Paul Turner

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book The Catholic Wedding Answer Book (Resource Publications, Inc., 2001), part of the ML Answers the 101 Most-Asked Questions series.

My fiancÚ is not a Catholic. Can we be married at his/her church?

Yes, but only with good reason and the proper procedures. For example, if your fiancÚ is very active in another religion, has a conscientious objection to a Catholic wedding, or even has family members who object to a Catholic service, you may request permission from your Catholic pastor to have the wedding witnessed by your fiancÚ's pastor at his or her church. Your pastor will submit a written request for the dispensation, and the bishop of the diocese will approve it (Code of Canon Law 1127/2). When this happens, you will have obtained a dispensation from canonical form. This means that the wedding of you, the Catholic, does not have to be witnessed by a Catholic minister inside a Catholic church. Many people assume that a Catholic priest or deacon must be present at such a service for it to count as a valid Catholic wedding. That is not so. Once the dispensation from form is granted, your fiancÚ's minister becomes the official witness of a marriage that the Catholic Church will recognize as a valid marriage. If you want your Catholic priest or deacon to witness your marriage in your fiancÚ's place of worship, he may or may not be able to do so depending on the policies of the diocese. And if that building is in the boundaries of another parish, your pastor may need delegation from the pastor of that parish, as well as the bishop's permission. It's complicated, but in some dioceses it may be done.

Can two marriages happen at the same ceremony? We have two engagements in the family.

Yes, we can celebrate multiple marriages in the same ceremony. In some countries, especially mission regions, this is common because of the infrequent visits of the Catholic clergy. This situation is covered in the Catholic Church's Rite of Marriage.

What should go into the wedding program?

The program should help the people gathered together for your wedding to participate. They come to a Catholic wedding not just to watch, but to be active witnesses to the event. They will join in prayer for you and in praise of God. The program should contain a basic outline of the service: entrance rites, Liturgy of the Word, Rite of Marriage, and Liturgy of the Eucharist if your wedding includes a Mass. It may also include the titles of the music for the ceremony. Reference the music that the assembly will sing if it is to be found in hymnals or other participation aids. If you reproduce music in your wedding booklet, be sure to secure permission from the copyright owner of each piece. You may also include the names of all the people who will play a leading role in the service. Do your parish a favor by including some basic information in the program such as the address, phone number, and website. The program might even include something about the community the parish serves or the patron saint. Show the program to a parish minister before it goes to press and invite some additional ideas.

What music is appropriate at weddings?

The music should serve the wedding liturgy. The rules governing what music you may use vary considerably from parish to parish. Some have no regulations. Others have strict guidelines. Be sure to ask before you plan the music. First consider the music of the service. Give the assembly something to sing so they can make their praise of God heard. Include a responsorial psalm and a Gospel acclamation. If your wedding includes a Mass, all should sing the acclamations during the eucharistic prayer and all should sing a processional song during communion. You may have a cantor lead the singing, and you may have solos sung. But the heart of wedding music should not be the solos. It should be the music that involves the people in the liturgy. The Lord's Prayer, for example, is a prayer recited or sung by all who gather for worship. It is not appropriate for a soloist to take that prayer away from the people and sing it alone. Some of the music that you like may have come from secular sources. Many parishes will ask you not to include these in the wedding ceremony. Your wedding liturgy is like any other gathering of the faithful in this church. Songs made famous in the movies and on the radio are not usually sung when we gather to worship on Sunday -- before, during, or after the service. We sing the songs of worship. You will help the parish if you start to think about wedding music from the music you ordinarily hear at church.

What roles could my partner and I play? Could we be communion ministers at the wedding?

You could, but think about this. Your primary role is to be the ministers of marriage. You give your consent to each other and the rest of us are witnesses. You already have a huge role to play. However, if you are communion ministers in your church there is no rule forbidding you to assume that ministry at the wedding. Another ministry to consider would be greeter. Some couples stand by the door of the church and greet the members of the assembly as they arrive. It just depends on your personality and gifts.

How is the procession supposed to go?

You will never believe this, but the description of the procession in the Catholic Rite of Marriage is nothing like what usually happens. At the appointed time, the priest, vested for Mass, goes with the ministers to the door of the church or, if more suitable, to the altar. There he meets the bride and bridegroom in a friendly manner, showing that the Church shares their joy. Where it is desirable that the rite of welcome be omitted, the celebration of marriage begins at once with the Mass. If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers go first, followed by the priest, and then the bride and the bridegroom. According to local custom, they may be escorted by at least their parents and the two witnesses. Meanwhile, the entrance song is sung (RM 19-20). To interpret this text, remember that the primary ministers of the sacrament of marriage are you, the bride and groom. Not the clergy. They do not marry you. You marry each other. The priest is a witness - the official witness of the church, but a witness like the best man, maid of honor, ring bearer, mother of the bride, and the friend who bought the cheapest gift. The Rite of Marriage envisions a welcome before the procession begins. The bride and groom are standing together near the door of the church. The presider goes there to say hello and how happy the Church is for them. Most couples would never consider this welcoming because of the superstition that the bride and groom should not see each other before the wedding. The superstition, of course, is ridiculous. The Rite of Marriage next describes a procession led by "the ministers followed by the priest." The ministers here are the servers and the reader. Your Scripture reader should be in the procession, just as you see at Mass on Sundays. The bride and bridegroom follow the presider in the procession. At many weddings, you see something completely different. The bride comes up the aisle with her attendants and the groom comes out the side door with his attendants, showing they come from different backgrounds. The priest comes out a different door (because nobody knows where he comes from). Everyone converges at the altar and begins the ceremony. But the Catholic Rite of Marriage has something very different in mind. It actually envisions that the bride and groom come up the aisle together, that there is one procession for all who are involved in the ceremony, just as you would see for Mass on Sundays. The difference is that at a typical Eucharist, the main minister is the priest. But at a typical wedding, the main ministers are the bride and groom. That's why they come last in the procession. The Rite of Marriage then states the couple may be escorted by at least their parents and the two witnesses. Note the plural: parents. It does not say "the bride is walked down the aisle by her father." The Catholic marriage rite assumes that if one parent is involved, the others are too. And although it mentions "at least the two witnesses" - meaning the best man and maid of honor - many couples multiply the number of witnesses in the wedding party. There is no rule against it, but the idea of the procession is that it will not be overly crowded and that the two principal people - the bride and groom - will stand out. Envision the procession this way: Servers and Scripture reader go first, followed by the presider. Then your attendants walk down the same aisle. The parents all follow the attendants, and the bride and groom enter the church arm in arm. In an alternate form, following the attendants, the groom is escorted by his parents, followed by the bride escorted by hers. Your procession is going to send a message about what you believe in terms of equality of the partners and parental relationships. In the procession for your wedding, think about how you can best symbolize what you believe.

When do we kiss?

Incredible as this sounds, there is no kiss in the Catholic marriage rite. You can tell it was written by celibate males. In the version of the rite that includes Mass, it says, "At the words 'Let us offer each other the sign of peace,' the married couple and all present show their peace and love for one another in an appropriate way" (35). A kiss would be very appropriate as part of the marriage ceremony itself. The most logical place for the couple to kiss is after the exchange of rings. It signals the union of the couple in a spirit of joy.

This article appeared in Ministry & Liturgy 28/4 (May 2001)
More information concerning this book can be found at the following web site:

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