Catholic weddings are traditional, ritual ceremonies with a long history in the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the rituals and gestures you will see during the Mass may seem mysterious to non-Catholics, but you should never feel uncomfortable about attending a Catholic ceremony. You should, however, be aware of the proper etiquette so that you will respect the traditions and not feel out of place.
Before the Ceremony
Guests should arrive at the church at least five minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to start. When you enter the church, ushers may give you a program and find you a seat. Guests of the bride will sit on the left side of the church while guests of the groom sit on the other. Upon entering the pew, Catholics will perform a sign of the cross, symbolising their belief in the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Non-Catholics can simply bow their head or just enter the pew. Catholics use the time before any Mass or ceremony for reflection and prayer, so you should remain quiet until the wedding begins. Ensure your cell phone is turned off (or set to vibrate) before the wedding begins.
During the Ceremony
There are several times the congregation will kneel or stand throughout the ceremony. The wedding program or the missal found in each pew should guide you; otherwise just follow the lead of people nearby. During a Catholic wedding, there are various acts of worship, including the sign of peace and Eucharist. The sign of peace is performed before Communion. Stand and shake hands (a symbol of offering "peace") to the guests sitting near you. You may say "Peace" or "Peace be with you" or just smile. Eucharist is a holy sacrament taken during Communion at each Mass. Catholics believe it is the spiritual changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Non-Catholics should remain seated and not partake of the Eucharist. According to Catholicbrides.com, "for Catholics, the Holy Eucharist is our highest form of worship. This sacred Sacrament is treated with the greatest of care and is distributed only to Catholics who believe and understand the nature of this Sacrament."
Leaving the Ceremony
At the end of the wedding, the priest will speak a blessing to the guests and new couple. Everyone will sing a hymn as the couple, bridal party and priest proceed down the aisle. When the hymn is over, everyone will quietly leave the church. Both Catholics and non-Catholics are encouraged to sing the hymns.
If you are planning to attend a Catholic wedding ceremony but are not Catholic, do not worry. It is a common misconception that you will be expected to perform the acts of worship. As a non-Catholic, you will not be required to perform any of the traditional acts at the ceremony if you do not wish.
Significance of Catholic Wedding Etiquette
There are very specific traditions that take place at a Catholic wedding ceremony, including the vows, nuptial blessing and sign of peace. While you are not required to participate in any of the worship, it is important to remain quiet throughout the ceremony. It is a very special day for both the bride and groom and guests should act considerate of the couple and other guests.