The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest and the oldest ancient Christian churches worldwide. For centuries, its members have diligently followed traditions and customs, especially in marriage celebrations. On the other hand, Non-Catholic Christians follow a different code of conduct from the Catholic Church.
So, is there a difference between a Catholic and a Christian wedding? The Catholic and other Christian weddings differ in terms of organization, attendance, venue choice, and the ceremony’s length. The Catholic Church still obeys the founders’ teachings that marriage is a sacred, sacramental affair while other Christian churches have eased their rules to serve every Christian’s interest. Thus, there are no specific guidelines concerning the marriage ceremony’s conduct, which is different from the Catholic Church’s view.
We delve deeper into the world of Christianity to find out what happens during a Catholic and a Christian wedding. Are there any differences or similarities in the code of conduct of both wedding ceremonies? Read on as we differentiate the facts from the myths.
A Catholic Wedding (Sacrament of Matrimony)
The Catholic Church’s Founders placed stringent rules in the believers’ code of conduct under Christ’s and the apostles’ guidance. A purely Catholic marriage occurs typically within the mass (nuptial mass) with the Bishop or Priest as the officiant/ celebrant.
The church encourages the believers to marry fellow Catholics to ensure that the church conducts the ceremony according to the church’s marital laws. When a Catholic marries within the church, it eliminates any hurdles; both parties are aware of a Catholic wedding ceremony’s rites.
However, a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized Christian (ecumenical marriage) may be different since the couple must first inform the priest of their intention before the ceremony’s commencement. As soon as the church approves of the union, the wedding occurs, but it has to be outside mass since the Non-Catholic partner does not partake of the Holy Communion. The couple then takes an oath to raise the subsequent children within the Catholic faith and traditions.
There is also a marriage between a Catholic and a Non-Christian (marriage with disparity of cult). Suppose the wedding is in the Catholic Church. In that case, the ceremony will not be a nuptial mass but a marriage service, where the Catholic spouse must first obtain a dispensation from the bishop or priest to get permission to have the wedding.
In other cases, the couple may consecrate each other, and if the Non-Catholic partner accepts, he/she may receive the grace to convert to Catholicism.
The Essence of the Sacrament of Matrimony in a Catholic Wedding
Catholics believe that marriage within the Catholic faith is essential since they receive the Holy Spirit’s grace. This grace holds the marriage together and guides them through a lifetime in marriage. The newlyweds make a covenant with God and the entire congregation as witnesses.
Doing so affirms the covenant and the grace that comes with it, enhancing their love to develop an unbreakable union between the man and the woman. The sacrament also creates a bond sealed by their Consent to accept one another and live together as one unit.
Through matrimony sacrament, Christ dwells within the couple providing humility, understanding, and strength to move on regardless of how difficult a married life may be. Similarly, this grace makes the partners more forgiving and loving to each other, enabling their future endeavors.
Matrimony Celebration Within Mass
All Catholic weddings follow a specific order, whether the mass is within or without mass. Let’s see some key aspects of such ceremonies.
Introductory Ritual / Entrance Rite
This rite is the initial stage of a typical wedding ceremony. The attendees stand while the choir sings the entrance song as the priest, bishop, minister, and other officials take their places near the altar. There are two types of the introductory entrance. First, the priest and his colleagues may greet the bridal party according to the liturgy at the church’s door then enter in a procession similar to that of a standard mass.
The ministers go first, then the priest, bride, and bridegroom. The march may also include parents and witnesses. In another form, the priest, ministers, and servers may move to the sanctuary ready for greetings as the couples arrive.
After the priest’s greetings and the singing of the Gloria by the congregation, what follows is the opening prayer. Here, the priest prays together with the entire assembly and then prays for the groom and his bride. Finally, the congregation sits and waits for the Liturgy of the Word.
This segment is proclaimed by the wedding lector who does the first reading and finishes off with a particular phrase for which the assembly responds in unison (the first reading is usually an excerpt from the Old Testament). Next, the congregation sings a responsorial Psalm. The second reading from the lector follows this time; it is an excerpt from the New Testament; (excluding the books of the Gospel).
