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Catholic Do's and Don'ts: A Guide for Wedding Guests

The wedding season is upon us and BustedHalo readers have written in with great questions about religious protocol as we celebrate our friends’ marriages. Does attending a Saturday evening wedding at church of another Christian denomination “count” as going to church for the week-or do you have to go again the next day at a Catholic church? Can you take communion at a non-Catholic wedding? And do you participate in the blessings and rituals of other faiths?

Here’s a quick guide:

What counts as “going to church?”

You attend a 5 p.m. communion wedding ceremony for two Episcopalian friends of yours. The prayers and readings are similar to the Catholic Mass, but the communion ritual is different. Does this “count” as going to church for the week-or do you have to go again the next day, despite your headache from too much bubbly at the wedding?

Only 10% of BustedHalo respondents said that if they attended a Christian–but not Catholic–wedding service that they would count it as “going to church” for the week. “It’s so tempting to say ‘oh, it’s good enough,’ but it’s not. You’ve gotta go to Catholic Mass,” says Eric, 28. “Of course,” he adds, smiling sheepishly, “that’s not to say I haven’t tried to use that logic sometimes.”

If you are attending a Catholic nuptial wedding on a Saturday at 4 p.m. or later, you’ve just landed a twofer: It’s a full Mass, and while it’s sort of distracting (you are thinking about your friends getting married, and probably not as focused as usual on the words that the priest is saying) it still counts.

But do note: A Catholic wedding before 4 p.m. on Saturday doesn’t “count” as church for the week: According to the rules of most archdioceses, the Mass has to be held after 4 p.m. to anticipate the Sunday celebration. Check the rules of your local diocese to be sure.

With weddings of other denominations, think of it as a celebration of the marriage-not necessarily a time for your spiritual growth. The wedding is their expression of faith; the Catholic Mass you attend the next day is the time for your personal prayer and rejuvenation – and an excellent time to light a candle and say some prayers for the continued love and strength of the marriage you witnessed the day before.

“Saying ‘Amen’ is an assent of belief.Think about the ways and the degrees to which you participate. Our ritual actions exemplify our beliefs.”

Can you take communion at a wedding of a non-Catholic denomination?

Here’s another scenario: You are at a Christian, but not Catholic, wedding and the congregation is going up for communion. May you accept communion in their church? This question was a bit trickier for BustedHalo respondents: While 65% of respondents said they would not take communion at a wedding of another Christian denomination, more than a third of Catholic respondents thought it was OK to participate in this ritual.

To be honest, I was aware that only Catholics could take communion in our church, but I thought that as Catholics, we were invited to take communion in all other Christian churches.

Turns out I was only partially correct: Most Protestants (Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc.) believe that the Eucharistic table is open to all who seek it and may invite all Christians, including Catholics, to take communion, but the Catholic Church directs us not to receive in another church.

Simply put, communion is a sign of unity of belief. So if another church is not “in communion” with us then we should not give assent to receiving their bread and wine.

Sometimes, the minister may invite those who do not want communion to receive a blessing. He or she will tell you the protocol: In certain wedding services, if you carry the program with you in the communion line it is a signal that you would like a blessing. In other churches, crossing your arms across your chest and bowing your head to the celebrant is the accepted way.

Do you participate in the blessings and rituals of other faiths?

During the last few weeks, BustedHalo readers have been telling me about their favorite non-Christian or ethnic marriage rituals. Top of the list: the Jewish traditions of the chuppah, the canopy under which the bride and groom are married, and the breaking of the glass to symbolize the eternality of the union. Also mentioned: the pinning of money to the dress of a Mediterranean bride; and roping or wrapping together the hands of bride and groom in Russian Orthodox ceremonies.

A few generations ago, Catholics would rarely attend a Jewish wedding, or even a wedding of another Christian denomination. Today, young-adult Catholics are much more likely to join religious celebrations for our close friends of different faiths. What is acceptable behavior for us, as Catholics, when we attend these services?

A full 87% of BustedHalo respondents said that they would participate in the blessings and other religious rituals for a couple at a non-Christian wedding. Paulist priest Fr. Dave Dwyer says we should ask ourselves two questions: Am I comfortable participating in the ritual? And does my participation in this ritual send a message to others that may be contrary to the core values of Catholicism?

So, for example, singing different hymns and reciting different prayers is probably fine, if you feel comfortable doing it. But taking communion at another church, even if you feel comfortable doing it, doesn’t pass the test: our Catholic belief in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist is so central to who we are as Catholics, we may not share “communion” with other Christians with whom we don’t have “common union” of belief.

The most fun wedding I’ve been to in years was the Orthodox Jewish wedding of a friend of mine in Washington, D.C. The men and women were separated for most of the evening, and there was no male-female dancing allowed. In the ceremony, we all read from the Hebrew Bible and recited various prayers in English and Hebrew. I participated, but wondered if that was acceptable.

“If a Catholic is reading along with a Jewish prayer in Hebrew, I don’t think that anyone would think that the Catholic was rejecting Christ as the Messiah,” says Dwyer. “But remember that saying ‘Amen’ is an assent of belief. Think about the ways and the degrees to which you participate. Our ritual actions exemplify our beliefs.”

Enjoy your summer weddings and write me at puresex@bustedhalo.com with questions or comments along the way!