“How do we plan our wedding Mass?”
Catholic friends ask me this question all the time when they get engaged.
It might seem a little daunting. A lot of people use different processes. The priest working with you might be more than happy to guide you through the task, or you may need to figure things out on your own with minimal help.
Thankfully, Joshua and I had the former experience, and can aid our friends in getting started. Below, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about planning your Catholic wedding Mass.
Step 1: Get Your Wedding on the Calendar
You’ll obviously need to choose a church to get married in. Also, though, you have the option of choosing the priest or priests who will celebrate your wedding. If you’re friends with a priest, you might opt to bring him in from out of town for the occasion. But it’s always an option just to use the pastor or assistant pastor at the church where you’re getting married as your main celebrant. In fact, this is what most couples do.
When it comes to choosing a church, you have options. Some people get married in their childhood churches, others in the church where they are currently parishioners, and some couples choose a “destination” church location.
Note: Even if only one of you is Catholic, you must be married in the presence of God in the form of the Eucharist in a Catholic church, unless the diocese gives you a specific dispensation.
You’ll also need to obtain records of your sacraments to be approved for marriage. Or, if one partner is not Catholic, you’ll file for a dispensation from the diocese. If you need sacramental records, you’ll contact the parishes where you received those sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation). The parish office will send your records to the diocese where you’ll be getting married. If you need a dispensation, your priest will help you get the paperwork to fill out for the diocese.
Note: You cannot request any kind of dispensation (i.e., marrying a non-Catholic or celebrating your wedding Mass outside of a church) until you are within twelve months of your wedding date. Clergy rarely deny reasonable dispensations and want to help their members obtain sacramental, holy marriages in their circumstances.
Step 2: Purchase the book Together for Life by Joseph M. Champlin
This book is a step-by-step guide to a Catholic wedding ceremony, and even includes details about mixed-faith nuptials, requirements for being married in the Church, participation of family and friends, traditional optional elements in the Mass, and more. Together for Life also contains the selection of approved readings for a wedding Mass, the options for consent, and prayers for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Step 3: Select Your Wedding Readings
For your wedding Mass, you’ll choose the Old Testament (first) reading, the Responsorial Psalm, the New Testament (second) reading, the Alleluia prayer and Gospel acclamation, and the Gospel passage.
It’s a lot to decide. There are dozens of options for the different readings. Joshua and I each had a copy of Together for Life and read through the readings separately. We made lists of our favorites and made our final choices from the options we aligned on.
Many people will notice a theme in their wedding readings. We’ve been to weddings where two or all three of the readings had the same line in them. Two themes we’ve heard many times are: “what God has joined together, no one can put asunder,” and “it is not good for man to be alone. God made a suitable partner for him,” (the theme of ours). A third theme I’ve seen is when couples select readings proclaiming the dignity of marriage: Tobiah and Sarah rising from their marriage bed to pray, Paul speaking of what virtuous love is, and the wedding feast at Cana. It’s a beautiful process to go through with your future spouse, and it helps you both discover your priorities as you enter marriage.
Step 4: Decide on Your Consent
Several elements make up what we know as our “wedding ceremony.” These are the questions before consent, the actual consent, the reception of consent, the blessing and giving of rings, and the universal prayer (also known as the prayers of the faithful).
Together for Life gives you options for most of these elements. The three questions before consent do not change depending on which of the two options you choose, but the prayer that the priest says beforehand differs slightly depending on the couple’s preference. It’s little more than a phrasing decision.
There are four options for the consent itself (what we think of as the marriage vows). Their main difference is that two of them end with the phrase “to love and to honor you all the days of my life” and the other two conclude with the wording “to love and to cherish until death do us part.” Choose the wording that you prefer, and then decide whether you will recite the consent yourselves or be prompted through a series of questions.
For example, you can choose to say, “I, Michelle, take you, Joshua…”
or the priest could ask: “Do you, Michelle, take Joshua…?”
Step 5: Decide on the Reception of Your Consent
For the reception of consent, which means the priest’s acceptance of your consent on behalf of God and the Church, you can choose between two options. The main difference is that one is more Biblical, calling God the “God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God who joined our first parents together in paradise,” and the other is simpler, just using “the Lord” for God. Again, both options are perfectly acceptable.
Then the priest will say a prayer and bless the rings with holy water, transforming them into sacramentals. You will select a version of the priest’s part of this prayer. Your words, however, are always the same during this section of the Mass.
If the couple chooses, now is the time for the blessing and giving of the arras. There is only one option for this tradition.
Then, you’ll pray the universal prayer, or the prayers of the faithful. The Church includes this prayer in the wedding Mass because marriage is meant to spread goodness to the world. After all, marriage is not merely a fun time between a husband and a wife, but a proclamation of God’s love and goodness to all around us. You, the couple, will have two options for this prayer and may simply select your favorite.
Step 6: Select the Liturgy of the Eucharist
You have several prayer options for each of the different elements of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Once again, you’ll select your favorites.
Note: If the couple elects to do the Blessing and Giving of the Lazo, it takes place between the preface and the Nuptial blessing. If the couple does a Marian or any other consecration, expect it to happen during communion, after the couple receives the Body and Blood of Christ.
Step 7: Conclusion of the Celebration and Recessional Hymn
There are three prayer options for the closing prayer, and then you’ll want a beautiful recessional hymn for when you leave the church! If you need an idea, the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” is a great option. Celebrate the conclusion of your wedding Mass and the beautiful start to your marriage!
Note: Some priests announce the new couple and invite you to share your first married kiss directly after you exchange consent. Others wait until the end of Mass to declare you as Mr. and Mrs. Be sure to ask him what he’ll do so you don’t get surprised on your wedding day!
Step 8: Thank God for Your New Union
Not an official part of the wedding Mass, but still a reasonable thing to do. Good luck and God bless!