Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to get married. As you prepare for your wedding day, the Church asks you to also prepare for your life-long marriage. We want to help you have the best marriage possible. We have developed these steps to assist you as you reflect and prepare for this beautiful and challenging vocation.
Marriage is a serious and sacred commitment. This union of a man and woman is the basic unit of human society and of the Church. In this unique relationship, two persons make a solemn commitment to be totally for the other. Therefore, it deserves the most careful attention and preparation. Every marriage shares in God the Father’s creative love as an image of the Holy Trinity. Marriage in the Church has been elevated to a sacrament by Jesus and gives witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit as it is lived out in the secular world. Spouses, therefore, enter into a new relationship with God who becomes permanently present in and central to their shared life.
Steps to Take to Prepare For Your Wedding
Contact your pastor as soon as you decide you are going to marry. A minimum of six months is required between the first meeting with your pastor and the marriage for the completion of the marriage preparation process. Your pastor will complete the Marriage Preparation Form and forward it to the Family Ministries office for placement in the Diocesan Marriage Preparation Program.
- Arrangements will be made for you to complete the FOCCUS. The results will be shared with you.
- Work with your pastor on any “special circumstances” that need to be dealt with. (See “Special Circumstances” below)
- Participate in the approved Diocesan Marriage Preparation Program.
- Review with each other and your pastor the results of the entire assessment process.
- Set your wedding date and begin your preparation for the wedding ceremony.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES TO BE ADDRESSED WITH YOUR PASTOR
- Catholic/Non-Catholic Marriage – Since unity in religious belief is a major source of strength in marriage, the Catholic Church encourages Catholics to marry Catholics. In those instances where the parties are of different faith backgrounds, the Catholic party must request written permission from the bishop to marry in the Church. Special sessions to acquaint or update the couple’s understanding of Catholic beliefs and practices will be provided.
- Marriage Under Age 19 – When either of the parties is under the age of 19 at the time they make their intention to marry known to the pastor, the decision to proceed may be given by the pastor only after consultation with the parents or guardians is accomplished and the approved diocesan evaluation is completed.
- Pregnancy – Pregnancy does not constitute an exception to this common policy for Marriage Preparation. The primary concern must be to evaluate the couple’s readiness for marriage exclusive of the pregnancy.
If the couple made the decision to marry, i.e., were engaged prior to the pregnancy, plans for the wedding may be made if the pastor, in consultation with the parents of both parties, assesses the couple as sufficiently prepared for marriage and after all applicable steps of the policy are completed.
If the decision to marry was not made prior to the pregnancy, the pastor must seek additional input from an approved diocesan consultant. In this case, the pastor and parents should strongly encourage the consideration of a delay of the wedding until after the birth of the child.
Role of the Engaged Couple
Couples desiring to be married in the community of the Church are to notify the pastor in person as soon as they have the intention to marry. They also must be willing to take an active part in all the steps of the policy which apply to them. The date of their wedding shall be set only after they have completed the assessment process.
Role of the Pastor
The pastor has serious moral and ministerial responsibilities for all marriages that take place within his parish. As representative of God and delegate of the Church, he is to consider if the essential elements are present for a valid Christian marriage.
Common Obstacles to Readiness for Marriage
The following obstacles may prevent the couple from being married in the Catholic Church. These items should be discussed with the pastor.
- Non-practice of the Catholic faith by the Catholic party or parties with no evidence of a true intention of renewal.
- Lack of freedom, maturity or readiness for marriage.
- Substantial lack of appreciation for the spiritual and sacramental aspects of marriage.
- An expressed intention by either of the parties to deny the other’s right to a permanent and exclusive union and/or the procreation and education of children.
- Canonical impediments (until dispensed). If no dispensation is possible, the wedding cannot take place.
- Apparent indifference by the Catholic party, or disdain by either party for Catholic formation of children.
- Refusal to cooperate with the marriage preparation policy.
If the marriage is delayed, the couple may have recourse to the bishop or his delegate who can review the case and recommend further consideration. Final determination rests with the bishop. The approval of the bishop is required for a pastor to proceed with a marriage after the marriage has been delayed by another pastor.
Exceptions to this policy and its procedures are solely at the discretion of the local bishop.
Do you live in this diocese by are getting married in another diocese?
Contact the pastor of the church in which the wedding ceremony will be held. Most of the time, our Marriage Preparation Program will meet their requirements. If this is the case, contact the pastor of the parish where you attend weekly mass (in this diocese) to begin the process. He will coordinate your preparation and forward any necessary documentation to the church where you will be married.
