Catholic Wedding Q&A
I am attending a Catholic wedding, but I am not Catholic. What can I expect?
First off, you can expect to be welcomed. The Church welcomes all to its sacramental celebrations.
As a witness to the marriage of the bride and groom, you are called to actively assist in the wedding ceremony through words and actions that show your love and support for the couple. If you are not Christian, this may be as simple as being a warm presence for the couple and participating in the words and actions of the wedding liturgy as you feel comfortable. (No one expects you to say prayers or make statements of faith that do not reflect your beliefs.) If you are Christian, you are invited to join the whole assembly to offer your prayers (spoken and sung) for the couple.
The wedding liturgy, called the Order of Celebrating Matrimony, has two basic forms: within Mass or without Mass. The Catholic sacrament of marriage normally takes place within the context of Mass, because the the Eucharist both reflects and strengthens the bonds of love between the bride and groom, and between the couple, the Church, and Christ. If the wedding is celebrated as part of a Mass, it may last an hour or more; if it takes place without Mass, it will probably last about half an hour or so.
If you're lucky, the wedding couple will put together a program that lets you know how to participate in the service or Mass (with hints such as "please kneel" or "please stand"). Other people rely on the priest to give those signals to those present.
You can also get a good idea of what to expect by reviewing the order of the wedding ceremony, which you can do at the following links:
- Order of a Catholic wedding Mass
- Order of a Catholic wedding outside of Mass
- Order of a wedding between a Catholic and someone who is not Christian
If the wedding you are attending includes a Mass, you may be wondering whether you should come forward to receive the Eucharist when everyone else lines up to do so. The short answer is that only Catholics should receive the Eucharist (with a few exceptions). Another name for the Eucharist is "communion," because the act of receiving it both reflects and effects the spiritual union of the believer with Christ and all the other faithful. In other words, it's a statement of Catholic faith, one that you probably do not want to make if you do not share that faith. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops eloquently explain this position in a statement they issued to be included in worship aids:
For our fellow Christians
We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ's prayer for us "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21).
Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of Canon law (Canon 844 § 4). Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of communion by Christians of these Churches (Canon 844 § 3).
For those not receiving Holy Communion
All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.
We also welcome to this celebration those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. While we cannot admit them to Holy Communion, we ask them to offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family.
Other pages at this website might answer any other questions you have.
For more information
An index of articles about Catholic weddings
Here's an index of all of our articles about Catholic weddings, listed by subject.