Witnesses at Catholic weddings

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Monday, 15 February 2010 17:01
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One of the important features of the Catholic sacraments is the fact that no one ever celebrates them alone. The communal dynamic is essential to every sacramental act.

The Rite of Marriage is no exception. While the underlying theological perspective expresses the fact that the man and woman to be married are, in fact, the ministers of the sacrament of marriage through the consent they freely exchange to one another in the presence of the delegated representative (priest or deacon), church law also requires that two witnesses are to be physically present in observing the consent given by the bride and groom.

Father Charles SinglerSome additional requirements for the two witnesses include the fact that they must have the use of reason and possess a sufficient discretion to know, understand and be capable of testifying about what they observe at the time of the consent they have been asked to witness. In most wedding Masses or liturgies outside Mass currently celebrated in Catholic parishes, the task of witnessing is entrusted to the persons designated as “best man” and “maid or matron of honor,” however, any member of the bridal party or in attendance at the service can be designated as a “witness” to the consent.

One question often asked during the course of marriage preparation is whether the witnesses chosen are to be Roman Catholic. The answer is no. The important consideration in choosing witnesses is the account needed should there be a question or doubt that the consent was ever given.

The Marriage Registry in every parish church records the names of the two witnesses, along with other pertinent information about the couple being married so that the ecclesiastical (canon law) requirements are fulfilled properly.

Unlike the choice of a godparent at baptism, or a sponsor at confirmation — roles requiring an active participative membership in the Catholic faith — the two witnesses at Catholic weddings serve in testifying that, in fact, consent was publicly expressed. They need not be married themselves, nor married to one another. Both witnesses may be male or female.

While the invited guests and family members attending a wedding ceremony all witness the consent of the couple standing before them, church law only requires the inscription of two “official” witnesses. The names of these two designated persons only are inscribed in the marriage registry and on any subsequent certificate issued by the parish when it is requested.

Father Charles E. Singler, D. Min., is director of worship for the Diocese of Toledo.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 May 2010 13:37