As you plan your marriage, we welcome you as Christ welcomes you, with understanding, love, and acceptance, to challenge you with the gospel message, and give you hope that a lifelong commitment is possible. We hope you experience this hospitality and welcoming throughout your marriage preparation process. It is in this spirit that we offer you this guide to Getting Married in the Catholic Church.
This is intended to give basic information on marriage preparation in the Catholic Church. It cannot substitute for a conversation with a priest or deacon about your specific situation and needs, but it can provide you with a sense of the normal requirements and procedures in the Diocese of Fort Worth. For more information on particular questions, check with your parish, or with the diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office.
First, notify the parish. Most couples reserve a reception location as much as a year in advance. Before you do that, or contract with a photographer, or think about invitations, or make any other agreements, you need to talk to your parish. Diocesan guidelines say you should do so at least 9-12 months before the time you'd like to get married; some parishes may require even more advance notice, because of the number of weddings they celebrate. Be sure to allow extra time if either of you have a previous marriage.
Once you speak with your parish, you'll begin a formal process of marriage preparation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
So that the "I do" of the spouses may be a free and responsible act and so that the marriage covenant may have solid and lasting human and Christian foundations, preparation for marriage is of prime importance. (CCC 1632)
Preparation for marriage involves a process of discernment, which is meant to be an affirming experience as you become more aware of your readiness to enter Christian married life. This process is meant to help you assess your personal faith and your relational readiness, not to make those judgments for or about you.
The pastor of the parish in which you live or in which you are registered has the responsibility for your marriage preparation (if both are Catholics, most couples will go to the bride's parish, but it is your choice.).
If you want another priest or deacon to witness the marriage (for instance, a campus minister or relative), your pastor can give him permission to also coordinate your marriage preparation.
The process begins when you sit down for an initial conversation with the priest or deacon who will be responsible for your marriage preparation, or some other person appointed for this by the pastor of your parish. This shouldn't be done over the phone or with the parish secretary. This is an opportunity for you to get to know one another, to explain the marriage preparation process, to determine that you are free to marry (according to Church law and civil law), and to identify any special needs or requests you may have regarding the wedding (place, long-distance preparation, etc.). You'll be told about the different documents you'll need to provide (recent copies of your baptismal certificates, prenuptial investigation form, affidavits of free status, any necessary permissions or dispensations, and, if necessary, annulment papers, or death certificate of previous spouse).
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One of the most important aspects of the discernment process is the assessment of your faith readiness. Because the marriage of two baptized Christians is a sacrament, it requires the presence of faith in those who receive it. No two people are at the same place in their journey of faith, however. Through the marriage preparation process, you should be able to better identify and deepen your faith, both as individuals and as a couple.
Another aspect of the discernment process looks at your readiness to marry. While there is no possible way to determine this definitively, there are clear indicators that can predict potential problems or even the eventual failure of the marriage. You'll be asked to complete a premarital inventory such as the PMI Profile or FOCCUS, which will give both of you an opportunity to reflect on your attitudes and your relationship. This isn't a test, but is an aid for you and the priest or deacon to use in highlighting important areas for discussion.
This part of the marriage preparation process is intended to help you understand better both the human and Christian aspects of marriage, and to introduce you to persons and resources that are available to help strengthen your marriage. Any formational program should include discussion of the following "key elements":
The priest or deacon will work with you in selecting a formation program that best suits your needs. There are a number of options available in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth which including:
For more information or registration forms, view the Marriage Preparation programs in the side navigation menu. When you've completed these programs, the priest or deacon will meet with you to discuss the results.
In addition, couples of child-bearing age will be asked to attend a full series of classes on Natural Family Planning.
