QUAERITUR: non-Catholic maid of honor – CAUTION!

From a reader:

My fiancee is wrangling about whom to choose as her maid of honor. [I can almost hear the writer's inner voice: "For pity's sake... just pick someone!  Now... is there a game on?"] She has a cousin she is close to that seems to be a natural fit based solely on their relationship, but the cousin is not Catholic. [AYEEEIE?!?]  I know this is not the same thing as a godparent or Confirmation sponsor, but is there any reason, symbolic or otherwise, that a protestant should not be chosen?

In an ideal world, pal, everyone would be Catholic.

But… now a deeper question which you must be sure to bring up with your fiancee and her mother with all her friends present.

Are the maids of honor she chose really maids?

Isn’t "maid" an archaic term for, you know… the "v" word?

This is a far more serious issue and it must be worked though.

And what it they don’t actually bring in the breakfast trays in large houses?

What if they are actually matrons?!?  You know… not so … young anymore?

Then suggest that the time of the wedding should be changed because there is a good game on and that the white dress makes your beloved’s backside look just a little too big.

I guarantee that you will be able to have a calm and reasonable discussion about all these things, perhaps over WDTPRS mugs filled with richly brewed fresh and aromatic Mystic Monk Coffee.

Friend, if there must be maids of honor and bride’s maids, yes, Protestants can be bride’s maids, even a "maid" of honor.  And, if you care, so can be the … what do you call the guys again? 

Seriously… as if that wasn’t serious… usually the maid of honor and the best man stand as witnesses who can sign a civil document, the license, saying that they saw you the blissful couple tie that knot.  They can be non-Catholic.  Their names will also be added to the parish’s register recording your marriage, again as witnesses.  They need not be Catholic to be witnesses.  You could also have different people serve as witnesses, since – probably – lots of other people will be there.  Usually, however, it is the maid/matron of honor and the best man who sign off.

DISCLAIMER
No bridesmaids were harmed in the writing in this post.
WDTPRS will not be responsible for harm to grooms.
Any harm done to grooms is solely the responsibility of the grooms 

PS: No Communion for the non-Catholics!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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47 Responses to QUAERITUR: non-Catholic maid of honor – CAUTION!

  1. LOL, Father! That was great!

  2. Thomas S says:

    Amusing post, Father. It does however remind me of a sort of inverse scenario that is likely to effect me in the coming year or so.

    My friend is at least nominally Catholic (I’m sure he no longer goes to Mass), but he is likely to marry his Episcopalian girlfriend/”roommate” in the coming year or so. It’s also likely that I will be asked to serve as a groomsman/usher. I’m not an ecumenical kind of Catholic, have no interest in attending Protestant services, or Episcopalian “Masses.” So if I must be there, in full view of those attending, how do I conduct myself? I will not kneel before a false Eucharist.

    Maybe I’ll get lucky and there will be no “Mass” at all, just a quick ceremony. But if they have “priestette-run communion service” does the Church offer guidelines for Catholics as to how to conduct themselves in such a scenario without either being untrue to the Church or obviously disrespectful to the Protestants and wedding party?

  3. o.h. says:

    It’s the last paragraph that gave us headaches at our wedding …. The best man, my husband’s brother, was an anarchist (a serious one, not the college-boy kind; he had worked at an anarchist radio station in Europe, until he was expelled from the country and came back to the U.S.). On principle he wouldn’t sign a government document, a wrinkle in the ceremony which we discovered only at the last minute.

  4. lucy says:

    Thanks for the chuckle !

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Thomas S.,

    Many, many years ago, I was told, when my son was to carry up the service book at a Methodist Wedding, as a 10 year old child, that we had to have the permission of our priest, so as to not automatically think that supporting an odd wedding was ok. The oddity was that both the bride and groom were fallen-away Catholics. To this day, I am not sure the child should have taken part. Sadly, I think we get bad advice from our priests sometimes. Does anyone else have an opinion on this and on Catholics taking part in weddings involving fallen-away Catholics in protestant churches? I have gone round and round on these points with priests when I was involved in RCIA, me taking the conservative view.

    As to having a priestess, as there is no such thing, either the ceremony would be invalid, or as we Catholics see all protestants “ministers” as lay people, it seems to me not to make any difference, as the marriage vows are said between the two getting married with the protestant minister as a witness. However, if one of the two getting married is a Catholic, the Nuptial Blessing must be given by a Catholic priest. This was the omission of the two mentioned above-no Catholic blessing.

    I have a matron-of-honor, a dear friend who was almost my mother’s age. As to maids, I am sure there are many traddie maids.