Do you live outside this diocese but wish to be married here?
Contact the pastor of the church where you want the marriage ceremony to be held. He will guide you through any necessary requirements, including doing your marriage preparation at a parish near your current home.
Marriage Preparation Programs
he Church, in her pastoral concern for couples preparing for marriage, wishes to reach out and demonstrate that these couples are indeed cared for and loved. The Diocesan Marriage Preparation Program is intended to be a process which will provide a period of reflection and preparation for this beautiful and challenging vocation.
Our diocese offers separate programs for first marriages and validations or marriages in which one or both of the parties have been previously married. Once the couple has met with their pastor, they will be scheduled into one of the following programs
First-time Marriage – This Marriage Preparation program consists of five, two hour sessions which are held once a week for five consecutive weeks. Each session must be attended in order to receive a Certificate of Completion. This certificate will be mailed to your pastor upon completion of the program.
Re-Marriage Seminar – If the couple wishes to have their civil marriage validated in the Church or if one or both parties have been previously married, a special one-day session must be attended. These sessions are held periodically throughout the year in Springfield and Cape Girardeau. Contact your pastor to begin this process and to be registered in the next scheduled seminar.
Hispanic Marriage Preparation – Materials are available for Spanish speaking engaged couples preparing for marriage in the diocese. Contact your pastor or the Family Ministries Office to obtain these materials.
The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
Congratulations on your plans to promise each other your lives as husband and wife, as parents of your children. Our entire Catholic community, which believes in God’s love and providence, is happy for you, your family, and all of your friends. Be assured of our prayers as you prepare for marriage.
Your wedding day, only the first day of your married lives, is truly exciting and memorable. It should be a day of meaning, great joy, and gratitude to God. Those in the parish working with you to plan your wedding will do all they can to help.
The Wedding Guidelines offered here are meant to respond to the questions most frequently asked about weddings. The priest or deacon presiding at your wedding and others on the parish staff, through their pastoral concern for you and your loved ones, will help you with these Wedding Guidelines.
We pray that the Lord, so graciously present at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), will clearly be present with you at your wedding — and throughout your married lives together.
CATHOLIC WEDDINGS: A Celebration of Love
You are considering a lifetime of marriage. What a wonderful time in your life.
Marriage is a lasting commitment that you make to each other freely. The gift of your whole self to the other calls for fidelity, a life-long commitment, and enables you to have and to nurture children in an atmosphere of love. This is what the Church means when it calls marriage a covenant. If marriage were a contract, you would be giving only a part of yourself to each other. In a covenant you give everything.
That is why marriage is both a demonstration of God’s love for us and our love for God. A married couple becomes a sign of total love. In other words, a married couple is a “sacrament” or a sign to others of God’s presence. How well you live this call to be a sacrament is a loving challenge to both of you.
A wedding ceremony expresses the sacred nature of marriage. Everything about the ceremony ought to communicate the spiritual nature of marriage. Clarity about the meaning of marriage guides your decisions. Focusing on the essential aspect of the ceremony, the exchange of consent (marriage vows), helps to tell yourselves and others why you are there. Also, the active participation of those attending your wedding is important, since every sacramental action is an act of the entire Church, the people of God.
As you use this guide to plan your ceremony, remember that what you want to communicate to your guests is what God is doing in your life together. Make your celebration a statement about God’s loving action in your hearts and lives.
CATHOLIC WEDDINGS: A Celebration With Religious Meaning
Remember, important values from the Gospel in preparing for the wedding celebration:
- Simplicity, not showy display, should be expressed in preparing the wedding celebration.
- Present yourselves honestly, joyfully, and humbly.
- Avoid the commercialism which society and some wedding counsellors may advise.
Traditions are indeed wonderful. They provide continuity from generation to generation. But often their original purposes are at odds with what we believe today.
For instance, some customs — of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the ceremony, or of the bride’s father giving her away — come from a time when women were treated as property. Marriage was a business transaction in which the groom paid the bride’s father for her.
There were times in the past when the bride and groom never met until the ceremony — that came from the father not wanting the groom to back out of the deal. Such reasoning is behind the tradition of the father “giving away” the bride.
Today, some of these traditions change and take on new meanings. For instance, the mother and father can escort the bride down the aisle together, symbolizing that both shared in her upbringing.
