Catholic Digest Preview — February 2010 - Preview
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The Catholic Digest Wedding Guide
Paul Boudreau

“Will you marry me?” Now there’s a lifechanging question if ever there was one.

It may be the one you’ve been waiting for.

It may be the one you’ve been building your courage to ask. It may have even tumbled out of your lips unexpectedly in the glow of candlelight and soft music.

Whatever the case, it’s on the table and if the answer is “yes,” you’ve got work to do.

As for Mom and Dad, you’ve just been promoted to The status of wedding planner. So whether you’re the bride-to-be, the bachelor emeritus, the MOB (mother of the bride) or the FOB, or the groom’s antecedents, you possess a common vision: that moment the bride and groom stand at the altar before the priest in the church.

As a sacrament, marriage possesses a unique character. It is the sacred expression of the relationship between Christ and the Church, the union of body and soul, flesh and divinity we share with our Lord and God.

Therefore the Church has a serious stake in your upcoming wedding. How you express the mystical message of this sacrament is of critical importance.

Th e event you plan, the components of your wedding liturgy, from the decorations to the music to the outfi ts to the words you speak and the gestures you make, all combine to present our Catholic faith to your family, your friends, and all your wedding guests. More importantly, your wedding liturgy will implant an image of what you believe deep in your heart to serve your spiritual needs as you journey through the rest of your life.

With all that in mind, here are some answers to frequently asked questions to help you prepare for the big day:

How soon in advance do we need to approach our parish to be married?

Normally, parishes require a six-month lead time for weddings.

Th is allows for the proper preparation of the couple. It also assures the pastor that the couple will have ample time to consider the gravity of their intentions and address any concerns they might have. Additionally it gives the couple a better shot at the date and time slot they want. Check with the church first, before you engage a reception facility, so that you can better coordinate the date and the time.

Do I need to be a registered parishioner at a parish to have

My wedding there?

Most parishes probably require you to be registered members, or at least your family of origin to be members. Th is is true for all celebrations of the sacraments.

How much does a Catholic church charge to perform a wedding ceremony?

It varies from parish to parish, but expect to make an off ering commensurate with what you are paying for the wedding planner, the videographer, the photographer, the limo, and the reception. So if the wedding planner is being paid $1200, the videographer $1500, the limo $800, and the reception $30,000, don’t figure on giving the church a $20 bill. As a pastor, I’ve simply asked for a free-will offering and have received everything from $50 to $5,000.

Why can’t we get married on the beach/elsewhere outside a church?

Marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.

As such, it is appropriately celebrated in the church building.

Th e church setting sends a clear message to the assembled guests and the wedding party that the couple’s call to union comes from God and is an outward sign of the mystical presence of Jesus Christ Marry a non-Catholic Christian in a non-Catholic Christian church.

Th e bishop may also give permission for a Catholic to marry a non-Christian, such as a Buddhist or Muslim, in a neutral or secular setting. But a Catholic marrying another Catholic in a Catholic ceremony should marry in a Catholic setting. Th e Church is identifi ed by its buildings; one does not drive by a beach and think “Catholic!” In a strictly religious sense, a church evokes “the sacred” much more readily than a beach or a garden.

Can I have a wedding in a church without Mass being part of the ceremony?

You most certainly can. In fact, many priests prefer such a ceremony because at most weddings, participation in the Eucharist, the responses and such, and Holy Communion will be light, given the broad makeup of the assembly.

Such an event would not be a particularly good witness of Catholic faith and celebration.

Also, the Eucharist is a sign of unity. But friends and family who are not Catholic would customarily exclude themselves from Communion, and that would not be a sign of unity.

Can we be married at my fi ancée’s church even though she’s Protestant?

Catholics can be married in a Protestant church with a special dispensation by the local bishop.

Your priest will help you obtain permission.


Why can’t the groom see the bride before the wedding?

