February 03, 2009

Guests Guide to a Catholic Wedding Mass

Attending a religious ceremony can be awkward if you're not of that religion or you think the whole big man in the sky thing doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So i'm going to attempt to walk you thorough a variety of religious weddings with the goal of helping you feel more comfortable. today we'll tackle the Catholics!

First things first, the Catholics are ONLY married in churches. You won't be attending a Catholic ceremony on the beach in Maui. CatholicBrides.com claims that this rule is not there to "cramp your style" And the site claims "Marketing is a powerful medium and few of us escape its influence." (i find it really interesting that they picked the word "medium" here ... trying to remind us of something? trying to get us back in line? in any case, OBVIOUSLY the Catholic Church knows the power of marketing, sheeesh). They go on to explain:

"When you choose to be married in a Catholic wedding ceremony you are choosing so much more than a venue for your wedding. You're choosing a way of life..."

So bottom line if you find out your friend is getting hitched at a church, do some research and figure out if the below is what you're in for.

Sign Language:
Catholics make the sign of the cross as they enter their pew. this is a reminder of how Jesus died. We've all seen it done, so don't be surprised when you see people stopping before they enter their row to make this gesture. Once they've taken a seat many Catholics will perform a short prayer, kind of like "Hey JC i'm in your house, what's up, how's it going? any idea how long this whole thing is going to take?" they're connecting with their savior.

Skip the gym that morning:
Catholic ceremonies have you up and down from your pew the whole time. No one will get a blood clot during a Catholic wedding because the whole church is up .. and down again, only for a second before... rise again. yes, it's a bit like that old trainer you had who loved the squats and lunges. so be prepared. almost always the priest will instruct you when to move, so you shouldn't worry that you're going to be left standing while everyone else knows it's time to have a seat. This is also a good time to make a point: If any of this stuff really bothers you, goes against what you believe, etc. you can abstain (had to use it, sorry) from any activity that feels uncomfortable. hopefully no one in the crowd is a religious nut and will point you out as the non-believer. no, no that would be wildly inappropriate and we'd be sure to send him a manners citation if it happened.

Be A Believer in Yourself First -
if you don't feel comfortable standing, sit. if you don't want the priest to bless you, stay in your seat. if you don't feel like drinking christ’s blood, don't. while often in etiquette training we encourage you to make an extra effort, to conform just a bit to make everyone feel more comfortable, this is NOT one of those situations. if you go up and have a priest bless you and all you can think about is "Crap if my mom saw me right now she'd have a heart attach!" or "Oh gross, all i want to do is shower now that this weird man is telling me one thing, but i think he's really thinking he's saving my soul." DON'T DO IT. You'll be thinking about this encounter way longer than he will. so just stay seated.

To Eat or Not to Eat that is our Question
An in touch with the world priest will explain this part and the rules around it before he offers the Communion Rite, that said i've been to weddings where it was very unclear who should participate and who should not. So here's what the Church thinks of this tradition, you can make up your own mind.

There is a general belief that all material things in this world also have a spiritual component. So when the wafer and wine are put into the mouth of a true believer they turn to the blood and body of Christ. This is one of the most sacred forms of worship in this religion. In fact, Catholics who have committed sins they haven't repented for aren't supposed to take the sacrament, even those who haven't fasted for an hour prior to the mass aren't meant to eat it.

But as with all beliefs some of these customs vary within the faith. one common practice is for the priest to offer a blessing to non-Catholics who come up to the front of the church with everyone else, but they cross their arms over their chest to show him they're not Catholics. I'm not a fan of this, it feels icky to be kneeled in front of a man who is offering you a blessing -- if you don't actually believe in the religion. from my perspective it would be just as symbolic to have the girl sitting next to me offer me a blessing. but again you have to do what you're comfortable with, you might find going up with everyone and crossing your arms is more appealing than feeling like the only person who doesn't go up.

If you decide to go up and take communion because you're curious, or you give into the pressure, no one will know and they certainly won't turn you away.

If you decide to remain seated, be quiet. For many Catholics this is the most important part of the ceremony and even though you've decided not to participate doesn't mean you should be an ass and take away from something special to someone else. No bathroom breaks, cell phone usage, chitchat with your Jewish pew mate, just sit still and be quiet.

Peace Sign
The priest will at some point ask you to give a sign of peace to your neighbor. this can be as simple as a hand shake, a hug or just saying "peace be with you" to the person next to you.

A Catholic Blessing aka with Strings Attached:
There is also often a blessing of the couple. After they've said their vows most priests will ask the church to bless the couple with a unified wave of their hands, bowing of their heads or some other signifier. Sometimes he'll ask the members of the audience to help keep the couple together, by reminding them of what they witnessed that day.

Get the Party Started:
After the ceremony you can chat up a storm. If the weather is nice people will often gather outside and wait to see the newly weds off.

If the bride and groom were thinking straight when they planned the programs most of this information -- without all the color -- will be listed in the program so you know what's happening when.


  1. WOW! that was totally disrespectful - and not just to Catholics! And filled with errors! If are NOT a Catholic DO NOT participate in Holy Communion (Bread or Wine) EVER. You were correct about the blessing.

    I apologize for responding as anonymous but I don't know what the other options are all about - so I won't use them. Something this writer should consider when talking about a faith she obviously does not understand.

