CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY
One of the unique challenges to planning a Catholic wedding liturgy is the fact that in many cases, a large number of guests are either not Catholic or are no longer practicing the Catholic faith. This presents an excellent opportunity for evangelization through beauty: a well-planned and joyfully celebrated nuptial Mass can serve as a moment of grace for your guests who may be skeptical or misinformed about the Church. But the Mass can also be a confusing experience for those who aren’t Catholic, or who haven’t been to church in a long while. Perhaps the most confusing moment for many comes at Communion time: unless the presiding priest makes it very clear (and sometimes even when he does), your guests may not understand what the Church teaches about the Eucharist and who may receive it.
The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as such is the “source and summit” of our faith and may only be received by Catholics who are in a state of grace (meaning they aren’t aware of having committed any mortal sins since their last confession). This is difficult to explain to non-Catholics, and sometimes comes across to our protestant brothers and sisters as exclusionary, especially if they come from church communities where anyone who is baptized may receive communion. While we can all agree that the divisions in Christianity are tragic and that we all ought to pray for the union of the Body of Christ, we also can't brush our differences under the rug as if they do not matter.
What’s a Catholic bride to do? How do you charitably express the requirements for receiving the Eucharist to your guests without causing a family feud? Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to explaining the Eucharist to your guests. We have some tried-and-true tips that we think will help you navigate these tricky ecumenical waters:
1. Include clear, nuanced verbiage in your Mass program.
In our wedding program, we used the following (please feel free to copy and paste into yours!)
"Who may receive the Eucharist?
Only baptized Catholics who have received their first communion, are practicing the faith, and are not aware of having committed mortal (serious) sins since their last confession may receive the Eucharist. If you are not going to receive, please remain in your seat and pray for and with the couple."
This worked well because it addresses both non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics. The best place to put a disclaimer like this is under “Communion Rite” in your program. One note: we opted not to encourage people to cross their arms over their chests and come up for a blessing. If you’d like to invite your guests who won’t be receiving the Eucharist to come up for a blessing, go for it!
2. Discuss the Mass with your guests prior to the wedding day.
This could take the form of a one-on-one conversation with a bridesmaid or groomsman, an email to a family friend, or a mass email to all of your guests with a run-down of the Mass. Again, the extent to which you’ll need to explain the Eucharist depends largely on the demographics of your guest list.
I recommend approaching the conversation from the standpoint of authenticity. When I taught high school theology, I would always remind my students that by saying “Amen” when receiving the Eucharist, they are saying, “Yes, I believe that this is truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus” and “I believe everything that the Catholic Church teaches and professes to be revealed by God.” If you cannot honestly assent to both of those claims, then it would be inauthentic to receive the Eucharist.
3. Ask your presiding priest to offer confessions before the wedding Mass.
My husband and I had a holy hour before our wedding rehearsal, during which our pastor heard confessions. Many of our friends and family took advantage of this opportunity to be in a state of grace for our wedding Mass. Another option is to ask your presiding priest(s) to hear confessions during the hour before the wedding: this gives your Catholic guests who may not have been to confession in a long while a convenient opportunity to receive absolution (and thus be able to receive the Eucharist with a clear conscience). Just make sure you advertise this to your guests beforehand!
When all is said and done, what matters most is that your wedding guests know that something different is happening during the liturgy of the Eucharist, and that what you and your husband are receiving is not merely a symbol of Christ's body and blood: you are receiving Him into your bodies so that you can become Christ to each other. The more you can communicate this reality through the program, the music, the silence, and the solemnity, the more likely your guests will be to respect the requirements for receiving the Eucharist.