An engagement and the planning of a wedding is an exciting time for all couples. This is also a time for couples to decide in what ways they want God and their Catholic faith to be present in the ceremony. This is the service that, for many couples, will set the tone of how their faith will be a part of their daily lives.
First and foremost, you need to determine if you are eligible to get married in the Catholic Church and, if you are, determine the next steps to take in planning your traditional Catholic wedding.
Before You Start: Are You Eligible?
Many Catholics find themselves wanting to include their faith in the ceremony that will begin the next chapter of their lives. After all, marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic faith and adhering to Catholic tradition can create a unique bond between a husband and a wife. However, before two people decide to be joined, not only legally but spiritually, they must meet some standard criteria.
While both people who are going to be married do not have to be specifically Catholic, they are required to be a baptized Christian. One partner, however, must be Catholic, and they both need to be free to marry. If you were or your partner was previously married, and then divorced, you are ineligible to be married in the Catholic Church. However, if either of you has been married and had the marriage annulled or your previous spouse has died, you can continue to move forward with your faithful marriage plans.
There are additional criteria when it comes to whom you are planning to marry. To be married in the Catholic Church, you and your partner must be of opposite genders. While this newer form of marriage of same sex couples is constitutionally legal, and members of the Catholic Church are condemned for acting in hatred toward homosexuals, homosexual marriage is not viewed as a sacramental marriage in the Church.
If you have a question about your ability to get married in the Catholic Church, ultimately it is best to consult your parish priest. He will have an excellent understanding of the criteria necessary for a sacramental marriage, and he will tell you what needs to happen if you and your partner do not meet these criteria.
So, You Are Eligible: What’s Next? The Engagement
Set up a time to meet with the priest who will perform the ceremony well in advance of the date you are planning for your wedding. There are many pre-marriage phases you must take before walking down the aisle, and you want to ensure you have plenty of time to complete those steps.
First, you and your partner must complete a pre-marital inventory. This is essentially a discussion with a facilitator to make sure you and your partner have talked about important issues that might arise during your marriage. You and your partner each answer the series of questions separately, and then you see whether your answers match up. Some examples of pre-marital inventory topics include parenting, lifestyle, finances, and the in-laws. A facilitator, who is likely to be the priest that is facilitating your wedding, will lead these questions.
You will need to complete some additional in-person marriage preparation steps to be able to be married in the Church. This includes meeting with the priest as a couple. This is a great way for him to get to know what your relationship is like, as well as make sure you are both there for the right reasons. It will also aid in making sure your wedding has a personal feel.
Couples will also be required to attend a marriage preparation program, otherwise known as Pre-Cana. This can take shape in many different forms depending on your dioceses. Through this, couples will engage in thoughtful conversations about issues that might arise in their marriage, similar to the pre-marital inventory.
However, this is also a course that ensures couples go into more detail and discussion. These programs can take place online, in the form of a weekend retreat, in weekly classes, or in one daylong program. Additionally, it is suggested you complete a Natural Family Planning course. Consult your parish priest to determine what option is available to you and exact details about what is required during your marriage preparation program.
Finally, the priest will also need to see documents as part of your marriage assessment. In addition to your pre-marital inventory, you will need to provide the priest with a recent baptismal certificate. This certificate can be retrieved from the Church you were baptized in. You will also need to supply a form from the parish that states you and your partner are free to marry.
If you are intending to marry someone who is a baptized, non-Catholic Christian or a non-baptized person, or if you wish to marry in a venue that is not a Catholic church, you are required to complete a dispensation form. The local priest or Diocese who handles the paperwork will have this form. Most parishes take about a month, on average, to grant dispensation. Most routinely grant dispensation requests.
Choosing Your Wedding Date
While setting the date may seem like something only you and your partner should be concerned about, there are specific dates you will be unable to marry in the Church. It is best to know these dates ahead of time so you do not conflict with other church programs when trying to schedule your wedding date.
There are certain Liturgical seasons discouraged for wedding ceremonies. These seasons are Lent, or the period that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter, and Advent, or the period that begins on the Sunday four weeks before Christmas and which ends on Christmas Eve. While weddings are not technically prohibited during this time, many parishes suggest you do not celebrate a wedding during a time that is for preparation and penance for an important Liturgical holiday.
