Can anyone tell me about Catholic weddings?


I am an atheist who wishes to marry a practising Catholic in Peru, South America. I have already posted a couple of questions on the “Ask an Aplogist” site. My questions were concerning the possibility of marrying my Catholic fiance in a Catholic church as she and her family would wish, and on my concerns on what it would mean for our children to be brought up as Catholic. I am very grateful with the answers recieved which were thoughtful and respectful. I myself have a lot of respect for the Catholic church which is increasing with my experience on this forum.

I have another need for information which I thought I’d mention on this “Family Life” category. I feel that perhaps the Apologists would like to devote more time to serving actual Catholics than people like me. My question will also give others a chance to give me their perspective on my situation - which I would welcome.

How can I find out what the statements of the Catholic wedding ceremony will be? Is there are set text or does it vary from country to country, parish to parish. How much flexibility is there the wording?

I will be going to the city we wish to marry in in two weeks and am already building up the courage to speak to the local priest. I’m not sure I will by able to get hold of an actual text of the ceremony there or not. I doubt if it is a common request.

I really need to know what statements will be made on my behalf, or which statements I will need to make in reply to what etc,
I can imagine I would have to say something like “in the name of the holy spirit…” and will therefore have to decide how honest I am being in saying this as an atheist. So, in addition to this it would be really helpful to know what other statements I might have to say and what is the “standard” if there is one for a Catholic wedding ceremony.

Please forgive my ignorance on this matter and thanks for your patience.


A Catholic can be married within the Mass or with only the Marriage Rite. Typically, when a Catholic marries a non-Catholic they would have only the Marriage Rite, not a Mass.

I cannot speak for how things are done in Peru, but I suggest you get a copy of the book Together For Life by Fr. Joseph Champlin. It’s a workbook that goes over the entire ceremony and gives you all the options you can choose as far as readings, prayers, etc, go.

There are two versions, this link is to the one for marriage outside the Mass on

There are specific rubrics that the Rite follows, but there is a lot of lattitude on selecting which reading, prayers, and vows are used.


In this country she would be strongly advised to marry outside a Mass, since she is marrying a non-Christian. The vows are pretty standard. Normally there will be a liturgy of the word, readings from the old and new testament and Gospel, and a psalm, and of course hymns, which presumably you will not object to as your role is merely to listen. You do not have to participate in any response except for the actual vows. You do have to intend what the Church intends for marriage in order for the marriage to be valid: to be open to life, to love and stay with your wife until death, fidelity etc. There will undoubtedly be some kind of required marriage preparation, and part of that will be going over the actual ceremony, and planning the parts that are flexible.

another question to ask your fiancee is whether or not the ceremony will be in Spanish, and whether there are cultural or ethnic customs which will be incorporated into the ceremony.
The cultural customs are not strictly part of the rite, but if you would find them problematic better say so early. An example is the Mexican custom of the lasso, a rosary draped around the couple.


If she is from a traditional family, I can tell you that the probability of not having a Mass is very unlikely, although possible. The Hispanic culture likes their traditions. Even if there is not a mass, the marriage is a sacrament and you will have to say something like (I don’t remember the exact wording) Take this ring… in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit.

Also, if you have never been baptised you will have to get a letter or dispensation from the bishop to marry. My husband, although not an athiest was never baptised and we had to have approval before we could be married in the church. Please be open with the priest about this. But just be forwarned, priests here in the US are used to these type of issues, but in South America almost everyone is at least culturally catholic so he might not be used to dealing with this situation.


Just because someone is an atheist, doesn’t make them a “non-Christian”.

Since baptism is indelible and irrevocable, if the gentleman was baptized as a child, they would still be Christian according to the laws and doctrine of the church.

On the same point, if the man were a lifelong Salvationist or member of another non-baptizing denomination, they are non-Christian, even if they have Christian beliefs.


Thank you for the replies so far. I’m getting a much better idea of further questions I need to ask here in Peru.

I doubt that the local cultural or ethnic traditions would be a problem but you are right, I should ask. The ceremony will be in Spanish which I understand well, so no problem there.

On the question of my background. I was babtised under the Anglican faith in England but never confirmed. From the posts so far, I’m not sure if that makes any difference. Maybe I should have told that in my first “ask an Apologist” post about marrying in a Catholic church? I didn’t think it was relevant.

And the marriage vows described by puzzleannie would indeed be my intention.

Thanks again.


Since you have been baptized, (and Anglican baptisms are considered valid) it seems that this would indeed be a marriage between two baptized persons (i.e. two Christians), and not a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian.


Thanks for the clarrification.

