Arranging a Catholic marriage ceremony isn't as complex as some would have you believe. The route the arrangements will go down will depend on whether both the Bride and Groom, or just one of the partners, is a member of the Catholic faith. In all cases the priest must be contacted at least three months before the planned date for the wedding, although closer to six months is preferable.
This article takes a closer look at what you'll need to do and who you'll need to speak to in order to make the arrangements for your Catholic marriage ceremony.
Step 1: Meet With Your Priest
The first step for all couples wishing to arrange a Catholic marriage ceremony is to set up an appointment with the local priest. The priest will want to meet with the Bride and the Groom, regardless of whether they are both Catholic, and speak to them both at length about the attitude of the Catholic Church towards marriage and each partner’s views on the union. The priest needs to be satisfied that the couple understand the obligation they are about to undertake before moving on to the next phase of the arrangements.
Having approved of the marriage, the priest will then help the couple to fill out a few simple forms. The forms state that each partner is legally and spiritually able to marry, is doing so of their own free will, and that they agree with the Church’s views on marriage. The priest at this point will normally pencil in the date and time for the marriage and make a provisional reservation for the Catholic marriage ceremony to take place.
The final act of the meeting is for the priest to apply for dispensation. There are two types of dispensation that can be applied for; ‘Permission for Mixed Marriage’, required if a Catholic wishes to marry a baptised non-Catholic Christian, or ‘Dispensation from Disparity of Cult', needed if a Catholic wishes to marry someone who is not baptised. This again should be relatively straightforward but the latter (and sometimes the former) will need to be granted by the local bishop.
At time of arranging the meeting, your priest will inform you of any documents that you'll need to bring along. A recent copy of your baptismal certificate, evidence of confirmation, and proof of your freedom to marry (typically a parish letter of freedom or a Statutory Declaration of Freedom) are the norm, though your priest will be able to advise accordingly dependent upon your circumstances.
Step 2: Give Notice of the Marriage
Before the date for the Catholic marriage ceremony can be finalised, the couple must give notice of the impending wedding. Often your priest will be able to set the ball rolling on this, and may even be able to arrange everything from the comfort of the Church - on other occasions, a visit to a Register Office may be necessary. Once the priest has received written confirmation from a Registrar that the couple have fulfilled all necessary requirements, the application for their Catholic marriage ceremony can proceed.
Unlike in the Church of England and Church in Wales, where all ministers are able to perform and register the marriage at the same time, a Roman Catholic priest may not have such authorisation. In such circumstances, and to prevent the need for a separate civic ceremony at a later date, the couple (often via the priest) must arrange for a local Registrar or authorised officiant to attend the Catholic marriage ceremony.
Step 3: The Publication of the Banns
Essentially, the ‘publication of the banns’ is a phrase used to indicate the announcement of your intended marriage to members of the Church congregation on several Sunday's before your Catholic marriage ceremony takes place. Unlike Church or England weddings, where the banns are a requirement for marriage to take place, the banns in a Roman Catholic wedding are more symbolic than anything else. As such, banns will only be read when both partners are members of the Catholic faith - interfaith marriages are not privy to the same privilege.
Step 4: Finalisation of the Wedding Details
Once the preliminaries are out of the way, this is the best time to schedule another appointment with the priest to discuss the intricacies of your Catholic marriage ceremony. The priest will tell you about the Service, discuss your requirements with you, and also provide help and advice as to what hymns, prayers, psalms and music could be incorporated.
Step 5: Pre-Marriage Preparation
Finally, your local priest may request that both the Bride and Groom take part in a course of preparation before your Catholic marriage ceremony takes place. Normally this will happen a few months before the wedding and be spread over a number of weeks. These pre-marital counselling sessions, sometimes referred to as Pre-Cana, sometimes involve groups of couples and discussions about all aspects of a Roman Catholic marriage as well as practical aspects of marriage. The pre-marriage preparation courses vary from parish to parish and details of their availability can be discovered through a quick chat with your local priest.
For more help and advice for those couples planning a Catholic wedding, be sure to check out our Catholic Wedding Order of Service and Catholic Wedding Vows articles.
For those of you wanting to find out more, we've a whole host of other wedding ceremony articles on our site packed full of expert information and helpful advice, not to mention our online wedding directory that's filled with wedding venues, florists, decor suppliers and more.