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Diocese of Rockville Centre

Wedding Liturgy Guidelines Print E-mail

(taken from the Pastoral Manual, 1997 edition,  Diocese of Rockville Centre)

These guidelines were prepared by the Music Committee and the Liturgy Commission of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and are published with the approval of the Most Reverend John R. McGann, Bishop of Rockville Centre, and  should be regarded as policy in the diocese,  September, 1990.

The Purpose of these guidelines

  • These guidelines are pastoral in their intent. They are intended to assist priests, deacons, pastoral staffs, and musicians in assisting couples plan the celebration of their wedding liturgy. Each parish should have a policy concerning the way a wedding will be celebrated in the parish church; these diocesan guidelines are intended to help in the formulation of parish guidelines.
  • The guidelines ought to be clear, but not rigid, and not go beyond the scope of local or universal law. In order for guidelines to be effective, they need to  be thought out, published, and given to couples preparing for their marriage at the beginning of marriage preparations. These issues might be the subject of parish guidelines which could be offered to couples early in their contact with the parish.  Many parishes have found this  practice to be helpful in lessening these difficulties and establishing a sense that the meaning of the Church's liturgy is not subject to whim or fancy (a.k.a. the "my wedding" syndrome). A sample of issues and related statements is given for your consideration.
  • It is the all too frequent experience in many parishes that the details surrounding the wedding liturgy fall into the category of "things to do" for the couple, the church being one of the places to "hire out" for the occasion. There are numerous problems issuing from this attitude which make it difficult for the parish to maintain the integrity of the liturgy as a sacramental and ecclesial moment.

The Wedding Eucharist (Nuptial Mass) vs. Wedding Ceremony

You have come together in this Church so that the  Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church's minister and this community… (Rite of Marriage, 23)

The marriage of two Christians is at the same time a personal and ecclesial event.  The wedding liturgy is primarily a worship service—the worship of the God of love who manifests his presence in the marriage covenant of a particular couple. All the elements of the liturgy should reflect in a tangible way what is taking place: a sacramental encounter with Christ in the midst of the assembly.

The celebration of the Eucharist stands at the center of our Catholic faith. The marriage of two Catholics is most fittingly celebrated within the context of the Eucharist.

For a man and woman who understand the meaning of the sacrament which they are about to enter, matrimony is a profound revelation of Christ's love. The proper response to this reality of the  love of Christ for the couple is the whole Christian community celebrating with the couple by participating in the Eucharist.  Marriage and the Eucharist point especially to the mystery of Christ's union with his Church. Emphasizing the relationship of these sacraments is one of the most effective ways to avoid an excessively privatized attitude toward their marriage on the part of the couple. However, the motivation for arranging any nuptial Mass should be based on a couple's spiritual needs and capacity, and not on any desire to embellish the marriage ceremony or to bow to social customs or expectations. (from Readiness for the Sacraments)

There are couples who approach the Church for marriage who have not or do not participate in the Eucharistic life of the parish. While they should not be prohibited from having their marriage celebrated in the context of the Eucharist, it is often best to discourage such a practice. Certainly this would be an opportunity to question the relationship between their lack of participation at the Sunday Eucharist, and their wish for their marriage to be celebrated in the context of the Eucharist.

If a  large number of persons present would not be members of the Catholic Church, a prayer service might be a more appropriate setting for the marriage liturgy.  Since Sunday is the day for the gathering of the entire parish community for the Eucharist, a parish may wish to consider limiting additional celebrations of the Eucharist for other occasions, such as weddings on Sundays.

The Wedding Liturgy

Great care should be taken, especially at marriages, that all the people are involved at the important moments of the celebration, that the same general principles of planning worship and judging music are employed as at other liturgies, and above all, that the liturgy is a prayer for all present—not a theatrical production. (Music in Catholic Worship, 82)

The Gathering

  • The entrance procession can take several forms. The custom of the bride being escorted by her father , or another significant male relative and "given away" originated in an early practice where this gesture actually meant the transfer of ownership of the bride from the father to the husband. While many consider this "traditional" form desirable, couples should be encouraged to consider the other forms for the procession, which may appropriately signify the action of two adults freely pledging themselves in marriage.
  • The groom and his parent(s) as well as the bride and her parent(s) may be part of the entrance procession, along with the other ministers of the liturgy.
  • An opening hymn may be sung by all as a fitting way to gather the assembly for the celebration.

The Liturgy of the Word

  • The Lectionary for the Rite of Marriage provides a variety of scripture readings for use at weddings. Selecting the scripture readings can be done by the couple with careful reflection and discussion. It can be an opportunity for them to share with each other some of the deepest values they hold. All the readings during the Liturgy of the Word must be taken from the Scriptures. (cf. Lectionary for Mass, Marriage).
  • When persons who are guests at the wedding are invited to read one of the scripture readings, they should have the ability to read publicly, and be willing to prepare carefully for their ministry. At the time of the wedding rehearsal, persons who will read at the wedding liturgy should be prepared to practice their reading(s). The Lectionary  should be used for the proclamation of all the scriptures, not loose sheets or program booklets. The Gospel Book may be used for the proclamation of the gospel.
  • The Lectionary provides several choices for Responsorial Psalms. The psalm ought to be sung, with the assembly joining in the antiphon. The Gospel Acclamation should be sung. When it is not sung, it is omitted. A cantor/songleader facilitates the assembly's participation in song.

