International Bride: Roman Catholic Weddings

by: Michael Kabel

The traditions and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic wedding trace their origins back to some of the earliest days of Christianity. Over the course of two thousand years, the Catholic ceremony of marriage has become among the church's most elaborate and elegant - though no less meaningful - events.

Marriage is considered a sacrament, or rite of faith, begun by Christ as a means to confer God's grace on the believer. Because marriage is ordained by God, Catholic matrimony is considered inviolate, or unable to be broken. Two people entering into marriage give themselves to one another completely and with love for one another forever. It's a formidable union, and divorce is forbidden. In rare cases, and with permission from the Vatican, Catholic marriages can sometimes be annulled, or completely erased from record.

Preparing for the sacrament of matrimony

Though not as universal among the Catholic faithful as baptism, confession, and confirmation, marriage is nevertheless considered one of the most important sacraments. Before the ceremony, both persons wishing to be married must be counseled by a priest, so that they understand marriage's significance within Catholic doctrine. This preparation time, called the Pre-Cana, may be done in regular meetings up to six months in advance or over a single weekend.

The Church also prefers that both bride and groom be baptized in the Catholic faith before the wedding. In the event that one of them is not, a special dispensation known as the disparity of the cult must be received by a bishop.

In modern times, mixed-faith marriages have become increasingly common. The Church has relaxed a great deal in allowing marriage between Catholics and non-Catholics, providing they agree to remain faithful and married their entire lives.

The Catholic Wedding Ceremony

Some Catholic couples choose to have the wedding sacrament performed within a special full mass, or religious service. Following the processional, the priest offers prayers followed by a reading from the Bible and a homily, or brief remarks about the importance of marriage.

The priest then conducts the sacramental rite of marriage. This includes the blessing of the wedding rings, a declaration of consent in which the bride and groom give their wedding vows, and the lighting of a unity candle. Finally, the priest gives the official Church blessing to the new marriage.

Following the sacrament, the priest performs the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which bread and wine representing Christ's body and blood are prepared and given to all Catholic guests. In receiving the Eucharist, the grace of Christ is said to enter the hearts and souls of the faithful.

During the Concluding Rite, the priest offers a final prayer for the new couple's happiness, followed by the recessional. Before going to the reception, guests often sign a register and include their best wishes for the new man and wife.

The Wedding Ceremony Without A Full Mass

The couple may also choose to have a wedding ceremony without the full Mass, after discussing the subject with their priest. This ceremony is essentially the same, minus the Liturgy of the Eucharist.