Marriage
Part 2 The Rite of Marriage

Chapter 29 Preparing the Wedding Liturgy

This chapter consists of several examples of "handouts" that pastors can give a couple preparing for marriage to help them plan their wedding liturgy.  If you know of other good examples of this type of literature and would like to recommend it to my students and others, please send it to me at tomrichs@psci.net.

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Before You Say 'I do'

One page handout

Some Thoughts as You Plan Your Wedding Liturgy At St. Monica-St. George

Marriage Preparation Policies at St. Monica-St. George

To Think About

 

Preliminary Questions

Have you ever helped a couple plan their wedding liturgy?  What are the most important things to decide?  What are the things that the couple are most concerned about?  How can you help them come to make good liturgical choices? TIME magazine reported on June 2, 2008 that the average cost of an American wedding is $28,732.

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Bibliography

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.,  Before You Say 'I Do': Four Things to Remember When Planning Your Wedding Liturgy. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1989. ISBN 0-86716-130-2. $1.95.

Paul Turner, ML Answers the 101 Most-Asked Questions:  The Catholic Wedding Answer Book.  Resource Publications, Inc., 2001.  ISBN 0-8930-517-8.

Joseph M. Champlin.  Together for Life. Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN.  1988

German Martinez.  Wedding to Marriage. Pastoral Press. 2003. The author explores what it means for a marriage to be "Christian."  Drawing upon history, human experience, Scripture and the tradition of the church, he provides a challenging synthesis of the theology and spirituality of marriage.  Includes a study of the revised wedding rite.  For homilists, marriage preparation programs and parish staff.  ISBN 1-56929-009-1

I highly recommend giving the couple a copy of the Catholic Update Video:  Planning Your Wedding Liturgy  Catholic Update Video, St. Anthony Messenger Press, January 2000. V2080.

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  "A New Life Project: Marriage" in The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, June, 1995. Available from Amazon.com

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Sacrament of Marriage: Sign of Faithful Love," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, May, 1996. C0596.
Text available at: http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0596.asp

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Chapter 13: "The Sacrament of Matrimony," in Liturgy and Worship: Faith and Witness, A Course on Catholic Living. New York: William H. Sadlier, Inc, 1997. Available from Amazon.com

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway?" Catholic Digest, Vol 65 No 8 (June 2001) pp 92-95.  (Spanish)  "¿Quiénes se casan??" Catholic Digest en EspaZol, número especial February 2003. pp 27-30.

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Before You Say 'I do'

[The following is the text of a little booklet published by Saint Anthony Messenger Press in 1989 Before You Say 'I Do':  Four Things to Remember When Planning Your Wedding Liturgy but now is out of print.  I tried to incorporate this material into the teaching section of the Catholic Update Video:  Planning Your Wedding Liturgy]

Four Things To Remember When Planning Your Wedding Liturgy

Your wedding may well be the most important 60 minutes in your life! You want happy memories of this hour. You want the wedding liturgy to the be the high point of your wedding day. In order for that to happen, you will have to plan the hour very carefully -- as carefully (or more carefully) as you plan where to hold the reception hall, which band to play, which photographer to employ.

The reception, the band, the photographer, the dress -- these all cost a lot more than the wedding ceremony, and it may seem natural to give your time and attention to the items which cost the most. It's the American way. But it has been my consistent experience that couples who spend time and effort planning the wedding ceremony -- the "in church" part of the day -- find that their time and effort were well spent.

You will only have to plan a wedding once in your life. I have been to hundreds of wedding and have helped countless couples plan this important moment in their lives; I have talked with many couples after their wedding and they have told me what they liked, what they wished they had done differently, what was meaningful, and what was not. In these few pages, I would like to share with you four insights I have received from these couples which you can use as the four foundation stones (or basic principles) upon which you can build a beautiful, prayerful, and personal wedding ceremony.

Start now to think and plan. Read these pages carefully and get the basic insights in place. These four basic principles are the foundation stones for planning your ceremony. The foundation stones are usually not the showiest part of a building, nor the most noticed or talked about, but without a firm foundation a building will fall. The taller the building, the more important the foundation; the bigger the wedding, the more important the basic principles which guide your planning.

