Holy Matrimony or the Rite of Marriage

Congratulations on your engagement. We are delighted that you want to get married, celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony, at Saint John Vianney Parish.

Catholic teaching about marriage

Marriage is one of the most important decisions of life, a community of love is formed. For Catholics, marriage is not merely a civil contract; it is a covenant of life and love between man and woman and God. If both are baptized, the marriage is a sacrament; a symbol of unity and fidelity of Christ and the Church. A sacramental marriage is a means of grace, giving strength to husband and wife to live their commitment and help each other on the path to holiness.

As preparations are made, it is imperative to carefully and prayerfully reflect on the nature of this sacrament.

Any marriage involving a Catholic is subject to Church norms known as Canon Law. Catholics are obliged to marry in the church building and follow the Catholic rite. Exchange of vows must be witnessed by either a priest or deacon and two additional adult witnesses. A Catholic may receive permission to marry a non-Catholic and may be married in the church of the non-Catholic party. If the exchange of vows is witnessed by a minister of that denomination, the Catholic must seek a written dispensation from the local Catholic Bishop.

So that the ‘I do’ of the spouses may be a free and responsible act and so that the marriage covenant may have solid and lasting human and Christian foundations, preparation for marriage is of prime importance.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1632)
Preparing for marriage

First, notify the parish.

Most couples reserve a reception location as much as a year in advance. Before that is done, or contract with a photographer, or think about invitations, or make any other agreements, you need to talk to the deacon at Saint John Vianney. Archdiocesan guidelines for marriage preparation requires at least six months for completing the engagement program. Couples who may require a degree of invalidity for previous marriages should make no plans until they have contacted the parish.

Having contacted the parish, the formal process of marriage preparation begins.

Preparation for marriage involves a process of discernment. This is meant to be an affirming experience as the couple becomes aware of its readiness to enter Christian married life. The process is meant to help the couple assess personal faith and relational readiness. The exercise is not to make judgments for or about the couple.

The pastor at Saint John Vianney Parish has the responsibility for marriage preparation. If another priest or deacon will witness the marriage (for instance, a campus minister or relative), the pastor can seek the necessary delegation for that; coordinate the preparation process and provide other information and counsel.

Initial interview

The process begins with an initial conversation with our our pastor. The visit is an important time for the pastor and prospective bride and groom to get to know each other, explain the marriage preparation process, determine freedom to marry (according to Church law and civil law), and identify special needs or requests regarding the wedding (place, long-distance preparation, etcetera). Couples will need to provide copies of baptismal certificates, prenuptial investigation form, any necessary permissions or dispensations and, if necessary, affidavit of free status (annulment papers or death certificate of previous spouse).

Faith readiness

One of the most important aspects of the discernment process is the assessment of your faith readiness. Because the marriage of two baptized Christians is a sacrament, it requires the presence of faith in those who receive it. No two people are at the same place in their journey of faith; however, through the marriage preparation process, you should be able to better identify and deepen your faith, both as individuals and as a couple.

Marriage readiness

Another aspect of the discernment process looks at your readiness to marry. While there is no possible way to determine your readiness definitively, there are clear indicators that can predict potential problems or even the eventual failure of the marriage. You’ll be asked to complete a premarital inventory such as the PMI Profile or FOCCUS, which will give both of you an opportunity to reflect on your attitudes and your relationship. The inventory isn’t a test, it is an aid for you and the pastor to use in highlighting important areas for discussion.

Formational programs

The formational program part of the marriage preparation process is intended to help you understand better both the human and Christian aspects of marriage, and to introduce you to persons and resources that are available to help strengthen your marriage.

Any formational program should include discussion of the following key elements:

  • Context of marriage today
  • Communication and conflict resolution
  • Meaning of permanence and ongoing forgiveness
  • Requirements of a sacramental marriage
  • Role of faith, prayer, and Church in marriage
  • Roles, expectations, and responsibilities within marriage
  • Self-awareness, personal healing and individual growth
  • Sex and sexuality
  • Value of children and responsible parenthood

The pastor will work with you in selecting a formational program that best suits your needs. There are a number of options available in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, including Engaged Encounter, Sponsor Couple Program, Unitas, and Married in the Catholic Church: What Difference Does It Make? When you’ve completed one of these programs, the Deacon will meet with you to discuss the results.

