Planning Your Catholic Wedding
Choosing roles for family and friends
At least a few months before your wedding, you will want to begin thinking about how your family and friends might contribute to your wedding. Following is a list of possibilities. Don't feel that you need to find people to fill all these roles. The only people who are normally required to be present at a valid Catholic wedding are the bride and groom, two witnesses, and an ordained minister (deacon or priest).
Don't forget that, in a Roman Catholic wedding, the bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony. Although it is not forbidden for the bride and groom to take on other roles within the liturgy, your role as ministers of the sacrament should be your primary focus; many parishes discourage couples from taking on additional roles (such as Eucharistic minister). Remember, too, that you set the tone for the celebration of the whole liturgy: if you participate by praying and singing during the liturgy, others in the assembly are more likely to participate as well.
Usually the person who presides over the wedding liturgy is a priest or deacon; a minister of another faith may also assist at the wedding. See Who will preside at the wedding? for more information on choosing a presider.
From a spiritual and liturgical point of view, everyone attending your wedding serves as witnesses. However, in order for the marriage to be valid, two people besides the presider must serve as official witnesses. (Witnesses are usually required for a marriage to be recognized under civil law as well.) The names of the witnesses are included in the Church's record of the marriage. The Church will recognize any two people as witnesses, although traditionally the best man and the maid (or matron) of honor serve in that capacity. The witnesses do not need to be Catholic, or even baptized.
There is no official role for bridesmaids and groomsmen in the Catholic wedding liturgy, but few couples would consider having a wedding without asking friends or family to fill these traditional roles. Rather than relegating the wedding party to standing around nervously before the wedding, consider asking them to serve as ministers of hospitality, warmly greeting guests as they arrive at the church.
In a Catholic wedding liturgy, all of the assembled guests—the assembly—are called to actively participate in the wedding liturgy by joining in song and prayer at the appropriate times. They are not an audience passively observing a show. You can encourage the full participation of the assembly in several ways:
- provide guests with a link to an article about what to expect at a Catholic wedding
- provide a wedding program that includes worship music and the assembly's responses;
- several minutes before the wedding begins, have the song leader review (and even practice) key sung responses and acclamations with the assembly;
- ask the presider to explicitly invite the participation of the assembly at the beginning of the wedding;
- offer yourselves as an example.
Traditionally, the ushers provide guests with the printed wedding program and escort them to their seats. The ushers do not necessarily have to seat all the guests of the bride on one side of the Church and all the guests of the groom on another side. Although this is a traditional practice, it can create some awkward situations. If one person has few Catholics among his or her family and friends, for instance, it might seem a little strange for only one side of the church to be fully participating in the liturgy.
If some of your family or friends are musically talented, they might be able to sing or provide music during the liturgy. This works best when the musicians are familiar with the liturgy. Liturgical music is a form of prayer (rather than entertainment or decoration); if your friends or family members are not comfortable providing music in a liturgical setting, consider asking them to provide music during the reception instead. See Finding and choosing cantors and instrumentalists (musicians) for your Catholic wedding for more information.
In most parishes, you can invite friends or relatives to serve as lectors at your wedding. Typically, different people read the first reading (from the Old Testament) and the second reading (from the New Testament). The responsorial psalm may also be read, although it is preferable for it to be sung by a cantor (song leader) accompanied by music. Ideally, lectors will have been trained to proclaim the Word of God appropriately. See Choosing readers (lectors) for your Catholic wedding for more information.
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion distribute communion to the assembly. Ask the priest or deacon who will assist at your wedding whether you may invite friends or family to serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. If the assembly is small, the presider usually fills this role himself. Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion must be baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church.
In a wedding Mass, the gift bearers bring bread and wine to the priest at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Generally, two people present the gifts at the altar; however, sometimes a whole family (including children) will serve as gift bearers.
Consider inviting children who have been trained as altar servers to fill this role at your wedding; check with the priest or deacon who will be assisting at the wedding first, though.
There roles are also optional and not part of The Order of Celebrating Matrimony. Many parishes discourage couples from choosing young children to fill these roles; check with your parish for guidelines before promising these roles to children.
For more information
Worshipping Assembly at Mass (PDF)
An explanation of the role of the assembly during Mass, from the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Lector at Mass
A complete guide to the role of the lector during the Mass, with reference to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, from the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass
The U.S. Catholic bishops' guide to the role of Eucharistic minister.