Catholic Church Etiquette
CatholicBrides.com offers this general information on basic Catholic etiquette when attending a wedding ceremony held During Mass or Outside of Mass. The following explanations of the fundamental gestures used in our worship practices, will enhance your confidence when attending any Catholic Mass or Catholic wedding ceremony.
Weddings are an invitation to share in a couple's happy day and to participate in their wedding celebration. Often their ceremony may be conducted through an unfamiliar faith, such as Catholicism.
The traditions, rituals and gestures of the Catholic liturgy may seem somewhat mysterious to those who have not previously attended a Catholic wedding ceremony. Non-Catholics and Non-Christians may feel hesitant about attending a Catholic Mass or Wedding Ceremony. Their concerns range from; what to expect, will they be welcomed or how can they show respect without compromising their own beliefs. Catholics share a common principle that all people form one community and share a common destiny in God. Everyone is welcome to join Catholics in prayer to God, as you may know Him.
It has been said that Catholic Weddings are long. Actually, there are two basic forms or "Rites" of a Catholic wedding. One is held During Mass and the other form is held Outside of Mass, as a result their lengths may vary from thirty to sixty minutes.
All Catholic Marriage Ceremonies will have similar worship practices and gestures contained within the Mass and they will be held within a Catholic church, traditionally in the parish of the bride.
For non-Catholics, a Catholic Mass may seem to contain a confusing amount of standing and kneeling. It is true that different parts of the Mass require different postures, but at most weddings your officiate will indicate when to sit, stand or kneel or you can simply follow the cue of the congregation. During a Mass these postures will be indicated in the Mass Missal, which is usually present in every pew.
Many couples will provide wedding programs that will guide you through the different aspects of their ceremony. With this in mind, we have not focused on these postures. You may remain seated throughout the entire ceremony if you prefer, although Christians should stand during the reading of the Gospel as a sign of respect for the word of God.
As a non-Catholic or non-Christian you will not be expected to perform any acts of worship that may compromise your personal religious beliefs. You are welcome to participate in the prayers of the Liturgy or you may choose to remain seated and refrain from participating in any prayer or song. We merely request reverence in our sacred place of worship.
UPON ENTERING THE CHURCH
For a Catholic Mass or wedding ceremony you should plan to arrive at least five minutes early. This will provide time for reflection and prayer before the service begins. If you do arrive late or just in time, it is courteous to remain at the back of the church until the entrance procession has reached the altar before you proceed to your seat.
Just inside every entrance to the main body of the church you will find a "stoup" or small "font" filled with Holy Water. This water, with a small amount of salt added as a preservative, has been consecrated by a priest or Bishop during the vigil of Pentecost or on Holy Saturday which is the day before Easter Sunday.
As parishioners enter or leave the church, they bless themselves by dipping their fingers in the water and making the Sign of the Cross.
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
The Sign of the Cross is used at the beginning and the end of prayer and also at the conclusion of blessings. It is a gesture used to remember Jesus' death on the cross and symbolizes the four points of the cross of Calvary.
PERFORMING THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
In the Roman Catholic Faith the right hand is used to perform this gesture. The thumb, index and middle finger are brought to a point, symbolizing the Trinity, with the remaining two fingers pressed to the palm of the hand reminding us of the human and divine natures united together in Jesus Christ.
Touch the right hand to the forehead saying "in the name of the Father" then bring the right hand to the middle of the chest saying "and of the Son", then touch the right hand to the left shoulder bringing it back to the right shoulder while saying "and of the Holy Spirit."
ENTERING YOUR PEW
Catholics will make the Sign of the Cross while genuflecting, before entering their pew. Genuflecting (the bending of the knee) is performed as an act of reverence. For non-Catholics, a simple slight bow of the head, as a sign of respect, is acceptable or you may simply enter your seat.
Catholics will immediately kneel for a short prayer, in preparation for the beginning of holy Mass. They may remain in prayer until the processional begins or sit quietly in reflection. Socializing before the beginning of the Mass is strongly discouraged and viewed as disrespectful in our sacred place of worship.
ONCE THE MASS BEGINS
Most Catholic parishes are aware that guests for a wedding will usually be from varying faiths. With this in mind, parishes sometimes suggest that the couple provide a Wedding Ceremony Program as a worship aid for their guest's participation.
A Catholic Mass will always begin and conclude with a procession of the Priest and other ministers that may be assisting him. The congregation will stand and sing a hymn during these times.
THE SIGN OF PEACE
During the Communion Rite of the Mass, after the Our Father has been said, the priest will invite the parishioners to offer each other a sign of peace. At this time the priest and members of the congregation exchange a handshake with those seated near them. Close family members may hug each other. The usual custom is say "peace be with you" to the person you are extending your hand to.
THE COMMUNION RITE
The Communion Rite involves the consecration and distribution of the Holy Eucharist. Christians believe that all things in life have not only a material component but also an eternal and spiritual element. For Catholics, it is the spiritual component of the thin bread wafer and the communion wine that changes into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. At this time Catholics will either stand or kneel (depending on the region) during the Eucharistic prayer but non-Catholics may remain seated
For Catholics, the Holy Eucharist is our highest form of worship. This sacred Sacrament is treated with the greatest of care and is distributed only to Catholics who believe and understand the nature of this Sacrament. Even Catholics are bound to abstain from the Eucharist if they are in a state of serious sin. They should also abstain if they have not fasted for one-hour prior to the Mass.
At weddings it would be rare for a non-Catholic to be turned away if they approach and ask to receive The Eucharist. However, this will be a public statement in their belief, that what was previously bread and wine has now become, through this act of worship, the true existence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the form of the Holy Eucharist.
The manner of receiving communion may have variations between countries, dioceses and even individual parishes. In North America, Catholics normally proceed to the front altar in lines and then stand to receive the Host. After returning to their places, the assembly either remains standing until everyone has received communion or immediately kneel in silent prayer.
Please do not mistake this solemn movement of people as an intermission from worship. This is a sacred moment. Do not engage in unnecessary conversation during this point in the Mass. There should be no unnecessary trips to the washroom, loud crying from children or other diversions. Please take children to the back of the church until their needs have been met and make sure your cell phone is off.
UPON LEAVING THE CHURCH
It is traditional to have a blessing of the assembly and of the newlyweds, followed by a dismissal. Usually the priest will say "The Mass has ended. You may now go in peace." This dismissal will be followed with a closing hymn as the priest, ministers and the wedding party leave the church in a processional form down the center aisle. After the conclusion of this hymn the congregation will quietly file out of the church.
Weddings and Masses are always a time to meet and socialize. This should begin after you have left the church proper area, either on the lawn area or in the back vestibule (narthex) during inclement weather.