Selecting Your Wedding Participants
When couples start to plan their wedding ceremony, often their first decision will be "who should be in our wedding party"? It's natural to immediately want to include all of the people who have encouraged and supported you throughout your engagement.
After listing all the special people they would like to include, couples are often surprised to find that they have a wedding party of twenty! At this point, rather than having their entrance to the altar resemble somewhat of a parade more than a venerable procession, they begin to consider alternate duties for these special people to perform.
Your Catholic wedding ceremony offers several opportunities to include friends and family within various areas of the liturgy. We have listed additional areas where participants may be included in your ceremony. We will discuss the roles they may perform and the levels of training that may be required to participate in them.
Your Wedding Presider
As a Catholic, we immediately picture our wedding presider as our parish priest and in most cases this will be true. However, you may belong to a large parish that has more than one priest serving its needs. Consider if there is a particular priest that you have a personal connection with. Perhaps he serves at the Mass you usually attend. If you have a personal preference book early and request him to perform your ceremony.
Except in the case of close relatives, priests from outside a parish are usually not invited to celebrate weddings. High school or college chaplains, former pastors, even clergy friends will require the express permission of the local pastor in order to preside at your wedding. They may however be invited to concelebrate or participate in other ways. The pastor should be consulted before you approach these other priests or deacons.
In some parishes there may be a shortage of priests; unfortunately the heavy work load of priests is not an uncommon situation. This may mean that a priest who is not on staff may become the one to celebrate your wedding ceremony. He will be fully aware of the way that marriage is celebrated in your parish and will certainly agree to matters that you have already discussed with the parish staff or its marriage coordinator.
Many parishes have a deacon as a member of the ministry team. A deacon will likely be the one to preside at the ceremony when it does not include the celebration of Mass.
Couples entering into an interfaith marriage may wish to invite the minister of their partner's faith to participate in the ceremony. This minister may bless the couple, provide a prayer or personally address the assembly. However your Catholic priest or deacon will be the officiate during your exchange of vows and determine the details of participation.
Commonly your witnesses are referred to as the best man or the matron of honor (if married) or the maid of honor (if single). They will become the two official witnesses required by the Church to comprise a valid wedding ceremony. Your officiate along with your witnesses, may form your entire wedding party without any additional attendants.
Your witnesses do not have to be of the Catholic faith, nor do they have to be a man and a women. You may choose two women or two men to fulfill this role. They must be able to comprehend your consent to marry and must be of legal (sufficient) age.
Lectors, ( Readers of the Scriptures)
The Liturgy of the word, which consists of the proclaiming of the scriptures, will be a key element in every wedding ceremony whether it is held within a Mass or outside of a Mass. Your wedding ceremony will have an opportunity for two readings, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament along with a Responsorial Psalm.
You may select a friend or family member to carry out this portion of your ceremony. They do not have to be Catholic but must be familiar with the Catholic Liturgy and be approved by the pastor. Preference should be given to a member of the wedding party who may have already been trained in this ministry; and in some parishes, this is a requirement.
In some parishes, only those who are readers in the local parish (or in their own parishes) may be invited to read at a wedding. Some parishes will provide the readers from their own slate of lectors. Check with the priest, deacon or minister during your preparation meetings.
When selecting for this honored position, some caution should be exercised. Consider selecting someone who will speak clearly and loud enough to ensure that the whole assembly can hear them. Make sure that they have familiarized themselves with the readings well in advance of the ceremony. Special attention must be paid to the correct pronunciation of unfamiliar words or names.
This is not a place for on the job training! If you feel you can't be confident in the ability of a member of your wedding party to fulfill this position, you may request the services of a trained Lector. They can be provided through your parish.
The cantor is the minister who will lead the congregation through song. The Responsorial Psalm, which is recited after the first reading, can be extremely moving when sung by a beautiful voice. Cantors must have a trained singing voice and be familiar with liturgical music.
If you do not have access to a trained cantor an assistant from your parish is usually available in this area. A cantor is not mandatory so you may also request a wedding participant to read the Responsorial Psalm with the agreement of the parish musicians.
Ushers will play an important part in extending hospitality to your guests. They will be your guests first impression of your hospitality.
Today many couples are choosing to welcome their guests together before the ceremony begins. This welcoming gesture truly embraces the role of being personal ministers to the assembly. Having additional greeters or ushers to assist the couple with seating will also be helpful.