In constructing a building, the foundation is laid first. In planning a wedding ceremony, you should have the basic insights well in place before adding too many details and specifics. The temptation is to start with the details: Grandmother will present a rose; George will recite the meditation poem. These details will take on an even deeper meaning and beauty when they are integrated into an over all plan based on a sound foundation.

You have both been to weddings and already have ideas of what you want your wedding to look like. It may happen that some of the details you have been dreaming of for years (or some of the details your mother has been planning for years) do not fit on the foundation described here. It may happen that some details will have to be rethought or even abandoned. That is why it is good to START NOW to lay a foundation that will support a beautiful, prayerful, integral ceremony.

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SUMMARY OF THE FOUR FOUNDATION STONES OF WEDDING PLANNING

DOING / WATCHING  -- PRINCIPLE #1: YOU DO THE MARRYING

The bride and groom do the wedding. The Maid of Honor and Best Man, the priest, attendants, witnesses, congregation, witness what the bride and groom do.

AND SO: you will want to plan the ceremony so that it is evident that you, the bride and groom, are the active agents and not merely passive spectators to something that the priest is doing for or to you. You will want to plan so that the agents look active and the witnesses look like witnesses.  For further thoughts about DOING / WATCHING turn to PRINCIPLE ONE below.

SYMBOL -- PRINCIPLE #2: YOUR WEDDING IS A SYMBOLIC ACTION

Your wedding is a public, symbolic action. All symbols convey meaning; your wedding "speaks" to your guests. On your wedding day, in this public action, you want to say something to each other, and to your friends, and to the Church, and to God.

AND SO: What is it you want to say? What does your marriage mean? Why are you getting married? Why are you getting married in Church? What symbols say this meaning?  For further thoughts about SYMBOL turn to PRINCIPLE TWO below.

PRAYER -- PRINCIPLE #3: THE HEART OF THE CEREMONY IS PRAYER

Your wedding day has many parts and components: The rehearsal dinner, the reception, the photography session, the receiving line, the first dance and many other components, -- and the hour in church. The time in church has a different focus than the other components. At the dinner, you want the guests to enjoy their food; at the photography session, you want everyone to smile at the camera; at the dance you want everyone to enjoy the music and the company; in church you want everyone to PRAY.

AND SO: What can you do to make PRAYER the focus of the ceremony?  For further thoughts about PRAYER turn to PRINCIPLE THREE below.

LITURGY -- PRINCIPLE #4: A CATHOLIC CEREMONY IS A LITURGICAL EVENT

A catholic wedding is a LITURGICAL ceremony. Those things which make a good liturgy are the same elements which make a good wedding.

AND SO: Think of a time when you really enjoyed going to church, a time when you really prayed, when you really felt close to God. How can you plan your wedding so that it will have this same effect on your guests?  For further thoughts about LITURGY turn to PRINCIPLE FOUR below.

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PRINCIPLE #1:  DOING / WATCHING -- YOU DO THE MARRYING

The bride and groom do the wedding. The Maid of Honor and Best Man, the priest, attendants, witnesses, congregation, witness what the bride and groom do.

AND SO: you will want to plan the ceremony so that it is evident that you, the bride and groom are the active agents, and not passive spectators to something that the priest is doing for you or to you. You will want to plan so that the agents look active and the witnesses look like witnesses.

VOWS: Traditionally the bride and groom have had very little to say during the wedding -- often merely an "I do". Today, most couples choose to say the entire text of their vows to one another rather than merely saying "I do." Many couples choose to memorize the vows; others choose to read them from a card or from the book held by the priest. The bride and groom speak into the microphone so that this central part of the ceremony can be heard by all their guests.

POSITION: Most couple choose to say their wedding vows standing in front of the altar and facing the congregation. The priest, bride's maid and best man stand at the head of the congregation facing the couple and are the first of the witnessing congregation.

DRESS: A wedding which clearly says that the bride and groom are active participants in the ceremony requires clothing which permits activity and participation. I have seen bridal gowns on television that are truly beautiful to look at but so restrict the bride's movement that she is reduced to an object to be looked at: her movement is so restricted that any active participation in the wedding (other than walking in and walking out) is made impossible by the dress! The clothing you choose for this special day should be truly "special" -- but it should help your wedding, not hinder it. Television is something we watch; a television wedding is something we watch. A catholic wedding is not television -- Church is a participation event.

