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Our Wedding: A Personalized Jewish-Catholic Interfaith Ceremony

It is true, what people tell you in the stressful throes of planning your wedding– “Things will go wrong, so just accept it.” Several glitches happened during our summer outdoor wedding at a marina/restaurant on a lake in Wyoming.

It started raining just an hour before the start time. Fortunately, the weather cleared in time, but then the DJ’s equipment malfunctioned at a couple of key points during the ceremony. Later, a curious young onlooker shouted “Is somebody getting married?!” during our moment of silence. Finally, I tripped and nearly fell flat on my face as we triumphantly retreated after the ceremony!

But later no one seemed to care about those things. Many family and friends told us that they were truly moved by our ceremony, which we designed using elements of traditional Jewish and Catholic weddings that we found personally meaningful. Looking back on the entire experience, I would say that the time-consuming task of creating our personalized interfaith ceremony was what helped us to mark this life-changing event in an immensely satisfying and inspiring way.

For my Jewish fiancé and me, a Roman Catholic, it took several months of researching, thinking, discussing, revising and editing–with the help of excellent books such as Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony by Devon A. Lerner–to create our interfaith ceremony. The biggest challenge we faced was choosing and finding officiants. After researching the difficulties that other interfaith couples had seeking rabbis and/or Catholic clergy to officiate at their weddings, we knew this might not be easy. (If you’re seeking Jewish clergy, 18Doors’ free service can help connect you with interfaith-friendly officiants.)

In the end the rural setting of our wedding actually ended up helping us. No rabbis lived anywhere near the location, so our choices would have been to start the difficult (and potentially expensive) search for someone who would travel from another state or to seek another solution. Ideally, we wanted someone to represent both of our faiths, so we started with a family friend who had become a Catholic deacon. We then realized what an amazing resource caring friends can be and decided that having officiants whom we knew or had some connection with would mean more to us than any “title” in the religion. We approached a childhood friend of my father’s to help us, who happened to be president of the small local Jewish congregation. In the end we had two acquaintances of the family represent our faiths as officiants of our ceremony, which had the wonderful additional effect of rekindling old friendships.

After a great deal of research, eventually my fiancé and I had a collection of the ceremonies, readings and traditions that we were excited to use on our wedding day. Most of the personal elements involved our families. All of our siblings were involved either as matron of honor/best man or as chuppah bearers, holding the Jewish wedding canopy that we stood beneath. Our parents performed several functions, including lighting the unity candle and participating in a wine-blessing ceremony in which both sets of parents drank and poured wine from their cups into our cup, which we drank from after the traditional Jewish blessing over the wine. Also, it was my desire to have several readings, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, similar to the Liturgy of the Word in a Catholic Mass. We each chose a friend to read one of the readings. Several other Jewish ceremonies were important to my husband, such as wearing and handing out yarmulkes, the breaking of the glass and several Hebrew blessings. We chose a ketubah, or traditional Jewish wedding contract, which had an interfaith text and read it before our vows. We used a traditional Catholic style of vows because the vows are often one of the most important elements in Catholic tradition. The ring exchange is most important in a Jewish ceremony, however, so we exchanged rings with a simple Old Testament verse, with my fiancé reciting the Hebrew. We were both proud to share our favorite elements of our faiths with each other and all of our family and friends.

We also incorporated several non-traditional aspects. We asked our aunts and uncles to give the traditional Jewish “Seven Blessings,” using any blessing they chose. Some were religious in nature and others were personal feelings or a secular reading. This ended up being one of the most treasured parts of our ceremony. Also, we chose uncommon music to create the feeling we wanted on our wedding day, including a couple of instrumental soundtrack themes, Don Henley, and mellow Hawaiian pop. Our program for the ceremony had a lovely poem with a nature theme from the Tao te Ching of Asian religious culture. In the end we had hand-crafted a personal ceremony made up of our experience, beliefs, and hopes, to commemorate how we felt about becoming married.

In the weeks before our wedding we worked through the stressful logistics of paperwork required for the marriage to be accepted by the Catholic church. As independent and wonderful as our plans for the ceremony had become, I wanted to make that extra effort because we were working to bring together both of our faiths, and preparation is a key part of the Catholic marriage tradition. This involved attending a marriage preparation weekend called “Engaged Encounter”, which, although primarily utilized by Catholic couples, was very enlightening and educational for any engaged couple. We also took a “Focus Survey” given to us by our deacon, which helps a couple discuss important issues. In the end, the preparation required by the Catholic Church helped us to have many discussions that would be beneficial to any couple.

After months of careful thinking and preparation, we felt like we had truly invested ourselves in what we were doing and saying, more than just choosing the hors d’oeuvres and the flavor of the cake.

The reception was wonderful, too, but mostly because it was truly a celebration of what we had just shared with our family and friends. We had been working to bring together two faiths in our ceremony, but the inspiring thing was that with the openness and the personal feelings our ceremony evoked, I think we brought together nearly 100. And what a moving beginning of our life together that was!

Considering having non-clergy officiate your wedding? We have a simple tool to help you customize Jewish ceremony language

Jenny Kellogg