A Catholic wedding is in many ways similar to other western wedding celebrations. An officiant stands at the front of the ceremony at an altar. There, vows are read and rings are exchanged. Witnesses face the couple, watching as the ceremony takes place and the couple is united before God.
The details of a Catholic wedding are unique, though. For one, a Catholic priest must be the officiant. Several other differences are apparent.
Here is what you can expect during a Roman Catholic Wedding:
1. A Public Ceremony
Catholic weddings are considered public affairs. Recognized as worship services just like any other Catholic mass, the ceremony is celebrated before God and anyone who chooses to participate as a witness. Every Catholic Wedding takes place as a Nuptial Mass, which is a full Mass administered by a qualified priest in a Catholic parish, according to its rules.
2. A Specific Time Slot
Since Catholic weddings take place as a public nuptial mass in an operating Catholic church, the ceremonies must be scheduled around regular mass. As a result, Catholic weddings do not take place on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings during typical mass service hours. They also cannot be scheduled on particular Holy Days, like Good Friday or Holy Saturday.
Traditionally, nuptial masses are held during the morning or early afternoon. Many couples choose to have their ceremony on a Friday or Saturday during one of those time slots. Receptions that follow are something scheduled directly afterwards as a lunch or early dinner reception. Some couples choose to delay their reception so that it occurs during the dinner hour, a few hours after the ceremony.
3. A Ceremony in a Catholic Church Building
As a sacred act of worship before God, weddings following the Catholic tradition must be carried out in a holy place — a Catholic church. Catholic weddings thus traditionally cannot take place outdoors or in another church denomination’s building.
Depending on the specific parish’s rules, the couple and their loved ones may or may not be able to select a particular church building or decorate the building to fit the theme of the wedding. Most Catholic couples get married in the bride’s church. For couples in which one partner is Catholic and the other is not, the ceremony takes place in the Catholic partner’s parish church.
4. A Specific Structure to the Ceremony
One of the most defining characteristics of a Catholic wedding is its specific structure. Carried out like a Catholic mass, the wedding begins with a typical ceremonial procession. Except that in a Catholic wedding, the priest proceeds down the aisle, followed by members of the wedding party. Music is played all throughout.
When everyone arrives at the altar, the following takes place in order:
- Opening Prayer
- First Reading
- First Responsorial Psalm
- Second Reading
- Gospel Acclamation
- Rite of Marriage
- Statement of Intentions
- Exchange of Vows
- Exchange of Rings
- Profession of Faith
- Prayer of the Faithful
- Liturgy of the Eucharist
- Presentation of the Gifts
- Hymn Series
- The Lord’s Prayer
- Nuptial Blessing
- Sign of Peace
- Final Rite
- Blessing of the Couple
This may seem like a long ceremony based on the length of the list, but each step takes only a short amount of time. The wedding ceremony is often only as long as a traditional mass, lasting just a little over an hour.
In many parishes, the Catholic mass can be altered slightly. Most alternations made by couples include having particular passages read or songs sung. Couples sometimes also add activities like having their parents come forward to pray with them or asking loved ones to read a passage of Scripture. Some couples add their own vows onto the traditional vows as well. Many couples also choose to have special activities they enjoy that are not a part of the mass during their reception.
It should be noted that the sacraments offered during the service are not open to the public, but only to the faithful. Many Catholic masses only offer communion to the couple getting married and, in some cases, the bridal party.
5. A Sacrament of Matrimony
An important part of a Catholic wedding is the sacrament of Matrimony. One of the seven sacred sacraments of the Catholic Church, matrimony as pronounced before God is a part of a Nuptial Mass. The sacrament is administered along with the Eucharist, typically alongside communion.
The symbolism of the sacrament is significant. Signifying the couple’s acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice together and the reflection of their marriage in light of Christ’s union with the Church, the sacrament is very spiritual.
Catholics believe that when the sacrament of matrimony is pronounced, the newlywed couple is officially “one” in Christ. They also “receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church.” This prepares the couple for a lifetime of unity in marriage and in faith.
6. The Bride and/or Groom Must Have Met Certain Requirements
Non-Catholic couples cannot marry in a Catholic Church. Considered a holy place, the Church is seen as sacred and all ceremonies that take place within its walls must be glorifying to God according to the Catholic tradition.
Previously, a Catholic could not marry a Non-Catholic in a traditional Catholic ceremony. The rules have since changed, and such marriages (called mixed-marriages) are allowed. However, there are particular requirements.
The Catholic member of the couple must be able to present a certificate of baptism in the Catholic Church. They must, in front of the partner, promise to continue in their faith and raise their children in the Catholic tradition. This is the case for Catholics marrying Christians of differing denominations. The marriage of a Catholic to a non-religious, completely unbaptized person must be expressly approved by a bishop.
Catholics believe that requirements and restrictions like these are essential to the preservation of the faith. The Church also believes that these requirements protect Catholics from marriage to partners who are hostile to the faith.