Congratulations on your engagement! The Church rejoices with you and eagerly awaits the day you become husband and wife, a new family, in the covenant of Marriage (a sacrament for baptized Christians). The following are some suggestions for the centerpiece of your wedding day: the wedding liturgy.
The Catholic wedding liturgy (or ceremony) presents engaged couples with both choices and structure. The structure is provided by the Rite of Marriage, the ritual book that contains the prayers, readings and liturgical forms used in Catholic weddings throughout the United States. The choices come from a variety of options provided in the Rite of Marriage, which include cultural customs approved for use in the United States. Take some time as a couple to think about these choices and then discuss them with the priest, deacon or other pastoral minister at your parish.
Within Mass or Outside of Mass?
The Rite of Marriage provides three forms for a Catholic wedding. A wedding within Mass is usually celebrated when two Catholics marry. A wedding outside of Mass is usually celebrated when a Catholic marries a baptized person from another Christian denomination. A third form, also outside of Mass, is usually celebrated when a Catholic marries someone who is not baptized. When a deacon leads the liturgy, the wedding is celebrated outside of Mass even when two Catholics marry.
For most of the prayers that are used in the wedding liturgy, there are several optional texts and you are free to choose among them. Your parish may provide you with a book or other materials that contain the various options.
The readings at a Catholic wedding liturgy are a proclamation of God’s Word and of the Church’s faith about marriage. For this reason, they are limited to readings from the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible). There are nine options for the first reading from the Old Testament, seven options for the responsorial psalm, thirteen options for the second reading from the New Testament and ten choices for the Gospel. You choose one from each of these categories.
Prayer of the Faithful
The Prayer of the Faithful at a wedding liturgy includes petitions for the couple, their families, the Church, the world and the local community. The priest, deacon or other pastoral minister can help you to compose these petitions or you can tell him or her the people and concerns that you would like to have included, for example, the names of deceased or sick family members.
In most places, the couple is invited to select people to proclaim the first reading, second reading and Prayer of the Faithful. Think about family members or friends who have been readers (or lectors) at their church, who have participated in Bible study, or who are used to speaking in public. Give them a copy of the reading or intercessions well in advance, and ask them to attend the rehearsal so that they have a chance to rehearse in the church with the microphone.
The organist or music director at your parish can offer you choices for the sung and instrumental music at your wedding. Since most of the music at a wedding liturgy is intended to be sung by all present, the organist or music director will probably recommend pieces that are well known and easy to sing. Music that does not speak of God’s role in your marriage is best reserved for the wedding reception.
If you want to purchase flowers or other decorations for the church for your wedding, check first with the priest, deacon, parish wedding coordinator or other pastoral minister. He or she can tell you what flowers or other decorations may already be in the church on the day of your wedding. If there are other weddings in the church on the same day, you may want to consider coordinating the flowers or other decorations with the other couples.
Hospitality to Your Guests
Consider various ways to extend hospitality to those who will gather to celebrate your wedding. Some couples arrive at the church thirty minutes before the wedding and stand at the doors with their parents to greet those who have come from far and near to be with them on this special day. (Yes, this means overcoming any superstition that would keep the bride and groom from seeing one another prior to the start of the wedding. It’s a superstition that has no place among Christians anyway. Even when the practice is based more on custom rather than on superstition, the point is that the practice can be changed!) Ask the other male and female members of your wedding party to help people find seats toward the front of the church and to introduce them to the other people with whom they will be seated.
Many couples are surprised to learn that the recommended entrance procession at a Catholic wedding liturgy includes the priest or deacon and then the bride and the groom, escorted by their parents and the two witnesses (maid of honor and best man). Unlike the common American form of the procession which suggests that the bride is given away by her father to the groom, the faith of the Catholic Church holds that the bride and groom enter marriage mutually and as equal, complementary partners. This is also—among other reasons – why the tune known as “Here Comes the Bride” is not recommended for the procession: its focus on the bride alone contradicts the Church’s emphasis on the couple. While it is still allowable for a father to escort his daughter down the aisle, as well as for the parents of the bride to escort their daughter to the waiting groom, give serious consideration to the full entrance procession, and assure the father of the bride that he will still walk his daughter down the aisle. He’ll simply be joined in this happy role by the bride’s mother and by the groom’s parents who will escort their son down the aisle.
Care for the Needy
How will your wedding express the care for the needy that a Christian couple is called to reflect in marriage? Some couples prepare a large food basket that they bring forward along with the bread and wine for Mass. Other couples include a request on their wedding invitations that guests bring one or two items of non-perishable food to the church where they are collected in a basket. After the wedding liturgy, the food can be brought to the parish food pantry or a local food bank or delivered to a needy family. Online charitable wedding registries allow couples to designate a charity to which they request that guests donate in lieu of a wedding gift. Couples can also make a donation, from the money they may receive as gifts, to the parish’s social outreach committee or food pantry.
Paul Covino is associate chaplain and director of liturgy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is the editor of “Celebrating Marriage: Preparing the Roman Catholic Wedding Liturgy.”