AT YOUR WEDDING WILL IT BE OBVIOUS TO EVERYONE THAT THE BRIDE AND GROOM ARE ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS IN THE CEREMONY AND NOT MERELY PASSIVE SPECTATORS?

SCARED? There is no reason to be scared or nervous or to say "I couldn't do that". The priest is there to make sure that everything goes smoothly; it is not his "first time"; he is an old hand at this and won't let anything go wrong.

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PRINCIPLE #2:  SYMBOL – A WEDDING IS A SYMBOLIC ACTION

Your wedding is a public, symbolic action. All symbols convey meaning; your wedding "speaks" to your guests. On your wedding day, in this public action, you want to say something to each other, and to your friends, and to the Church, and to God.

AND SO: What is it you want to say? What does your marriage mean? Why are you getting married? Why are you getting married in Church?

CHOOSING TEXTS: The most obvious way you tell your guests what your wedding means is by the words that are used during the ceremony: the readings, the prayers, the homily, the petitions, etc.

Talk about the meaning of your marriage. Together can you agree on a sentence or phrase that can focus what you want your wedding to say? For example: "We want our love to be as firm and lasting as God's love for us." "We two are now one." "This is a new creation." Of course, no phrase or sentence can say totally what your wedding means. That is why the ceremony is a symbolic event. Often a symbol can say more than words. A hug or a kiss can say more than words alone.

The ritual for marriage offers you many choices for the readings from scripture and the prayers of the ceremony. Your priest or parish will supply you with a booklet listing the various readings and texts. A careful selection of these texts will make the wedding personal: your wedding. You can leave these choices to the priest -- but then you will most probably get the priest's "generic wedding," especially if the priest does not know you personally. Generic products are often cheaper and sometimes just as good. But the weddings that I have witnessed where the couple have been most satisfied with the ceremony have been those at which they discussed with the minister or priest what they want their wedding to mean.

HOMILY: It is important to let the priest know where you are in your faith journey. What does your wedding say about your faith? What does it say about the way you experience God and the Church? Why did you pick these readings rather than other passages from the bible? This information will enable the priest to prepare a homily for your wedding which you and your guests will recognize as yours -- and not just "Generic Wedding Sermon Number Three".

SYMBOLS: Symbols express the meaning of your marriage: the round ring speaks of the endlessness of love, the wearing of the ring is a symbol of fidelity. Exchanging the sign of peace with your "new parents" is expressive of the joining of new family relationships. Ethnic, traditional symbols can be very expressive: The handing over of a piece of silver can express "all that I possess I give to you"; the couple might be bound together physically with a rope or a rosary as they are bound together in love. Some couples today find meaning in a unity candle.

UNITY CANDLE: Three candles are placed in a stand near the altar. At the beginning of the wedding, the parents (or family) of the bride and groom light the two outside candles. After saying their wedding vows the bride and groom each light a taper from the candle lit by their family, and together they light the central candle: a new family is born; two become one. Some couples then extinguish the two original candles to show that they have left father and mother to cling to one another; but most couples find it more expressive to let all three candles burning; love is increased, not diminished; there are now three families; the life of the parent family burns on.

ENTRANCE PROCESSION: There was a time when the bride's father (owner) brought (dragged) the bride before the magistrate and there exchanged here for a sum of money (dowry) paid by the groom. When the father no longer sold the girl, he "gave her away." Many couples today find this symbol works against the meaning of their wedding ceremony. They want their ceremony to speak of families, couples, mutuality. The attendants enter together as couples; the groom enters with his father and mother; the bride then enters with her mother and father. At the front of the church they symbolically take leave of their parents and come together and speak a word of welcome to the assembly and invite them to pray God to bless their vows.

MARRIAGE DURING MASS OR WITHOUT MASS: For some Catholics, the ultimate sign of God's faithful love is found in the eucharist. The eucharist can provide a context which amplifies and enforces sacrament of their marriage. In other cases, particularly where the newly married couple would not be able to break bread together (would not both want to, or be able to receive Holy Communion together) the eucharist would be a sign of disunity. In this situation Mass would be inappropriate at a time when the couple wishes their symbolic, sacramental actions to speak of unity.

WHAT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS, READINGS AND SACRAMENTS ARE CONSISTENT, AUTHENTIC, HONEST FOR YOU AT THIS TIME AND FOR YOUR PARENTS AND FAMILIES?

