February 9, 2017 // Perspective

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions to the Office of Worship

My fiance is not Catholic. Should we have a Mass?

Office of Worship: In order for a Catholic to marry a baptized non-Catholic, permission first must be obtained from the bishop, via the vicar general. Then, a decision on whether or not to have a Nuptial Mass needs to be made in consultation with the pastor or priest involved in the planning process. It is sometimes the case that it would be better to highlight the unity of the couple rather than the differences. If the couple had a Mass, one partner would not be able to receive the Holy Eucharist since he or she would not be Catholic (and it is also likely that most of the non-Catholic’s family would not be Catholic). Therefore, it might sometimes be sensible for the couple to have the marriage rites outside of Mass. If the situation involves a Catholic marrying a non-baptized person, a special dispensation is needed from the diocese and it would not be possible to celebrate a Nuptial Mass.

My fiancee is not Catholic and wants to marry in her church. What can we do for the Catholic Church to recognize the sacramentality of the marriage?

Office of Worship: In order to ensure validity in this situation, the diocese, through the bishop’s authority, must give permission to marry a non-Catholic and also a dispensation to marry in a non-Catholic ceremony. For any such marriage questions, couples should consult the pastor.

How long before our wedding date should I first contact my parish to make arrangements?

Office of Worship: At a minimum, parishes tend to require that a wedding be scheduled at least six months in advance, thereby allowing time to go over all necessary preparations with the couple. That said, it would be wise for the couple to contact the parish as soon as possible once they know they will be getting married, because ensuring the church is available on your preferred wedding date should come before booking (and making a deposit on) your reception site.

Is getting married during Lent or Advent

Office of Worship: While Catholics are allowed to marry during Advent and Lent, they are not necessarily the best opportunities for overly festive liturgical celebrations. Particularly in Lent, the decorations and music during liturgies should correspond to the more austere nature of the season, which is characterized by penitence and restraint in preparation for the Sacred Triduum. For example, except for certain high feast days in Lent, the altar is not allowed to have floral decoration. Moderate floral decoration is prescribed for Advent as well.

Can we have ‘our song’ in the wedding? 

Office of Worship: The wedding is a sacred event, and the music must reflect this fact. Secular music does not belong before, during, or after the rite within the sacred place of the church. Favorite secular or popular songs of the couple belong at the reception or at another time during the wedding festivities that is not associated with the liturgy itself.

What is the symbolism of the rings?

Office of Worship: As proclaimed by the bride and groom within the actual marriage rite, the rings symbolize “love and fidelity.” Gold bands call to mind permanence, purity and beauty within the sacramental union. Moreover, they are given from one spouse to another, attesting to the total gift of self in matrimony.



Whatever happened to the unity candle?

Office of Worship: Beyond the fact that they are not part of the marriage rites, “unity candles” are inappropriate for wedding Masses because they draw the connection and focus away from the true source and symbol of unity, the Holy Eucharist, from which the sacrament of marriage flows. The vows and the declaration of consent, coupled with the sacramentals that are the rings, are what publicly and powerfully convey the real union of the spouses in a Catholic wedding. The “unity candle” distracts from this reality. Also, lighting an extra candle that gets blown out at the end of Mass is really not the best symbol of covenantal permanence.

Should the witnesses be Catholic, at least the best man and maid of honor?

Office of Worship: Strictly speaking, while it would probably be preferable to have Catholic witnesses, the witnesses function primarily to attest that the marriage was celebrated. Therefore, they need not be Catholic. However, the authorized witness who officiates the liturgy must be a priest or deacon.

Can my non-Catholic friend proclaim the Scripture we choose?

Office of Worship: A lector at a Mass should be a person in full communion with the Catholic Church, a person who is serious about the practice of their faith, and a person who is willing to undergo appropriate preparation for the role. Proclaiming the Scriptures or reading the intercessions is not a role a non-Catholic can take in the Mass, unless the diocesan bishop specifically grants an extraordinary exception to a non-Catholic Christian. However, if the marriage rites are taking place outside Mass, then there would not be any problem with a baptized non-Catholic doing the readings.

How does the new Rite of Marriage affect

Office of Worship: A new translation of the wedding rites, now entitled the “Order of Celebrating Matrimony,” replaced the old Rite of Marriage at the end of 2016. The wording of prayers has changed in the same manner as when the new Roman Missal was implemented in 2011, and a few other ritual elements have been added or modified.

One of these changes (which was already included in the new Roman Missal) is that the Gloria should be sung at all wedding Masses, even on weekdays of Advent and Lent — effectively elevating the Nuptial Mass to the same level as a liturgical Feast.

Additionally, the new rite requires that at least one scripture reading which “explicitly speaks of marriage” must be chosen for use at weddings, whether inside or outside of Mass. Such readings are now designated by an asterisk from among the usual full range of options for wedding readings. Moreover, throughout the Easter Season, the eschatological account of the wedding banquet of the Lamb from the Book of Revelation (Rev 19:1,5-9a) should now be used as the first reading instead of an Old Testament option – a fitting change that highlights the paschal context.

There are minor modifications in the wording of the questions and the consent. For instance, there’s a new phrase inserted in the second form of the consent: “…in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part.” (This actually aligns the American vows with what’s traditionally been used in England). And a brief acclamation by minister and people (Priest or Deacon: “Let us bless the Lord” / All: “Thanks be to God”) has been added after the consent.