In considering traditions, remember that Christian marriage is rooted in God’s love for creation and that God’s love is symbolized in the love between husband and wife. The Catholic Church views the couple as equal partners, sharing the responsibility for creating a home and family.
The Liturgy Of Marriage
The wedding liturgy expresses: An act of community worship, in which the faith community promises to support the couple, and the couple promises to assist the community. To say that a wedding is for the couple and for others is not only to acknowledge the presence of others in the church, but it implies preparing the wedding in such a way as to encourage their active participation in it.
The couple’s public exchange of consent, in which they make promises to each other and to the community.
When two Catholics celebrate marriage, they normally do so during Mass. When a Catholic and baptized person who is not Catholic marry, the rite of marriage should normally be outside of Mass. In a marriage between a Catholic and a non-baptized person the marriage is celebrated outside of Mass.
The couple discusses plans for the wedding ceremony with their pastor or associate pastor far in advance of the wedding. Some parishes may have specific policies on how weddings are celebrated. Be aware of those policies an d plan the celebration with the priest or deacon who will witness the wedding.
The People In Your Wedding
The two of you are the center of the wedding, but many other people are a part of it:
The Assembly: Your family, friends and the faith community. Invite them to participate fully in the liturgy and be witnesses to your marriage.
The Couple: You minister the Sacrament of Marriage to each other. It is recommended therefore, that you take no additional ministries (e.g. reading the Scriptures) during the ceremony. These roles are best served by other members of the assembly. Remember, your attitude and behavior set the tone for the liturgy.
Presider (Bishop, Priest, or Deacon): Normally, one of the priests on the parish staff presides at your wedding. A visiting priest needs to receive the pastor’s delegation and dispensation. A minister of another Christian faith may act as a witness or offer a blessing after the exchange of consent. If your wedding is celebrated outside of Mass, a minister from another Christian faith may also proclaim either the first or second reading from Scripture.
Witnesses: While every member of the assembly is a witness to the marriage, Church law says that the official witness is the bishop, priest, or deacon. The law also requires that there are two other official witnesses. Although custom dictates that one of these witnesses is male and the other female, the law says that witnesses may be of the same gender. Witnesses attest to the fact that the marriage took place. They must be capable of comprehending what is happening in the exchange of consent. In a Catholic marriage, it would be ideal if the witnesses were Catholic, but they do not have to be Catholic. In fact, they do not have to be baptized.
Ushers: These are men and women of the parish who are experienced in hospitality; or they may be the groomsmen, bridesmaids, parents, friends of the couple. They greet people cordially as they arrive in the church, give them a printed program of service — if there is one — and assist them in finding a seat near other worshippers. Because we gather to celebrate a marriage, it is not necessary to designate a bride’s or groom’s side of the church.
Lectors: The lector(s) proclaim(s) the first and second readings from Scripture. The Gospel is always proclaimed by an ordained minister (bishop, priest, or deacon). A lector should be someone with the necessary speaking gifts to proclaim God’s word effectively and reverently. If the wedding is celebrated with Eucharist, the reader is usually Catholic. Lectors always read from the Lectionary.
Communion Ministers: Those who serve as communion ministers need to be commissioned ministers from the parish or the assembly. They follow the parish’s procedures for the distribution of the Eucharist.
Altar Servers (Optional): These are members of the parish, familiar with the parish, who assist the presider.
Musicians: Those who plan and play the music for your wedding should be familiar with the celebration of sacraments in the Catholic Church. They should follow principles in Church documents. Musicians also need to be familiar with the local policies of individual parishes regarding music during weddings. If vocalists are part of a wedding, their primary role is to assist the assembly in singing. A solo can be sung at an appropriate time. Musicians from outside the parish need to contact the parish music director or a parish musician for assistance. They also need to discuss the music with the parish priest. To assist you and your musicians in choosing appropriate music for your wedding, further remarks on music at weddings can be found in this guide.
Order Of Service
Here is an overview of a wedding, with those matters noted where you can make adaptations:
Gathering prior to the Liturgy:
- Couple and parents greet guests as they arrive (optional).
- Ushers assist in seating people.
- Prelude music should be uplifting and set the tone for the celebration.
Entrance Procession: This is an expanded form of the regular entrance of the priest and other ministers (e.g cross bearer, candle bearers, thurifer) at Sunday Mass. There are several options:
- Crossbearer with candle bearers followed by priest, bride and groom.
- Crossbearer with candle bearers followed by the priest. Next come the groomsmen and bridesmaids in couples followed by the couple of the best man and maid of honor. The groom, accompanied by his parent(s), comes next. Last in the procession is the bride accompanied by her parent(s).
- Crossbearer with candle bearers followed by the priest. Next come the groomsmen with the bridesmaids followed by the best man and maid of honor. The groom’s parent(s) come next, followed by the bride’s parents. The bride and groom, as a couple, are last in the procession.
- Crossbearer with candle bearers followed by the priest. Next come the groomsmen with the bridesmaids followed by the best man and maid of honor. The bride and groom, as a couple, are last in the procession.
- Crossbearer with candle bearers followed by the priest. The groomsmen, best man and groom are next, followed by the bridesmaids, the maid of honor and then the bride accompanied by her father and/or mother.
- The groomsmen and groom wait at the front of the Church as the procession of ministers, bridesmaids, and bride enter from the back of the Church. The procession is formed as follows: Crossbearer with candle bearers followed by the priest, followed by the bridesmaids, the maid of honor, and the bride accompanied by her father and/or mother. (Before choosing this style of entrance procession, consider that the Church’s rite of Marriage does not provide for this option. Therefore it is discouraged.)
Greeting, as given in the Rite of Marriage
Penitential Rite, as given in the Rite of Marriage
Opening Prayer, as given in the Rite of Marriage
Liturgy of the Word, as given in the Rite of Marriage. The couple being married choose the readings in consultation with the presider at the wedding liturgy.
Marriage Rite (After the Homily)
- Since the bride and groom give consent to each other, during the exchange of consent, face one another with hands joined.
- Speak loudly and clearly when exchanging consent and prayers. You may choose to memorize the words of consent, rather than repeating the words of the presider.
- Your consent needs to be in the words of the Rite of Marriage. Discuss the available options with the priest as you prepare for the wedding.
- Place the rings on one another’s fingers graciously and visibly, and proclaim the prayer for the exchange of rings.
- Avoid interrupting the integrity of the rite by music or other prayers and actions.
- Keep General Intercessions simple and brief. There should be no more than four to six intentions.
Liturgy of the Eucharist: When both the bride and groom are Catholic, the liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated. If either the bride or groom is not Catholic, and Eucharist is not celebrated, continue immediately with the “Our Father.”
Preparation of the Gifts: The bread and wine are brought to the altar.
The “Our Father”: Everybody participates in the prayer.
Nuptial Blessing: Discuss the possible options with the priest.
Sign of Peace
Communion (ordinarily only when Mass is celebrated): Communion under the form of bread and wine is preferred. Catholics welcome to the wedding celebration those Christians who are not fully united with us. It is a consequence of the sad division in Christianity that they cannot extend to them a general invitation to receive Communion. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is an action of the celebrating community signifying a unity in faith, life, and worship of the community. Reception of the Eucharist by Christians not fully united with Catholics would imply a unity which does not yet exist, and for which we must all pray. Also welcome to this celebration are those who do not share faith in Jesus. While they cannot receive Communion, we do invite them to be united with us in prayer.
Prayer After Communion, as given in the Rite of Marriage.
The couple leads, followed by the groomsmen and bridesmaids. The priest and servers might follow at the end of the procession or remain in the sanctuary.
Festive music should be used.
Decorations And Environment
Decorations should speak of the honest and full message of a husband’s and wife’s love for each other. A wedding is a religious ceremony and avoids the atmosphere of a pageant.
Decorations should also be respectful of the liturgical year. Other points to keep in mind:
- Flowers and other decorations need to be real and have integrity. Anything in the environment of the space that is artificial becomes a sign contrary to what the couple wishes to express.
- Flowers should not be placed in front of or on the altar. Decorate the whole worship space. Decorations can be left at the parish as Sunday or seasonal decorations.
- Kneelers are not necessary.
- A white runner down the aisle, for instance, can place undue emphasis on the bride’s walk down the aisle.
During the ceremony, photography should be limited to a professional photographer who respects the prayer environment. Flashbulbs and unnecessary movement can be disruptive and, therefore, should be avoided.
People in the assembly are welcome to take their pictures after the wedding or at the reception.
If a video camera is used, subsequent to consultation with the priest, the camera should be placed in an inconspicuous location.
Pictures are sometimes taken before the wedding celebration so that you may spend time with your guests at the reception.
Printed programs for the wedding serve to enhance the assembly’s participation in the ceremony.
Programs include simple instructions (stand, sit, etc.) and the order of the ceremony. Printing the full text of the readings and the rite are not necessary and should not be done.