Reading my initial post and the answer again: this possibility was actually covered in the reply. If I understand correctly I would be classified as a Christian, but a non-Catholic, so I my fiance will still need special permission to marry me.

In Peru I have been told by another atheist who married a Catholic here that he needed a document from his local Catholic parish forgiving him for being non-Catholic and signed by him to say he agreed that his children would be brought up as Catholic by his wife and that he would not hinder this. All this I would be happy with.


"Forgiving him for being a non-Catholic?? I’ve never heard of such a thing. And, while I’m not sure about Peru, I thought that universal Church law (canon law) required only the Catholic party to make any promises as to the upbringing of the children.


Well, yes, he is Dutch and when he asked in his Catholic parish in Holland they also said they had never heard of any such document. I’m not sure how he eventually resolved the matter. Perhaps the requirement is specific to Peru. I also wonder if the requirements vary from parish to parish.


He probably wasn’t “forgiven for being a non-Catholic”, it was probably a dispensation from the Bishop allowing his wife to marry a non-Catholic. You will require one of these as well, but from what I hear they’re usually pretty easy to get. I’m sorry I cannot remember what the official title of the Dispensation is.


Yup. We just re-stated our vows a few weeks ago. It’s in there.


Going back to the issue of me being a christian in the eyes of the Catholic church, it seems that we might have to marry with or without the Mass, or we might have a choice. What would the Mass involve in addition to Marriage Right? I have been to regular Catholic Masses before but always stood at the back and haven’t participated. I imagine I might have a more central role in this one.

Thanks again for all your help!



As Catholics, we understand the purpose of marriage as assisting our spouses in getting to heaven. As an atheist, what do you see as the purpose of marriage?

God bless you.


First, I would definitely talk to the priest about the fact that you, although baptized as a baby, are now an atheist. I disagree that you are necessarily considered a Christian. It is possible to defect from the faith of your birth by a formal act-- which you may have done. Basically, tell the priest both the fact that you were baptized as a child (you might have to produce your baptismal records from that church) and the fact that you now reject that baptism and consider yourself an atheist. This will help the priest understand the whole situation, what paperwork is necessary, etc.

As others have mentioned, current canon law requires a dispensation to marry a non-Catholic. And, it is your spouse who makes the promise to raise the children Catholic. You sign a paper acknowledging that you are aware of this promise.

As to the Mass, it is exactly that-- a full Catholic Mass just like on Sunday. What happens is that the Marriage Rite (which includes the vows and exchange of rings) is inserted in between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. You wouldn’t really have any role other than during the Marriage Rite itself. Since you are not a Catholic, you would not receive Communion.

The Marriage Rite outside of Mass consists just of the Liturgy of the Word (readings) and the Marriage Rite plus some prayers. It’s what I would recommend in your circumstance.


I have never heard that before - how interesting. Surely that’s just one of the purposes and not the only one.

For myself the most important thing is the commitment to each other - in terms of love, of loyalty, faithfullness and future perseverance in times of difficulty. Obviously that commitment can be made privately as a promise between too people without marriage. But, I think a public declaration and promise has more weight for many people and they wish to communicate the depth of their commitment to their spouse and family through this public exchange of vows.

I have the added reason that I am of a different culture to my fiance and her family and within their culture the only common reason to avoid marriage is to avoid commitment. It is very difficult for them to believe I am committed without marriage. I wish to communicate my commitment.

To be honest, the most important thing for my fiance is just to be married which could be only by a civil wdding, but she and her family would also like a catholic church wedding. I can’t speak for them as to why, so won’t try, but I would like to make my fiance and her family happy if possible.

If my wife believes she cannot go to heaven without a catholic wedding then that is an added reason.


Thanks for the info. There has been no formal act of defection as such. It is an odd idea for me to say that I reject my baptism. I have no recollection of what it involved and why it was done, so have no reason to reject it. I have always known I was babtised and it has just become an accepted part of me. I’m sure my parents thought they were doing the right thing for me at the time so it is difficult for me to reject it.

From the responses so far I think I should just say I can produce no record of my babtism and leave it to the preist to decide if there should be a Mass or not.


Baptism incorporates you into the Body of Christ-- the Church. So, by “rejecting your baptism” I meant that you reject the Church and God. That is what an atheist is, correct? A person who rejects the idea that God exists. Anyhow, I didn’t mean anything by it, just that it might be relevant to your discussion with the priest.

An excellent course of action.


Do they have Pre-Cana classes in Peru?

My husband isn’t Catholic and hasn’t been baptized. We got married in the Catholic church with a full mass. He even recieved communion. Our priest told him this would be a one time deal unless he went through RCIA.


How sad that your priest would violate canon law and cause scandal by giving your non-Catholic, unbaptized husband the Eucharist.

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