18 Catholic Wedding Traditions You Need to Know

Here's what to expect when you head to church.

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 our experts to break down what those key components are. Now, you'll know exactly what to expect when you sit down in that pew.

Wondering what additional information you need to know before attending a Catholic wedding? Here are some frequently asked questions:

  • What should I wear to a Catholic wedding? Catholic weddings typically range from semiformal to black-tie. 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 mass and communion, all of which can take up to an hour. A ceremony without mass can last between 30-45 minutes.
  • Will the newlyweds kiss? The nuptial vow exchange usually concludes with the priest's final direction of "you may now kiss the bride." Though the kiss is not a part of the religious ritual, it is something that has become a part of the ceremony and is widely practiced.
  • 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 an explanation of the 18 biggest components of Catholic wedding ceremonies.

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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. 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 18

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.

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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. It isn't required, but many couples choose to do so and include sacraments like the taking of communion in their ceremony. A Catholic Mass includes a gospel, homily, consecration, and communion, with the selections of readings and psalms determining how long the Mass will be. If the couple has a ceremony that isn't a Nuptial Mass, it will include the basics (vows and the exchange of rings) without other sacraments.

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Hymn

Catholic nuptial mass

Juan Trijillo  

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

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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 18

Psalms

Pries reading psalms at Catholic wedding ceremony

Juanlu Real 

These songs, recorded in the Book of Psalms, are sung 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 18

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 18

Gospel

Catholic nuptial mass

Juanlu Real 

The priest will read a passage from one of the first four books of the New Testament, written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

09 of 18

Homil

Catholic nuptial mass

Juanlu Real 

After the Gospel, the priest will expound or reflect upon what he has just read.

10 of 18

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 18

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 18

The Kiss

Nuptial kiss

Sara Lobla 

You can probably figure this one out on your own. Instead of "You may now kiss the bride," the priest might have been asked to say, "You may now exchange a kiss."

13 of 18

Nuptial Blessing

Catholic nuptial blessing

Juan Trijillo

The priest blesses the new union with a prayer.

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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."

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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. The newlyweds may have discussed with their priest during the rehearsal which members of the families and wedding party will be taking communion.

The couple should have a discussion with their priest about whether non-Catholic guests should remain in their seats, or if they should line up along with other guests and simply refrain from taking communion when they reach the altar. This can be communicated with the guests by the priest during the ceremony or a family member before entering the church.

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Lord's Prayer

Catholic nuptial mass

Sara Lobla

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

17 of 18

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."

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Recessional

Bride and groom leaving church

Erich McVey

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

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