little custom, not to be taken particularly seriously. For example, it is always considered charming when the flower girl catches the bouquet, although she is obviously too young to be married.

You are right that mature ladies did not generally participate, but, then, mature ladies were not generally thought of as eligible. And why shouldn't they be, as you acknowledge?

In any case, the big formal first wedding was then thought of as appropriate only to a very young lady going from her parents' roof to her husband's. Elderly brides, by which people seemed to mean anyone over 30, were supposed to have quieter weddings.

We have quite properly changed that, acknowledging that a wedding is just as significant when the bride is old enough to know what she is doing. By Miss Manners' calculations, if you are 66, it seems unlikely, even allowing for the complexity of modern families, that your youngest (step?) sister is 18. If she has the benefit of social changes in age limitations, why can't her older sisters enjoy that as well?

1987, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.