  6. Ceile De says:

    I don’t get some of the comments today.

    Thomas S – Catholics may not receive Episcopalian Communion -end of story. And no is ever obliged to receive Communion at Catholic Mass (so long as they receive when required by Church law). This has nothing to do with “communitay”. Worst case, eat right before going into the Church and say you haven’t fasted.

    o.h. – how on earth did he get back into the US if he wouldn’t sign his customs form, a government document? Or is he only an anarchist when inconveniencing his family rather than himself?

  7. Tim Ferguson says:

    Since the essential job of the maid/matron/crone of honor and the best boy/dude/man/gent is to hold the flowers, straighten the train, make sure the groom gets a great bachelor party actually witness the exchange of vows, it doesn’t matter that the witnesses are non-Catholic, just that they are honest, upstanding persons, capable of witnessing the exchange of vows (if they are deaf or blind, that’s okay, as long as the blind witness can hear the vows being exchanged and distinguish the two voices, or the deaf witness can read lips and/or comprehend the actions of exchanging vows), signing whatever necessary civil documentation is required and attesting to exchange of vows at some later date, should need be.

  8. Joshua08 says:

    Any old moral theology manual will not allow non Catholics as best man/maid of honor. But, at least in Fr. Jone’s manual he makes a point that in America the significance is different and therefore it may be permissable

    While I don’t think the same regulations are in effect, one should bear in mind that their role is not for the sake of the State. It is the Church and her alone, not the state, that makes true laws for marriage and she requires two witnesses on her behalf over and above the priest (and even when form is dispensed because no delegated minister can be had, two witnesses for the Church are required). While I understand that apparently not being in the Church doesn’t matter on this point anymore as far as Church law is concerned, it is more than just a civil function

  9. lucy says:

    Oh no, I just realized that our 5 year old son will be ring bearer in our Presbyterian cousin’s wedding on October. I didn’t even think about his not doing it for religious reasons. Is this really okay, because it would cause major division in the family – I’m the only Catholic.

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    lucy,

    We’re the only Catholics in our family – converted from Episcopalians, my husband was born & raised Methodist.

    I asked TWO of our priests — both the rector who is sixty-something and has seen it all, AND the parochial vicar, a young, very holy, and very orthodox priest who is learning the Latin Mass — what I should do about attending church when we are visiting my parents. They are in their mid-80s, and it took us almost two years to get my mom (a former Presbyterian) to Mass.

    Both priests gave the same advice, which we follow: In consideration of their age and keeping peace in the family (not to mention honoring our father and our mother), we attend church with them but do not receive and go to Mass in the larger county seat down the road either Saturday night or Sunday night. It’s a tiny little country church (Episcopalians are quite thin on the ground in rural Georgia) with only one Sunday service, at the same time as the Catholic parish in town.

  11. Christina says:

    Huh, now that I think of it, my husband’s best man wasn’t Catholic. Go figure. The priest was, though, and so was the church building and the Mass, so I’m thinking we’re ok, then.

    Seriously, I might have considered asking my best childhood friend to be my maid of honor, but she’s Greek Orthodox and she actually wouldn’t be allowed to return the favor.

  12. pcstokell says:

    Nice wrap-up, Padre. Now all I see is a forthcoming “No Communion For You!” t-shirt. Maybe with a nice asterisk and the full set of Guidelines for the Reception of Holy Communion on the back. [Good idea!]

  13. rebecca76 says:

    That “PS” is an important reminder. My husband was in a wedding in which the parish’s wedding coordinator instructed the non-Catholics to receive Communion because “it would look better.”

  14. Random Friar says:

    I have the utmost love and reverence for the Sacrament of Marriage. All the headaches leading *up* to that Sacrament… not so much.

    But if you folks think that getting married can be a pain… imagine getting ordained in a class of seminarians! Four people fighting over a hymn, two that don’t care about music, three that want to make sure *his* sister is bringing up the gifts… and *worst* of all no one ever saves us a slice of our own cake by the time we get done with First Blessings!

  15. AnAmericanMother says:

    Awwww, Random Friar, I never thought of that.

    Our family doesn’t do Bridezilla, nor the Ten Commandments (“Cast of Thousands”) style wedding. Our weddings heretofore have been quite uneventful, pleasant occasions – small wedding in the parish chapel and reception at home. Hopefully my daughter’s (soon to be scheduled) nuptials will be similarly quiet and calm.

    Ask a family member to squirrel you away a slice of cake. Choir does that all the time :-D

  16. Thomas S says:

    Ceile De,

    Considering I said I wouldn’t even kneel before a false Eucharist, I thought it went without saying that I wouldn’t receive their communion. My question was more about needing to be “center stage” while not giving even the slightest hint of confusion as to my opinion on the validity of Episcopalian orders or Mass.