Additionally, while certain days may not be off-limits for weddings according to the Church at large, there are days and times your parish may not allow weddings. It is imperative you double-check with your parish to make sure the date and time you want the church and priest for your wedding are available before you make other plans.
Finally, there are days during the Liturgical calendar that are not off limits for weddings; however, they are off limits for choosing your own readings. The days that require you to use specific readings are Sundays and Saturday evenings, as well as feast days. So, if you are set on specific readings for your wedding Mass, you will want to make sure you avoid these times.
Mass or No Mass?
While the traditional and preferred method for a marriage in the Catholic Church is performed during a celebration of the Eucharist, there are instances where couples may choose not to marry within the context of a traditional Mass. This decision is based on whether only one or both partners are Catholic.
If you or your partner is not a Catholic, you must obtain your priest’s permission to have your wedding performed within the context of a Mass. However, since the non-Catholic partner would not be able to partake in communion, this is not generally encouraged.
If both you and your partner are Catholic, you can choose whether you would like to celebrate your wedding during Mass with the Eucharist or if you would rather have a Liturgy of the Word service. The Liturgy of the Word service is similar in style to the Mass; however, it does not include partaking of the Eucharist. While the Liturgy of the Word service is typically shorter than a full Mass, the inclusion of the Eucharist does not add significantly more time onto your service and can start your marriage on a special note. If you decide to include the Eucharist, you might want to think about how to address non-Catholic guests who may not partake of the Eucharist at your ceremony.
Consider having your priest make an announcement with an explanation or including a clarification in your program. It is ultimately up to you and your partner to determine which service is the best fit for your personality and ceremony.
Decorations and Photographers
When planning the decorations, it is best to consult your parish. However, there are some basic guidelines you can expect to follow. The general rule is you do not want your decorations to distract from the Mass or from the overall nature and structure of the church. In fact, you can use this to your advantage by heightening the natural beauty of the worship space with simple decorations while still maintaining the celebratory effect. This will enable you to cut costs on wedding decorations without sacrificing a beautifully decorated wedding space.
Another thing to consider when planning decorations is what your flower girl and guests will be tossing. Consult your parish to find specific guidelines. Many parishes disallow flower girls to toss flower petals or for guests to throw rice when you and your partner leave the ceremony due to the difficult cleanup. If your parish adheres to these rules, there are other options to keep your exit festive. For instance, try giving your guests strands of ribbon to wave or sparklers to hold as you and your new spouse make your entrance into the world as husband and wife.
Many couples want to capture their special day with pictures or videos. Photographers and videographers are typically allowed in the Mass; however, they must adhere to some general guidelines. They must not disrupt the Mass, get in the way of your guests, or enter the sanctuary space. If they follow these rules, you will still have beautiful documentation of your ceremony without ruining the special significance of the service.
Music and Musicians
Most churches do not require you to use a specific band or set of music. This gives you the freedom to choose a musician with whom you have a close relationship or one who fits your style and budget.
However, there are guidelines to the type of music you can play during your ceremony. Since the songs you pick will be sung during a Catholic service, they must maintain a religious nature and honor the Lord. It is also typically recommended you choose some songs that can be sung by the musicians, as well as you and your guests, as an act of praise and prayer. Many parishes require you to send in your music choices to be approved for a liturgical service.
While planning a traditional Catholic wedding may seem tedious and like it would be significantly more time-consuming than planning a secular wedding, a Catholic wedding has its major advantages. It is important for Catholic couples to understand that a wedding is not only about the one day your ceremony takes place but about setting you up for a committed relationship with your life partner. When couples take this into account, the strict pre-marital actions and longer service are worth the investment of time.
The Church does not make couples participate in Pre-Cana because it can but, rather, it is intended to make sure a couple is better prepared to withstand the difficult times that come along with the joys of marriage. Couples can consider this a type of pre-marriage counseling which will strengthen their relationship in a time that is often stressful for an engaged couple.
Including the Eucharist and the liturgy in your ceremony sets the precedent for your marital relationship being centered on Christ. This will make it much more natural for you and your spouse to continue reinforcing your relationship with each other and with the Lord through weekly Mass attendance.
Similarly, it will likely increase your drive to raise your children in the Church, which will enable you to strengthen your family and set your children up for a positive, faith-filled life. Remember, when in doubt about anything concerning planning, your parish priest is your best resource.