Planning Your Catholic Wedding
Choosing other liturgical elements of your wedding ceremony
So, you've decided on the form of your wedding, the readings, the music, and the roles that various friends and family will play. Those are the "big pieces" of your wedding liturgy. But there are other elements of the liturgy to consider as well.
It is no accident that the Church refers to the wedding liturgy as a celebration. Although it is not traditional, some couples choose to greet guests at the church entrance prior to the wedding—much as good hosts greet guests at the entrance to their home before a party. This can set a warm, festive atmosphere for the ceremony, dispels some of the pre-ceremony nervousness, and eliminates the need for a receiving line after the ceremony. (This does presume the couple is prepared for the ceremony at least half an hour in advance.) The parents of the bride and groom can also help to greet the guests. Members of the wedding party can then provide guests with programs and guide them to their seats.
Although it is customary in the United States to seat wedding guests on the "bride's side" or the "groom's side," in certain situations it might make sense to dispense with this tradition, particularly if one of you will have many more invited guests than the other, or if one of you has many more Catholic guests than the other. (It can be a little awkward if one side of the church is obviously more familiar with the rhythm of the Catholic liturgy than the other.)
The assembly may be greeted by someone involved in the wedding liturgy—a reader, cantor, or even the presider. (The Order of Celebrating Matrimony provides for the presider to greet the assembly more formally during the liturgy itself.) The greeting should make the assembly feel comfortable and at home, preparing your guests to fully participate in the liturgy. It might include:
- • practical information (the location of bathrooms and water fountains, for instance, or reception arrangements);
- • a brief overview of what will happen during the liturgy, including some of the key responses (especially useful if many are not Catholic);
- • an opportunity for the assembly to briefly practice singing key pieces of music, led by the cantor or music minister;
- • a gentle reminder to turn off cell phones and silence all digital devices;
- • a request to not take pictures during the ceremony to avoid that sort of distraction (check with parish about local guidelines).
The Order for Celebrating Matrimony offers two forms for beginning the liturgy with a procession. In the First Form (#45-47) the priest and servers in vestiments proper to the liturgy greet the bridal party at the door of the Church then all enter in procession as is customary for a Mass (the ministers go first, followed by the priest, then the bride and bridegroom, possibly proceeded by their parents and the two witnesses). In the Second Form (#48-50) the priest and servers go to the place in the sanctuary prepared for the couple or to his chair, ready to greet the couple when they arrive at their place. In both forms, the priest leads the assembly in the sign of the cross after the entrance song is finished.
Sound unfamiliar? That's because in the United States and elsewhere it is common for the bride to be escorted down the aisle by her father, who then "gives" her to the groom waiting at the altar—a tradition rooted in the days when weddings were viewed as a sort of property transaction (with the woman being the property). The "traditional" wedding procession with the giving away of the bride is so widely practiced that it likely you can do this it if that is your preference. However, the forms suggested by The Order of Celebrating Matrimony better symbolize the Church's understanding of the complementary role of the husband and wife in marriage.
Another option is to skip the procession altogether; the bride and groom can join the priest and servers in the sacristy before the liturgy begins than go their places near altar from there.
If you opt for a procession, however, the assembly should stand at the beginning of the liturgy, when the entrance song is announced and the procession begins—in other words, the assembly should not remain seated until the bride enters the church. In the Catholic liturgy, standing is a way of acknowledging the presence of God.
For additional information about the procession, including appropriate music, see:
The Universal Prayer,also known as the general intercessions or prayer of the faithful, follow immediately after the blessing and exchange of rings. The presider or a lector reads each prayer ("For... ; we pray to the Lord...") and the assembly responds ("Lord, hear our prayer" or another appropriate response). The general intercessions used during the Sunday Mass are usually written by someone at the parish. Most parishes, however, will allow (and even encourage) couples to write the intercessions for their wedding. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (#70), the series of intentions is to be:
- For the needs of the Church
- For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world
- For those burdened by any kind of difficulty
- For the local community
However, the General Instruction also provides for the intentions to "reflect more closely the particular occasion" during the Celebration of Matrimony.
You can include a prayer for yourselves, for instance, as well as for deceased relatives and other important people in your life. However, these prayers are also the prayer of the whole Church, and as such, they should also reflect some broader concerns. It would be appropriate, for instance, to pray for all married couples; for families; for the sick and the lonely; for Church and world leaders; and for peace and justice. Your parish can assist you in composing appropriate prayers.
The Order for Celebrating Matrimony provides options for certain prayers and blessings. For example, it provides three forms for the Blessing of Rings (said after the exchange of vows); three forms for the Nuptial Blessing (said after the Lord's Prayer in a wedding within Mass or after the general intercessions in a wedding without Mass), and three forms for the final blessing of the couple. Generally, the presider chooses which forms of these prayers to use. However, if you would like to review the different options, see Outline of a Catholic Wedding within Mass.
The Order for Celebrating Matrimony also provides options for the blessing and exchange of arras (coins) and the blessing and placing of the lazo (veil).
You can discuss your preferences with the priest or deacon who presides at your wedding.
Some local customs include a symbolic gesture by the couple during the wedding ceremony like lighting a unity candle to signify that "two have become one".
The Order of Celebrating Matrimony provides an optional blessing and placing of the lazo or veil to symbolize the bond of unity between the couple if it this is a local custom (#71B). Before the Nuptual blessing the couple kneels and the presider blesses the lazo (wedding garland or veil) which is held by two family members or friends. The lazo is then placed over the shoulders of the couple.
The Order also provides an optional blessing and giving of arras (coins) immediately following the exchange of rings as a sign of God's blessing and the good gifts the couple will share (#67B).
Some Catholic parishes prohibit the use of a unity candle or other symbolic gestures which have no provision for them in the offical Order for the wedding litrugy. Also, within Catholic liturgies, candles primarily refer to the light of Christ and baptism; the Easter candle, lit at the Easter vigil, is the central candle in the sanctuary. If you would like to have a unity candle, ask your parish what it is permitted. The unity candle must not be placed on the altar. If you want a unity candle but your parish does not permit one, consider using one at the reception; its lighting can be incorporated into the blessing before the meal: Before or at the beginning of the meal, a representative from each family lights two taper candles. During the blessing the food, the bride and groom use the two taper candles to light a large pillar candle (the "unity candle") together.
In some places it is customary for the bride (or the bride and groom together) to place a bouquet of flowers before a statue or shrine to the Virgin Mary (assuming one is present in the Church); usually the couple then spend a few moments in silent prayer before the shrine. Music is frequently played at the same time.
This tradition recognizes the special role that Mary has as the mother not only of God, but of the Church and all the faithful (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 963-965). It is natural, then, to request that Mary pray for you as you begin your own family.
The practice of venerating the Virgin Mary is not outlined in The Order of Celebrating Matrimony. If you wish to include it in your wedding ceremony, ask your parish wedding coordinator about the local custom.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal
This document contains the liturgical norms for celebrating the Mass. As with other official Church documents, it is written primarily for Church leaders; however, couples may find it useful for exploring the Church's guidancefor certain elements of the liturgy, as well as the meaning, theology, and spirituality of the Mass.