Ready? Set? Sacrament!

In order to prepare for the sacrament of matrimony, there are some basic things to remember — and many things to consider —  before the big day. Wedding planners from around the diocese weigh in.

The most important thing all the experts say is start planning early. The Diocese of Charleston requires marriage preparation to begin at least six months before the wedding date. Many couples, however, start the process before that.
“I often  have my first meeting with a couple a year before the ceremony,” said Rosie Plank, wedding coordinator at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach. “We give them an awful lot of information, and it often helps them to start planning as early as possible,” she said.

It is a sacrament

The important thing to remember is that the ceremony is only part of the sacrament of matrimony.

The wedding experts stressed that the couple should focus on learning as much as they can about each other, and about the Catholic Church’s perspective on the sacredness of the marriage vows they will make on their wedding day.

Ballard said the emphasis on the sacred is why people married in the Catholic church  are asked to spend so much time preparing. When they attend classes, they should determine through question-and-answer sessions whether they are truly ready to undertake the responsibility of marriage.

“We want them to realize that this is a sacrament of unity within the church,” Ballard said. “They have to understand that they are entering into a lifelong union, and it must be a mutually faithful union.”

Sister Kathleen Kane, SSMN, wedding coordinator at St. Francis by the Sea, said in the long run, couples should be most concerned about readying their hearts and minds for living a Christ-filled married life together.

 “We reinforce with them that the wedding is a day, but the marriage is forever,” Sister Kathleen said.

Documentation first

Before any wedding can take place, couples must make sure they have submitted the proper documents to the pastor of the church and to the diocese. They include:

A completed pre-nuptial investigation questionnaire; current baptismal certification; proper documentation of annulment if necessary; couples with special circumstances must receive dispensation from their pastor and must submit forms to the Office of Matrimonial Affairs. All forms must be submitted to the diocesan office at least 30 days before the ceremony.

Your parish requires…

Remember that every parish usually has its own set of rules and requirements for a wedding. Many publish their own guide that will be given to the couple on their first meeting with the wedding planner or pastor. Requirements can vary widely, and include rules on whether or not the couple must be registered parishioners,  and if so, how long they must be members before they can hold a wedding there.

Some parishes, such as St. Francis by the Sea on Hilton Head Island, require that the bride and groom must be directly related to active members of the parish if they do not attend the church themselves.

At St. Mary Church in Greenville, at least one member of the couple must be active in the parish, or must be the child of an active parishioner, said Richard Ballard, wedding coordinator.

At Our Lady Star of the Sea, Plank said she receives requests from  many couples who live out of town who want to have a wedding there. Catholic non-parishioners are eligible, but must submit a letter from their pastor attesting that they are active in their home church.

Through meetings with the pastor and coordinator, the couple will learn what type of wedding they may have. In most situations, a ceremony is held when a Catholic is marrying a non-Catholic, while a full nuptial Mass is held for a wedding between two practicing Catholics.

Parishes also differ on what classes couples must attend. Catholic Engaged Encounter or Pre-Cana classes are a diocesan requirement, but some parishes, like St. Mary, also require engaged couples have additional seminars with the wedding planner or pastor, Ballard said.

Wedding planners can assist couples with choosing readings and organizing other elements of the ceremony or nuptial Mass. Individual parishes will often have their own rules about appropriate dress, size of the wedding party, and sometimes appropriate flowers and photography.

The music is not arbitrary

First of all, forget having the bride enter to the traditional “Here Comes the Bride” tune we’re all so used to hearing in the movies. That piece is not allowed at traditional Catholic weddings, and is not even permitted in some Protestant churches.

Why? It’s secular, said Teresa Riley, music director at St. Joseph Church in Columbia.

The march is actually the “Bridal Chorus,”  from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” and is considered inappropriate because the subject matter of the accompanying text has no  relationship to the Christian faith, she said.

There are other classical pieces which are perfectly suitable for a processional because they are simply classical instrumentals, and have no text associated with them, Riley said.

She noted that some popular selections include Purcell’s “Trumpet Voluntary” or pieces by Handel.

In the process of planning a wedding, couples will meet with the music director for the church and learn about any specific requirements regarding music. Most parishes have an organist and singers available to provide music. Couples must work with the music director if they want to provide their own singers or musicians.

Riley stressed that music for a Catholic wedding ceremony or Mass must be sacred, not secular. A soloist performing a pop love song or other secular piece should be saved for the reception, she said.

Another important consideration is whether the chosen music is suitable for the soloists or musicians who have been selected. For example, “you don’t want someone with a folk music type voice trying to sing the ‘Ave Maria,’ ” Riley said.

Building a foundation

As the months and weeks wind down, couples may become burdened with the stresses of preparation.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers a valuable resource  in its National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage aimed at communicating the meaning and value of married life for the church and for society. The initiative brings Catholic belief into dialogue with contemporary needs. Weaving together the Catholic faith tradition and its pastoral practice, the data of social science, and the experience of married couples, the NPIM offers guidance and resources to promote, strengthen, sustain and restore marriages.

Couples can visit The site offers detailed information about  conflict resolution skills, careers, finances, intimacy, cohabitation, parenthood, stepparenting, spirituality and faith.