Christmas Engagement? 10 Wedding Tips to Get You Started

Christmas Engagement?  10 Wedding Tips to Get You Started

Oooh, palladium…

Any of you readers get shiny new engagement rings for Christmas?

This may seem like an odd time for a post on the subject of weddings, but seeing as tomorrow is my 5th wedding anniversary and you newly engaged folks will probably be tying the knot only 6-12 months from now, I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to post about preparing for your Catholic wedding. My advice isn’t just whimsy, it’s gleaned from my own experience planning a wedding, my wife’s experience working for the Church, locating sacramental records, and coordinating several weddings, as well as our shared experience giving talks on several occasions for pre-cana retreats.

  1. Contact the priest first, before you set a date. The priest’s availability is going to be the tightest thing to schedule, and most parishes won’t put the wedding on their calendar until the priest gives the go-ahead. The specifics regarding wedding coordinators, parish preparations, and whom you’ll need to contact after that are too varied for a general guideline. The priest should be willing to help you.
  2. Determine if you have a special case for mixed-marriage, e.g. a Catholic marrying a non-Christian or a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic Christian. These marriages would require special permissions, which I won’t bother outlining here (but if you’re super nerdy like me, you can find the relevant sections of the Code of Canon Law at the links above in this paragraph). Keep in mind that the Church’s definition of Christian hinges on the validity of Baptism; your beloved may consider himself/herself a Christian, but that doesn’t mean the Church will.
  3. Get your sacramental records as early as possible, but generally not more than 6 months before the wedding. Little known fact: your sacramental records are stored at the parish of your baptism. Assuming that all the parishes involved have done their jobs right, you should only have to make one call to request those records. You will need to request them. Don’t show up to the church with your own personal copies of your records. Personal records are often incomplete and could exclude important information regarding previous, annulled marriages. Your official records, stored at the church of your baptism, should have everything, but get them soon, just in case, and look them over to make sure everything’s listed.
  4. Get a copy of Together for Life or similar as soon as possible. Your priest will probably provide you with a copy, but it can’t hurt to have one ahead of time. This book will help you pick out the readings, blessings, and even the form of your vows, as well as explain a number of Catholic teachings on marriage. You can even now fill out this form online to save or email to your priest with your choices, preferences, etc.
  5. Choose your date wisely. Fridays are less busy for churches and reception halls, and gives you a couple extra days for travel. It also opens more hours, since you can’t very neatly have a wedding on a Sunday or Saturday evening. Likewise, some dioceses or parishes will have restrictions on specific days you may be married and most parishes won’t allow a wedding on a Saturday evening. Getting married on Sundays and solemnities will make your reading selections less flexible.
  6. The wedding isn’t about you. Let me clarify: the wedding isn’t entirely or even primarily about you. You’re involved. You should enjoy yourself. You should feel free to make the best of your special occasion. Nevertheless, it’s still not about you. About whom is it, then? Not to worry, it’s certainly not more about the guests or the priest or your mother than it is about you. It is, however, about God first. God created you and adopted you through Baptism as His very own child. He loves ever fiber of your being more than you can ever comprehend. He’s more inclined to seek your good than your future spouse is and He’s more forgiving, too. If He’s called you to marriage – and I hope that He has, if you’re getting married – then this is about God’s will for you, your sanctity with the help of your beloved, and the welfare of your children.
  7. The wedding is the beginning of the marriage, not the end. I mean end here in the sense of purpose. When the wedding is treated as the end of marriage – that is, that a person undergoes marriage for the sake of the wedding – then very often, the wedding really is the end of the marriage. Once the party is over and the happy couple leaves in their horse-drawn coach or old college jalopy, the marriage is already in decline. Remember that the vows you make at the altar you are called to put into practice every day for the rest of your lives. You keep saying those vows over and over in the things you do for your spouse and in the way you raise your children. It doesn’t hurt to repeat them verbally every so often, either.
  8. It’s both possible and acceptable to have a wedding on a budget. My wife and I managed to cover the costs of everything (except her dress) for $1500. You can do it, too, if you’re willing to accept #2 above. We were married 3 days after Christmas. Although at that time of year we were sure there were great friends who weren’t able to make it, we were equally sure that no fair-weather friends would arrive. Thus, we didn’t have more than 40 mouths to feed (and a few trays of Italian food covered our needs). We didn’t have live music or a DJ because my iPod and a stereo were sufficient (our guests weren’t there for the entertainment, they were there for us). We didn’t pay for flowers because the Church was already decorated with brilliant poinsettias. We used our parish hall for free, got a refund on our parish use fee, and negotiated with our organist. A very talented musician with a gifted lung capacity served as our cantor (she had previously done a solo at St. Peter’s Basilica). Another friend with a knack for photography rented a professional camera and took all our pictures.
  9. Make it a really Catholic wedding. Don’t just do what’s popular. What’s popular has been done again and again and is, therefore – practically by definition – boring. On the other hand, Catholicism is neither terribly popular nor boring, and it fits in just fine at a wedding.  Consider that God is the “Beauty ever ancient, ever new,” and that your faith has been handed down from generation to generation – borrowed, you might say.  Add a splash of blue with a touch of Marian devotion and you’ve got yourself everything you need for the old rhyme: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
  10. Make the reception really Catholic, too.  You want to live out your faith, right?  So why are you planning on playing Baby Got Back at the reception?  Try this out instead of the customary quest for the garter (you know, that most awkward moment of wedding receptions) and don’t forget to have the priest lead the blessing before the meal.

