Planning Your Catholic Wedding
Contacting your parish
Before you make any other wedding plans, contact the parish where you plan to be married. Most parishes require at least six months' notice prior to the wedding.
Church law requires weddings to be held in the parish church of either the bride or groom, although the pastor or bishop may give permission for the wedding to take place in another parish (Canon 1115). Your parish church is typically the one in whose geographic territory you reside, although some Catholics choose to attend a different parish.
Parishes usually encourage either the bride or groom to be a registered member, although it is usually not required. Like any Catholic liturgy, the sacrament of marriage is a celebration of the whole faith community. That is why there is a strong preference for couples to be members of the parish community in which they are married.
Before you contact your parish, you may want to look over its website for basic information and parish-specific policies about celebrating the sacrament of marriage. If your parish website doesn't provide much information, try looking up the marriage policies and guidelines provided by the diocese in which you live. (See "Other Websites" below for a directory of dioceses in the United States). A little advance preparation will give you a better idea of what to expect as you work with the person at your parish responsible for coordinating weddings.
When you call or visit your parish, explain that you are engaged to be married and ask to speak with the person who coordinates marriage preparation. That person might be the pastor, a member of the parish staff (such as a pastoral associate or lay ecclesial minister), a deacon, a religious brother or sister, or even a trained lay volunteer. He or she may send you information and provide you a basic overview of how the sacrament of marriage is celebrated at the parish.
You will meet with the priest or deacon and other parish staff (including the liturgist) several times before your wedding. Parish staff often work long hours for low pay because they love serving people like you. If tension arises because your wedding plans clash with Church regulations or parish policies, keep in mind that your parish staff ultimately has the same goal as you do: a beautiful wedding liturgy, and a strong marriage.
Before anything else can happen—including setting the wedding date—you will have a face-to-face interview as a couple with your pastor (or the priest or deacon who will witness your marriage). The interview is a time for you to get to know him, and vice versa. Besides some informal "getting to know you" questions, he will also ask some standard questions to determine whether there are any impediments to your marriage—that is, an issue (such as a previous marriage) that must be resolved before you can be married in the Church. He will also discuss with you any special circumstances (such as mental illness, lack of financial support, or pregnancy) that might require additional pastoral care, and possibly professional counseling. See "Can you be married in the Catholic Church?" as well as the links below for details on impediments to marriage and special circumstances.
Once it has been determined that you are able to be married in the Church, you will probably be able to set a date for your wedding. In some places, though, the wedding date remains tentative until you have completed a marriage preparation program.
Your parish will spend a considerable amount of time and money helping you prepare for your marriage. Most parishes charge a fee to recover some of this expense; others simply accept a voluntary contribution. Fees for members of the parish commonly range from $300-$500. Sometimes a higher fee is charged to people who are not members of the parish.
Even if a fee is not specified, it is customary to offer a monetary gift. How do you determine the appropriate amount? One way would be to consult the websites of parishes in your area to see whether they charge a fee, and make the gift to your parish a similar amount. Another way would be to tithe a percentage of what you expect to spend on the whole wedding. Or offer as much as you choose to spend on more "optional" elements of the wedding, such as the cost of photography or wedding clothes. Alternatively, you could just ask the parish staff what an appropriate amount would be.
If you are truly unable to afford the fee, don't hesitate to approach your parish to ask for a waiver or reduction. All eligible persons have a right to receive the sacrament of marriage, regardless of ability to pay a fee.
You should expect to provide some paperwork in the months leading up to the wedding. The most critical item will be a recently issued, official copy of your baptismal certificate from the parish in which you were baptized. A certificate of baptism or other proof of baptism is required even if you or your fiancé received Christian baptism outside of the Catholic Church.
Why is the baptismal certificate so important? In the Catholic Church, marriage records are kept at the parish in which each person was baptized. When the parish at which you were baptized provides a copy of the baptism certificate, that certificate will indicate that you have not been married previously in the Catholic Church, and are therefore eligible to be married. If one of you is not Catholic, proof of baptism will help to determine which version of the Order of Celebrating Matrimony ought to be used (the rite follows a different order for marriage between a Catholic and someone who has not been baptized).
Other forms and paperwork you need to provide will vary depending on your situation and the requirements of your parish or diocese. However, here is a list of commonly required documents:
Certification of Holy Communion and confirmation. In some places, you may be asked to provide recently issued certificates indicating that you have received your first Eucharist and the sacrament of confirmation. These sacraments are necessary for complete initiation into the Catholic Church. If you are Catholic but have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation, you will probably be asked to do so before you are married (see Canon 1065).
Affidavit of Freedom to Marry. This affidavit is the written testimony of someone who knows you very well (usually your parents) stating that you are free to marry.
Civil Marriage License. Check with your state or local municipality about how to obtain a marriage license. On or near the wedding date, you will present this to the priest or deacon who presides at the wedding ceremony.
Pre-marriage inventories. Pre-marriage inventories help couples assess the strengths and weaknesses in their relationship. They aren't a "test" to see whether you qualify to be married, but they do provide valuable insights into areas you may want to discuss with one another. Your pastor will review the assessment with you and discuss any issues you may want to work on. The FOCCUS (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding & Study) inventory is widely used as a first step in Catholic marriage preparation. You can read more about it on the next page, Preparing for a lifelong marriage.
Marriage Preparation Course Completion Certificate. Virtually all Catholic dioceses and parishes require engaged couples to complete a formal marriage preparation program. Your parish may require that you present a certificate indicating that you have completed such a program prior to the wedding. You can learn more about such programs at Preparing for a lifelong marriage.
Natural Family Planning Course Completion Certificate. Some parishes and dioceses also require engaged couples to complete a course in natural family planning prior to the wedding; if that is the case at your parish, you will probably be required to present a certificate indicating you have completed the course.
Decree of Nullity or Death Certificate. If one or both of you have been married previously, you will need to present a copy of your former spouse's death certificate, or a copy of the Decree of Nullity indicating that the Church has "annulled" the previous marriage.
Other forms. Your parish may have developed its own forms to make it easier to help you prepare for your marriage and coordinate your wedding—for example, you may be asked to complete a short personal biography or complete a form indicating your choices about the details of the wedding ceremony (readings, members of the wedding party, music, etc.).
What are the rules and requirements for a valid
A look at the basic requirements for a valid Catholic wedding, including some of the major impediments to marriage.
Dealing with the details
of your Catholic wedding
Check out this page for more information on typical parish policies on everything from flowers and photographers to payment and fees.
Catholic parishes by area code, zip code, or diocese
A searchable directory of parishes in the United States and Canada.
Marriage Information by Diocese
Many Catholic dioceses have their own rules and guidelines regarding marriage preparation and the celebration of Catholic weddings. You can find your U.S. diocese's marriage information using this interactive map.
Some typical parish wedding guidelines
Following are examples of wedding policies from several parishes; note that policies vary from place to place, and your parish's wedding guidelines may differ from these examples: