Catholic wedding ceremonies are sacred events full of deep spiritual significance, but they can feel a little confusing and intimidating to guests who are not Catholic or who have never been to a Catholic wedding. As you prepare to attend, becoming aware of certain unique aspects of Catholic wedding ceremonies can make the experience much more comfortable and meaningful.
Following along with the ceremony.
If you are not used to going to Catholic Mass, there might be elements of a Catholic wedding ceremony that aren’t familiar to you. Check your pew for a missalette – a small book that includes all the Mass parts, including the words to prayers and instructions for when to sit and stand. Usually, brides and grooms will also create programs that outline the ceremony.
Not all Catholic wedding ceremonies include a full Mass with Communion, but many do. Guests who are not practicing Catholics ought not receive Communion, but they are still encouraged to approach the altar in the Communion line. If you either place a finger over your lips or cross your hands over your chest, the priest will offer you a blessing. You are also welcome to remain in your pew rather than joining the Communion line.
No photography during the ceremony.
In order to maintain the reverence of the ceremony, guests are usually discouraged from taking photographs between the time the wedding party enters the church and the end of the ceremony. But don’t worry – priests usually allow one or two professional photographers to capture the wedding, so you can feel free to enjoy the ceremony and look forward to seeing the photographs.
The “magic words.”
Guests are sometimes alarmed when they don’t hear the magic words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” and, “You may now kiss the bride,” in their expected place at Catholic weddings. Rather than after the vows, the bride and groom are invited to share a kiss at the very end of the ceremony, and then the priest introduces them to the congregation as husband and wife. Guests should remain quiet after the vows, but at the end of the ceremony, they can feel free to clap, hoot, and holler as the bride and groom kiss and exit the church.
Visiting the Blessed Mother.
A tradition unique to Catholic weddings is for the couple to honor the Virgin Mary, who they consider to be the supreme example of wife and mother. You may see the bride and groom make their way to the statue of the Blessed Mother, usually after Communion. Many times, a hymn such as “Ave Maria” will play, the couple will bring flowers to the statue as a sign of honor, and they will spend some time in prayer, asking for Mary’s intercession in their marriage.
Above all, guests should realize that Catholic wedding ceremonies, while joyous occasions, are also events worthy of deep respect and reverence. Dress should be semi-formal and reasonably modest. You should remain at your seat and refrain from talking with other guests during the ceremony, leave any food or drinks in the car, and try to enter into a state of prayerful meditation to honor this holy occasion for the couple. Even if you don’t get all the prayers right, showing respect for the couple’s beliefs will make you an excellent guest at a Catholic wedding.
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