  2. Whoever wrote this needs a lesson in Manners101. You have no business writing about something you obviously know nothing about (the wafer does not turn into the body and blood of Christ in our mouths--that happens at consecration). Anyone looking for information on Catholic weddings should talk to a Catholic. Or go to catholicbrides.com

  3. Wow this is so full of errors it should not be posted. The wafer as you call it is the BODY OF CHRIST! And only Catholics who understand this importance are to take COMMUNION!

  4. It boggles my mind that this article pretends to teach proper etiquette. Etiquette is fundamentally about showing others respect. This article is not written in a respectful tone at all.

    When anyone attends the religious service of another group, it's like they are visiting someone's house. Any visit requires MUTUAL respect between guest and host: 1) the place of worship must respect that the guest does not share their faith and not push them to do anything they are not comfortable doing, and 2) the guest must respect the rules of the house of worship they are visiting.

    Of course you should not do anything at a Catholic wedding that violates your own beliefs (whether that be kneeling, receiving a blessing, making the sign of the cross), and no one should make you feel singled out for not doing any of these acts. BUT equally importantly you should not take the liberty of doing things that Catholics reserve for their own members and would find offensive for you to do (such as taking communion which requires preparation and belief for Catholics). Similarly, a respectful guest wouldn't go into a Jewish synagogue and presume to read from the Torah, which requires years of preparation for Jews to do.

    The reason you need etiquette articles to explain what mutual respect looks like is that traditions in each person's house will vary. What is offensive to one group is not offensive to another religion. If you don't know what a particular group finds disrespectful, don't presume to write an etiquette article telling others how to act.

  5. Honestly, these other commenters are overreacting. Nothing in the article is offensive, it's just written in a light way. I write almost everything like that, as if I'm saying what I'm writing with a bit of a smile on my face. As stated above, at the consecration of the wafer (because it is a wafer) and wine are meant to change into the body and blood of Jesus, but the particulars don't matter for attending a service. The author wrote that it is a very important ritual for Catholics and that it is so important that sometimes a Chatholic will be unable to partake in the Eucharist. Of course you're not supposed to partake in the Eucharist if you're not a Catholic, but the fact of the matter is, as the author states, no one is going to know you're not Catholic if you do go up. Everything else in the article was perfectly fine as well.

  6. This article is not written well. I am a passionate Catholic, and if any curious Catholic wedding goers have read this far through the comments; you might find this helpful: Fist off, please do not receive communion if you have not completed the sacrament of First Holy Communion. Most people will not know if you are not eligible to receive, but it is a sign of respect of our belief if you remain seated or ask for a blessing instead (if a blessing seems creepy to you, just think of it as a stranger wishing you well). Any other action that we do during the mass (such as the sign of the cross before we enter the pew [aka: the genuflection; fun fact, when Catholics genuflect before the pew, they are not showing submission to the priest, they are showing submission to the tabernacle (a special cabinet designated to hold the Body and Blood of Christ after consecration and usually located behind the altar)]) you are welcome to participate or refrain from to your comfort. Also, the sign of peace just before communion is a time to be happy and share hugs and smiles, especially on the joyous occasion of a wedding. Of all our rituals, this one I especially encourage you to partake in; it will let those around you show they care for you. If you are truly opposed to participating, it is slightly more respectful to bring a book or journal rather than spend the hour on your phone.
    Best of Luck and a helpful link!:

    1. Oops! I meant to say that Catholics genuflect to the Body and Blood of Christ when it is present in the tabernacle or on the altar, not to the tabernacle itself! My apologies.

    2. I agree that it would be disrespectful to the beliefs of the Catholics at the wedding to participate in Communion. Episcopalians and Lutherans welcome all baptized Christians to Communion, but Roman Catholics expect you to be a practicing Catholic in a state of grace.

      This article is not really very helpful about the wedding ritual, which I think is what most people need to know.

      I do agree about not kneeling or coming forward for the blessing if you are not comfortable, but there is a trick to "abstaining" respectfully. Stand when others stand and if you sit while others kneel, keep your head down discreetly. Don't use other people's moment of worship to "sightsee." Also, don't block the row when others need to line up for Communion. Step out of the pew, let the communicants go forward then retun to sitting until they return.

  7. Years later and why is this still available unedited? I stumbled upon this, unfortunately. I agree with the comments. Filled with errors about Communion. You call this Manners101, but do not take another faith seriously. Be respectful. The Body of Christ is extremely important to Catholics and its sacredness should not be taken so lightly. If you do not believe in the Transubstantiation (ie are not Catholic), you should not be stating "amen" (translated: I believe) and taking the Precious Body or Precious Blood. That is technically lying, Manners101. And most ministers are instructed not to give the Precious Body or Blood until hearing an "amen." Not be mention many facts stated about the Catholic faith are incorrect. Please fix this or delete it. It's been deceiving readers for far too long.

  8. Can't believe this prejudice, and ignorance, is tolerated! Imagine if this was written about anothe faith? Islam? Judaism? Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church before you write.

  9. Whoever is moderating this should remove it! A lot of this is incorrect and poor etiquette. I'd be happy to write a piece to give you real Manners 101 for a Catholic wedding! I myself am about to get married in a Catholic Church where over 75% of the guests will be of non-Catholic Christian denominations, agnostic, and atheist. I know all the ins and outs of a Catholic wedding!

  10. I liked your post, very helpful. Thank you!