Roman Catholic Traditions

Overview

The Roman Catholic wedding rite takes place with the Sacrament of Matrimony, one of the seven sacraments Catholics believe are channels of God’s grace. The ceremony consists, at least, of three biblical readings, the exchange of vows, the exchange of rings, the Prayer of the Faithful, the nuptial blessing, prayers and appropriate music.The Roman Catholic wedding is rich in tradition and liturgy. Since a wedding is primarily a worship service, worship and praise of God who calls a man and a woman together in marriage, great care should go into planning the ceremony itself. The Church offers this sacred opportunity to join with family and friends in dedicating the couple’s marriage to God, the author of all love.

The marriage ceremony is not a private ceremony, but rather a public ritual. It is celebrated in the community prayer space (the church building, not outdoors) and encourages those who have gathered not only to witness the vows of the couple, but also to participate fully in the liturgy.

The Sacrament usually takes place during a Mass, referred to as a Nuptial Mass, usually celebrated in the morning or early afternoon. The Catholic Church encourages the couple – and other Catholic bridal party members – to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony. weddings are not scheduled for Holy Thursday, Good Friday or Holy Saturday, nor are weddings scheduled for those hours when Mass is read for the congregation.

The church is the appropriate setting for a wedding because it is a place sanctified by communal worship and the place where the sacrament of marriage is more significantly symbolized. The wedding usually takes place in the parish church of the bride’s family.

When a marriage takes place between two Catholics of mixed rites, it is the rite of the groom that determines the service to be used. The power to transfer rites from the groom’s church to that of the bride rests with the Church.


Requirements

The Church makes certain requests of the bride and groom to help the couple with their spiritual preparation. There is no uniform set of rules for Catholic marriage preparation, each couple will need to rely on information received from their parish priests who can then explain the requirements in their diocese. In addition, you will need a copy of your Baptismal Certificate.The Catholic partner still is required to promise to continue observing the Catholic faith and to do their best to raise children as Catholics. The promise is made in the presence of the non-Catholic partner, who no longer is asked to make any promise or commitment.


The Language

The language of the Catholic Church in America is English. Weddings and Masses are often performed in the dominant language of the neighborhood (Italian, Spanish, etc.)


The Processional

Many Catholic churches encourage the bride and groom to greet their guests as they enter the church for the ceremony. The processional may begin with the priest meeting the bride and groom at the entrance and then lead them and their attendants to the altar; or the priest and ministers proceed to the altar to receive the bride, groom and their attendants.Also, the processional might include the cross bearer, the priest and servers, as well as the witnesses, bridesmaids and groomsmen. The groom is encouraged to process in with his parents; and the bride with her parents. (This is optional).

If the bride is in the processional with her father only, he escorts her up the aisle, on his right arm. When he gives her hand to the groom, he then steps back and joins his wife in the first pew. (The escort, by tradition, is a man.) If the bride has no one for the role, she traditionally walks up the aisle alone. If step parents are involved, different suggestions are made.


The Ceremony

After entry into the church, a greeting is usually issued by the priest, first to the bride and groom and then to their guests. This is followed by an opening prayer.The liturgy of the word includes readings from the Old and New Testaments, a re-sponsorial psalm, the “alleluia” before the Gospel, and a Gospel reading. The selections may be read by the priest or by honored members of the wedding party.

The homily, or sermon, elaborates on the marriage theme. If the priest knows the couple well, he may interlace his homily with personal references.

The exchange of rings follows the exchange of vows. The best man, who usually has both rings, gives the bride’s ring to the priest, who blesses it and gives it to the bridegroom, who places it on the bride’s finger. In a double ring ceremony, after the bride receives her ring, the blessing and presentation will be repeated for the bridegroom’s ring. Some brides may consider honoring the role of the Virgin Mary as Christ’s Mother, by presenting flowers at a side altar dedicated to Mary. (This is optional).

The Prayer of the Faithful follows which may also include personal prayer by the couple.