There is also a new option for the assembly to sing “a hymn or canticle of praise” after the blessing and giving of rings. Heartfelt singing after the vows and rings have been exchanged can be an opportunity to pause and celebrate what we have witnessed, rather than proceed unceremoniously to the rest of the liturgy.

And two new cultural adaptations, popular in Hispanic and Filipino communities, have officially been incorporated as options within the English marriage rites. The first is the Blessing and Giving of the Arras (coins), done after the exchange of rings. The priest or deacon blesses the arras, then the spouses give them to each other “as a pledge of God’s blessing and a sign of the good gifts we will share.” The second is the Blessing and Placing of the Lazo, or veil, which can occur before the Nuptial Blessing. The lazo is a wedding garland or cord that is used to symbolically bind the couple together, while a veil may also be placed over the bride’s head and the groom’s shoulders. Both these customs convey the indissoluble union of the husband and wife.

There are a few other minor changes, but overall the content and structure of the marriage rites remain very familiar.

I have children from a previous relationship, how or should they participate?

Office of Worship: Depending upon the age of the children, they could serve as members of the bridal party (bridesmaid, groomsman, flower girl, ring bearer). Also, if a child is of the appropriate age, is a practicing Catholic and has received the appropriate training, he or she could proclaim a Scripture reading during Mass. Another option is to act as a gift bearer.

I need the whole morning to decorate the church. Father said we can’t decorate to that extent. Why?

Office of Worship: While reasonable decoration is allowed for festive liturgical events, there are several reasons why one should not completely revamp the entire church and sanctuary.

First, the proper décor for the particular liturgical season is a factor. Some seasons require that liturgies refrain from too much fanfare and display. Also, having the sanctuary redecorated could conflict with the decorations planned for other weddings or liturgies to be held in the church on the same day.

Furthermore, additional decorations should not distract from the primary focus, which is the divine liturgy itself. The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed and where priests and deacons exercise their office. The church, after all, is the house of God, and it has a dignity and purpose of its own — a purpose that lends context to the celebration of holy matrimony, not the other way around. The beautification of the church should serve this purpose, and pastors always work to ensure this. The reception after the wedding would be the appropriate location for more whimsical and creative decoration.

I am close to a pastor from my youth.
Could he celebrate the marriage rite?

Office of Worship: Parishes may allow outside priests to officiate. However, couples should speak to the parish priest about such things. Also, for any liturgical event, a priest brought in from outside the diocese must officially register with the diocese prior to the event.

Do Catholics hold Masses outdoors, in parks,
state parks, etc.?

Office of Worship: The norm in canon law is that marriages should take place in a church. The church is the house of God and the proper place where the eucharistic liturgy is celebrated with the Christian community. It is not the practice in this diocese to grant outdoor exceptions.

Who should be paid a stipend and how is it

Office of Worship: It is a longstanding tradition to give a gift to the priest or deacon who celebrates a wedding or another sacrament (such as a baptism). However, the diocese has no prescribed fee, and there is no obligation to give any amount. The priest or deacon may keep any gift given to him personally. Checks made out to the parish would go to the church.

For wedding liturgies, it is also commonplace to provide some sort of stipend for musicians such as the organist, cantor or conductor (and sometimes for a choir, if one is specially assembled for the event). These rates vary from parish to parish, so please inquire to learn what the practice is at your church.

Does the church ever approve of the use of artificial birth control?

Office of Family Life: The church teaches that every act of sexual love must remain open to the possibility of new life. This is because God has designed sex with both a love-giving and a life-giving purpose, and when couples choose to engage in sex, they must accept the act as God designed it. The only time that the church approves of artificial birth control is when a woman has been raped, and the possibility exists of preventing the sperm from fertilizing an egg. In this situation, because the woman did not freely choose to engage in sex, she has the right to defend herself from a possible pregnancy. However, if fertilization has already occurred, nothing may be done to prevent the implantation of the newly conceived life in the woman’s womb, or to otherwise disrupt the pregnancy. In addition, sometimes a physician prescribes artificial hormones such as those in the “Pill,” not for the purpose of birth control but to treat or correct an underlying condition in the woman. When used for the purpose of restoring the proper functioning of the body, the Church approves of the use of these artificial hormones.

Does the church approve  of any methods of family planning for married couples?

Office of Family Life: The church approves of methods of natural family planning, which teach couples to observe and interpret the naturally occurring signs of fertility in a woman’s body. The presence or absence of these signs allow couples to identify the days when conception is most likely should they desire to achieve a pregnancy, or to refrain from sexual relations on those days when conception is possible should they desire to avoid a pregnancy. International studies have confirmed that when used to avoid pregnancy, NFP can have an effectiveness rate of 98-99 percent.

Are engaged couples required to take natural
family planning classes?

Office of Family Life: Those marrying in our diocese are required to attend a day-long Conference for Engaged Couples, which includes an overview of natural family planning. While it is not required, engaged couples are strongly encouraged to take a complete natural family planning class series, which is offered in either English or Spanish throughout the diocese. For a complete schedule of diocesan NFP classes, go to www.diocesefwsb.org/Natural-Family-Planning. Also listed on this website is the contact information for other organizations that offer natural family planning classes in this diocese.

Are there other recommended resources
on these issues?

Office of Family Life: The website of the U.S. Bishops’ Natural Family Planning Program contains many resources that explain church teaching on these issues, and it can be accessed at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/catholic-teaching/index.cfm. The For Your Marriage website also features many helpful articles and testimonies on topics related to responsible parenthood and natural family planning at www.foryourmarriage.org/?s=family+planning.

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