The Rite of Marriage: Planning Your Wedding Ceremony

"LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.""

Genesis 2:18

Gold wedding rings

“A wedding is for a day, a marriage is for a lifetime.”

As one prepares for their wedding day, much effort is put into planning the reception, the wedding shower, and how to get the guests there. The wedding is an important day but it is one day. Your marriage is to last a lifetime; put the effort not just into the ceremony but your whole marriage.

That said, the wedding is important as the couple makes their vows to each other. Here we offer some thoughts on planning your ceremony.

Planning a wedding should be a prayerful experience and it should be something you do together, even if one of you is not religious. Many parishes may give you a book that contains the readings and prayers you can select for your marriage. Use this as an opportunity to read over the prayers and readings together, sharing what they mean for you. Will every prayer and reading have meaning for both of you? Doubtful but it can be an opportunity to grow together by sharing your thoughts.

Perhaps the first thing to consider is whether you want to have a wedding Mass or a ceremony without the Mass. The preference of the Church is always to have the Mass. The Mass celebrates the sacrifice of Jesus Christ giving his life for us on the Cross and the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.

In deciding whether to have a Mass here are two questions you might ask yourself

  • Are both of you Catholic?
  • Are many of you guests not Catholic?

If one of you is not Catholic (and likely their family) and/or many of your wedding guests are not Catholic you may consider not having a Mass so that reception of Communion is not an issue.

After you have decided whether to have a Mass or not, then you are ready to begin planning your ceremony. So let us walk through the ceremony.

The first thing that will happen is the guests will gather in the Church. At weddings, normally the guests receive a private invitation. While the people at your wedding might be there by invitation only. The guests represent the Church. They should not be simply as spectators. They are present to support you, pray with you, and celebrate with you.

Then we begin the procession. The procession begins the Gathering Rite. The procession is not a parade of beautiful women. It is a symbol of everyone gathering in the Church. As bride and groom come together at the front of church before the altar, they do so coming before God's altar so that two may come together as one flesh.

After everyone is in their places, the priest or deacon who is presiding will say a words of greeting and introduction, followed by the opening prayer.

Next comes the Liturgy of the Word. Generally, there is a reading from the Old Testament, a responsorial psalm, a reading from one of the New Testament Letters, and a Gospel. There are suggested readings provided in wedding books. The readings must be from the Bible. Here is an opportunity for the involvement of your family or friends. You may pick someone to do the Old Testament reading, Responsorial Psalm, and the New Testament readings. (The Gospel will be read by the priest/deacon). Be sure to pick people who will do a good job reading and be sure and give the readings at least a few days before your wedding so they can practice.

After the readings and a homily by the priest/deacon, we come to the wedding vows. Here, you make your wedding vows to each other. You are celebrating the sacrament to each other. The priest/deacon witnesses you making your vows to each other (These vows are discussed on the main marriage page).

Following the wedding vows is the Exchange of Rings. The rings are a symbol of your love for each other. When you are apart they remind you of you spouse. They are a sign to others of your love for your spouse. They are in the shape of a circle. A circle has no end; may your marriage have no end in this world.

Next comes the Prayer of the Faithful. Here may be an opportunity to have one of your family or friends read the prayers.

If you are having a wedding Mass, next comes the celebration of the Eucharist. Otherwise, the ceremony moves to the Lord's Prayer. After the Lord's Prayer is the prayer blessing of the ceremony. It is called the Nuptial Blessing (nuptial = marriage). It asks God's blessing and strength upon both of you as you begin to live your marriage.

There is then a final blessing followed by a recession lead by the bride and groom. The recession is not just a matter of getting everyone out of the church. The recession begins with bride and groom walking together to go out into the world as husband and wife.

May God always strengthen you in your marriage.

For Further Reading