At this point, the cantor guides the assembly in singing Alleluia, which is a common acclamation song. Afterward, the Priest, Bishop, or the Deacon preaches the Gospel and the Homily. The Homily teaches about the essence of Christian Marriages and the grace from the sacrament of matrimony. Next, the priest asks everyone to stand, and then the bride and groom state their intentions concerning the marriage; such questions may involve the children’s upbringing and fidelity.
The wedding officiant then invites the couple to confirm their Consent before everyone, and after this, he may lead an acclamation. The order of matrimony also provides various options for vows that one can choose. Consequently, the priest blesses the wedding rings then gives them to the newlyweds for them to exchange.
Some traditions like exchanging a kiss and coins may happen, but this depends on the local traditions since they are not part of the church’s religious rituals. In some cases, if the ceremony occurs on a Sunday, the assembly may recite the Creed.
Next, we have the general intercessions from a reader for which the assembly responds appropriately. When the universal prayer is over, Liturgy of the Eucharist follows. They prepare the altar and provide gifts such as bread and wine. The bride and groom may bring these gifts forward according to the order of celebrating matrimony. The priest will then pray the Eucharistic prayer, during which the assembly will offer acclamations. After this, the assembly chants the Lord’s Prayer as a Communion Rite.
The couple now kneels to receive a nuptial blessing (there are also options provided by celebrating matrimony, such as placing the veil). After the nuptial blessings, the wedding minister invites everyone in the church to show each other a peace sign. After this moment, the priest breaks the Eucharistic bread and distributes it together with Christ’s blood; the priest does this with the assistance of Ministers of Holy Communion. The guests sing a particular song or hymn as they proceed to the altar to partake of the Holy Communion.
Finally, the wedding officiant prays for the couple and the congregation, and the witnesses may sign the marriage certificate before the assembly or in another special room. Lastly, the priest dismisses the congregation. The entire ceremony concludes as the couples, ministers, bridal party, and other wedding guests leave the church while the guests sing or someone plays an instrumental.
Matrimony Celebration Outside mass
This type of marriage ceremony mainly occurs when one of the partners is not a Catholic believer. The matrimonial ceremony within the mass and the one carried out of mass is slightly different in a few aspects. In the case of marriage outside mass, the ceremony does not include the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This mass excludes all the rituals that pertain to Holy Communion.
However, all the other rites will normally occur, but this type of mass takes a shorter time than the nuptial mass. Once the matrimony celebration concludes, the procession and the guests may carry on with their post-wedding activities at a different venue.
A Christian Wedding Ceremony
In most Christian churches, the most crucial part of a wedding is exchanging rings and vows. These ceremonies are usually precise and straightforward but still enjoyable. Let’s have a basic outline of a Christian wedding ceremony.
Once everyone settles in the church (including the ministers, the groom, and his party), the bride, parents, bridesmaids, and relatives formally enter the aisle. The bride is then invited into the ceremony area by the wedding officiant.
The celebrant then welcomes the assembly into the ceremony and introduces the guests, the bridal party, and the couple. Then, there is the exchange of rings and vows to mark the union. There may be other events according to the host church’s traditions or as preferred by the couple. The vows commit the couple together in all aspects of life, both the good and the bad.
Once the vows are complete, the couples exchange wedding rings; the ring’s roundness signifies the bride’s undying love for the groom. Next, the priest may pronounce the parties as husband and wife. Upon completion of the pronouncement, the couple is officially married, and the wedding party may proceed to begin other celebrations at the reception.
Note that for a typical Christian wedding, some events are optional but still necessary. For instance, before the arrival of the procession, a hymn or music can play awaiting the service to begin. Similarly, after the introductions, the priest may begin the ceremony with a prayer followed by a declaration of intention by the intended individuals.
The couples must affirm that they have pure and clear intentions of getting married; the couple’s parents and relatives may also assist in the declaration. After that, the choir sings, or the technicians play a song to symbolize the love between them, then the lector or minister reads a scripture. The church leader may also give a sermon on Christian marriage, love, and being faithful to God when in marriage.
