Which Rite is Right? - 1st March 2015

A couple who got engaged on St Valentine’s Day and are already planning their wedding emailed to ask: What is the difference between a Nuptial Mass and a Catholic Marriage?

“Nuptial” comes from a Latin word meaning marriage, so a Nuptial Mass is a Mass which takes place in the context of a marriage.

“Mass” is the most common form of liturgy celebrated by the Catholic Church. It consists of two major and equally important parts – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. At a nuptial Mass, then, Eucharist is celebrated and Holy Communion is distributed. This form is called the Rite for celebrating marriage during Mass.

If both the bride and groom are Catholic and most of the congregation are likely to be Catholic, marriage during Mass would be appropriate. Otherwise, the better option is the Rite for celebrating marriage outside Mass.

Many marriages today are in fact between a Catholic and a member of a different Christian tradition. Older readers will recall the pain that such unions caused in the past when the Catholic attitude toward other Churches meant that these marriages were often performed in the sacristy instead of the church proper.

The 1993 “Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism” from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity says this about interchurch marriages:

These marriages, even if they have their own particular difficulties, contain numerous elements that could well be made good use of and developed, both for their intrinsic value and for the contribution they can make to the ecumenical movement. This is particularly true when both parties are faithful to their religious duties. (# 145)

Regarding the marriage celebration, the Directory says:

With the previous authorisation of the local Ordinary, and if invited to do so, a Catholic priest or deacon may attend or participate in some way in the celebration of mixed marriage. At the invitation of the presiding celebrant, the Catholic priest or deacon may offer appropriate prayers, read from the Scriptures, give a brief exhortation and bless the couple. (#157)

If an interchurch marriage is conducted in a Catholic church and the couple so wishes, the local Ordinary may permit the Catholic priest to invite the minister from the other church to participate in the celebration of the marriage, to read from the Scriptures, give a brief exhortation and bless the couple. (#158)

The third form of marriage is the Rite for celebrating marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptised person.

It is necessary for the Catholic party to obtain dispensation to marry a Christian who is not Catholic or a non-Christian, but this dispensation is readily given. The Catholic will be asked to make a promise to do all in his or her power to ensure that any children are baptised and brought up in the Catholic faith and their spouse must be informed of this promise.

The priest who is going to do the wedding will arrange the necessary paperwork for permissions, help the couple plan a suitable ceremony, and give some direction about marriage preparation programs.


Elizabeth Harrington