This custom dates back to a time when most marriages were arranged by the groom and the bride’s father, with the groom giving money or some other item of value in exchange for his bride. Since the groom might never before have seen the woman he was to marry, and on the chance that he might not be pleased with her looks, it was forbidden for him to see her until the time of the wedding, when the payment would be made. By that time, it would be too late for him to back out of the arrangement.


My fiancé isn’t Catholic.

Can we still get married in the Church?

Yes. While Church law obliges Catholics to marry other Catholics, this law is commonly dispensed. Th e pastoral team preparing you for marriage will request the necessary dispensation from your local bishop.

My fiancé and I have been away from the Church for a while. We want a church wedding, though. How do we approach a parish about this?

It’s really easy to put yourself in a position to have a church wedding.

Just start going to church.

Make sure you greet the priest coming and going each time you attend, and attend regularly. Th is way you get the lay of the land, decide upon a priest or deacon to witness your wedding, and make yourself known to the pastor.

Remember to register your membership in the parish offi ce and sign up for envelopes. Th is way there will be no problem whatsoever having a church wedding.

At the same time it will give you an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the Catholic faith and perhaps learn what attracts you to the idea of a church wedding.

Celebrating your wedding in a Catholic church means that you are joining the faith community as a sacrament, an outward sign of the living presence of Jesus Christ in your marriage. What you seek is more than a wedding in a church; it’s the identity you will take on as a married couple.

I was not confirmed. Can I still get married in the Church?

Catholics are required to receive the Sacrament of Confi rmation before marriage, unless doing so results in a “serious inconvenience.” What constitutes a “serious inconvenience” is usually Determined by the local pastor.

Some are strict about it and some aren’t.

THE PLAYERS . Does the Church have rules about what the bride and groom wear — in style, color, level of modesty, etc.?

Th e Church’s liturgical documents use the term “appropriate and dignifi ed clothing” a lot when referring to what should be worn by ministers. Keep in mind that the bride and groom at a wedding liturgy are the ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Th erefore their clothing should be appropriate and dignifi ed. In addition, your priest may have specifi c rules for what he considers appropriate. Some priests prohibit strapless or low-cut gowns, for example. However, the traditional white wedding gown is not required. I remember one October wedding when the bride wore something made out of orange cellophane. I thought it was silly, but it was her call.

If I have a themed wedding, can guests attend in costume attire?

If the costumes are dignifi ed and not off ensive to Catholicism, and if your pastor grants his approval, there shouldn’t be a problem. Th e traditional wedding gown and tuxedo are costumes, too. Th ey are secular symbols of wealth and social status and not at all religious. I once witnessed a wedding with a cowboy theme. Th e bride was the schoolmarm, the groom was the sheriff , the bridal party members were deputies and dancehall gals, and the guests were all buckaroos. Th ere was even a stagecoach with four horses waiting out front. But check with the person performing the wedding. One priest may not mind Commander Riker marrying Counselor Troi, but another may draw the line at Lieutenant Worf tying the knot with the Borg Queen.

My friend says that it’s not really the priest who “marries” the couple at the Catholic wedding; he says the couple administers the sacrament to each other. Is he right? If this is true, what do we need a priest for?

Your friend is correct. In the theology of the Catholic Church, the sacrament of marriage is administered by the couple to each other. Th e priest or the deacon is required because he is the Church’s offi cial witness to the marriage. He receives the wedding promises of the couple and assures the validity of the sacrament.

Additionally, he fulfi lls the requirements of the state to solemnize the marriage and sign the license.

Are Catholics allowed to sign a pre-nuptial agreement?

Nope. A couple entering into a Catholic marriage must intend an unconditional, lifetime commitment.

Any condition that is contingent upon a future event would serve to invalidate a Catholic marriage. No pre-nups.


Can we use secular music at our wedding?

Generally speaking, religious Music is appropriate for the church and popular music is appropriate for the reception. You would not play “We’ve Only Just Begun” for the wedding procession any more than you would want “Tantum Ergo” for the fi rst dance.

Some secular music has enough religious connotation to work in the church. It would be best to discuss the music selection with your pastor or the music director.