Every symbolic gesture means something: a kiss, joining hands, exchanging rings. You want to examine the symbols you will use to be sure that they mean what you want your wedding to mean. Not all weddings mean the same thing; symbols appropriate for a television wedding, might not in every case be expressive of a church wedding. If you give your bridal bouquet to the Blessed Virgin, what do you say by this action? What does it say about your marriage? How does it aid the prayer of those present? How does it fit the flow of the ceremony?

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PRINCIPLE #3:  THE HEART OF THE CEREMONY IS PRAYER

Your wedding day has many parts and components: The rehearsal dinner, the reception, the photography session, the receiving line, the first dance . . . AND THE HOUR IN CHURCH. The time in church has a different focus than the other components. At the dinner, you want the guests to enjoy their food; at the photography session, you want everyone to smile at the camera; at the dance you want everyone to enjoy the music and the company. In church you want everyone to PRAY.

AND SO: What can you do to make PRAYER the focus of the ceremony?

How do you pray? Have you prayed together? The wedding should not be the first time you have prayed together; the wedding should not be the first time you have gone to church together. If you are from different parishes, or different churches, you should participate several times in the Sunday worship of your spouse. Afterwards, discuss what makes the service prayerful. What helps you feel close to God? What enables the two of you to find inspiration and strength for your struggles to follow Jesus?

You invite friends to the dinner to eat with you; you invite friends to the dance to dance with you; you invite friends to the church to pray with you. The prayer in church is community prayer.

COMMUNITY: You live in various "communities" -- your two families, your two neighborhoods, the people at work, the people you have fun with. Seldom do these various groups of people (all important to you) come together for one event. For example, the people you work with do not know your family; your neighbors are often different from your friends.

How can you plan your wedding so that each of these various groups or communities can be a part of the ceremony? How can your wedding speak to each of them. Which community is the most important? When you close your eyes and think "WEDDING" which group comes to mind first? For many couples, it is their friends, or their parents and family.

PARISH: The focus of the "in church" part of your wedding day is prayer. With whom do you ordinarily pray? These are the people you should have in mind when planning the "in church" part of your marriage celebration. Who is your prayer community? With whom to you feel most comfortable in your dialogue with God?

These questions are harder for a bride and groom who do not have a common parish or prayer community with which they pray. Evidently, compromises will have to be made; consideration will have to be given to each of your traditions of praying. It is easier planning those parts of the marriage which pertain to only one groups of friends: the neighbors, or the bride's friends at a shower; the groom's friends at a bachelor party. Getting all these different groups to pray together is no easy task!

It will be extremely rare that all of the various groups or communities of people that you invite to pray with you at your wedding will come from the same prayer tradition. What can you do to help each person there pray? What would hinder the prayer of your guests?

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO INVITE THE GUESTS TO MOVE BEYOND WATCHING TO PRAYING? WHAT PRAYERS, RESPONSES, SONGS AND HYMNS CAN YOUR GUESTS PRAY TOGETHER MEANINGFULLY?

MUSIC AND SONG: There are many beautiful songs about love and marriage. Which of these express your faith, your prayer; which of these express the role God has played in your relationship. Which songs and hymns invite your guests to prayer? Do the words express the prayer sentiments of those listening to the song? Which songs invite and encourage your guests to join in the singing? Which songs are more appropriate for your reception than for church?

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PRINCIPLE #4: A CATHOLIC CEREMONY IS A LITURGICAL CEREMONY

A catholic wedding is a LITURGICAL ceremony. Those things which make a good liturgy are the same elements which make a good wedding.

AND SO: Think of a time when you really enjoyed going to church, a time when you really prayed, when you really felt close to God. How can you plan your wedding so that it will have this same effect on your guests?

THE SUNDAY PARISH MASS: The way most Catholics experience "liturgy" is at their parish Sunday mass. Those things which make a good Sunday parish liturgy, will make a good wedding liturgy; and those things which hinder liturgy in your parish, will not help your wedding. A reader who can proclaim the Scripture with faith and understanding so as to move the congregation to faith is just as important at your wedding as at Sunday mass. The active participation of various ministers, the lighting, the seating, welcoming the congregation, songs that everyone can sing: all those things that make good liturgy make a good wedding. This is perhaps the most basic and most neglected aspect of planning weddings!

