Weddings are an important part of my ministry as a priest. To prepare couples for their wedding, and celebrating the sacrament, have always given me great satisfaction and joy. In the course of 25 years in the ministry, I have already lost my count on the number of weddings I had performed. But with all these weddings that I had a chance to prepare and perform, I have learned that every wedding is different as the people getting married.
In this site, I would like to outline the process that I usually undertake when I prepare a couple for their wedding. I am sure that every priest, rabbi or minister may have his or her own particular way of doing things, but in whatever way they conduct their marriage preparation, they have to take into account some important general and particular church laws, in the process. In a catholic wedding, there are some important general and particular guidelines that we need to follow. I shall be outlining those church guidelines very shortly.
A. Some important general guidelines and information that the couples need to know:
1. Time of Preparation
Here in the United States, the Bishops Conference mandates that the couples preparing for marriage should contact the rectory one year in advance of the proposed wedding date. This is a general policy of the US bishops. In a particular way, the Bishops of New Jersey (the jurisdiction where I am presently working) mandates that this wedding preparation must include the following: (a) A series of meetings with the priest/deacon who will witness the wedding, at least three times within a year, to find out any possible impediments, to ensure the freedom of the parties, and to find out whether the contracting parties are sufficiently instructed in the Christian doctrine, particularly on the nature, ends, and essential properties of marriage (Canons 1095; 1067).(b) Attendance at either a Pre-cana seminar or an Engaged Encounter retreat is a must. In some parishes, they require the so called "FOCCUS TEST" to be undertaken by the couple who are preparing for marriage. As a policy, the individual parishes must follow these general and particular guidelines. The only exception is in some emergency or exceptional cases, which will be determined by the pastor or priest who is preparing the couple for marriage.
2. Who can get married in a particular parish?
As a general policy, a particular parish allows couples who are registered parishioners to get married in their particular church. At least one person must be from the parish. If not registered, a particular church may allow couples to get married in their parish if the couples are catholics and have secured a permission from their respective parish. However, there are some parishes who do not allow couples to get married in their church if they are not registered parishioners. They give no exception to the rule. That is why, before the couples make any final decision in their wedding arrangement, they should first inquire regarding the policy or wedding guidelines of any particular church for that matter.
3. Wedding Date and Time
Before the couples make any arrangement for their wedding (reception, photography, etc.), they need first to contact the parish office for an appointment with the priest or wedding coordinator of the parish for the initial preparation process.
Each parish has its own policy as far as scheduling the day for weddings. Some parishes do not have weddings on Sundays. Others do not accept more than one wedding a day. The bottom line is, the couples should know the policy and guidelines of the parish as far as weddings are concerned.
4. Required Documents
Whether it is a civil or church wedding, the couple have to submit to the office or church some required documents. The priest or deacon who are preparing the couple for marriage will require the couple for these needed documents. These required documents are outlined in this site.
5. Pre-Can or Engaged Encounter Seminar
For a couple to get married in the Catholic Church, they are required to attend a Pre-Cana Seminar or an Engaged encounter Seminar. They cannot be married in a Catholic Church unless they attend this seminar. Arrangements and reservations must be made about this as soon as possible. A list of dates and places of Pre-Cana Seminars or Engaged Encounter Seminars is usually available in the parish office or in the Diocesan Family Office.
6. Wedding Music
Music is an important part of the Wedding Liturgy. As a general policy, any music played for the wedding should be planned and arranged with the music director of the parish. Therefore, the couple has to make an appointment with the music director of the parish as soon as possible. Some parish music directors may require the couple to make an appointment with them six months or three months prior to the wedding date. Each parish has its own particular guideline as far as "who can play" the organ, or "who can sing" during the wedding. The couples have to keep in mind that some parishes do not allow outside organist or cantors in their church.
7. Wedding Planners/Coordinators
The Catholic Church does not allow 'Commercial Wedding Planners/Coordinators' to handle any aspect of the Mass or Ceremony for the simple reason that Liturgy is the responsibility of the priest or deacon. While such planners may assist a couple with other concerns on their wedding day, they may not have a role in anything pertaining to the Church.
8. Clergy and Visiting Priest
As a general policy, no priest or deacon is assigned to a wedding, unless he is especially requested by the couple. If a visiting priest is requested, he is to be contacted first by the Bride and Groom, and then referred to the pastor for delegation.
9. Dress Code
The Church trusts that brides, grooms and bridal party members will be dressed modestly for Church. Those participating in the Liturgy should be dressed in a manner befitting the seriousness and holiness of the occasion.
Rehearsals should be scheduled between the officiating priest or deacon and the couple far enough in advance through the rectory to avoid conflicts in schedules. The wedding rehearsal is normally scheduled for an evening shortly before the wedding date. At the rehearsal, the members of the wedding party are all expected to attend.
It is usually required that all documents be submitted before the rehearsal date, except the Marriage License. The Marriage License should be brought during the rehearsal for the signature of the Best Man and the Maid of Honor.
If A Unity Candle or other liturgical items are to be used for the wedding, they should already be brought in during the rehearsal.
11. Flowers, Candle and Runners
To enrich the beauty of the marriage celebration, flowers are usually permitted in the Sanctuary. Bows and decorations are also permitted on the pews but florists should take care not to tape them or damage the pews.
Giving Flowers to moms and offering a bouquet of flowers to the Statue of the Blessed Mother at the wedding is a beautiful tradition in the US. The couple has to decide whether they want to do this or not. It is usually the responsibility of the Florists to prepare for these flowers.