What will a parish generally allow as far as decorating the church, and where?

Generally, local fl orists know what works in a given church. If you’re going beyond fl owers, work together with the person who normally decorates the church for Sundays. Keep in mind that liturgical seasons have specifi c colors and themes.

Rose petals work in the aisle if you clean up aft er the wedding.

Rice outside? Again, clean it up.

If it rains, the rice turns into a gooey, slippery pilaf that invites an accident and a lawsuit. Some parishes prohibit it. Same is true for birdseed. Birds eat it, create a mess, and sometimes end up in the church. Confetti stains. Try bubbles instead. Florists sell tiny individual-sized bubble bottles by the truckload, and the kids love ’em.

Other things to keep in mind when decking out the church for your wedding: 1. Don’t put anything on the altar, even if the fl orist wants to throw in an “altar spray” for free. Th e only things that go on the altar are the bread and wine and their accompanying liturgical hardware. 2. Don’t put anything between the priest’s chair and the congregation.

Father shouldn’t have to peer through a potted palm to see what’s going on.

Why can’t we do a reading from a secular source at our wedding?

Th e readings for the Liturgy of the Word prescribed for weddings are taken from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalms, the New Testament, and the Gospels. Readings from sources other than the Bible would not be appropriate for the Catholic celebration of a sacrament.

It is from the word of God and the traditions of our faith that our understanding of the sacred nature of marriage springs. And it is from the word of God that the priest or deacon preaches and instructs the couple. Perhaps a Ecular reading of your choice can be off ered during the reception.

Can we write our own wedding vows?

Couples can and do write their own vows. But they must contain certain elements, i.e. a statement of “taking,” receiving, or accepting the other as spouse, the pledge of unconditional, lifelong commitment, and the promise of exclusivity or faithfulness to the marriage. Stuff about being “best friends” or “soul mates” or how you feel when you look into each other’s eyes is OK, but the more you depart from the basics, the harder it will be to get your compositions approved. You can read your promises, recite them from memory, repeat aft er the priest, or have the priest read them to you as a question to which you respond with the very traditional “I do.” Keep in mind that the emotion of the moment will surprise you and you may not be able to clearly speak your promises.

While there’s nothing wrong with getting a little choked up, it may be embarrassing to you or prevent the assembly from hearing your vows.

Can our wedding photographer or videographer stand by the priest, near the altar, or in the aisle during the ceremony to get good shots?

Most professional photographers/ videographers know how to get good shots and stay out of the way. But some don’t. Th ey should not be a distraction to the celebration of the sacraments. It would be totally inappropriate for someone to be lurking around the altar who isn’t involved in the ceremony, but that doesn’t stop everyone. I once saw a video guy shooting the couple from a stepladder behind the priest during the eucharistic prayer. I’ve tried to keep photographers out of the aisle during the bridal procession, but they do it anyway. It’s become a lost cause. Some priests can get militant about it. Others just let it go. Curb your photographer.

What are the rules as to who may receive Communion at a Catholic wedding?

Anyone who is Catholic and properly disposed to receive Holy Communion may do so.

Anyone who is not a Catholic but who has received express permission from the local bishop may also receive.

My sister and her fi ancé had to go to confession the evening before the wedding. Will we have to do that too?

A Catholic pastor doing his job will strongly encourage you to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before your wedding and provide you with an opportunity to do so. However, you are required to confess only if you are conscious of an unconfessed mortal sin. At the same time, it’s always a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity.

My fi ancé and I want to stage a fabulous entrance at our wedding, maybe a little dance routine. Our priest isn’t in favor of this. Why not?

While dance routines in wedding processions are gaining traction on YouTube, they’ve never been an American wedding custom.

Generally, anything that draws attention away from the wedding sacrament loses favor in the wedding liturgy. Your priest is simply and correctly trying to get you to tone it down for the sake of your wedding. How about staging a fabulous entrance at the reception?

Th at would be cool.