    Supertradmum,

    The “priestette” line was a throwaway. I know Anglicans have invalid orders and there’s no such thing as a Christian priestess anyway. My concern wasn’t so much about the validity of their vows as it was how to conduct myself without drawing attention to my non-compliance if they have a full “Mass.”

    Obviously, I could simply refuse to be a groomsman and sit down back, but that could have catastrophic consequences for the friendship.

  17. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Here’s what my wife & I have done:

    For Non-Catholics we attend the service and are respectful. We do not receive Communion – ever. I was once asked about this, and replied “As Catholics, we don’t believe in receiving Communion in other churches until our churches are in communion.” A throw away line, but it works.

    For Former Catholics being married in another church, we find it convenient to have other plans. For family weddings, we have arrived “late” so as to miss the service. Divine Providence has also worked here – we programmed the wrong street into the GPS and missed the service.

    One of my wife’s bridesmaids was not baptized. We simply arranged for another friend to serve as the Maid of Honor & be the witness.

    I realize now while a seminarian that I served as an usher for a Presbyterian friend’s wedding & was on the altar in clerics. The minister appreciated my presence, as I was used to liturgical practice. I was a good M.C. in the sanctuary.

  18. ies0716 says:

    Am I the only one who has noticed that your posts have become markedly stranger since you started drinking Mystic Monk Coffee? Just how much caffeine is in those beans? :-) [NNnnnnoooot tttoo mmmmuch.]

  19. bookworm says:

    I got married in a nuptial Mass, by a very orthodox and scholarly priest, and he had absolutely no problem with the fact that none of my attendants were Catholic. My maid of honor belonged to the Reorganized LDS Church (a group that doesn’t even call itself LDS anymore as they have little to do socially or theologically with regular Mormons). One bridesmaid was nominally Methodist, and the other was a non-denominational evangelical/Pentecostal . They all received the blessings in place of Communion. I simply didn’t have any female friends or relatives (other than my own mother and aunt) who were Catholic back then.

  20. roamincatholic says:

    Rob– great advice!

    I have no problem going to non-Catholic Christian weddings. After all, it’s still a sacramental marriage.

    I don’t do Catholic/ “lapsed” Catholic “weddings” that aren’t in a Catholic Church, and done without the approval of the Church. It’s not a valid marriage, and, I think, a true friend would find a way to point that out. Unfortunately, we’re not often in a position to state that without serious offense to the parties involved.

    Once, I had to attend for the sake of some of my kids in my catechetical programs… In that one instance, I arrived “late,” (read, after the “wedding” was over) and made an appearance at the reception to support the kids.

    PS– just bought my Mystic Monk Coffee… :D [Well done.]

  21. frjim4321 says:

    At least they just wanted ONE maid of honor . . . if I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard “we have two maids of honor,” “we have two best men!”

  22. Elly says:

    I don’t understand why people think that a good solution to avoid attending an invalid marriage is to be “late” and then just go to the reception. Whether you attend the wedding or the party celebrating the wedding are you not displaying approval for it? What is the difference?

  23. Mary Bruno says:

    I would’ve been better off with my Non-Catholic, but Christian girlfriend being my maid of honor instead of her being a bridesmaid. My Catholic maid of honor displayed very bad judgment and non-Christian like behavior at our wedding reception and worse in the following years.

  24. lux_perpetua says:

    this thread made me laugh. you think its hard talking to a Protestant about your qualms with their marriage? try talking to a same-sex couple about to get “married” about why you won’t be there. oh… the joys of being part of this generation…

  25. Patikins says:

    Thomas S.:

    Perhaps the best thing to do would be to have a conversation with your friend who is getting married. It could be a chance to evangelize. (It sounds good in theory at least.) I would have a hard time participating in a wedding in that situation but I also recognize that you may feel obligated. Above all, pray for your friend and his girlfriend/ fiancee.

  26. eulogos says:

    Thomas S-Considering that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been allowed to celebrate the Eucharist on the consecrated altar of a Catholic church in Rome, surely not without the knowledge of the Pope, I really think you can go to an Anglican eucharistic service , say any parts of the service that don’t strike you as heretical, and in general behave respectfully. The Church allows you to do that. Why make yourself more scrupulous than what the Church allows?

