Planning your Catholic wedding

About to hear wedding bells?

Consider memorizing vows and inviting both sets of parents to serve as escorts.

Having both bride and groom escorted down the aisle by their parents expresses the equality of the man and woman, suggests Father Rick Hilgartner, associate director of the U.S. Bishop’ Secretariat for Divine Worship. That’s also the suggestion of the Catholic Rite of Marriage, he added.

“The bride and the groom enter freely and equally into marriage, and the entrance procession should reflect that,” he said.

Father Hilgartner also recommends that the couple memorize their marriage vows rather than repeat them after the priest for a more meaningful and memorable occasion. He offered his suggestions in “Ten Things to Consider for Planning the Celebration of Your Marriage in the Catholic Church,” a resource posted on the U.S. bishops’ website foryourmarriage.org. Here’s a short version of the document:

Marriage is a sacrament
A marriage between two Christians is a sacrament, that is, an encounter with Jesus Christ. The bride and groom pledge their selfless love for each other. All present can look at the bride and groom and see Jesus, as the bride and the groom look at each other and see Jesus’ love.

The bride and the groom are the ministers of the sacrament
The ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the bride and groom. The priest or deacon acts as the official witness of the church and the state, but the bride and the groom marry each other.

Marriage is a matter of faith
Marriage presupposes, renews, and strengthens faith. Preparation for marriage invites couples to reflect on God’s presence in their life and the grace he gives them to live daily in mutual and lasting fidelity.

The Scriptures: God’s word to you, and your word to the world
Couples normally choose three readings for their wedding—one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament letters, and one from the Gospels. Couples can reflect on what they believe God is saying to them and what they want to say about their faith on that day.

Vows: what you say, promise, and live
The heart of the rite is the exchange of vows. Some suggest that couples memorize their vows so they can experience the exchange of consent more powerfully, by speaking the vows from the heart rather than repeating them after the priest. In this way, they can spend time pondering what the vows mean and remember the words for years to come.

Music stirs the soul and lifts the mind
Music adds beauty and has an important liturgical function. It accompanies the procession of the ministers and the bridal party and is an integral part of the liturgy itself. The singing of the acclamations and responses by the assembly and the use of hymns and songs at the entrance and Communion procession are urged in the rite of marriage.

Music should communicate the mystery of God’s love in Christ, especially as it pertains to the couple joined in marriage.

Procession: Here comes the bride . . . and the groom!
The bride and the groom enter freely and equally into marriage, and the entrance procession should reflect that. The rite of marriage suggests that the liturgical ministers (priest, deacon, reader, servers) lead the procession, followed by the bride and bridegroom, each escorted by “at least their parents and the witnesses.” Perhaps the groom goes first, led by his attendants and escorted by his parents, followed by the bride, led by her attendants and escorted by her parents.
Ministers: more than just the bridal party
Family members and friends stand by as attendants, but they also perform a liturgical function as official witnesses of the marriage.

Other liturgical roles are played by readers who proclaim the Bible readings and announce the general intercessions, relatives, or friends who present the offertory gifts of bread and wine, servers who assist at the altar, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.

The officiating priest or deacon can provide guidance throughout the process.

Family plus friends equals the liturgical assembly
Loved ones at the ceremony represent the community of the church, who surround the couple with encouragement and prayers.

They form a liturgical assembly that stands before the Lord with hearts open to his loving power.

Above all, pray!
The wedding liturgy (whether it is celebrated at Mass or apart from it) is an act of worship. It is a time to offer praise and thanks to God for his gifts and to seek his continued blessings and help. It is a time to thank God for the gift of one’s spouse and for the newly married  couple to ask the Lord’s blessing and guidance as they become witnesses of his love for them and for the world.

In addition to the variety of resources parishes provide for couples, a number of resources are available online. Among them is www.foryourmarriage.org, a project of the Catholic Communication Campaign and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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