How should you select a wedding officiant?

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Wedding to-do lists can feel endless and daunting: Nail down a venue, chose the color scheme, select a band. But your officiant - the priest or deacon saying the words of the marriage rite - should "not be like one more thing on a checklist," said Father Edward J. Bresnahan, in residence at St. Mary Church in Alexandria.

Father Bresnahan said an officiant often is the parish priest, but asking a friend or family member can be a meaningful addition to the day - as long as the selection process doesn't add to the "consumerization mentality" of marriage prep. Choosing a wedding officiant should foremost be grounded in prayer and communication, he said.

Michelle (Peterson) Ramirez, a program assistant in the diocesan Development Office, is a longtime friend of Father Bresnahan and asked him to officiate her November 2010 wedding at Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge. For her and her husband, Delvis, the decision "made a personal day all the more personal," she said. "You are putting so much of yourself into the wedding," so having an officiant that has been a part of your life since childhood "is something very special."

The Peterson family of four grew up across the street from the three Bresnahan children, with both home-schooling families spending a lot of time together. Ramirez remembers chasing fireflies late into warm summer nights with the young neighbors, a memory Father Bresnahan shared at her wedding.

"Having somebody you've known for so long only adds to the depth of the memories you make in a day so full of memories," said Ramirez. Father Bresnahan also officiated at two of Ramirez's brothers' weddings and wrote a letter of recommendation for her third brother when he applied to seminary.

"We have been part of each other's major vocation moments," said Ramirez, who attended Father Bresnahan's ordination just a few months before he celebrated her nuptial Mass.

Father Bresnahan, now chaplain of Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, said that although he has two or three spiritual points he makes at every wedding, knowing a couple or individual well, as was the case with Ramirez, helps "to make those spiritual concepts more relevant to them through personal stories and even sometimes inside jokes," he said.

"One of the beautiful things about the Arlington Diocese," he added, is that its substantial pre-Cana requirements offer ample time to build a relationship with couples. The engaged are required to meet with a priest or deacon a minimum of four times during a six-month period prior to the wedding, "so you definitely know them on the day of their wedding," said Father Bresnahan.

The first and most important step in selecting an officiant, he said, is to "pray, pray, pray."

"The bride and groom should pray and ask their maid of honor, best man and family members to pray for them. Invite prayers whenever possible."

Second, couples should communicate with their parish, said Father Bresnahan. The diocese requires you to contact your parish at least six months before your proposed wedding date.

"Your parish is a spiritual home, so you definitely want to have consideration for it," he said. It is where your soon-to-be family likely will receive future sacraments, and "it prepares you for your spiritual home in heaven."

Parishes also have different guidelines for weddings, and you want to be sure you are respectful of them and communicate fully with the pastor, said Father Bresnahan. He noted that part of making contact with the parish should be registering, if you haven't already. Many young people come into the Washington region for work and start attending Mass without filling out registration forms. "Registering is huge; it's a visible connection to your spiritual home here," he said.

If after prayer and communication a couple chooses an old friend or family member to help establish the covenant of marriage, they can enjoy special blessings, said Ramirez, now mother of two young boys. It makes a day bursting with joy, she said, "all the more joyful."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016