Select ushers that will reflect a sense of helpfulness and cheerfulness. They will provide your guests with a worship aid, the wedding program, and direct them to their seats. Make sure that you have provided them with pertinent information ranging from, when your procession will begin to the location of washrooms. Your ushers will be your first line of defense for any problems during the ceremony such as helping an elderly guest who needs assistance or entertaining an unruly child in the narthex (back vestibule of the church). Ushers should always be instructed to tidy up pews immediately after the ceremony.
Your ushers may be male or female. When a female escorts guests to their seats they need not extend their arm to the guest, they can simply lead them down the aisle to their seats.
Presenters Of The Gifts
Gift presenters will only pertain to a ceremony that includes the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
These presenters will carry the bread and wine that will be used in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These gifts along with any funds collected for charity will be presented to the priest through a procession to the altar.
Usually only Catholics participate in this procession, since it may be viewed as inhospitable to include anyone in the procession who cannot partake in the Eucharist.
Eucharistic Ministers are those who assist the priest in the distribution of the Eucharist during Communion. Since this is a mandated ministry, only those who have the permission of the local (or their own) bishop may serve in this capacity. When such ministers are required (the priest will ask about the number of guests) the parish will provide them.
If you have family members who are already involved in this ministry in their own parish, mention it to the priest; he may include them at the celebration.
When couples have younger members they wish to include in the wedding ceremony, their thoughts may turn to placing them as altar servers. If these individuals are already serving in your parish or an alternate parish, this is a lovely idea. However if this is their first attempt to serve on the altar you may want to reconsider. An altar server does require a certain degree of training to properly perform the required functions.
If you have access to trained altar servers then by all means invite them to participate. Unless these servers are already serving at your parish, have them meet with your priest and include them in your rehearsal. This will provide them with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with your church before the ceremony.
The quality of your music has the ability to enhance or detract from the beauty of your ceremony. This is not the time to choose your musicians out of friendship rather than competency. Many parishes do not permit the use of outside musicians.
If you are fortunate you may have professional musicians among the people you would like to include as participants in your ceremony. Have them meet with your music director well before hand. They must be able to blend their talents with the rather firm requirements of choosing music appropriate for your Catholic wedding ceremony. If they are not familiar with liturgical music they will definitely want to work closely with your parish music director.
Flower Girls and Ring Bearers
Couples who have young children among their family members often wish to include them in the wedding ceremony. No one would argue that children in a wedding party are adorable but they can also be unpredictable. The antics of a fidgety, bored or unruly child can certainly be disruptive during your ceremony.
When you are selecting children to be included in your wedding party consider if they are old enough to have the ability to perform this task without distraction. Even the shortest wedding ceremony may seem like an eternity to a very young child.
Prearrange to have someone care for these little ones during the ceremony.
Please check if the parish has any restrictions on the use and number of children in these roles.
Attendants refers to the bridesmaids or groomsmen that you may ask to participate in your wedding party. You may have as many or as few as you desire and they do not have to be of the Catholic faith. They should be available to attend your rehearsal and have a basic understanding of Catholic worship etiquette.
Carefully review the number of attendants that you truly require. Large wedding parties can become an expensive, logistical nightmare when planning for transportation, pictures, flower bouquets etc. Too many attendants may detract from the peacefulness of your day rather than enhancing it.
The parish may have a restriction on the number of attendants; this is often simply a function of the space that is available for their seating. Increasingly, attendants are seated in the front row of the church rather than in separate seats in the sanctuary around the bride and groom.
A thoughtfully planned Liturgy will offer many opportunities through active participation in song and prayer to incorporate all the special people in your life into your ceremony,
Photographers / Videographers
Photographers are not generally considered a wedding participant but perhaps they should be. It is vary rare to attend a wedding without having someone present to capture this important event on film.
Professional wedding photographers take great pride in capturing that perfect picture, without being intrusive during your most sacred moments. They have been involved in numerous weddings and are usually very aware of the protocol of most churches. The problems often begin when your fiancé's buddy, an aspiring amateur photographer, offers to take your pictures.
Most parishes have guidelines for the placement and involvement of photographers. Their suggestions have come through years of experience with hundreds of other weddings. These requests should be strictly adhered to in order to preserve the dignity of your ceremony and to avoid any embarrassment during the ceremony itself.
Have your photographer, whether they are a professional or an amateur, meet with a member of your pastoral team. They will advise them on your churches specific policies.
Please check with your priest or deacon if you're planning on having a videographer, as some parishes will not allow the entire ceremony to be recorded.