Planning the Wedding Liturgy
The wedding liturgy can take one of three forms. Click on the form you are using to view the elements of this form:
Rite of Matrimony Without Mass (usually used if one party is Protestant)
Rite of Matrimony Within Mass
The introductory Rites
The entrance procession for a Catholic wedding may be carried out in two ways:
- The servers process first, followed by the priest, and then the couple who are accompanied by their parents and at least the best man and maid of honor.
- The priest and servers wait in the sanctuary (front of the church) for the procession of the couple, along with their parents and at least the best man and maid of honor.
- The practice of the groom waiting at the front of the church for the bride to process down the aisle is a common American practice, and is a permissible adaptation of the rite. A suggestion would be for the groom to walk first in the procession (or after the priest if using option 1), accompanied by his parents, and then wait for the bride and her parents who come afterward.
- It is also permissible for the bride to be accompanied by her father alone, though the rite recommends that her parents accompany her together.
- During the procession, an Entrance Chant is sung, or an instrumental piece is played by live instruments.
- Once arriving at the front, the priest prays an opening prayer and the Gloria is sung.
The Liturgy of the Word
The Liturgy of the Word is a time for God to speak in the words of Sacred Scripture about the beauty of the marriage covenant. The couple is invited to choose readings that will best speak to their relationship and their spiritual lives. The following are the parts of the Liturgy of the Word:
- Scripture Readings (click to view options)
- Homily (given by priest)
The Celebration of Matrimony
This is the moment in the liturgy when the couple, witnessed by the priest and all present, contract marriage with each other by offering their consent through marriage vows. The following are the parts of the Celebration of Matrimony.
- The Questions before the Consent - The priest asks the couple if they have come freely, if they will love and honor each other for the rest of their lives, and if they will accept children from God and bring them up according to the Catholic faith.
- The Consent - The couple professes their vows using one of the formulas given in the Celebration of Matrimony. They are not permitted to write their own marriage vows.
I (name) take you (name) to be my wife/husband. I promise to be faithful to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.
I (name) take you (name) for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part.
The bride and groom may also use one of the following formulas in which each answers I do after the priest or deacon poses the question:
(Name), do you take (name) to be your wife/husband? Do you promise to be faithful to her/him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her/him and to honor her/him all the days of your life?…I do.
Or (Name), do you take (name) for your lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do you part?…I do.
- The Reception of the Consent - The priest receives their consent on behalf of the Church and asks the Lord to strengthen them, using the famous phrase "...what God joins together, let no one put asunder."
- The Blessing and Giving of Rings - The priest blesses the wedding rings and then the couple is invited to place them on each other's fingers, beginning with the bridegroom. They say, "(Name), take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
- General Intercessions - As at a Sunday Mass, these are the "prayers of the faithful," which are offered for the Church, the world, those gathered for the celebration (especially the newly married couple and their families), the sick, and all who have died (especially any relatives of the couple who have died).
- If the wedding takes place on a Solemnity, the Creed follows.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist
The liturgy of the Eucharist is where the mystery of this man and woman's union is caught up in the mystery of Christ's union with the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33). In the Eucharist, Christ offers his body to his beloved Bride, the Church, and as we receive Holy Communion we are made one with him in an even more profound way than the newlyweds have now become one flesh. Below are the parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist:
- Preparation of the gifts, during which an Offertory Chant, hymn, or vocal solo is sung. If desired, the bride and groom are invited to bring up the bread and wine.
- Eucharistic prayers (An appropriate Mass setting may be sung for the acclamations.)
- After the Lord's Prayer, the priest prays a special nuptial blessing over the bride and groom. This may never be omitted.
- Communion Rite, during which we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Non-Catholics and Catholics who have not been active in their Catholic faith do not receive Holy Communion out of reverence for its significance (click here for the Catholic teaching).
- The Communion Chant is begun while the priest is receiving, followed by a hymn or vocal solo.
The Concluding Rites
- The priest offers a solemn blessing to the couple.
- There is customarily a procession of the couple out of the church. This is usually accompanied by instrumental music played by live instruments.
- After the wedding, the witnesses and the priest sign the marriage record.
Rite of Matrimony without Mass
This rite is similar to the Rite of Matrimony within Mass, but without the Liturgy of the Eucharist (see above). It is usually used for a wedding in which one party is Protestant. A nuptial Mass for a wedding in which one party is Protestant would require the permission of the diocesan bishop. The Rite of Matrimony without Mass is not typically recommended for a marriage of two Catholics, but may be used for pastoral reasons.