IMAGINARY MODEL: Our imagination plays a vital role in planning a ceremony. Everything you choose to do, you will first have imagined in your mind. Look carefully at your mental image of the ideal wedding? What is the basic model of wedding you have in your mind when you are planning your wedding ceremony? What are your dreams of the perfect wedding? Or put very simply: When you close your eyes and say "WEDDING" what do you see?

DOES THE PICTURE, THE MENTAL IMAGE, THE PERFECT WEDDING LOOK LIKE A BEAUTIFUL WEDDING ON A TELEVISION PROGRAM? DALLAS, FALCON CREST, ALL MY CHILDREN, GENERAL HOSPITAL? OR DOES THE PICTURE, THE MENTAL IMAGE, THE PERFECT WEDDING LOOK LIKE SUNDAY MASS? YOU WILL BE HAPPIER WITH SUNDAY MASS!

This may be hard to believe, (for some it is impossible to believe) but it is a fact, it is a fact that the experience of thousands of married couples can tell you, you will be much happier with your wedding if the "model" for your ceremony is Sunday mass than if you model your wedding on a wedding you have seen on TV, or the marriage of a friend, or the way you've seen it done in a park, or any other model!

It is not necessary for you to be a liturgist; that is why you will have someone trained in liturgy -- your priest or minister -- to help you with the details of the liturgy. But the basic principles are easy.

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION: The active participation of all present at a liturgy is one of the key provisions of catholic liturgy. Even if it is only the heart felt and enthusiastic "Amen" of the congregation at the conclusion of a prayer for you, even an "Amen" moves your guests from spectators to participants. Of course, you can go far beyond that. What draws you into Sunday mass? Meaningful prayers? Songs everyone can sing? A smile of welcome? Provide for this at your wedding!

WEDDING PROGRAM (PARTICIPATION AID): Just as at Sunday mass, a worship book, hymnal, or program can provide the words for prayers which the congregation does not know by heart, and the words to hymns which they will be invited to sing, at a wedding many couples find that a prepared participation aid is a help for the guests. These few pages are more than a mere program listing the names of the wedding party and the other ministers (although that can be important for your guests also). The words to the responses, the psalm response, the hymns, the prayers you want them to say together -- these can all be included in this booklet. The booklet is especially useful when you have invited guests from various prayer communities into this one prayer. Indications for when to sit and stand can make guests feel comfortable in your church. Many prayers are shared by various communities: the Gloria, the Holy, holy, holy, the Lord's Prayer. Many hymns are the shared tradition of different communities.

When you cut the cake, you want your guests to watch; when you enter the church to ask God to bless your marriage, you want your guests to do more than watch, you want them to actively participate, to pray, to sing, to witness -- and at a Mass, to break the Bread of Life and share the Cup of Salvation with you.

CONCLUSIONS: SOME THINGS TO DECIDE

Who will be in the entrance procession?

How are you going to welcome the people?

Are you going to have a unity candle?

Which prayer texts do you want the priest to use?

Which passages from Scripture express the meaning of your marriage?

Who will proclaim the readings?

Which songs and hymns express the meaning of your wedding?

How are you going to say your vows?

What petitions do you want in the General Intercessions?

Will the wedding be at mass?

Who will bring up the gifts?

Who will assist with Communion?

Who will hold the cups for the Precious Blood?

Which blessings and prayers do you want the priest to use?

Do you wish to say a word of thanksgiving or conclusion?

Are you going to print a participation aid? What will it contain?

I have helped hundreds of couples prepare for weddings and it has been my constant experience, without exception, that a bride and groom that take the time and effort to answer honestly the questions in this paper have happier memories of their wedding than those who spend their energies only on the reception, the dresses, the invitations, etc. to the neglect of the Church part of their wedding day. It's your time and your money -- you can spend it where you want. But anyone who has gone through this before you will tell you that your time and effort are better invested in something things than in others. Couples who have taken as much time to choose passages from the Bible as to choose songs for the reception are more satisfied with their investment of time when they look back on their wedding ten days after the honeymoon - or ten years after the honeymoon. The future is always a mystery in the hands of God, but couples who are willing to discuss together the meaning of their marriage, their faith journey, the role God is going to play in their marriage, and the prayer dimension of their wedding are the couples most likely to still be together ten years after the honeymoon. It's a fact.