    In my opinion, all we know is that the history of ordination in Anglicanism doesn’t lead to certainty that they are priests in the Catholic sense. The criteria for validity are not met. But we don’t know what God does in, or at, an Anglican eucharist, or even what He does at a Methodist or Baptist communion service. These are baptized Christians who believe in Jesus Christ and are following His command to Do This in remembrance of Me, to the best of their understanding. In one way or another, they expect to meet Him there. I think He comes to meet them. It isn’t a sacramental presence, but I don’t think He is absent.

    Newman, by the way, after he became a Catholic, referred to what Anglicans experience as “a kind of quasi Sacramental presence.”

    Didn’t our Lord say, ” And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold” and yes, he said he would bring them into one fold with one shepherd. But they were His sheep before that.

    And then there is “Many shall come from the east, and [from] the west, and from the north, and [from] the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.”

    Unitatis Redintegro says that the sacraments and ordinances of the separated brethren are not without importance in the mystery of salvation.

    Ok, here are the exact words:

    “The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.
    It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.”

    So you should have no difficulty showing respect at an Anglican eucharist, or even at worshipping God at one, so long as you do not specifically adore Christ present in the Eucharistic species, which is an internal act you should have no difficulty refraining from. As for what others think, they will think you are attending a friend’s wedding. Not going to communion will quite sufficiently make your point, believe me.

    Susan Peterson

  27. PostCatholic says:

    In an ideal world, pal, everyone would be Catholic.

    My turn to say “AYEEEIE?!?”…

  28. PostCatholic: The entire celestial host have their eyes on you… waiting.

  29. Ceile De says:

    I completely agree with Susan Peterson (eulogos): the “Golden Rule” may be of help here – show the same respect (it is, after all, an occasion of Christian prayer) and restraint (from receiving Communion, however viewed) as you would expect a Protestant friend to show at a Catholic wedding or Mass – it is sufficient for a Protestant to refrain from receiving the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass without making the point to all there that not only will he not receive the eucharist but he does not believe in Transubstantiation. That would not be a good teaching or learning moment. If it’s good enough for a Protestant at a Catholic Mass, it shoul be good enough for a Catholic at a Protestant service.

  30. Norah says:

    My daughter was married in a Greek Orthodox church. Her cousin was not permitted to be a bridesmaid because she was unmarried and had a child. It didn’t seem to matter that the rest of the bridesmaids were sleeping with their boyfriends and contracepting.

  31. RichardT says:

    On the more general question of attending a Protestant service, I’ve read accounts from the past of Catholics asking for permission to attend (I can’t remember whether from their priest or bishop).

    I always assumed this rule has gone, and I’ve never heard it mentioned. But has it?

    Was there never a rule, was there one that is now abolished, or is the rule still there but (improperly) no-one bothers with it?

  32. RichardT says:

    On the specific question of witnesses and marriages, I found this:

    “Members of other Churches or ecclesial Communities may be witnesses at the celebration of marriage in a Catholic church. Catholics may also be witnesses at marriages which are celebrated in other Churches or ecclesial Communities.”

    From the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity’s “Principles and Norms of Ecumenism”, paragraph 136

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/general-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19930325_directory_en.html

  33. chcrix says:

    How can there be qualms about non-Catholic wedding services per se?

    I thought that the only two sacraments that were definitely possessed by the various brands of Protestantism were Baptism (validly administered by anyone – even an atheist – if they follow the form and intend to do so) and Matrimony which is really being executed by the couple not the priest. So validity of orders, priest or priestess should be moot.

  34. Hieronymus says:

    Richard,

    If I were looking for guidelines, I don’t think I would ever turn to the Council for Christian Unity. There are very few things which are on their “forbidden” list at this point. Compare that document to Mortalium Animos of Pius XI, and consider the state of the Church then and now.

  35. RichardR says:

    Or, we can do like the nuns (Sisters of Charity of Nazareth KY) taught me back in the 60s (pre Vatican II) in parochial school – don’t have non-Catholic friends.

  36. Gail F says:

    RichardR: We have some fundamentalist-type relatives who are always giving my daughter “Christian” books to read, the sort of popular books for sale at Christian bookstores in any mall. They all say not to have non-Christian friends. Weird, eh? We would not say to avoid non-Catholics, but they say to stay away from non-Christians (which, for many of them, includes us). So when we go one way, they go the opposite way.

  37. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Readers could do worse enhancing their enjoyment of John Henry Newman’s Beatification by reading his historical novel set in the time of St. Cyprian, when (I assume he did his homework well, thought I’d like to know more) there was no kind of civil marriage Christians could undertake in good conscience! – ‘Callista’ (1855). It is available here:

    http://www.newmanreader.org/works/index.html

    Thomas S: I do not know how variable the custom, but I think it is pretty common ‘Anglicanly’ for there to be an explicit (written and/or spoken)invitation to Communion if “your own Church” permits, and to a blessing instead, if for any reason you wish to refrain – with no push to receive the blessing, either – almost as if to make no one stand out if they do not ‘go forward’.