The Rite of Marriage

  • The Rite of Marriage includes the statement of intent and the exchange of vows and rings. The statement of intent is done, as given in the Rite of Marriage in the form of questions addressed to the couple by the officiant. The Rite of Marriage provides several options for the exchange of vows. Individual couples are prohibited from composing their own vows. When a couple memorize and speak their vows to each other, there can be a spontaneous and powerful recognition of the sacramental moment.
  • The custom has arisen of using a "wedding candle" or "unity candle" in the context of the marriage rite. The Rite of Marriage does not prohibit the use of the wedding candle, but it should be seen as a secondary symbol, not a primary symbol within the Rite of Marriage.
  • If the wedding candle, or another symbol  is to be used, it should not be placed on the altar. The candle might be best placed in a free standing holder apart from the altar, or set up near the baptistery. The candle or other secondary symbols should not overshadow the primary action which is the exchange of vows. Good symbols do not need extensive explanation. Allow the symbol to speak for itself.
  • The General Intercessions conclude the Rite of Marriage. These intentions should follow the same order as the intercessions at a regular Sunday Eucharist: the Church; the world; those in need; those intentions for this assembly. While it is the role of the deacon to proclaim the intercessions, in his absence, this may be done by someone else.  The person who reads the intercessions should be comfortable reading in public, and practice at the wedding rehearsal.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

  • The bread and wine may be brought forward by family members or guests. No other gifts are brought forward at this time.
  • During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the attention of the assembly is focused on the eucharistic action. Members of the wedding party who are in the sanctuary should not obstruct the lines of sight to the altar. They should in no way appear to be "concelebrating" the Eucharist.
  • The acclamations surrounding the Eucharistic Prayer (Holy, holy; Memorial; Amen) should be sung at all liturgies.
  • If the Lord's Prayer is to be sung, it should be a setting that can be sung by the assembly.
  • Communion may be distributed under both forms to the bride and groom or to the entire assembly. Sufficient ministers of the Eucharist should be available so as not to unduly prolong the rite.

Concluding Rites

The liturgy concludes with the final blessing and dismissal. The recession may include the wedding party, parents, and ministers of the liturgy, or the wedding party alone.

Music

Three judgments should be applied when choosing music for a wedding liturgy or any liturgy:

  • The Musical Judgment. This is a technical judgment, made by the musicians.  Is the music technically, aesthetically, and expressively good, irrespective of musical idiom or style. Only artistically sound music will be effective in the long run. To admit the cheap, the trite, the musical cliché often found in popular songs for the purpose of "instant liturgy" is to cheapen the liturgy, to expose it to ridicule, and to invite failure. (Music in Catholic Worship, 26)
  • The Liturgical Judgment. Is the music's text, form, placement and style congruent with the nature of the liturgy? The nature of the liturgy itself will help to determine what kind of music is called for, what parts are to be preferred for singing, and who is to sing them. (Music in Catholic Worship, 30)
  • The acclamations should be sung, as at any liturgy. Additional opportunities should be given for congregational participation in song. The music proposed should suit the place in the rite and the liturgical season during which the celebration takes place.
  • While a role for a soloist is not excluded, it is important that the person not pre-empt the assembly's participation in song. The soloist may act as cantor or leader of song, enabling the assembly to join in some of the music during the liturgy.
  • The Pastoral Judgment. Will this music help this assembly to pray and to celebrate what the church is celebrating?
  • Rather than a list of permitted or prohibited music, a process of dialogue with the couple will be an effective catechetical tool, and will avoid the pastoral difficulties that listings of music could inevitably present.
  • Most couples are unfamiliar with the wealth of musical possibilities that are available to them; often their experience is limited to what they may have heard at another wedding. The pastoral musician has a responsibility to acquaint the couple with the variety of music and musical styles. Parishes may wish to gather couples preparing for marriage for a liturgy planning session, during which the parish musicians could demonstrate some of the musical possibilities. Pastoral musicians may wish to provide a cassette tape of some of the suggested music appropriate for the wedding liturgy.
  • The distinction between sacred and secular music at weddings most often leaves no one satisfied. Music, instrumental or vocal, by text or context that does not speak to the religious dimension, or even negates it, is inappropriate. The texts of songs used in the liturgy should support the meaning of the rite, and be grounded in scriptural themes. Of primary importance is what we are celebrating: the mystery of God's love and human love in a covenant relationship.  For these reasons, popular songs are not permitted in the wedding liturgy. Often times a couple will request a song that is "their" song. After discussion, it may be determined that this song is best suited at the wedding reception.
  • Live music should be used  at every liturgical celebration. Recorded music is prohibited.

