Planning Your Catholic Wedding
Dress, flowers, money, and other details
The many bridal magazines, television shows, and websites will have plenty of advice on the "look" of your wedding. While your parish will leave these issues for you to decide, there are some common guidelines you will want to consider as you plan.
If you choose to bring in decorations for the church, follow these two guidelines:
- Keep the focus on the wedding liturgy. The prayers of the Church for your marriage are the key element in your wedding; you don't want to distract from the words and actions of the liturgy with decorations that block the assembly's view or get in the way of people involved in the wedding. Decorations should never be placed on the altar.
- Respect the church environment. Most parishes carefully plan the "environment" of their worship space, following guidelines established by the Vatican and the national or regional bishops' conference. Your parish may have banners, flowers, statues, candles, or artwork already in place; these should not be altered or moved without permission from someone in the parish. In most parishes, the environment changes according to the seasons of the liturgical year; ask parish staff how the church is likely to be decorated at the time of your wedding. Finally, check with the parish before taping bows or other decorations on pews or walls, as the tape may damage the wood.
Some couples save money on decorations by planning their wedding to coincide with a time or season when the church will receive some "extra" decoration. Many parishes are beautifully decorated during the Easter season, for instance, as well as during the week or so following Christmas. Your parish may plan special decorations for other times of the year as well.
As with other decorations, flowers should not be placed in a way that interferes with the liturgy. They should not be placed on the altar, for instance. Ask your parish staff whether the church will already be decorated with flowers or other plants at the time of your wedding; you may want to incorporate these existing displays into your plans. Also, some parishes encourage couples who are being married on the same day to split the cost of flowers to be used at both ceremonies.
If you decorate the church with flowers, it is customary to leave the flowers behind for others in the parish to enjoy.
The Church provides no guidelines for how couples (or the rest of the wedding party) dress for weddings. Common sense is a good guide when it comes to wedding attire. On the one hand, you want your outward appearance to be a sign of your inner dignity, and the beauty of the love you share as a couple. On the other hand, you want to avoid dressing in a way that distracts from the liturgy. Wedding dresses with long trains tend to be distracting, for instance, because the bride and other members of the wedding party spend so much time during the ceremony arranging it and trying not to trip over it.
If you choose to have your wedding ceremony photographed and/or videotaped, be sure to provide your photographer and videographer with guidelines; you and your guests want to celebrate a liturgy, not a Hollywood production. Many parishes have guidelines regarding wedding photography. Although these guidelines vary from place to place, the bottom line is that photographers should avoid distracting from the liturgy (by entering the area around the altar during the ceremony, for instance) or blocking the assembly's view. Many parishes limit the amount of time the church may be used before or after the wedding ceremony, a factor that should be considered when it comes to photographing the wedding party.
Many couples choose not to photograph the ceremony at all. Your parish can provide you with appropriate guidelines. You may also want to make a gentle announcement before the ceremony asking your guests to not take pictures during the ceremony. Read this article from OSV Newsweekly addressing the topic of choosing a photographer.
Your parish will spend a considerable amount of time and money helping you prepare for your marriage. Many parishes charge a fee to recover some of this expense. Fees for members of the parish commonly range from $300-$500; fees for non-members are often much higher. (If this seems excessive, think of how many hours your parish staff has spent not only on your wedding, but training and preparing to serve engaged couples generally. Add in incidental expenses—utilities, maintenance, music costs—and you will probably find you're getting quite a deal.)
Even if a fee is not specified, it is customary to offer a monetary gift. How do you determine the appropriate amount? One way would be to consult the websites of parishes in your area to see whether they charge a fee, and make the gift to your parish a similar amount. Another way would be to tithe a percentage (5-10%) of what you expect to spend on the whole wedding. Or offer as much as you choose to spend on more "optional" elements of the wedding, such as the cost of photography or wedding clothes. Alternatively, you could just ask the parish staff what an appropriate amount would be.
If you are truly unable to afford the fee, don't hesitate to approach your parish to ask for a waiver or reduction. All eligible persons have a right to receive the sacrament of Matrimony, regardless of ability to pay a fee.
For more information
The Catholic Wedding Book: A Complete Guidebook for
Brides, Grooms, and their Parents
Includes two sample wedding programs. From the publisher: "Easy reading for Catholics of all ages, The Catholic Wedding Book provides practical advice for planning a wedding liturgy and the text of all official forms, readings and prayers approved by the Church — everything you need to make your wedding joyful and meaningful." 245 pages.