16 Catholic Wedding Ceremony Rituals

by Robin Beth Schaer

Considered one of the seven sacraments, or channels to God's grace, the wedding ceremony is a serious affair in the Catholic Church full of deep spirituality and rich symbolism. A Catholic wedding ceremony traditionally includes a full Mass and communion, which means a full Catholic wedding can last about an hour. Here's what to expect from Catholic wedding traditions, though keep in mind that rituals and readings may vary depending on your church.

1. Head To The Church

Most Catholic wedding ceremonies take place in a Catholic church. Generally, the couple chooses their home church, but they may opt for a family church or a church that holds a special connection for them. If you want to hold your Catholic wedding ceremony somewhere other than a Catholic church, you'll need to write to your bishop for permission.

2. Entrance Rite (aka: Processional)

If the couple is following Catholic wedding traditions, there are two options for the processional. Either the priest and servers can greet the bridal party at the door of the church, entering with the priest and servers first, followed by the wedding couple, or the priest and servers can enter on their own and take their places in the sanctuary before the wedding couple enters, greeting them when they arrive at their places. Once everyone has arrived and taken their places, the priest leads everyone in the sign of the cross once the processional song has finished. 

3. Introductory Rites and Opening Prayer

Catholic weddings begin with a greeting and an opening prayer by the priest, naming the couple and asking for God's blessings on their wedding day. If proceeding with a Nuptial Mass, the priest will then lead the guests in a hymn. 

4. Nuptial Mass Or Celebration of Marriage

If both members of the wedding couple are Catholic, they may opt for the full Catholic wedding ceremony Nuptial Mass. The Nuptial Mass includes several readings from the Old and New Testament, as well as hymns and psalms. After that, the priest offers a homily, which typically includes readings and teachings on marriage and love. If the couple opts to skip the Nuptial Mass, they'll have what's called a Celebration of Marriage, which begins with the Liturgy of the Word.

5. Liturgy Of The Word

The readers (often family members) read Biblical passages selected by you and preapproved by the priest, followed by a short sermon about marriage given by the priest.

6. Rite Of Marriage

The entire congregation stands as the couple takes their vows, declaring their commitment to each other. Actual vows vary between churches, but the basic wording is: "I (groom's/bride's name), take you (bride's/groom's name) to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you all the days of my life." The priest then blesses the couple, joins their hands together, and asks, "Do you take (bride's/groom's name) as your lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?"

7. Exchange Of Rings

After the couple (hopefully) responds, "I do," to the vows, the best man gives the bride's ring to the priest, who blesses it and hands it to the groom to place on the bride's finger. Then, the maid of honor hands the groom's ring to the priest, who blesses it and hands it to the bride to place on the groom's finger. Each may say, "I take this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

8. Catholic Wedding Conclusion Without Mass

If the ceremony takes place without a Mass, the ceremony concludes with nuptial blessings and a final prayer from the priest. He then tells the congregation, "Go in peace with Christ," to which they respond, "Thanks be to God." 

9. Catholic Wedding Conclusion With Mass

If the ceremony includes Nuptial Mass (which adds about 15 minutes to the service), the Mass proceeds with the following Catholic wedding traditions. The order may vary slightly, depending on the church, but you can expect each element to be present.  

10. Offertory

This is when the altar is prepared for communion, also called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The bride and groom, or other treasured guests, may be chosen to help in the preparations, and then the priest delivers the Eucharistic Prayers over the bread and wine for communion. In some Catholic weddings, the bride places flowers on the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary as musicians play "Ave Maria." This rite can be done either before the processional or after the recessional.

11. Lord's Prayer

The guests participate in reciting the Lord's Prayer (beginning with "Our Father).

12. Nuptial Blessing

For this blessing, the wedding couple kneels or stands before the altar, and the priest offers a blessing for the couple. 

13. Sign of Peace

The priest invites the wedding party and the guests to share in a sign of peace (typically a handshake) and the words, "Peace be with you" with the people standing nearest them. 

14. Holy Communion

The priest breaks the host (bread) while the guests sing, and communion is distributed to the newlyweds, then the guests, often with the help of servers. Guests who are not Catholic may be offered a blessing by the priest. 

15. Blessing and Dismissal of the Guests

After communion, the ceremony concludes as it would without a Mass. A final blessing is offered to the married couple and the guests, and everyone is dismissed with "Go in peace with Christ." Guests respond with, "Thanks be to God."

16. Recessional

The wedding couple leads the recessional out of the church, followed by the bridal party, then the servers and, finally, the priest. 

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