If text or music is printed, you must get permission from the copyright owners and follow the copyright owners’ directions. Acknowledge the copyright in the program. The parish music director can help you with this.
No weddings are allowed after 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays or anytime on Sundays in any parish church.
If in a particular case, the pastor believes there are good pastoral reasons for having Saturday evening weddings, he may write to the bishop and request waiving the policy. The bishop usually accepts the pastor’s recommendation.
If a wedding is celebrated on a solemnity, the celebration is to follow the calendar of the church where it is celebrated.
Weddings of two Catholics or weddings with one Catholic normally take place in the Catholic church building.
Due to the festive nature of a wedding and the penitential nature of the season of Lent, the forty days of Lent are called a “closed time” for weddings. The Church discourages couples from celebrating their wedding during Lent.
If a couple decides to have a wedding during Lent, they should keep the proper spirit of the season in mind as they plan their celebration.
Use Of The Unity Candle
The symbolism of the unity candle is not completely clear.
Normally, when we use candles in liturgy, the lighted candle is a symbol of Christ. With a Unity Candle, does the larger candle symbolize Christ? If not, then what does it symbolize? It would be contrary to the Church’s liturgical tradition to have the large candle symbolize the couple. Further, the practice of extinguishing the two smaller candles seems to connote that the couple’s individual lives are in some way extinguished when the two become one in Christ. That, of course, is not the case.
If the large candle does symbolize Christ, it would more appropriately burn from the very beginning of the celebration. The light of Christ is then shared with the couple.
Music In The Marriage Liturgy
“Among the many signs and symbols used by the Church to celebrate its faith, music is of preeminent importance.”(Music in Catholic Worship, no. 23) The Church tells us that “every communal celebration of faith should include music and singing.”(Music in Catholic Worship, no. 24) Music at a wedding is integral to the celebration.
Music for a Christian wedding should be appropriate. Wedding music should be prayerful and liturgical. Music should always enhance the sacrament, helping the assembly to participate in prayer.
To determine the music you may want to use at your wedding, consider each piece of music from three perspectives: the musical viewpoint, the liturgical viewpoint, and the pastoral viewpoint. Request help of your parish music minister or, if your parish does not have a music minister, your parish priest in making these judgments. The music proposed for your wedding is to be approved before final decisions are made. Please contact your music minister or priest early in the planning stage.
The Musical Viewpoint
“Is the music technically, aesthetically, and expressively good?”(Music in Catholic Worship, no. 26) People of good will may have differing viewpoints on this issue, so judgment can be assisted by competent musicians. Not all good music is suitable for liturgy, so liturgical and pastoral judgments about music are necessary.
Sometimes music suggested by couples includes favorite selections from musicals or popular love songs. These pieces might best be used at the reception, but are not appropriate at the wedding celebration itself.
Your parish music minister or parish priest has a list of hymnody, possible choral or solo pieces, and instrumental music appropriate for a Christian wedding. Ask your parish music minister or priest for this list.
Some music should always be avoided. The “Bridal Chorus” (Here Comes the Bride) is from the opera, Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner. The Wedding March is from Mendelssohn’s opera, A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream. These two pieces carry secular connotations.
The Liturgical Viewpoint
“The nature of liturgy itself helps to determine what kind of music is appropriate.”(Music in Catholic Worship, no. 30) Consideration has to be given whether the music should be instrumental or vocal. While there is a practice in the United States of having instrumental music during the opening procession, music at that time should really be a hymn sung by all of the assembly since this is the gathering hymn at the beginning of the celebration. Do the words of the music express what is happening? Are they consistent with the Church’s theology of marriage? These are helpful questions to ask.
The members of the assembly are active and conscious participants in the wedding. Does the assembly have a part in the music, especially those musical pieces which properly belong to the assembly, e.g., the Hymn of Praise (Glory), Responsorial Psalm, Holy, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, Our Father, as well as music for the entrance and communion processions? Not all of these parts have to be sung, but certainly the Hymn of Praise (when prescribed) and the acclamations (Holy, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, Lamb of God) should be sung along with the processional music.
Does the music for the celebration enable people to express their faith, in this place, in this age, in this culture? Such music adds to the meaning of the occasion.
Your wedding is a joyful occasion for you, all your loved ones, and the entire Christian community. Plan your wedding early, so that in the weeks immediately before its celebration your thoughts and time are given much more to your marriage and the plans you have for it.
May God bless you as husband and wife, father and mother, for many years to come.