  38. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Oops! “worse [...] than by reading”! My apologies!

  39. Panterina says:

    At our wedding, we ensured that both the maid of honor and best man where Catholic. For the readings, those who read were also Catholic, with one exception: We wanted our niece (non-denominational Christian) to read, and we cleared it with Father beforehand. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do some apostolate with our non-Catholic friends and family.

    My best man was my cousin, a non-practicing Catholic, so I took the opportunity to tell him to prepare by going to Confession–which he did. Brick by brick…

    Long story short: Just go and talk to your parish priest about your maid of honor’s Christian standing–it might not be an impediment for her to be a witness in the same way that it would be for a godparent. There’s no benefit in trying to sort this out yourself–ask an expert who has been trained in these matters and knows how to counsel you better than us laypeople.

    As for the point raised by Thomas S, again I would ask your parish priest for guidance. Allowing a Catholic to get married outside of the form regulated by the Church without proper dispensation is probably a no-no, and your visible role would only add to the confusion, not to mention possibly scandal. Do what your pastor tells you.

    I have a better appreciation of why trying to be a disciple of Christ is not easy: We struggle with these litle issues; but if we cannot witness our faith in these little matters, how can we fare when confronted with the big ones?

  40. RichardT says:

    Hieronymus,

    I know, but it is the Church’s official body in these matters, so we do have to pay attention to what it says, whatever our private opinions may be.

  41. TNCath says:

    In the words of an old priest, now deceased, who said regarding weddings:

    1. “I’d rather have 5 funerals in one week than one wedding in a year.”

    2. “Oh, for the coming of the kingdom when they are neither given nor taken in marriage.”

  42. irishgirl says:

    I have a cousin who married an Episcopalian back in the 1960s. As far as I can remember (hey, I was just a kid then) it was just the marriage ‘service’, no ‘Communion’. She may have had one or all of her sisters as bridesmaids.

    TNCath-Ha! Love those ‘priestly quotes’! Right to the point!

  43. michelelyl says:

    Just for the record, the PRIEST (or deacon) is the official witness for the Roman Catholic Church during the Sacrament of Marriage…the couple are the ones who administer the Sacrament to each other…which is why the Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor are the official witnesses for the State.
    Michele

  44. Martial Artist says:

    @Fr Z,

    A reply to your question: “…so can be the … what do you call the guys again?”

    They are typically referred to, at least in English, as the “groomsmen.” The counterpart amongst the groomsmen to the maid/matron of honor, is referred to as the “best man.”

    But then, you already knew that, didn’t you?

    :-)

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  45. MJ says:

    I sing in our parish choir, and last September we sang for the Nuptial Mass / wedding of a couple at our parish. They had a “wedding program” that the ushers handed out to the guests which listed the bridesmaids, groomsmen, etc, and they also had a small insert saying something to the effect of:

    “Please remember that only Catholics who are in the State of Grace may receive Holy Communion. Holy Communion is received on the tongue while kneeling. No “Amen” is said.”

    So yes it was an EF Nuptial High Mass – just beautiful! Our parish priest also gave a few words from the pulpit about not approaching the communion rail unless you were a baptized Catholic in the state of grace. No one was offended by his words or the insert (that I heard of anyway), and the wedding went off beautifully.

    If I remember right, all the bridesmaids / groomsmen were EF attending Catholics (brothers and sisters of the bride and groom).

  46. eulogos says:

    No amen?

    So that’s why it is so hard to figure out when to say it when you receive on the tongue kneeling at an altar rail! The younger priests, even in a very conservative parish, do give a moment’s space to say it, I guess as they know people will say it, but the one really older priest there (as in perhaps 75?) doesn’t pause at all. This is at an ordinary form mass but where they kneel for communion on the tongue, so technically I guess you ARE still supposed to say it in those circumstances.
    I had no idea that “Amen” was not to be said in the EF!

    It is not said in the Byzantine rite for the same reason; you can’t open your mouth to receive the sacrament and say amen at the same time. It took me quite a while to learn to stop saying it. One bi-ritual priest, from whom I have also received in the ordinary form, which I think tripped me into old habits, when I forgot and said “Amen,” said “NO!” in quite an admonishing voice. I told myself that he had to keep his habits of celebration quite separate and was thus sensitive to any deviation from proper Eastern form.

    How interesting that it is not just Eastern not to say amen.
    Susan Peterson