The Wedding Ceremony

To highlight the sacredness of the celebration, and to underscore the relationship between your marriage and the Christian community, the Catholic Church stipulates that Catholic weddings take place in Catholic churches. Permission will not be given for outdoor weddings or unusual locations. If you are marrying a non-Catholic Christian or a non-baptized person, you may request permission to have the wedding take place elsewhere (that is, in another Christian church or a synagogue or in another suitable place).

Preparing the liturgy

The wedding liturgy, like all other sacramental celebrations, is by its very nature communal–a celebration of the whole Church. Yet it is unique in being the only sacrament where it is the couple themselves who are the ministers of the sacrament; the priest or deacon is a witness.

Catholic weddings follow the general norms for liturgical celebrations, but there are a number of options available for you to choose that will enable you to enrich the celebration with expressions of your own faith. The deacon and the office of Liturgy at Saint John Vianney will assist you in understanding the nature of the liturgy, and the various options and choices available regarding music, readings, and the ritual. Reflecting prayerfully on these together can be an important part of your spiritual preparation for the sacrament.

The wedding liturgy should be planned to encourage the participation of the assembly through song and prayer. It should express both your faith and commitment and that of the gathered community. It provides an opportunity for the community to pray for you, and to promise you their support in your married life.

Below is a comprehensive summary of some of the options you may consider:

Liturgical ministries

There are a variety of ministries in each liturgical celebration. Some roles can only be filled by a Roman Catholic (for example, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion); other ministries, like that of reader, can be done by qualified persons of other faith traditions. Take care in selecting and preparing people to fill these roles, making sure they have the skills and gifts necessary.

The rite

The Church provides three different rites for marriage:

  1. a sacramental rite during the Eucharist, which is the usual (but not mandatory) form when both parties are Catholic;
  2. a sacramental rite outside Eucharist, which is the usual (but not mandatory) form when one party is baptized, but not Catholic;
  3. a non-sacramental rite between a Catholic and an unbaptized person.

The Entrance Procession may include the liturgical ministers and presider, as all as bride and groom, family members, and attendants. There are many ways to plan it — a liturgical procession (as at a Sunday mass) followed by procession of the wedding party; attendants entering as couples rather than the bridesmaids alone; bride and groom accompanied by all parents or relatives in the procession; or the bride escorted by her father.

The Liturgy of the Word follows the format as at any mass. The readings may be selected from the many options given in the lectionary. Non-scriptural readings are not used. The psalm is preferably sung, as is the gospel acclamation. The general intercessions should address the needs of the world and the universal Church as well as the needs of the couple.

For the Rite of Marriage, the couple should be clearly visible to the entire assembly as they exchange vows, because they are the focus of the rite. There are various options provided for the wording of the vows.


In general, when deciding what music to use, consider the following questions:

  1. Is this a well-written piece of music?
  2. Are the text and music in keeping with the nature of the liturgy?
  3. Can the music be used to help the assembly to pray?

The music used before or during the liturgy should be clearly identifiable as prayer by all present. Secular love songs and ballads that have personal meaning to the couple are best played or sung at the reception.

Cultural adaptations

The Church allows cultural adaptations within the ceremony as long as they are in keeping with the nature and spirit of the liturgy. Such adaptations should not be overpowering, though. Be careful not to duplicate symbols that might have similar meanings; for example, the lasso and the unity candle are both cultural adaptations which emphasize the union of two persons into a new life in Christ.

The wedding rehearsal

Wedding rehearsals at Saint John Vianney are conducted by the priest or deacon witnessing the marriage. The preparation time offers an excellent opportunity for the wedding party to join together in prayer. The Catechism notes (para. 1622), “It is… appropriate for the bride and groom to prepare themselves for the celebration of their marriage by receiving the sacrament of penance”; many priests will offer penance at the rehearsal for the couple and for members of the wedding party who may desire it.

After the wedding

In the months of marriage preparation, you’re not simply preparing for an hour long wedding, but for a lifetime together — a lifetime of joy and happiness, we hope, but also of surprises and challenges. The best marriage preparation can never anticipate all that will happen in your life together, but it can help you to uncover some areas you’ll want to give thought to, and it can also point you to resources available for marriage enrichment and healing. The community at Saint John Vianney Parish is with you to inspire, guide and support you on your way.