A Catholic wedding invites friends and family to celebrate the joining of a couple in holy matrimony, yet it can be confusing for guests who are unfamiliar with the traditions of the Nuptial Mass. It differs from a secular wedding just enough that you need extra guidance. Show your respect for the couple and enhance the celebration by learning the etiquette for some customs specific to the church.
Preparation and Arrival
It's appropriate to dress in conservative formal wear for a Catholic church wedding, unless the invitation has indicated another dress code. Wearing hats in the church is considered rude, so leave them at home. Guests should arrive at the church between 15 to 30 minutes early to find where they should be seated and chat a bit with people they know before remaining respectfully quiet throughout the ceremony.
Participating in the Ceremony
The bride and groom may ask guests to fulfill several roles within the wedding. It's a privilege to be asked to participate, and you do not need to be Catholic to do so. It's proper etiquette to accept the role enthusiastically and attend all needed rehearsals. If you can't participate, let the couple know right away and apologize for being unable to fulfill the role. They will simply choose someone else, and you are still welcome to attend as a guest.
Photos and Videos
Before bringing a camera to a Catholic wedding, ask the bride and groom about restrictions on photography or videotaping. Specific policies are dependent on the parish, but most place at least some restrictions during the liturgy. Because the official photographer may have special permission that others won't be granted, don't assume that you can take pictures simply because someone else is. It's proper etiquette to plan ahead and defer to the guidelines of the church.
While a wedding is a big deal for people of any faith or lack thereof, a Catholic wedding ceremony between two baptized Christians is considered a sacrament within the church. Show your reverence for the sanctity of the ceremony by refraining from conversation with others during the liturgy and adhering to any requests made by clergy or the wedding party.
The Holy Communion
Most traditional Catholic weddings include the Holy Communion within the Mass ceremony. While Catholic guests are invited to receive communion, others should refrain from receiving it. It is considered polite to still receive a blessing or prayer from the priest if you are not Catholic, and an interest in receiving the blessing is shown by crossing your arms in front of your chest as you approach the priest. It's also acceptable for non-practicing guests to stay at their pews and remain respectfully silent during this part of the ceremony. If people in your pew are accepting the communion, rather than have those guests squeeze by, it's best to move out of the pew, step aside as they pass, then return to your seat.
Flexibility in the Wedding
While the preferences of the bride and groom and their adherence to tradition should always be respected, modern touches or flourishes are oftentimes welcomed within a Catholic ceremony. A unity candle to represent the couple joining as one can be added to a side table, or a floral bouquet may be placed on a Marian side altar to honor of the Blessed Mother. The presentation of the Rosary and Bible is sometimes added. If you want to speak to a couple about adding a specific aspect to the wedding that may be unconventional, ask about their openness to input on the ceremony. If they are willing, it's polite to make suggestions.
- The Vatican: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful
- Catholic Digest: The Catholic Digest Wedding Guide
- Beginning Catholic: Catholic Marriage: A Union Sealed by the Sacrament of Matrimony
- EWTN: Withholding Communion at Mass
- Marriage Equality: Religious vs. Civil Marriage
- The Chicago Tribune: Catholic or Not: Queue Up
- Catholic Etiquette: What You Need to Know About Catholic Rites and Wrong
- Catholic Times: Following Customs and Preferences in a Catholic Wedding
- Your Catholic Wedding: A Complete Planbook; Chris Aridas
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images