Liturgical Ministers and their Roles

  • The wedding couple minister to the assembly by the witness of their consent. Often a couple may ask to have family members or friends act as lector or special minister of the Eucharist for the wedding liturgy. Persons should exercise one ministerial role at each celebration.
  • Care should be taken that the person or persons proclaiming the scriptures have the ability to read publicly and are prepared to read. Those who wish to serve as special ministers of the Eucharist who are not members of the parish where the wedding is taking place should seek permission from the local parish priest. A couple may wish to bring in their own musicians. A parish policy should be clearly stated, along with any necessary compensation for the regular parish musician(s).

Environment

The decoration of the church building should be in line with the nature of the building and the sacred action that takes place within in. The norms of good taste should always be operative. The times and season of the church year will dictate appropriate decorations. Seating arrangements:  There are a variety of possible seating arrangements for the wedding party and ministers.

Ecumenical Issues

See the section below, “Mixed Marriages,” as well as the chapter on “Ecumenical Issues.”

Other Issues

Wedding Rehearsals

The wedding rehearsal is an opportunity for all those who will participate in the wedding liturgy to gather in the church building and rehearse those parts of the liturgy that warrant rehearsal. The members of the wedding party should be on time for the rehearsal, and maintain a decorum that befits the church.

Still Photographers/Videos

Policies regarding photographers  and videographers might make provision for recording the occasion without intruding on the participation of those present at the wedding. Some elements of a policy could include:

  • prohibition of artificial lights;
  • designating, by way of a diagram, where the photographer/videographer may stand;
  • a description of the liturgy, with suggestions of specific moments when pictures might be taken;
  • request that only the "official" photographer/videographer take pictures during the service;
  • couples may be asked to fill out a "request" form, naming the photographer/videographer, and giving them the task of presenting the guidelines to them.

Decorum

Couples should be reminded to be on time for their wedding liturgy. It is inconsiderate to their guests, to the ministers, and to the other activities that will take place in the church to be late. The couple ought to remind the limo driver, photographer/videographer that their wedding must begin on time.

Children in wedding party

If a couple wishes to include children in the wedding party, it should be suggested that they be at least of school age. Experience shows that younger children often find the wedding liturgy overwhelming and even frightening. A parish may wish to consider specifying a minimum age for these roles.

Role of Ushers and Bridesmaids

  • Ushers in the wedding party might be invited to function as ushers/ministers of hospitality to the assembly, greeting persons as they arrive and helping them to be seated.  This gesture of hospitality is especially important since a number of guests may not be familiar with the church building. At the wedding rehearsal, ushers should familiarize themselves with the layout of the church, find the location of the restrooms, exits, etc.
  • The Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor are witnesses of the marriage, and with the bridal couple, are leaders of the assembly. They should be encouraged to participate as fully as possible in the liturgy. The attention and prayerful attitude of the wedding party set a tone for the quality of the participation of the other members of the assembly.

Other Customs

In an effort to "personalize" the liturgy, some couples request additions to the marriage rite such as the "unity candle;" giving gifts/flowers to their parents, placing flowers at the statue of the Blessed Mother, using multiple rings, etc. The popularity of these customs raises the question of how well the couples understand the primacy of the exchange of vows. Although these customs are not a part of the marriage rite, a parish may permit them, provided that they are identified as secondary in nature. If used, they should be carried out simply and without the necessity of lengthy explanations.  These gestures should never eclipse the primary place of the exchange of vows, or the celebration of Word or Eucharist.

Church Offering/Fees for musicians

The offering for the church should be clearly stated to the couple when they begin their marriage preparations. If a couple is unable to afford the stated offering, they may not be prohibited from celebrating their marriage in the church. The fees for musicians ought to be separate from the church offering. Every parish should clearly state the fees for the various musicians, and the policy concerning visiting musicians. The parish musician(s) ought to meet with the visiting musician(s) well in advance of the wedding.

Preparing a booklet

  • A special booklet for an individual wedding is an excellent participation aid, should an individual couple choose to prepare one. It is the responsibility of the couple to secure the necessary copyright permissions, unless the parish already has a reprint license and agrees to perform this service.
  • A participation aid is not a script, but an instrument to help people follow the liturgy and join in it. The program booklet would include: an outline of the service, words and music to those parts which the assembly is expected to sing or say, directions and explanations of unfamiliar items, and an attractive appearance which contributes to the beauty of the prayer. The booklet would not include the text of prayers and scriptural readings which the ministers alone will say, and whatever may be distracting or unnecessary.
  • Persons who wish to prepare such a booklet should contact the parish priest/deacon, musician, and/or liturgy director for assistance.

Questions? Contact the Office of Worship