19 Catholic Wedding Traditions You Need to Know

Catholic wedding ceremony

Erich McVey

Catholic weddings are full of time-honored traditions, but they're more than just a few Bible verses and a priest officiating. There are certain elements that you'll see at every Catholic wedding you attend, so we've turned to Catholic wedding expert Stephanie Calis to break down those key components.

Meet the Expert

Stephanie Calis is the editor in chief and co-founder of Spoken Bride, a wedding-focused lifestyle blog and ministry for Catholic brides and newlyweds. Calis is the author of the Amazon bestseller Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner, and a former professional speaker for Catholic youth.

First up, here are some frequently asked questions surrounding Catholic weddings:

  • What should I wear to a Catholic wedding? "The Catholic Church doesn’t give rules about wedding dress codes," explains Calis. "But church weddings are typically more formal events." You will need to take your cue from the invitation, time of day, and type of reception to follow. Men should at minimum wear a shirt and tie, and women should err on the side of modesty and bring a shawl to drape over their shoulders for the church ceremony.
  • How long is a Catholic wedding ceremony? A Catholic wedding ceremony traditionally includes a full Mass and communion, all of which can take up to an hour. A Rite of Marriage Ceremony (which doesn't include a mass) can last between 30-45 minutes.
  • Will the newlyweds kiss? "Probably," says Calis. "Though the kiss is not a part of the religious ritual, it is something that is widely practiced and part of most ceremonies."
  • Should I bring a gift? Gifts for the newlywedded couple are common at Catholic weddings. While you would not present the couple with a wedding gift at the ceremony, you can bring it to the wedding reception or have it shipped to their home.

Read on for the 19 biggest components of a Catholic wedding ceremony.

Catholic Wedding Traditions
Michela Buttignol/Brides
01 of 19

The Church

Catholic Wedding Ceremony

Juanlu Real

To have a truly Catholic wedding, you'll need to be in a Catholic church. That's right, you can't have an "official" Catholic ceremony anywhere else. "Most dioceses in the United States require that Catholic marriages take place in a physical church, for the reason that Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle (the vessel containing consecrated bread that, according to Catholic teaching, has become the body of Christ)," explains Calis. "Therefore, it’s fitting that a couple’s marriage takes place in the presence of Christ and in a setting intended for worship and prayer."

You can, of course, submit a request to your bishop to see if you can have your ceremony outdoors or somewhere else (like a hotel ballroom), but exceptions are few and far between.

02 of 19

The Processional

Bride and father walking down the aisle

Kylee Lee 

First, the groom and the best man enter from the side of the church. Then the bridesmaids and groomsmen escort one another up the aisle, followed by the maid of honor, who enters alone. And last but certainly not least, the bride and her father (or another male family member) make their grand entrance. Calis advises that there is a second option where the bride and groom enter the church with their wedding party and priest, either together or with their respective parents. "These are old traditions of the Church that reflect the significance of the bride and groom’s role in the ceremony," says Calis. "Whatever the couple’s choice, processional options are all morally neutral and a matter of preference."

03 of 19

Mass

Catholic Nuptial Mass

Juan Trijillo  

If both the bride and groom are Catholic, chances are the ceremony will take place during a Nuptial Mass, which includes readings of the Liturgy of the Word, followed by the Rite of Marriage (aka the exchange of vows and rings), and Liturgy of the Eucharist (communion). If the couple has a ceremony that isn't a full Mass, it will have a Celebration of Matrimony, which includes the Liturgy of the Word and Rite of Marriage.

04 of 19

Hymn

Catholic nuptial mass

Juan Trijillo  

The priest invites the wedding guests to join in an opening hymn (or song).

05 of 19

Old Testament Reading

Catholic nuptial mass reading

Juanlu Real

Here's your opportunity to include those people you couldn't squeeze into your bridal party—ask a friend or family member to read a passage from the Old Testament. Often, couples choose a reading from the book of Genesis, which contains the story of the creation of Adam and Eve.

06 of 19

Psalms

Pries reading psalms at Catholic wedding ceremony

Juanlu Real 

These words, recorded in the Book of Psalms, are sung or spoken by a cantor and the congregation. Responsorial psalms are the congregation's reaction to the word of God, with the cantor singing the verses and the congregation singing the responses (essentially the chorus). A choice can be made to have the church soloist or the entire congregation sing the Psalm. Some choices include "Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord," "Sing a New Song," and "On Eagle's Wings."

07 of 19

New Testament Reading

Catholic nuptial mass reading

Juan Trijillo 

Here's another chance to include a loved one. Choose a friend or family member to read a passage of your choosing from the New Testament.

08 of 19

Gospel

Catholic nuptial mass

Juanlu Real 

The priest will read a passage from one of the Gospels. Calis explains that these are the first four books of the New Testament, written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, telling of the life of Christ.

09 of 19

Homily

Catholic nuptial mass

Juanlu Real 

After the readings, the priest will reflect on "the readings and the nature of marriage and love."

10 of 19

Rite of Marriage

Vow exchange

Erich McVey

These are the vows! There are at least three choices. The couple can memorize and recite the vows to one another, read the vows from the book, or have the priest read them and respond with "I do." Wording may vary from church to church, but they tend to follow a similar pattern: "I (your name) take you (his/her name) to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life." Some priests might allow couples to write their own vows or add a couple of lines to the traditional ones.

11 of 19

Ring Ceremony

Catholic priest blessing rings

Juanlu Real

After the vows, the rings will be exchanged and the priest will bless them as symbols of love and fidelity.

12 of 19

The Kiss

Nuptial kiss

Sara Lobla 

You can probably figure this one out on your own. "The priest might invite the couple to exchange a kiss here, during the Sign of Peace, or at the conclusion of the ceremony," says Calis.

13 of 19

Offertory

Catholic wedding mass

Yessica Cruz

If the couple chooses to partake in a Nuptial Mass, this is when the altar is prepared for the following Liturgy of the Eucharist, or communion. Special family members or close friends may be chosen ahead of time to assist in these preparations, also called the presentation of gifts. The priest will then deliver the Eucharistic Prayers. "The Liturgy of the Eucharist involves the priest praying the prescribed words of the Church over the bread and wine (called the consecration)," says Calis. "Which Catholics believe actually becomes the body and blood of Christ."

14 of 19

Lord's Prayer

Catholic nuptial mass

Sara Lobla

The entire congregation says the Lord's Prayer in unison.

15 of 19

Sign of Peace

Catholic nuptial mass

Juanlu Real 

The guests and wedding party exchange a sign of peace, by shaking hands and saying, "Peace be with you."

16 of 19

Holy Communion

Bride taking communion

Juanlu Real

Also called the Eucharist, if the couple is having a Nuptial Mass, communion will take place after the vows are exchanged. "Non-Catholic guests or those not prepared to receive may come forward for a blessing, with arms crossed over their chests, or may choose to stay seated and silently express good thoughts or prayers for the couple," explains Calis.

17 of 19

Nuptial Blessing

Catholic nuptial blessing

Juan Trijillo

The priest blesses the new union with a prayer.

18 of 19

Blessing and Dismissal of Congregation

Catholic nuptial mass

Erich McVey

One more blessing, and then the priest will dismiss the congregation by saying, "This mass has ended. You may now go in peace."

19 of 19

Recessional

Bride and groom leaving church

Erich McVey

The recession, or exit from the ceremony, takes place in the reverse order of the processional.

Related Stories