The Wedding Candle or Unity Candle is really not part of the Church's marriage rite. Yet, it has become a popular visual symbol for some couples. If the couple decides to have a Unity Candle at their wedding, they have to inform the priest or deacon who is preparing them for their wedding.
The couple should be aware that some parishes allow aisle runners, while others don't allow them. The couple should first inquire the policy of the parish on this regard before making any decision thereof.
12. Photography and Videography
Videos and Photography often provide the couple with lasting memories of their wedding ceremony. It is for this reason that Photographers and Videographers are permitted to take pictures and videos during the wedding ceremony. Photographers and Videographers, however, must abide by the rules of the particular church governing their movement around the Church and their use of certain equipment. Absolutely, no Photographers and Videographers are permitted in either Sacristies or the Sanctuary area during the ceremony.
13. Church Offering and Fees
The Church offering and fees vary from parish to parish. The Church fees are usually intended for the following: Parish Donation, the Organist, the Soloist, Celebrant (free will offering), stipend for the Altar Server. Some parishes require a security deposit upon their marriage application. As a general policy, all donations must be settled One Month (or earlier) prior to the Wedding.
B. Marriage Preparation Process
1. The first thing a couple has to do when planning for a wedding is to contact the rectory or Church office - usually at the parish office where they are registered as parishioners. Then they set an appointment with the pastoral minister, priest, deacon, or whoever is in-charge with the marriage preparation in the respective parish.
2. When meeting with the pastoral minister, the first thing the pastoral minister has to do is to let the couple fill up some application forms, or in most cases, they let the couple fill up the so call "Prenuptial forms" immediately. In this site you find a sample of the "Prenuptial Form" being used by Catholic Churches in the State of New Jersey.
3. After the Prenuptial Forms had been filled up, the pastoral minister conducts an initial separate interview on the couple. His interview will be based upon questions asked from the Prenuptial Forms, and it will focus on three (3) important areas, namely:
(a) to find out any possible impediments rendering the marriage invalid or illicit.
(b) to ensure the freedom of the parties; and
(c) to find out whether the contracting parties are sufficiently instructed in the Christian doctrine, particularly in the nature, ends and essential properties of marriage (Can. 1095; Can. 1067).
4. After the initial interview, the pastoral minister calls the couple together and explains to them the next step or process of the preparation program.
(a) In some parishes, they require couples to take what they call a FOCCUS TEST. The acronym word FOCCUS stands for "Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study." FOCCUS is a self-diagnostic inventory designed to help couple learn more about themselves and their unique relationship. It is not a test nor meant as a predictor of success or failure in marriage. It is a tool to help couples name and work through issues before marriage.
(b) If FOCCUS TEST is given, the pastoral minister schedules the couple to come on another date to take the test.
(c) After the test and results had been given, the pastoral minister calls back the couple for another session. During this session, the pastoral minister (facilitator) sits down with the couple and discusses the results of the test with them. Using the couple's report, the facilitator works with the couple to look at patterns in their responses, discuss issues, and problem-solve.
(d) More information about FOCCUS can be found in this website: http://www.foccusinc.com
5. The next step after the initial interview is an information and explanation of the Parish Wedding Guidelines. As we all know, each pastor (priest) and each Church have their own set of guidelines for performing weddings. Guidelines are important for the Church, the pastor, and the couple as they set parameters of expectations for everyone involved. In this site you will find some samples of Marriage Guidelines that maybe helpful in developing new guidelines or augmenting existing ones.
6. After the initial interview, and after taking the FOCCUS TEST (as the case maybe) and the results were amply discussed, the couple are required to attend a Pre-Cana Seminar or an Engaged Couple's Seminar. With other engaged couples from the Diocese or from the Parish, the couple will gather for a day or two for the said seminar. After the seminar, the couple will be issued a Pre-Cana certificate. This Pre-Cana certificate is one of the required documents that the couple has to submit to the parish prior to their wedding.
7. As the case maybe, a follow-up session may be scheduled. At the follow-up meeting the Pastoral Minister and the couple will discuss any concerns about the FOCCUS, the Pre-Cana, changes in the couple's relationship, how they view their marriage, issues surrounding sexuality, and their faith life now and in the future.
8. The next step in the process is a meeting to discuss and plan for the Liturgical Celebration. The pastoral minister hands out to the couple a booklet called "Together for Life" by Joseph M. Champlin, as a resource material to plan for the Liturgy.
(a) During the planning of the Liturgy, the couple has to decide whether they will have a wedding within the context of a mass, or simply a marriage outside mass.
(b) Together with the pastoral minister, they plan and decide on the Order of Procession. The will determine who are those involved in the procession.
(c) The Readings had to be selected and determined.
(d) the seating arrangement in Church will also be determined.
(e) The couple and the pastoral minister review the whole Liturgical Celebration, and everything related to it.
(f) The Music for the ceremony should be planned with the Music Director of the parish at least three(3) months (or even earlier) prior to the wedding date.
9. The Rehearsal date is normally scheduled for an evening shortly before the wedding date, at the convenience of the couple and priest/deacon or pastoral minister. At the rehearsal, the couple should bring with them the following:
(a) The Marriage License
(b) Fees for the Church (if not yet given)
(c) Unity Candle (if it is to be used in the ceremony)
(d) Other needed documents if not yet submitted earlier