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One page handout

[I have developed the following one page handout that I give to couples when they first ask me to to "have their wedding."  I discuss it with them after they have watched and discussed the video Planning Your Wedding Liturgy]

Congratulations on Your Marriage!

Thank you for asking me to be a part of your Wedding Day!

Dear friends:

I have helped many couples plan their wedding liturgy. I have written several books and articles resulting from this experience and I have assisted in the production of a 30-minute Catholic Update Video: Planning Your Wedding Liturgy which I hope will help couples such as yourselves prepare for this most important day.

Couples make various decisions regarding the variable elements of the liturgy. In the days, weeks, and months after the wedding, many brides and grooms have talked to me about the things they liked best about their ceremony. The things I hear them say most frequently are:

"Thinking of the marriage ceremony as liturgical prayer..."

"Saying the vows by memory facing the congregation..."

"Coming down the aisle with our parents..."

"Asking for the participation of the congregation (e.g. in prayer and in song)..."

"Using songs that Christ would sing..."

"Saying the first words of the ceremony (e.g. Thank you for coming... Pray for us...)..."

"Standing at the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer..."

"Ministering Holy Communion to each another..."

"Having the wedding party enter as couples..."

"Starting with a liturgical entrance procession..."

"Being at the Church door together as bride and groom greeting our guests as they arrived..."

"Having all the pictures taken before the wedding so that we could go directly to the reception and be with our guests..."

These are the ritual actions that I personally prefer at weddings – not because I like them (though I do), and not because they make sense (which they do), but because couples who have done these things at their weddings are most satisfied and happy that they did them. I know you may not have thought of all of these things or may not have even seen some of them done. But they are common in many areas and are becoming more common each day because couples find them satisfying.

Thank you for considering these options.

Rev. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.

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Some Thoughts as You Plan Your Wedding Liturgy
at St. Monica-St. George

[The following is a handout given to couples preparing for marriage at St. Monica - St. George Parish at Cincinnati.  The parish also serves as the Newman Center for the University of Cincinnati.  I think that it is exceptionally well written with a good feel for the liturgy and employs an excellent pastoral sensitivity.  It is reprinted here with the permission of the authors/pastors Rev. Jeffrey Scheeler O.F.M. and Rev. Alan Hirt O.F.M. I hope it might be helpful in serving as a guide for you as you formulate your own "handout".]

Congratulations on your engagement!! We are pleased that you will be celebrating your wedding here at St. Monica -St. George Parish Newman Center. You obviously have much to do in the coming months. We certainly encourage couples to prepare for the marriage, but we know it is important to plan the wedding ceremony, too. There are many customs and traditions surrounding marriage and the marriage ceremony. Some of them are good and worthwhile; some, however, should be reflected upon to see if they are appropriate for our understanding of a Catholic sacramental marriage, and a Catholic liturgical ceremony. We offer these reflections and suggestions so that you can think about them as you begin to plan. We do not insist on all the specific recommendations, we do, however, invite you to consider them seriously.

In General

Maybe it goes without saying, but we encourage you to keep the ceremony reverent, graceful, beautiful, and appropriate. We like to encourage our couples to keep an elegant simplicity in their wedding ceremony.

Your wedding ceremony is considered by the church to be a public liturgy, an act of prayer and worship. There is a wedding ceremony, a wedding ritual. As such, it is not completely private or individual, in fact, it must be a "public" ceremony. .It should have the "feel" of prayer and worship; something that invites people to participate. We don't want to encourage people to simply watch as spectators.

Flowers should not be placed on the altar. In our church, you really do not need too many flowers.

Mass, or not?

In general, if a Catholic marries someone who is not Catholic, we recommend that the ceremony not be a Mass. The basic reason for this is that at the present time, non-Catholics are not invited to Communion at Mass. Not having a Mass removes the discomfort of the non Catholic party and guests not receiving Communion.

The importance of symbols

You know how important symbols are, especially at weddings. The whole wedding experience is filled with traditions and symbols. How we do the parts of the wedding ceremony is important. Our rituals "speak"; they symbolize for us what we think about what we are doing. (You might ask yourself, if someone who had no idea of what we were doing --someone from another planet! -- came and watched the ceremony, what would they think we believed?)

