Weddings at St Bernadette’s

Getting married is one of the most significant steps in anyone’s life. Two people make vows to each other to remain exclusively together for the rest of their lives, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.”


The Catholic Church’s understanding of marriage is that it is a unique, indissoluble covenant between one man and one woman, in mutual and lasting fidelity and open to the possibility of bringing children into the world. Anyone getting married in a Catholic Church must have the same understanding of marriage as the Church, even if they are not a Catholic themselves.


It is because the Church attaches such importance to marriage, both for the couple themselves and for society as a whole, that she is concerned that couples intending to marry are adequately prepared, and understand what it is that they are committing themselves to. These notes are intended to help couples thinking about getting married at the Port Elizabeth Oratory. The priest who is marrying you will want some time to get to know you, to make sure you understand the meaning and obligations of marriage, and to help you plan the service so as to make one of the most important days of your lives as good as it can be.


Please read these notes and then get in touch with one of the priests for a chat. And please spend some time in prayer, to be able to make the right decisions, for each other, and for all married people.


You need to give at least four months and preferably six months warning prior to getting married. This rule is there to make sure there is enough time to complete the preparations for marriage. These include:

  • A period of preparation with the priest who will marry you and attendance at a marriage preparation course, known as the “Evenings for the Engaged”. These are facilitated by married couples and take place over six weeks in groups of about four couples. Times for the meetings are arranged with the group facilitators.
  • The priest who is marrying you will probably want to see you a few times before the service, to get to know you and to talk in more detail about the meaning and importance of marriage.
  • The Civil and Church paperwork. There is some necessary paperwork that will need to be done. Enquiries will need to be made in the church where you were baptised and sometimes dispensations need to be sought – all of this can take some time. Also, copies of your Identity Documents and those of your two witnesses are needed.
  • The priest will need to have your certificates of baptism. In the case of Catholics this needs to be a recent copy taken from the register of the church where you were baptised within six months of the date of your wedding.
  • If neither of you is resident within the boundaries of this parish permission will need to be sought from the Parish Priest of the place of residence of one of the parties.
  • Planning the ceremony. There is always much to discuss in the planning of the ceremony. A wedding Mass or the wedding service; the readings, hymns and other music; who will be involved; flowers; photography; - to name only a few. This is the exciting part but it also needs time to get right. There also needs to a rehearsal for the big day.

Freedom to Marry

You cannot be married in a Catholic church if either of you has been married before, unless that marriage has been annulled by an ecclesiastical tribunal. This rule includes marriages that have taken place in court or in non-Catholic churches. If you are unsure about your freedom to marry, speak to your priest and he will be able to assess what steps might need to be taken in this regard.

The Ceremony

There are two forms of marriage, the Wedding Service and the Nuptial (Wedding) Mass.

  1. The Wedding Service is shorter and consists of up to three hymns, three readings, the vows, blessing and signing of the register. The choir, soloist and the organist can also play a part. This service takes about 45 minutes.
  2. When the wedding takes place in the context of Mass, this is called a Nuptial Mass. All the usual parts of the Mass are present, readings, hymns, choral pieces and perhaps a musical Mass setting. The vows are taken after the Gospel and the sermon by the priest. The registers are usually signed at the end. This service takes about an hour.

Where both parties (and a good proportion of the guests) will be regular, practising Catholics, a Nuptial Mass is highly recommended. It is not possible when one of the parties has not been baptised. In all other cases the Wedding Service is recommended. This service does not involve Holy Communion – those who would be unable to receive will not feel excluded.

As you begin to plan your wedding, please take note of the following:


Time of service


Due to the weekend schedule at St Bernadette’s, on Saturdays the earliest time for a wedding is 10:00 and the latest 15:30. Weddings are discouraged from taking place during Lent (Ash Wednesday—Easter) which is a penitential season. Please note, if it is unavoidable to have the wedding during Lent, floral arrangements may only be put in the church after Mass on Saturday morning, and must be removed immediately after the wedding, before Exposition at 17:00.

The only candle allowed in the sanctuary is the Easter Candle (representing the Risen Christ). A wedding candle may also be used if desired. No candles are to be used in the floral arrangements.

Flowers can be arranged in the church on Friday morning from 09:30 to 12:00 (The Parish Office closes at 12:00) or by prior arrangement. Flowers can be arranged by the parish flower arrangers if required. If posies or other decorations are to be attached to the benches, they may only be secured with Sellotape or ribbon. No Prestick, drawing pins, wrought iron holders, or anything that may damage the benches may be used. The positioning of the flower arrangements in the sanctuary should be discussed with the celebrant. It is expected that at least one flower arrangement will be left in the sanctuary for the Sunday Masses.

Music used at the wedding service should be discussed with the celebrant. An entrance and a recessional voluntary, as well as any hymns or incidental music, should be fitting for a religious ceremony and reflect the sacred nature of the Sacrament of Marriage. The celebrant will put you in contact with a parish organist with whom you can discuss particulars regarding the music. You may supply your own musicians, but this should be discussed with the celebrant.

No confetti may be thrown in front of the church doors. Please make use of the courtyard or the lawn on the sides of the church. Bubbles may be used in front of the doors. Please advise your guests accordingly.

One video photographer and one ordinary photographer are allowed. Both are to be discreet and not to intrude on the ceremony—they should speak to the celebrant prior to the ceremony about where they may position themselves.

Scripture readings

Only scripture is to be used for the readings. The readings are chosen in consultation with the celebrant.

Organist: R375 
Soloist: R300 
Sacristan: R250

Musician: R250

Altar Server: R200

Choir Master: R300
Church donation: Couples who are not registered parishioners are invited to make a donation to the parish for its upkeep
Priest's stipend: at the discretion of the family
There can sometimes be other fees for special requests.

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Tel and address information

Postal address:

P.O. Box 5012
Walmer 6065

Port Elizabeth

South Africa


Physical location:

Corner of 8th Ave & Fordyce Rd, Walmer


Contact details:

Office (041) 581-2035

Out of hours (041) 581-6860
Fax: 086 550 5013



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