During a Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is said at this time. Those who are chosen to bring gifts of wine and bread to the altar carry out their role at this point and the liturgy begins.

The priest then offers the Nuptial Blessing.

The conclusion of a wedding without Mass is the Lord’s Prayer and a Blessing. At a Mass, the service ends with a Blessing and Dismissal.
Music

Many Catholic churches do not allow the classic wedding march nor the famous recession music which are popularly used. They are considered secular music, and the Roman Catholic church does not allow, in most cases, secular music. Sacred or classical music may be played.The Commission on Church Music of the Archdiocese of New York has published a statement entitled Music for weddings, in which the following observations are made:

The music of the wedding service should assist the assembled believers to express and share the gift of faith. This does not exclude songs from the popular idiom, especially those which can be seen as referring to the human-divine nature of love.

Candles

The use of the Unity (memory) candle is often discouraged. (However, each parish priest will make suggestions on this; follow his direction.) The United State Conference of Catholic Bishops has deemed the text of the symbol of the candle as faulty symbolism within the ceremony. If a Unity candle is desired, it is often suggested to build a ceremony within the rehearsal dinner celebration.A Candlelight blessing has been used in both Catholic and Protestant churches. It is acceptable because of the spiritual context of the blessing. In the Catholic tradition, the candle (flame) is a symbol of Christ, the light of the world. The Scriptures given confirm this concept, and are cause for reflection among the guests.

The Unity candle that is lit by the bride and groom often symbolizes their separate lives being joined together, thus extinguishing the separate lights of the side candles and the combining to light the single large center candle. The Candlelight Blessing is a confirmation of that symbolism, and often follows the lighting of the Unity Candle.


Flowers

Churches permit floral decorations for a wedding with the understanding that the flowers remain in the church. The Catholic Church feels that flowers that are part of the wedding scene take on the spirit of the sacrament and should remain in the church for others to share.

Gifts and Fees

Although religion is a spiritual experience, places of worship are institutions which require financial support. Therefore, fees or offerings may be suggested, or requested, for the use of church facilities for a wedding. If such a request poses a problem for the parishioner, the Church may adjust the fees accordingly.The bride and groom are expected to present gifts to altar boys and church attendants. Fees for the organist and soloist are the responsibility of the couple.


Additional Information

When the ceremony takes place during a Nuptial Mass, the bridal party normally kneel, stand or sit during the entire ceremony. A kneeling bench is provided for the bride and groom, with the bridal party using the first pews in the congregational seating.The Roman Catholic church has changed much of its approach regarding the marriage of Catholics and non-Catholics. This issue should be discussed thoroughly by the couple and the priest or deacon who is presiding at the marriage. The Church may prefers both Best Man and Maid of Honor be Catholic, but no longer requires that one or both of them be. The other attendants need not be Catholic, but will be instructed in the required courtesies and reverences.

Marriages customarily are announced by banns read during Mass or published in a church bulletin, for three consecutive weeks. It, however, is not required. (This replaces the traditional Protestant question, asked at the ceremony, whether anyone knows why the marriage should not take place.)

The Catholic Church encourages the couple to help develop and personalize the ceremony, within constraints. Particularly appropriate readings from the Scriptures, prayers and hymns have been identified and may be used. It is always recommended to discuss prayer or Scripture choices with the president priest and music with the church music minister.


Resources and References

Special thanks to Lois Pearce, Master Bridal Consultant of Hamden, Connecticut, for her time and energy gathering the majority of information used here. We also wish to thank the Association of Bridal Consultants for their assistance.

Please note: The information contained in this category should be considered general in nature. We believe it to be true and an accurate representation of some of the customs and traditions for this country or religion. Information provided by individuals and organizations is assumed to be correct.You are welcome to email us at liza@wdweb.com with any suggestions for changes, additions or deletions.

Resources

Weddings by Abraham J. Klausner, Alpha Publishing Company, 1986Wedding Casa by Norma Edelman, San Diego, California

Emerald Cuts Events by Louise Gilla, Muncie, Indiana