If you’re going to your first Catholic wedding, odds are it will be both more hardcore traditional and longer than most weddings you’re used to.
The Catholic wedding is considered a sacrament, so the happy couple are unlikely to mess much with the form. You’re very much going to a church service as much as a wedding, so err on the side of dressing in your Sunday best. And that one dress? The one with the ultra-thin straps and the push-up bodice that makes your cleavage look spectacular? Save it for when your heathen Unitarian friends get married.
If you’re helping to set up, you should be aware that outside flower arrangements are welcome, but breaking them down and taking them to the reception is not cool. Once they’re set up in the church, they stay there as a gift to the community. You should also know that applause at the end of the wedding will not be well received, though throwing rice or birdseed once the newlyweds hit the outer doorway is fine.
And if you’re planning on busting up the happy couple at the altar so you can take half, you’re already too late. Instead of taking a moment during the ceremony to ask if anyone knows any reason why these two people should not be joined in holy matrimony, whereupon people start screaming out and/or bravely holding back confessions of crushes they’ve nursed since junior high, Catholic churches will “call the banns” for a few weeks before the wedding to give people a chance to bring up objections. So if you really need to be a drama queen, book an early flight and make a week of it.
The wedding will start with a processional. If you’re an attendant, you’ll walk in with the bride and groom, and possibly also with a cross bearer and witnesses. The priest and ministers may go to the altar first and wait for the wedding party, or they may meet the wedding party at the door and escort them all in.
Remember how I said the ceremony will be long? I was not kidding. You’re looking at up to two hours of church time, so plan your foundation garments and fluid intake accordingly. You’ll almost certainly hear three readings from the Bible and then a sermon before the marriage part of a Catholic wedding gets underway.
After the nuptials, you may also hear a Mass. The Mass may not be in English, but you won’t necessarily be brushing up on your Latin either – many churches will say the Mass in the predominant language in the community. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what’s being said: A Catholic Mass is pretty interesting, and there will be plenty to look at.
At the end of the Mass, people will be invited up to receive communion. As fascinating as this is, now is NOT the time to let your inner Comparative Religion major out. To devout Catholics, the communion wafer is very, very sacred, so it’s not something to try out to see what it’s like. You must be a Catholic and in a “state of grace” to partake, which means you have confessed and haven’t eaten recently. If you’re at all in doubt, don’t go up. If you’re an attendant and not Catholic, that’s OK. Mention it to the priest at the rehearsal. He’ll give you a quick rundown of the ceremony and what you need to do, and he’ll discreetly pass you by at communion.
Imposing? Yes. But not really scary, and definitely interesting.
And things liven up at the reception. I promise.