(and you yourself are not Catholic):

1. Not all Catholics are the same, and not all Catholics fully believe in and follow the doctrine and dogma of the Catholic Church. In other words, be sure to ask your prospective soulmate about their religious beliefs if you haven't already. It is vital to a marriage that both people accept each other's spirituality. If one wishes to convert the other, you need to back off now, and sit down and figure out _exactly_ what's going on in each other's heads. One partner thinking that the other is going to hell if they're not converted is not a good basis in a relationship.

2. You need to know your Catholic partner's exact stance on the entire contraception and natural family planning issue. The Catholic Church firmly believes that "In our society we have lost sight of the fundamental truth that if you are not ready for babies, you are not ready for sexual intercourse."* Personally, I have a big problem with this: first, who determines what "ready" is?(financially ready? mentally ready? Who defines mentally ready?), and what if some mature people know that they're not going to be mentally prepared for a child until they're 27 or 28? Should they delay marriage until then? How the hell are they going to forge a strong enough relationship that will prepare them for a child if they can't even live together?

3. Figure out everything you can possibly figure out about how you're going to raise the kids spiritually (if you're having kids at all) before you get married. The Catholic Church pretty much demands that the children of a Catholic be raised Catholic. This is a possibility for a sticky situation that should definitely be worked out before the relationship becomes permanent.

* Humane Vitae: A Challenge to Love, p. 10. Smith, Janet E. New Hope Publications

Things to know specifically about your wedding:
  1. This may be self-evident, but you should know that you'll be having the ceremony performed by a Catholic priest, as they are the ones prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church to preside over the Sacrament of Marriage. (Note: If a Catholic is marrying a Protestant, he or she might be able to get permission to be married by the Protestant minister.) The Roman Catholic Church recognizes that the bride and groom are the ones conferring the Sacrament to each other... but the priest is there to receive the consent of the spouses in the name of the Church and to give the blessing of the Church.
  2. You'll be having the ceremony in a Catholic Church. Not at a nice hotel, or outdoors in a park or estate, or where the two of you met. In a church. This will be non-negotiable (With the possible exception of the Protestant scenario mentioned above. (Note: bookw56 says: "It is possible to have a priest come to a hall to marry you and a non-Catholic. My cousin got this done when she married a Jewish person. It just involves some paperwork." ).
There is no universal procedure for arranging a Catholic wedding- individual parishes can set their own requirements. What follows are general notes on wedding preparation involving Churches in the United States. YMMV.
  1. You'll have to meet with the priest for a pre-marriage interview. This is mainly to determine that you are eligible to be married in the Catholic Church. He may ask you about children. Catholic couples intending to marry must declare that they are open to the possibility of having children.
  2. The local diocese will require paperwork. Usually, this means your certificate of baptism. Proof that you've never been divorced, so if this is your second marriage, you'll need your annullment papers, or a certificate of death for your former spouse. The diocese will need this at least a month before your wedding date.
  3. About that wedding date- you'd better call the Church at least six months before you want a wedding, and it's not just because of availability. It's to give you and your partner time to take the preparation class, which may only be offered two or three times a year.
  4. Pre-Cana, or Catholic Marriage Preparation. This seminar, which may be short meetings spread over six to ten weeks, or longer weekend retreats, is designed to introduce you and your beloved to the Catholic Church's thoughts on the Sacrament of Marriage. While issues of theology and the spirituality of marriage will be discussed, the class may also include topics such as communication, decision-making and relationships (some Churches even cover financial planning and career expectations). Why do you have to take this class? The Catholic Church has always believed in the family as the foundation for human society-- they've got a vested interest in keeping the institution of marriage going. That's not to say the class is a sales pitch for marriage, just that the Church wants you to think long and hard about this marriage thing, because, to them (and hopefully you), it's a lifelong commitment, so you should know what you're getting into (Actually, at the Second Vatican Council, the Apostolicam Actuositam decree said that Catholic couples faithfully living their marriages according to God's will is part of the most important aspect of the apostolate of the laity-- so the Church is viewing your marriage as a sales pitch for the Church).

    This marriage preparation class may be taught by a priest, although in the United States it has become common for a married couple to lead the seminar. You may want to ask around to compare different programs, and seek permission to take your pre-Cana at a different Church than the one you'll be married at.

  5. You may get turned down by a particular Church or particular priest. Don't take it personally. The Church has pretty strong feeling about premarital sex, and cohabitation, (both are considered sinful), and a priest or a parish may refuse to marry you. When you call a Church to inquire about marriage preparation, you can subtly ask the parish secretary about how your situation may go over.
  6. The ceremony. It's fairly standard: there are readings, vows, an exchange of rings.
    • You'll be asked if you've come to wedding freely and without reservation. Say yes. You'll probably be asked if you will accept children in the marriage. Say yes. (Don't expect the "if anyone here knows of any reason these two should not be wed" question to your guests- in my experience, that's not a Catholic thing)
    • Readings: Usually, you can choose your readers. You may or may not get to choose your Bible readings (some Churches have a menu you can choose from of pre-selected, "traditional" readings), and you may be allowed to have non-Biblical readings outside of (before or after) the standard liturgy. If your Church doesn't allow non-Biblical readings, consider arranging a time at the reception (perhaps with the toasts) for readings of poems or other meaningful passages.
    • The Catholic Church has a set of traditional vows. You may be required to use them ("I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of my life/until death do us part") Many Churches will let couples write their own vows, with some requirements (such as requiring the "good times and bad" clause, a pledge of fidelity ("forsaking all others"), and a promise of a lifetime commitment.
    • Catholic ceremonies have an exchange of rings.
  7. Want a Saturday wedding? It'll be early, or late. Most Churches (in the United States, at least) have a 5:00 pm Mass, and they won't move it for your wedding.
  8. Churches typically have non-negotiable decoration and facility use policies. Releasing a flock of doves or having a brass band play you down the aisle may have to wait for the reception.

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