Rite of Matrimony Between a Catholic and a non-christian
The third form, between a Catholic and an unbaptized person, while not a Sacrament (an unbaptized person does not celebrate a sacrament), is a complete and valid rite, signifying a permanent bond. This rite never includes a Mass, but takes place in the context of the Liturgy of the Word.
The rite for a Catholic marrying a catechumen (one who is preparing for baptism), a non-Christian, or someone who does not believe in God exemplifies sensitivity for the unbaptized person and his/her family. With the option of omitting some elements, this rite preserves the same structure as the other two forms. See optional changes below:
- Liturgy of the Word: The number of Scripture readings may be fewer than the usual three.
- Celebration of Matrimony
- Questions: An important note here is that the same three questions are asked by the priest as for two Christians; namely, whether they have come freely, whether they will live as man and wife for the rest of their lives, and whether they will accept children and bring them up in the Catholic faith.
- Blessing and Exchange of Rings: May be omitted if circumstances require.
- Nuptial Blessing: Combined with the general intercessions, may be omitted if circumstances require.
- Lord's Prayer: May be omitted or another prayer by the priest/deacon substituted if the Nuptial Blessing is omitted.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does a Catholic wedding have to take place in a church?
For Catholics, marriage is not just a social or family event, but a Church event. For this reason, the Church prefers that marriages between Catholics, or between Catholics and other Christians, be celebrated in the parish church of one of the spouses. Only the local bishop can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.
Why should a wedding between two Catholics usually be a Mass? When is it appropriate not to celebrate a Mass?
A wedding between two Catholics should usually be a Mass because the Sacrament of Matrimony reflects the endless love between Christ and his bride, the Church. In the Eucharist, Christ gives himself body, blood, soul, and divinity to his bride; we become "one flesh" with him every time we receive his Body in Holy Communion! This is why St. John Paul II called the Eucharist "the Sacrament of the bridegroom and the bride" (Mulieris Dignitatem n. 26).
It is appropriate not to celebrate a Mass when there are pastoral reasons not to. For example, if most of the family is not Catholic and might have difficulty participating in the Mass. However, these cases should be carefully discerned with the priest who is guiding the couple in their marriage preparation.
Can favorite songs be sung or played, even if they do not have Christian words?
Only sacred music, that is, music with sacred words and a sacred sound, may be used in the liturgy. Popular songs should not be used, even "Christian pop," which does not have the qualities of sacred music.
It is difficult for us to imagine how unfathomably beautiful is the love between Christ and his Church which is imaged in human marriage. Rather than using secular love songs in a sacred ceremony which celebrates this great mystery, we should use sacred songs which express the deepest reality of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Save your favorite secular or Christian pop songs for the reception!
Can a unity candle be lighted as part of the ceremony?
Lighting a unity candle is a secular practice and recent origin that has never been part of the Catholic Celebration of Matrimony. While is not prohibited, it is better done at the reception since the Celebration of Matrimony already has abundant symbols of unity. If the unity candle is used, the couple should light their individual candles from the paschal candle, the individual candles should not be extinguished, and the candle should not be placed on the altar. "Unity sands" should not be used, as sand has no Christian symbolism.
Can a consecration of our marriage to the Blessed Virgin Mary be part of the ceremony?
The custom of consecration one's marriage to the Blessed Virgin Mary (often ritualized by setting a bouquet of flowers before her statue as part of the ceremony) is a more recent custom beginning in the 1800's. It is not prohibited, but it is also not a proper part of the Celebration of Matrimony. Rather, it is a devotional practice that could be likened to praying a "Hail Mary" after the intercessions at Mass in order to honor Mary in a special way. It is good to realize that though the practice has recently become quite popular, it is not necessarily the case that in order to have a "good Catholic wedding" one must include such a consecration, which is extra-liturgical.
If this consecration is done, a good place for it in the wedding liturgy would be at the end of the Celebration of Matrimony, after the Blessing and Giving of rings. A song is often sung or played during this devotional rite.
Can a slideshow of pictures be shown during the liturgy?
A slideshow of pictures or display of memorabilia is better displayed at the wedding reception. The liturgy is a special time and place in which we "enter in" to the worship of heaven in a mystical and profound way. The reception, on the other hand, is the time to rejoice with family and friends in recalling the memories and stories they share with the couple.
Are weddings permitted on Sundays or during Lent?
Church law allows weddings to be held during most days of the year, except the Triduum. However, many parishes do not schedule weddings on Sundays because of the conflict with regularly scheduled Masses and other parish activities. In addition, many parishes do not allow weddings during Lent, a season of penance.
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