Catholic weddings


The Catholic (or Roman Catholic) Church is the world’s largest Christian church, with over a billion members worldwide.

Catholic tradition teaches that the church was founded by Jesus Christ. The spiritual head of the church is the Pope, who resides in the Vatican. Catholics believe in “God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, and venerate Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ.

During a Catholic Mass, believers take Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, in which they consume bread and wine that are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. There are seven Holy Sacraments in the Catholicism: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, anointing the sick, holy orders (to become a priest) and holy matrimony. Marriage is an important sacrament joining together a man and a woman in a lifelong mutual commitment.

In the USA, many Catholic families have Hispanic, Italian, Irish or Filipino heritage.

Before marriage

If a couple wish to get married in a Catholic church, they must attend a marriage preparation course, known as pre-Cana, and refrain from sexual activity. The aims of these programs are to help the couple decide whether they are well suited and ready to marry, and to equip them with the tools they will need for a successful marriage.

The banns for the marriage are read in the parish church some weeks before the wedding. This 800 year old tradition allows people to inform the church if there is any cause why the couple should not be allowed to marry.

If one member of the couple is not Catholic, a dispensation is required that is granted by the priest who is to conduct the marriage. The Catholic believer is required to promise to continue observing the Catholic faith and to make every effort to raise children as Catholics.

catholic_weddingA Catholic wedding ceremony

A Catholic Nuptial Mass usually takes place in the bride’s parish church, and is usually held in the morning or early afternoon. It is rich in ceremony and liturgy. Weddings are not held on Holy Thursday, Good Friday or Holy Saturday, or when Mass is read for the church’s congregation.

Many Catholic churches do not allow the use of secular music such as popular wedding marches or recessional music. Sacred music or classical hymns by composers such as Bach, Handel, and Mozart may be played.

There are two types of ceremony, one which lasts about an hour which Mass and the Eucharist are celebrated, and one without Mass that lasts about 20 minutes.

The bride’s family is seated on the left of the church and the groom’s on the right. The groom awaits his bride, who is traditionally escorted down the aisle and given away by her father (who is on her right), although it is acceptable for her to be walk alone or accompanied by both parents.

The wedding Mass starts with the entrance rite, greeting and penitential rite, followed by the singing of Gloria, the opening prayer, and liturgy of the word (readings from the Old and New Testaments, a psalm and response, Alleluia, and a Gospel reading. A homily from Scripture is read by the priest for the couple and their guests. The bride and groom exchange their vows and consent, the unity candle may be lit by the couple’s parents (some Catholic churches do not permit this ceremony), and rings are blessed and exchanged. After the prayer of the faithful is the liturgy of the Eucharist, with the gifts of bread and wine (Jesus’ body and blood). Catholic wedding guests may receive Holy Communion. A service with a Mass ends with a blessing and dismissal, and a wedding without a Mass ends with the Lord's Prayer and a blessing of the couple and the congregation.

Click here for suggested prayers for Catholic weddings.

Many Catholic brides like to offer flowers to a statue of the Virgin Mary, dedicating their newly married life to the Mother of God, often accompanied by the music “Ave Maria”.

The wedding party leaves in the reverse order to which they entered, with the bride and groom leaving first.

Flowers that are used to decorate the church should remain, as they are believed to take on the spirit of the sacrament and should be shared by others.

Mexican and Hispanic Catholics may follow three additional traditions in which the bride’s mother says a prayer for her daughter before the wedding, the groom presents thirteen gold coins or “arras” to his bride to symbolize his material possessions and trust, and the “lazo” ceremony in which the bride and groom are joined together by a cord as a symbol of their bond.

Click here for more on Hispanic wedding traditions.

Irish Catholic brides traditionally carry a horseshoe, turned up so that the luck won’t run out, and a handkerchief to which a few stitches can be added to make a christening bonnet for the couple’s children. These stitches can then be unpicked to be carried on the child’s wedding day.

Catholic wedding vows and exchange of rings

rings" _______, will you take _____ here present, for your lawful wife/husband according to the rite of our Holy Mother, the Catholic Church?" (Response: "I will")

(Repeat) "I, ________, take you ______, for my wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

(Rings) "With this ring I thee wed, and pledge thee my troth."

After the ceremony

kennedy_weddingGuests at a Catholic wedding will usually be invited to a wedding reception afterwards where food and drinks are served. Grace will probably be said before the meal.

Here is a suggested dinner prayer for a Catholic wedding reception:

Bless us, O Lord, and these gifts,

which we are about to receive from thy bounty

through Christ our Lord. Amen.

There may also be dancing, and the reception generally follows the modern traditions of a US wedding.

One of the most famous Catholic weddings in the US was that of John F. and Jackie Kennedy in September 1953.

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