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Our readers asked:

What is marriage prep like for those marrying non-Christians?

Thomas Ryan, CSP Answers:

Can you give me a brief description of how marriage prep works in the following situations where a Catholic is marrying a non-Christian? For example,

a)  Catholic marrying a Jew
b)  Catholic marrying a Muslim
c)  Catholic marrying a Buddhist

What rituals can be performed for the wedding that encompasses both faiths but still be valid in the eyes of the Catholic church?

The marriage preparation process is usually at the discretion of the pastor of the parish in which the Catholic is a member. Sometimes the diocese has programs like Pre-Cana or Engagement Encounter in place for couples from all the parishes. Whether participation in such programs is required may vary from place to place. 

The process will not be all that different regardless of whether the member of another religion is Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. In the marriage prep interviews, the Catholic priest or deacon is going to want to know what Sunday morning will look like in the home (i.e., will the Catholic member be going to church?), what the couple’s intention is relative to the raising of the children (the Catholic party will be asked to promise to do all in his/her power, respecting the conscience of the partner, to hand on the Catholic faith to the children), how their respective faith understandings will be lived out in the home life, and whether the Catholic approach to marriage as a life-long covenant is understood and accepted by both parties.

The marriage can take place either in a Catholic church before a priest and two witnesses (known as the canonical “form”) or, if a dispensation from that form has been applied for and obtained from the Catholic diocesan chancery office, the wedding can take place entirely according to the wedding ritual of the non-Catholic party.

If the wedding takes place in a Catholic church, it will involve readings from the Bible, a reflection or homily by the priest, the exchanges of vows and rings, and prayers for the couple. The clergy or equivalent representative from the other faith might be invited to give a blessing or offer a prayer for the couple.

There is also a “dispensation from location” that may be obtained if circumstances or sensitivities warrant. This allows for the wedding to take place in a location other than a church and still be presided over by the priest and recognized by the Catholic Church. The instance of a Catholic-Jewish wedding provides an example of the possibilities, in this case particularly rich because of the “sibling relationship” between the two faiths.

A Catholic priest in a neighboring parish officiates about 20 to 30 Catholic-Jewish weddings a year. He gives the rabbi a role in the ceremony, which may take place in a neutral location like a catering hall and under a huppah or wedding canopy, symbolizing the canopy of the heavens under which all life transpires. The service will include a reading from both the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament. The priest accepts the “verbal vows” and blesses the rings, and the rabbi oversees the “ring vows” or exchange of rings. The priest prays the traditional nuptial blessing, and the rabbi the traditional Jewish “seven blessings.” There is a sign of peace among those gathered. The priest and rabbi close the ceremony by praying together the “blessing of Aaron” that is used in both religions (“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you. May the Lord look upon you with kindness and grant you peace.”) And sometimes, at the end, there is the Jewish ancient tradition of the breaking of a glass.

 
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The Author : Thomas Ryan, CSP
Thomas Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, DC.
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  • Julie Hobbs

    In my diocese (dh is a permanent deacon), mass is only for 2 catholics. All others (catholic/non-catholic) get a deacon. As a couple, we’ve done marriage prep for mostly catholic/non-catholic couples. As far as wedding traditions go, DH’s understanding is that as long as it is not offensive to the Catholic faith, then it’s OK to incorporate somehow.

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