As you plan your Catholic wedding, you might find friends and family inquiring about the reasons underlying particular marriage traditions in the Church. We’ve been there, and want to be here for you. Often, the default response might be to answer in a defensive way--we defend that which we fiercely love--as we assume anyone asking a question is asking from a place of skepticism or judgment.
While that might be true in some cases, you might find yourself surprised by how many individuals simply have a spirit of curiosity about the Catholic faith and its rituals. Modeling your love after the crucifixion, holding an hour-plus ceremony, and including formal prayer in your wedding are, in many ways, countercultural. To those whom Catholic weddings are unfamiliar, the spirit of inquiry is often genuine. Their questions provide a unique opportunity: to explain these matters with charity, candor, and with an invitation to know more and let the goodness, beauty, and natural reason of the Church speak for itself.
Below, four common questions regarding Catholic wedding liturgies, and how you might answer. We hope you find these points help you articulate why you’ve chosen to marry in the Church, what sets it apart, and most importantly, that they provide the seeds of truly fruitful conversation.
Or perhaps the spirit of curiosity is where you, yourself, are. Questions about the Catholic faith are good; an opening of a new door, not a closing off to inquiry, and an opportunity to learn and contemplate. We hope the questions and answers below offer you the start of greater understanding and critical thought.
Why do you have to get married in an actual church?
It’s not that a a beautiful garden, hotel, or oceanfront venue is an unromantic or insignificant place to profess your lifelong commitment to each other. When Catholics say marriage is a sacrament of the Church, they’re saying they believe earthly things--in this case, the vows spoken by the bride and groom--can literally be transformed by God into something different than what they once were. Once the marriage is consummated, the words spoken at the altar are transformed into a permanent bond breakable only by death.
Because of that belief in sacramental realities, which take place in God’s presence, it makes sense that the sacrament needs to actually take place in his presence. Where is the Lord really, truly present? It’s true that he is all around us in the created world and that prayer can happen anywhere. Yet for Catholics, who believe bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, he is there in a real, metaphysical way in the tabernacle of every church--there resides the Eucharist and there, we believe, resides the living Jesus. It’s amazing to consider that he is there in such a tangible way from the first moments of a bride and groom’s life together.
Speaking of vows, why can’t you write your own?
Every sacrament of the Church has a specific rite that must be followed in order for the sacrament to be valid. If a priest doesn't follow the prescribed language of consecration, for instance, the Eucharist for that Mass is invalid. Getting married is the same: in order for the sacrament to take place; that is, for the couple's bond to literally be transformed and suffused with grace, the bride and groom need to speak the language of the Rite of Marriage. It's more than just inputting certain words and getting out a certain result. It's allowing yourselves and your love to take on something entirely, sacramentally new and humbly inviting God into your life together, knowing it takes three, not two, to live out your promises.
But it’s understandable that a couple might want to express their hopes for how they’ll love and serve each other in marriage in their own words. Those who wish to do that can write down these hopes and intentions in letters to each other or can talk together about them.
What about Mary? Why is a part of the Mass dedicated to her?
When you really want something, it can be helpful to have another person helping you get it. Job referrals and references, personal trainers, and therapists fall into this category.
When Catholics pray for something, they believe the saints--men and women from throughout history who were heroically faithful, in ways large and small--can provide the gift of intercession, which means joining in our prayers and offering them to God alongside us. We hold Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the highest regard among the saints for her making her entire life an unreserved yes to God’s will. In praying to her, therefore she brings us to the Lord. We, and our prayers, grow closer to Jesus, through Mary.
That’s not to say every prayer of a person’s heart is answered in exactly the way and time they hope, simply because they prayed for Mary’s intercession, but that her prayers for us, her children, are a great gift. When husband and wife kneel before her during their wedding Mass, they bring their lives to her, asking her to pray for them like any other mother might pray for her children, and to strengthen them in love.
Who’s walking you down the aisle? If not your dad, why?
Although a priest celebrates a couple’s wedding Mass, marriage is actually the only sacrament of the Church wherein the bride and groom, not a priest, actually administer the sacrament. The minister of the sacrament typically processes into the church last, so for couples who choose to acknowledge this, they walk into the church together. For those who do a first look, or who choose to meet for the first time before the procession, it can beautifully signify the bride and groom’s shared role in the sacrament and promises they’re about to enter into.
Couples are also free to choose the tradition of walking in with both parents, or for the bride to process in with her father, which in no way diminishes the couple’s role in the sacrament or their equality as people.
If these outlines for your conversations are helpful, we’d love to know! Share with us, in the comments and on our social media, any other areas of Catholic weddings and marriage for which you’d welcome talking points.
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