Weddings are joyous occasions, but they can also cause a bit of anxiety when guests are not sure what to do during the ceremony. Catholic weddings are just different enough from other wedding ceremonies that guests may need a little extra insight into proper etiquette. Knowing what to expect, as well as the proper attire and conduct, should help you to relax and be confident when you attend your next Catholic wedding ceremony.
Catholic weddings are generally semi-formal. Men should wear a shirt and tie (if not a suit), while women should wear dresses, skirts or dress slacks. When dressing for a Catholic wedding, female guests should keep in mind that it is proper etiquette to dress modestly. For example, women may choose a stylish shawl to cover their shoulders while inside the church. They could wear a tank top under a sundress to make the neckline a little less revealing. Additionally, skirt lengths should not be shorter than the length of your arms when resting at your side.
Entering the Church
Guests should be sure to arrive at a Catholic wedding at least 15 minutes early so as not to interrupt the procession down the aisle. Upon entering the church, men should remove their hats. Catholic guests may dip their fingers in the holy water at the entrances and make the sign of the cross to remind themselves of their baptisms. Catholics also acknowledge the tabernacle upon entering a church. The tabernacle is a box made out of precious metal in which the Body of Christ is contained, designated by a red candle burning nearby. If guests wish to show respect, they may genuflect by lowering their right knee to the floor. Guests who are not Catholic need not follow these protocols.
Catholic wedding ceremonies include prayers and traditions specific to the Catholic faith. Guests who have attended Catholic Masses in the past should recognize most of these prayers. The couple should provide guests with a program that outlines the order of the ceremony and may include the words to some prayers. Additionally, small books called Missalettes may be located in the pews, inside which the text of most prayers can be found. Guests should be prepared to stand, sit and kneel as prescribed during the service.
Receiving Holy Communion
Although it is not required, most Catholic weddings are celebrated within the context of a Mass, which includes Holy Communion. Guests who are Catholic may receive Holy Communion at the designated time. Guests who are not Catholic should not receive Holy Communion, but they may still process to the altar and receive a blessing or prayer from the priest or extraordinary minister. To indicate the desire for a blessing, guests should simply place the index and middle fingers of their right hand to their lips as they approach the minister.
Wedding ceremonies and Masses are reverent occasions for Catholics. All guests, regardless of religion, should respect the sanctity of the ceremony by maintaining a prayerful disposition. Guests may do this by following along with the prayers and songs, refraining from conversation with one another during the ceremony, and perhaps silently praying for the couple throughout the ceremony. Above all, guests should know that the ceremony is a celebration of love between two people and God's love for humanity, so it is truly a time to rejoice, be glad and thank God for His blessings.
- Jennie Lee, Campus Missionary; St. Thomas More University Parish; Bowling Green, Ohio