What to Know if You’re Having a Catholic Wedding (But Aren’t Catholic)

A bride and groom getting married in a Catholic church.

I’m a Baptist who married a Catholic. Even if you’re a Catholic who marries another Catholic, all of the “rules” that go along with the marriage ceremony in the Catholic church can get confusing. I got my wedding notes out from five years ago in preparation for this article and the goosebumps began to rise as I recalled the stress of first seeing the hoops I needed to jump through to get married in the Catholic church. But have no fear, it’s really not all that scary and we had the wedding of our dreams! Before diving into my Catholic wedding experience, know that every parish is different so my guidelines might not be the same as yours. Here’s nine things to prepare yourself for as you go through the process of having a marriage ceremony in the Catholic church.

The Timeline Doesn’t Allow for a Short Engagement

The Catholic church doesn’t approve much of divorce. This could be the reason you can’t just suddenly decide to get married on a whim in the Catholic church. For one, you have to know your fiancé for more than six months. This means if you meet your soulmate one weekend and want to tie the knot the next weekend in a Catholic ceremony, it just isn’t happening. You also have to wait six months to actually get married. (It can actually be a really good rule because it can often take that long to get everything planned the exact way you want it anyhow.) I wanted a July wedding, so it was a good thing my husband proposed in December because we almost missed that six-month cut-off date.

Prior Divorce Isn’t Treated Lightly

A pair of wedding rings on a page of a Bible.

As I said, the Catholics aren’t great about divorce. I’m sure you can go to the priest and explain if there were crazy circumstances, but irreconcilable differences is tough to explain to some. If either party has been married before, even if it’s by common law, the couple must get a decree of nullity from a Catholic diocese. It’s different if the person is a widow or widower, but a death certificate is still needed in this circumstance.

You Will Be Required to Take Pre-Cana Classes

Pre-Cana classes are like premarital counseling or therapy. Some parishes allow you to attend a special weekend wedding event while others will want you to attend weekly classes. We met multiple times over a period of eight weeks. Pre-Cana classes go over everything you could think of and make you think hard about life far beyond the “I Do’s.” It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the wedding planning excitement, but it’s important to prepare for the future together as a couple. We’ve used all we learned in those classes on a daily basis in our marriage.

You Don’t Easily Get to Choose the Priest

A bride and groom getting married in front of a priest in the Catholic church.

We loved the main priest at the church where we got married, but he was going to be out of town all summer. He recommended another priest to perform the ceremomy, but we just didn’t feel comfortable with him so we chose one we knew at another parish. This was a big ordeal. We had to get special permission from the parish, which was fine, but we still had to meet with the main priest at our parish as well as the priest marrying us. We met with the main priest multiple times so he could give us our blessing. He was tough, too, so those meetings were a bit intimidating. He just wanted to make sure we were a good match, however. He also met with our families so that was scary, but I’m very respectful he went that deep for us.

You Must Provide Proof of Baptism and a Christian Lifestyle

One of the strangest things for me in the process of getting married in the Catholic church was proving I was baptized. A Non-Catholic person getting married in the church needs to prove they are a practicing Christian. I haven’t been to my church I grew up in since I moved away to college almost two decades ago, so I had to make a special trip to my hometown to get a baptismal certificate. Some churches have all of the technology to send it to you, but since I was baptized back in 1989, those files are archaic and my hometown is small (stuck in the dark ages!). In additon to proof of baptism, the Catholic must be in good standing with the church and prove all of this in their files. We also had to promise we are churchgoers and won’t fall off the Christianity wagon, so to speak.

There’s a Conservative Dress Code

A bride wearing a conservative dress as she's getting married in the Catholic church.

I quit reading the rules and was ready to get married in a garden when I read that some churches don’t allow strapless dresses. Wearing a strapless dress was my dream—and I also didn’t want to ask my bridesmaids to change their dresses. I had to speak with the wedding director of the church to get special permission for our attire. However, it’s important that everyone in the wedding be conservative with their dress to an extent. We didn’t have anyone wearing skimpy dresses, but we also didn’t make them cover themselves from head to toe.

There Are Specific Music and Reading Selections to Use

One thing that completely blew my mind was the music selection. Our church did not allow “Here Comes The Bride.” They had selections of music to choose from and we could not stray from the list. The service is to be one of worship, so you can’t go in there playing fun love songs. We tried to have them play a fun pop song and they weren’t hearing it! The director of music guided us to choose the best songs for each part of the service, played beautifully by a pianist. The same rules apply to readings. There are certain preselected readings you can choose from to have read during the ceremony. It was actually pretty neat to pick and choose which of these readings would be performed at the ceremony.

You Don’t Need to Decorate the Church

A Catholic wedding in a cathedral without typical wedding decorations.

You don’t need to worry about decorating the church at a Catholic wedding. Flowers and other decorations are not encouraged or even allowed at times because they have the potential to distract or take away from the actual marriage ceremony. In fact, flower girls can’t even carry petals down the aisle! Our flower girl did actually carry pretty—but fake—flowers. It wasn’t my vision, but it was pretty cool in the end. Most Catholic churchs are such beautiful places without all of the decorations, making it simple and perfect.

You Must Promise to Raise Future Children in the Catholic Faith

We had a tough time with some of the rules regarding future children. It is very important in the Catholic religion that the next generation follow the same steps as the parents. We had to promise to raise them to be Catholic. We have always gone to a non-denominational church because it’s middle ground for us, but we promised the priest we would have our children attend Catholic classes and follow the sacraments. Fast forward five years, and our children have been baptized Catholic—but they also attend a non-denominational church as well, so they have the best of both worlds.

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