Catholic wedding traditions: Clothing, flowers, food and decorations
The traditions and ceremonies unique to a Catholic wedding.
Catholicism is the oldest of the organized Christian religions. Most modern day wedding ceremonies have their roots in Catholicism; however, there are a few traditions that haven’t migrated to the protestant side of Christianity. Let’s examine of few of these traditions.
Marriage is considered one of the seven “sacraments” (rites of passage) in the Catholic religion. In order to receive this sacrament, the church wants all potential brides and grooms to attend premarital classes. This involves spiritual counseling as well as education how to have a good Catholic marriage. Some pre-marital sessions may include weekend couples retreats, pre-cana classes (a series of meetings dealing with both the religious and practical issues of marriage), and one on one consultations with the priest. All of these meetings begin to take place approximately 6 months prior to the intended wedding ceremony. The requirements pertaining to these classes vary from diocese to diocese and even from parish to parish.
Once a date is decided and the process of preparing for a Catholic wedding has begun, the parish will announce the “banns”. This step has been replaced in Protestant ceremonies with a question posed during the ceremony asking if there is a reason why the wedding should not take place. The banns are announced during mass and/or published in the church bulletin or paper for the last three weeks prior to the wedding. Posting of the banns is only done if both parties are Catholic. Traditionally, permission for a full Catholic wedding if only one of the couple is Catholic, must be granted by the Pastor of the Parish. There is rarely any difficulty getting this request granted. Usually however when only one member of the couple is Catholic, the couple opts to have a wedding ceremony which is approximately 20 minutes long and is very much like a Protestant ceremony.
As a rule Catholic wedding ceremonies are to take place in a Catholic church. The ceremony itself has a few differences from the traditional protestant wedding. Often, when both the bride and the groom are Catholic, a full nuptial “mass” (a Catholic Church service) encompasses the marriage ceremony. It is incumbent upon the couple to instruct non-Catholic attendants as to what to expect during mass to minimize any confusion. Since there is a combination of standing, kneeling and sitting during mass, a small kneeler and bench are usually provided for the couple at the front of the church.
At the start of the ceremony one may notice many guests making The Sign of the Cross. The Sign of the Cross is made in when Catholic touches the tips of their right hand to first their forehead, center of the chest, left shoulder and finally the right shoulder before folding their hands in reverence. This is done as one enters the church, enters the pew (along with “genuflecting” or kneeling on ones right knee in the direction of the altar) and at the start of prayer. “Ave Maria” is a very popular song at a Catholic wedding since its roots are based in the old Latin mass. There are bible readings from both the new and old testaments as well as a reading from the “Gospel” (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The priest will give a “homily” in which he will reflect and discuss the bible readings and the event that for which everyone is gathered. After the homily is completed, the actually “marriage rite” takes place. Vows are then made and rings exchanged. Interestingly enough, the option of a woman promising to “obey” her husband has never been in the Catholic ceremony.
Quite often after the rings are exchanged, a dedication is made to Mary, The Blessed Virgin. Usually the dedication is a floral presentation (occasionally a smaller replica of the brides bouquet is presented) that is placed by a statue of Mary located somewhere within the church. Also at this time, there maybe a ceremonial lighting of the “unity” candle by the bride and groom. The priest will then offer the nuptial blessing. After the marriage portion of the ceremony is concluded, the sacrament of the Eucharist (communion) is performed (non-Catholics are not to take part in communion) and final prayers are said. The bride and groom are introduced and the recessional marks the end of the service.
There is rarely anything remarkably different between a Catholic wedding reception and that of a Protestant. That said, there are many nationalities that are predominately Catholic and have their own traditions worked into the reception such as dollar and circle dances. The Priest that performed the service is generally invited to the reception and is often asked to bless the wedding meal. All in all, whether you’re Catholic, Jewish or Lutheran, a wedding is a hack of a party. Enjoy!