After the exchange of the rings, the church can have other unique traditions. According to the particular church, the couples can light a candle to signify unity and togetherness in their marriage. Since blessings are also necessary, the minister blesses the couple and the whole assembly. Finally, there is the pronouncement and recession, which concludes the wedding ceremony. These events vary from church to church, but the basic activities are constant.
Differences Between a Catholic and a Christian Wedding
The Catholic Church believes that marriage is sacred; hence, they practice matrimony to provide the couple with enough grace of Christ to survive in their married life. Through the marriage sacrament, God’s love can flow and dwell inside the couple’s family and relatives. Therefore, the matrimony sacrament is as vital as any other sacrament, such as baptism and confirmation.
On the other hand, Christians do not practice matrimony sacrament, but they may perform baptism and Holy Communion rituals. Christians only believe that love and individual Consent is enough for a marriage to be deemed valid before God and the Church.
Another difference is that a Catholic wedding has to take place inside the church (because marriage is a gift from God), and since this is where Christ resides, the couple has to unite in His presence. Doing so enables them to live a life of Christ that will be evident in their love, actions, and attitude. In contrast, a Christian wedding can occur anywhere as the couple prefers. It does not have to occur within the church’s walls.
Also, the Catholic Church encourages the believers to marry within their faith to avoid inconveniences such as alterations of the wedding form. For a purely Catholic wedding, the ceremony will be conducted within the mass, involving the Holy Communion’s sharing. However, for a Christian union, the ceremony does not necessarily include partaking of the Eucharist; while some churches have it, some may do away with it altogether.
In the event of an interfaith marriage, the Catholic Church requires that the couple should take an oath that their begotten children will follow the ways of the Catholic faith and traditions. However, Christians are not strict about the raising of children. Therefore, one is at liberty to decide the moral foundation of the children’s upbringing.
Given the outline of a Catholic wedding, the ceremony takes longer than a typical Christian wedding. The church has to follow certain laid down rites and rituals whether the ceremony is within or without mass. Unless an attendee is conversant with these rites, he/she may find the process long and tiresome.
The Catholic Church also requires that the marriage officiant and ministers be people of the strong Catholic faith who fully understand the Catholic traditions. The reason is that this is a Holy ceremony that requires the presence of God; therefore, it would be better handled by people who believe and profess the Catholic faith, such as ordained priests.
However, for a Christian wedding, the ceremony may be conducted by officiants and ministers who are just Christian faithful versed with the conduct of wedding ceremonies. The emphasis is not on how devoted they are as church leaders.
It is a requirement that a Catholic must have had the three sacraments of initiation (baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation) before getting married to receive the sacrament of matrimony; this is the order for any practicing Catholic. On the contrary, most Christians only receive two sacraments, which are Baptism and Holy Communion. And one can get married at any moment once they are of the right age.
Similarities Between the Catholic and Christian Wedding Ceremonies
In both scenarios, a priest officiates the ceremony, and both events can take place inside the church with the exchange of vows, an affirmation of Consent, and blessings. Similarly, the ceremonies involve reading texts or passages from the scripture and sermons from the priest. Both churches also base a marriage on the same Christian principles; love, unity, commitment, and fulfillment of God’s commandments.
Both faiths view marriage as a sacred engagement between two people and a promise of a forever together that can only be broken by death. The churches also expect the couple to bring up the subsequent children according to the Christian faith teachings. Another similar aspect is that there are witnesses who sign the wedding licenses, and in each case, a registrar of marriages may be present.
All Catholics are Christians, but all Christians are not Catholics, which means that the Catholics follow some Christian traditions while other Christians do not. However, it does not deter them from being Christ’s faithful followers since they adhere to the early church’s practices, as demonstrated by the Pope.
Christians and Catholics may differ in how they conduct their wedding ceremony, but the goal is the same, to bind two people in love and commit them to each other for a lifetime.
When love is the foundation of a marriage, God’s presence prevails over it; blessings and prosperity in the couple’s family become eminent. Catholics in the present day can still have interfaith matrimonies and deem them valid since the utmost requirement of any marriage is the love and Consent of the intended.
Like in the Christian faith today, the Catholics have relaxed some rituals and traditions to take care of inconveniences caused by strictly adhering to the conventional laws.