If you have any further questions, there’s an excellent Q&A for you to check out at Catholic Digest or the USCCB’s page on the topic here.

Got questions? Ask away in the combox and we’ll be sure to help you find your answers.

Special thanks to my wife, a parish receptionist and assistant DRE in the Diocese of Shreveport, who’s fielded many calls, pulled many sacramental records, assisted at many pre-cana retreats and weddings, and is basically just an amazing woman.

5 Comments

  1. Some dioceses require a full year of preparation following engagement and the first contact with the priest. This includes detailed personal inventories, counsel with a designated married couple as well as the priest, natural family planning instruction, an engaged encounter retreat and other courses on the sacramental nature of marriage. Hopefully, this lengthy preparation will lead to enduring sacramental marriages.

    • Yes, some dioceses do have more stringent requirements. The diocese where I write generally does not require as long a period, and yet accomplishes most of those same things in 6-9 months.

  2. While it may have worked out for you to have your wedding pictures done by a friend, I would suggest a professional photographer that you get excellent references from. My sister’s wedding pictures were terrible. A friend of theirs who is a trainee photographer took the pictures and gave them the files to print themselves to save money. It was a mistake. A friend of ours did not screen their photographer well enough and the pictures were so bad they did not even buy them. With this in mind, for our wedding, which was out of town, I flew in to interview photographers I had prescreened. Cost was important but not the main thing here. I also did not want a photographer that would stop everything and say “OK, great…pretend to cut the cake again.” or “Stop and do this again so I can get a good shot.” Another friend had that kind of photographer. We got excellent photos and that was really important to us.

  3. #8… I’m sure that a “budget” wedding means slightly different things in different parts of the country, but I couldn’t have spent $1,500 in good conscience! The wedding is one day, and the memories you retain from it are not dictated by the price tag and all of the frills the culture says you “need.” We spent just over $500 on our wedding, dress, rings and all, and I would not have done anything differently!

  4. I think every point you make here is great. My husband and I knew from our first date we would marry, but as neither of us wanted a long engagement, we didn’t get engaged until we were actually ready to get married. Our engagement was 3 and a half months long, and in that time my mother (as she had done more than once before) planned and executed an amazing reception. My husband and I, with help from our parish priest and several priest friends and my brother and brother-in-law planned the nuptial Mass. As long as you remember that the wedding is about the couple joining themselves together in front of God and man, and not, as you say, about a party, you should be in good stay.
    Also, as far as I know, while many diocese may have a standard Pre-Cana period, none of them can actually require a set time. What is required is that the couple be determined to be adequately prepared by the officiating priest or deacon. That being said, our pastor, who had known me my entire life, didn’t bat an eye when we asked him on April 17th for an August 7th wedding date. We did a one day Pre-Cana class and filled out that long questionaire at the rectory and we were all set.
    As for the wedding pictures, ours were done by professionals and there were still many mistakes. We didn’t really care. The pictures were only meant to serve as memory aides, not as the memories themselves.

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