All of Your Questions About Interfaith Wedding Ceremonies, Answered

Here’s how to deal if you and your partner come from different religious backgrounds.
by Sophie Ross

If you’ve ever been a part of an interfaith wedding, you’re probably aware of the (many) unique challenges they present. Of course, there’s a plethora of issues same-religion couples typically don’t have to deal with, between reconciling family members’ concerns to worrying about both faiths being equally represented during the ceremony.

If you ask us, the biggest challenge can be finding an officiant (or officiants) you trust to successfully blend two cultures, but once you do, everything should run smoothly. And Cantor David Katz and Father Michael Callahan have been doing just that for years. After deciding to pair up to officiate interfaith Catholic and Jewish weddings together (they met at a wedding ceremony themselves years ago!), they’ve been successfully conducting interfaith weddings together ever since. Below, they walk us through how they marry two people from totally different religions from start to finish, and make it easy—for both parties—along the way.

What’s the process like for an interfaith wedding?

Officiants will certainly be committed to the integrity of the traditions, blessings and prayers of both faiths, but at the same token, should have the understanding that it’s your wedding. Katz and Callahan emphasize that couples should be able to pick and choose what goes into a ceremony—between writing their own vows to breaking the glass. Simply meet with your officiants in advance to get on the same page and make sure everyone’s comfortable.

How far in advance should couples get in touch with an officiant?

Between 12 and 24 months in advance, Katz and Callahan advise. Often couples will contact them at the last minute (say, only a few months before the wedding), which is okay too. But you’ll want to make sure your choice officiant has room for your ceremony in their schedule, so get in touch with them as soon as possible so they can accommodate your unique needs.

What’s a typical interfaith ceremony like?

Katz and Callahan say most couples prefer to keep ceremonies under 30 minutes and that, yes, that’s enough time to successfully fuse together two faiths in a balanced way. Every couple is different regarding their wants and needs, and it’s totally okay to adapt old and new traditions of both faiths to make the ceremony tailored to fit the couple and run smoothly within that time frame.

Where do the ceremonies take place?

Anywhere you want! Katz and Callahan say they’ve officiated in every location you can think of: beaches, vineyards, parks, ships, backyards, chapels and more. They even offer suggestions if a couple is having a particularly difficult time deciding on a location.

What’s the difference between a cantor and a rabbi?

While they’re both equally qualified, licensed exactly the same, and can officiate in the same capacity, the main difference between a cantor and a rabbi is that a cantor possesses a robust singing voice. So in addition to officiating, they’ll typically sing as well. If you’re looking for an officiant who can incorporate the gift of song into your ceremony, a cantor might be the best choice for you.

How is the ceremony recognized in different religions?

It depends on the religion. On the Catholic side, Callahan confirms an interfaith wedding is recognized by the Old Catholic Church in North America, and if a couple wishes to have it recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as well, it’s a fairly simple process that your officiant can assist you with.

While there’s no “official recognizing” of the ceremony on the Jewish side (unless someone is Orthodox), there are plenty of ways to ensure your ceremony is administered and recognized by the Jewish faith, like having a licensed and invested cantor or rabbi who can ensure the traditions, rituals and blessings are properly done, as well as signing the ketubah.

What about the marriage license?

Katz and Callahan say they explain the process for obtaining a marriage license in the first meeting with a couple. On the actual wedding day, they’ll have two witnesses sign the license, fill in the necessary information and mail it to the clerk’s office to get it issued. A couple should receive it in the mail within a month.

Are premarital counseling or other programs required before you get married?

While there’s no requirement, Katz and Callahan say they do offer a program for engaged interfaith couples called Prepare & Enrich. It’s a private experience (rather than a group setting), and in almost every case, the couple finds it to be a positive and helpful experience prior to walking down the aisle. But again, this is totally up to the couple to participate in and is not required.

Is it common to have apprehension in the couple’s families?

Unfortunately, yes. Of course, there’s an element of uncertainty because both sides of the family will (understandably) want their faith to be equally represented and honored. Thankfully, officiants in interfaith weddings will try their best to ensure the ceremony is balanced and respectful, and might even provide couples and their families with sample materials prior to the ceremony to alleviate any concerns there.

For interfaith Catholic and Jewish weddings, what are the important offerings and traditions a couple should include?

The options are truly endless, but Katz and Callahan keep their list manageable so a couple doesn’t feel too overwhelmed. Of course a couple will want to include the ring exchange, vows and probably music, but the religious touches can include everything from readings from the Old and New Testaments, language options (like Hebrew, for example), circling of the groom, the signing of the ketubah, the wine blessing, the seven blessings, breaking of the glass and the unity candle or sand ceremony. It’s entirely up to the couple to include or omit whatever traditions they see fit.

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