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Where will the wedding take place? To highlight the sacredness of the celebration, and to underscore the relationship between your marriage and the Christian community, the Catholic Church stipulates that Catholic weddings take place in Catholic churches. In this diocese, permission will not be given for outdoor weddings or unusual locations. Normally, the wedding will be celebrated in the parish where either of the Catholic parties resides. Your pastor may give permission for it to be celebrated in another Catholic church or chapel (for example, a Newman Center). If you are marrying a non-Catholic Christian or a non-baptized person, you may request permission to have the wedding take place elsewhere (e.g., in another Christian church or a synagogue or in another suitable place).
The wedding liturgy, like all other sacramental celebrations, is by its very nature communal—a celebration of the whole Church. Yet it is unique in being the only sacrament where it is the couple themselves who are the ministers of the sacrament; the priest or deacon is a witness.
Catholic weddings follow the general norms for liturgical celebrations, but there are a number of options available for you to choose that will enable you to enrich the celebration with expressions of your own faith. The priest or deacon will assist you in understanding the nature of the liturgy, and the various options and choices available regarding music, readings, and the ritual. Reflecting prayerfully on these together can be an important part of your spiritual preparation for the sacrament.
The wedding liturgy should be planned to encourage the participation of the assembly through song and prayer. It should express both your faith and commitment and that of the gathered community. It provides an opportunity for the community to pray for you, and to promise you their support in your married life.
Your parish may provide you with a workbook for planning the liturgy, but here is a summary of some of the options you may consider:
There are a variety of ministries in each liturgical celebration. Some roles can only be filled by a Roman Catholic (for example, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion); other ministries, like that of reader, can be done by qualified persons of other faith traditions. Take care in selecting and preparing people to fill these roles, making sure they have the skills and gifts necessary.
The Church provides three different rites for marriage:
Since it could weaken the sacramental sign to continue with the celebration of Eucharist where at communion only one may receive, in cases of Catholics marrying non-Catholics, the celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage outside of Mass is encouraged in order to strengthen this sacrament of unity.
The Entrance Procession may include the liturgical ministers and Presider, as all as bride and groom, family members, and attendants. There are many ways to plan it—a liturgical procession (as at a Sunday Mass) followed by procession of the wedding party; attendants entering as couples rather than the bridesmaids alone; bride and groom accompanied by all parents or relatives in the procession; or the bride escorted by her father.
The Liturgy of the Word follows the format as at any Mass. The readings may be selected from the many options given in the lectionary, or may be other appropriate Scriptures. Non-scriptural readings are not used. The psalm is preferably sung, as is the gospel acclamation.
The General Intercessions should address the needs of the world and the universal Church as well as the needs of the couple.
For the Rite of Marriage, the couple should be clearly visible to the entire assembly as they exchange vows, because they are the focus of the rite. There are various options provided for the wording of the vows.
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Parishes may have their own policies about music. Be sure to ask. In general, when deciding what music to use, consider the following questions:
The music used before or during the liturgy should be clearly identifiable as prayer by all present. Secular love songs and ballads that have personal meaning to the couple are best played or sung at the reception.
The Church allows cultural adaptations within the ceremony as long as they are in keeping with the nature and spirit of the liturgy. Such adaptations should not be overpowering, though. Be careful not to duplicate symbols that might have similar meanings; for example, the lasso and the unity candle are both cultural adaptations which emphasize the union of two persons into a new life in Christ.
This may be conducted by the priest or deacon witnessing the marriage, or by a parish wedding rehearsal coordinator. The rehearsal is part of the preparation process, and offers an excellent opportunity for the wedding party to join together in prayer. The Catechism notes (para. 1622), "It is...appropriate for the bride and groom to prepare themselves for the celebration of their marriage by receiving the sacrament of penance." Many priests will offer this at the rehearsal for the couple and for members of the wedding party who may desire it.
In the months of marriage preparation, you're not simply preparing for an hour long wedding, but for a lifetime together — a lifetime of joy and happiness, we hope, but also of surprises and challenges. The best marriage preparation can never anticipate all that will happen in your life together, but it can help you to uncover some areas you'll want to give thought to, and it can also point you to resources available for marriage enrichment and healing.
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Marlon De La Torre, MA MEd.
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