So you are a Catholic and you want to marry a non-Catholic (or vice-versa) in a traditional marriage ceremony at the church?
Hereby we summarise in 10 steps how to do it, debunk the myths of what's possible and what's not as well as hint at the costs involved.
The process we are describing here is based on our own experience: a marriage between a Catholic Polish bride and a Buddhist-Singaporean groom at a Polish Catholic church in Warsaw, August 2016. We live in Singapore so all of the necessary preparations needed to take place in Singapore and hence I reference Singapore-specific courses and institutions.
1 Complete pre-marriage Catholic course
There are two types of pre-marriage courses available:
short one which lasts 2.5 full days (Fri, Sat & Sun) where a participating couple needs to stay overnight at the course venue (sleep at separate rooms)
long one that spreads over a series of 8 Sunday morning meetings (each lasting around 5 hours).
Upon completing one of the two offered courses, a graduation certificate is issued. The cost of the course is around SGD 200.
2 Choose church for your wedding in Poland
This can of course be completed as the first step.
Visit your chosen church's office during working hours to submit a wedding request form. This form varies slightly from church to church. If you are unsure which church to choose, you can submit these forms at a number of different churches and confirm your final decision at a later date. However, some ‘popular’ churches will ask to leave a small guarantee deposit (e.g. Church of St.Anne in Warsaw asked for PLN 100) which is non-refundable. As far as I know, the wedding request form can be submitted only in person. If you are not present in Poland at any point of time prior to your wedding, you can ask a member of your family to submit the form in person on your behalf.
It is not necessary to have your wedding take place at your parish church. I am originally from Lublin, but I had no problem arranging for the wedding to take place in Warsaw. Not once was I asked about my parish church.
3 Have your local (Singaporean) parish church send documents to wedding destination's Archdiocese
After completing step one above, contact your local parish so that they can liaise with the Polish church on your behalf. You need to submit the following documents to the parish in Singapore:
- Birth certificate (bride and groom’s)
- Baptism certificate
- Confirmation certificate
- Pre-marriage course completion certificate
- Wedding request form (parish can provide)
- Letter requesting for Eucharist during the wedding ceremony (optional)*
All of the above documents, except for the request for Eucharist, need to be submitted in both Polish and English languages. Fyi, we have translated the documents from Polish to English ourselves and it was fine.
The priest of the Singaporean church will proceed to send these documents to the Archdiocese in Poland. For us, since our wedding was in Warsaw, the documents needed to be sent to the Archdiocese of Warsaw.
* By default, for a mixed-faith couple, your catholic church wedding will not include the sacrament of Eucharist and the whole ceremony will last for around 30 minutes. However, you can draft a request letter addressed to the Archbishop of your wedding-destination archdiocese for the sacrament to take place. The letter should explain the reasons for which you find it important to have the Eucharist present during the ceremony. If accepted, the ceremony will last as long as any regular Sunday mass and the sacrament of Eucharist will be carried out.
4 Attend pre-marital interview
It is obligatory to go through a pre-marital interview with a Catholic priest. The interview is sat by the bride and groom separately, i.e. both of them cannot be present at the interview at the same time (although it is done on the same day, one after another). The interview is rather straightforward and includes questions such as ‘Are you presently married?’ or ‘Is your decision to marry out of your free will?’. However, one question can be tricky for the non-Catholic party, i.e. ‘Do you commit to raising your children in the Catholic faith?’. The answer needs to be positive or else the permission to marry will not be given.
5 Receive dispensation from Polish Archbishop to marry non-Catholic
Provided that you have followed all of the steps described above, you should have no issue receiving such permission. You do not need to personally contact the Archdiocese to find out whether the permission has been granted. The Archdiocese will send all of the necessary documents together with the permission to marry to the church you have chosen for the ceremony.
6 Confirm with wedding-destination church on receipt of documents
Roughly two months after your pre-marital interview you should check with the Polish parish if they have received all of the required documents. If you have asked for the sacrament of Eucharist you should also mention it and make sure that the priest is well aware, agrees to that and will make it happen. * The priest might also ask you some additional questions about your maid of honour and best man (their names, address, DOB. No need for their baptism certificates).
*Some priests are unsupportive of including the Eucharist in marriages with non-Catholics. They might tell you all of their reasons why they believe it not to be a good idea. However, once the permission from Archbishop has been received, they need to abide by it.
7 Arrange for decorations and music
Decorations: Some of the churches allow you to take full control of the way the church is decorated on your big day. Others will ask for payment and will decorate the alley, the altar and the pews themselves as they please. Find out what the process is at your church. Fyi, we have paid PLN 500 zl for the decorations knowing that there was another couple’s wedding right before us and hence the decorations would stay the same.
Music: Get in touch with the organist. They will tell you what options you have, what songs they can play and whether they have other musicians, e.g. vocalist, violinist etc to recommend. At our wedding, we had organs, professional opera singer as well as a violinist at a total cost of PLN 1,200.
8 Meet with priest and make payment
Since you have been arranging the wedding from abroad you have most likely not met the priest in charge of your ceremony yet. It is high time to do so right before the big day. The priest will surely like to get to know you before he can think of how the sermon can be custom-made for you. This is also the right time to make a payment for the service. The amount, unless specifically quoted by the priest, is up to the couple. We have paid PLN 800.
9 Sign marriage documents
The documents need to be signed by the married couple, the maid of honour and the best man. Customarily, this is done on the wedding day 15 minutes before the start of the ceremony. However, if you do not want to arrive at the church early on the day, but rather have a spectacular walk-in right from your limousine, it is possible to sign the documents the day before the wedding (up to priest's good will).
10 Turn up at church on your wedding day
Take a deep breath, look glamorous and walk that aisle!
You two can walk in together hand in hand or have the groom wait for the bride at the altar while the bride is escorted by her father.
Another thing to consider is which Bible reading you want to have and who will read it. It can be a member of your family or a friend. The list of possible wedding Bible readings is available online .