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Catholic weddings are alike, but different

By Brian Fuchser
The Catholic Voice

Liturgical issues and requirements
for the Archdiocese of Omaha

--The Order for Celebrating Marriage for the Roman Rite is to be used for all weddings, without exception.

--The wedding vows may never be individual creations or improvised versions of the couple or the priest/deacon presiding at the ceremony.

--Permission for weddings out of doors or in non-parish chapels is not granted in the archdiocese.

--Saturday weddings (or weddings the day before a holy-day of obligation) may not begin later than 2 p.m.

--The Eucharist may not be offered or shared with the non-Catholic spouse or with non-Catholic persons in the assembly during the wedding ceremony.

--Non-Catholic persons at a mixed marriage wedding outside of a Mass are permitted to read the Scriptures during the Liturgy of the Word, but only Catholics may read the Scriptures during a wedding within a Mass.

--A wedding may take place during the seasons of Advent or Lent. Preparations for and celebration of the ceremony, however, must respect the liturgical season.

To some, it seems that if they've seen one Catholic wedding, they've seen them all.

And to a point, that's true.

Because a wedding is part of the sacrament of marriage, the church requires wedding ceremonies to have certain elements, whether the marriage is within or outside the Mass.

Father Patrick Harrison, vicar judicial of the Metropolitan Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Omaha, said "There are universal requirements regarding any wedding ceremony, particularly the vows," he said. "The thing that doesn't deviate is called the Rite of Marriage."

The Rite is the official form of the ceremony – what makes a Catholic wedding Catholic. It includes the prayers and the order of the ceremony.

But, there are aspects of weddings that may vary, even within the Rite of Marriage.

For example, there are different options for the vows. The priest sometimes reads the vows with the couple repeating them, while at other times the couple memorizes them. There are different sets of readings available as well, Father Harrison said.

The Rite of Marriage allows for other things, too, such as local customs. These may include the lighting of a unity candle, placing flowers at the feet of Mary or bringing flowers to the parents of the bride and groom.

Those and other issues need to be discussed with the priest or deacon preparing to witness the wedding.

Since couples are meeting with a priest or deacon throughout the marriage preparation process, Father Harrison said there is ample time for questions.

He recommends that couples ask questions about the ceremony early on, even though the actual liturgy isn't planned until the end of the preparation process.

"That is something that should be questioned from the get-go," Father Harrison said.

Some issues might be addressed by archdiocesan policy, while others are at the discretion of the parish.

"If there are things that are permissible by Cannon Law, then it is up to the discretion of the bishop," Father Harrison said. "(At the archdiocesan level) for example, we don't permit marriages of two Catholics outside a parish church."

Other examples of archdiocesan policies include not starting Saturday weddings after 2 p.m. and not allowing non-Catholics to read the Scriptures when a wedding is celebrated as a part of a Mass.

At the parish level, Father Harrison said additional policies may be set by the pastor, but "it all has to be within Universal Law and within the statutes of the Archdiocese."

Three areas that are most often affected by parish policy are the music, photography during the ceremony and the use of alcohol before the wedding.

Father Frank Dvorak, pastor at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, tells couples preparing to get married at his parish that the ceremony should not be much different than what one would experience at any communal Sunday celebration.

"Music always needs to be sacred music," Father Dvorak said. "It doesn't always have to be traditional, but it does have to be sacred. We also encourage congregational singing with it."

Father Paul Ortmeier, pastor at St. John Nepomucene and Ss. Peter and Paul Parishes in Howells and Holy Trinity Parish in Heun, has a slightly different policy when it comes to music.

"The biggest thing I always tell them is that I don't want heavy metal music or rap, but something religiously oriented, and that can be country-western," Father Ortmeier said. "I usually ask them what they want their music to say to the community."

When it comes to photographers, both pastors have rules regarding where and how they can take photographs during the ceremony.

Father Dvorak doesn't allow photographers to be obvious during the wedding.

"I tell photographers that they should not be seen by the guests. There's no need to be in the ceremony," Father Dvorak said. "The big thing is the fact that any kind of photographer is to be secret and that their (the couple's) primary purpose here is to have a sacramental experience."

While he doesn't want to limit photos, Father Ortmeier also has guidelines for photographers.

"The biggest thing is I don't want them in the sanctuary," Father Ortmeier said. "And I don't want them to use a flash if I'm going to be involved."

Music and photography might be areas of emphasis for the couples, but one of the biggest concerns of many pastors is the use of alcohol by the wedding party before the ceremony.

Both Father Dvorak and Father Ortmeier have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking before the wedding.

Father Dvorak said that for a 2 p.m. wedding he doesn't allow any drinking that day and for an evening ceremony he doesn't allow any alcohol after noon.

"I remind them (the wedding party) that this is something that could lose them the privilege of honoring this couple," Father Dvorak said.

Drinking before a wedding at one of Father Ortmeier's parishes also could get a member of the wedding party removed from the ceremony.

"This is a wedding. This is a sacrament, so be respectful," Father Ortmeier said he reminds the wedding party. "I tell them if I see it (alcohol), either they're gone, or I'm gone. So, it's their choice."

Other areas also may be affected by parish policy, including decorating the church, how long the bride or groom must be a member of the parish before they may get married in that parish and what material, if any, may be thrown after the ceremony.

Although there are rules and requirements, Father Ortmeier said that within the framework of parish and church policies, he allows the couple to plan the wedding as much as possible.

"They plan the whole ceremony," Father Ortmeier said. "I tell them I'm just a witness for the church."

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