How do we come into church?

This is one of the areas where we invite you to think about something different from what is often done now.

Most of the time you see something like this: the priest comes out from the sanctuary, the women in the wedding party enter by themselves, perhaps meeting their escorts at some point, and then the bride enters escorted by her father, who "gives her away" to the groom who is standing in front.

Maybe think of it another way. The model for the entrance should be Sunday Mass. In the entrance procession there is the Book of Readings and the liturgical ministers: the priest, the readers, the eucharistic minister, the wedding party.

To see or not to see?

Many times the bride and groom try not to see each other before the ceremony. Why?  In the days of arranged marriages, it was considered "bad luck" for the groom to see the bride.  Do we really want to continue or encourage such superstitions? You might consider greeting your guests (as a couple) as they arrive, thanking them for coming, and inviting them to pray for you. (Sure they would be surprised, but probably pleasantly!)

The wedding party

In general, we encourage you not to have too many couples in the wedding party, perhaps 4 or 5 at the most. The more couples you have, the more lengthy processions become, the more crowded the space is, the more difficult everything is to manage. For the church, all that is required is the priest/deacon and two witnesses.  In fact, the witnesses can be any two persons in attendance.

You might consider having the wedding party enter as couples, rather than just having the women enter by themselves. This can lessen the feel of a "fashion show" that can sometimes be communicated.

If you are using children as flowers girls and ring bearers, they should be old enough to walk in without drawing undue attention to themselves. We suggest a minimum age of 5 or 6.

Very often the bride is escorted in by her father. Again this developed at a time when the bride was viewed as a piece of property given to a new owner. While it doesn't mean that now, it may be time to evaluate the symbols.  We invite you to consider having both the bride and groom enter escorted by their parents. Sometimes there are problems with this due to deaths and divorces, but we think it is worthwhile considering.  It better symbolizes what we Catholics believe and want to communicate to those in attendance.

As an alternative, the bride and groom could also enter together.

We do not permit the use of an aisle runner. Simply put, they are dangerous; people can slip, especially those not in the wedding party as they go to communion and leave the church. Again, this custom came from a time when it was necessary to protect the dress from the dirt floor. We can save you some money with this one!

Readings

The readings you choose should be from Sacred Scripture. You are not limited to the ones suggested in the books we have provided you. There may be others that speak more meaningfully to you. They should be read by people who are good readers, comfortable with public readings. They do not have to be Catholic.

The wedding rite

In most weddings on TV, the bride and groom have their back to the crowd; the minister faces the congregation. Here we turn that around. We invite you to face the congregation. The priest will stand by the first pew, symbolizing that he is witnessing your vows with the congregation.

The wedding party can join you on the steps, but they do not need to. You could also choose to just have the maid of honor and best man join you.

It is most appropriate for you to have your vows memorized, rather than to repeat phrases after the priest. You may think you will be nervous or forget, but we can prompt you. People want to hear your vows to each other; it's why they came.  Often it is the only thing they can't hear! We can provide microphones that the best man, for example, could hold near you so that the congregation can hear you.

There is also a little phrase to say as you give rings to each other.

A unity candle?

The unity candle is not part of the marriage ceremony. It is something that some couples have added in recent years.  While it is not forbidden, we do discourage its use. When symbols are added, there is usually a reason; often because the other symbols are "weak" and need to be "strengthened". It probably has been added because people could not hear the vows and sharing of rings well. Some couples also use the unity candle as a way of highlighting the mothers' presence at the beginning, since they often light the two side candles. Why not do that by having the mothers enter with the bride and groom? If you do not choose that, they could also bring up the gifts at a Mass, or be highlighted in another way. In general, it would be more appropriate to strengthen the primary symbols of vows and rings, rather than adding symbol upon symbol.  Adding more symbols can tend to almost "equate" the symbols of vows, rings, candle. How do we know which is the most important thing?

As an alternative, this might make a nice addition to the reception festivities.

Intercessions

This is another area where you can personalize your ceremony. The books we have given you provide you with samples. We encourage you to personalize them for your circumstances. Again they should be read by someone who is comfortable reading in public.

Flowers to Mary?

This devotion is also not part of the marriage rite. It too, was something that was added, more in times past than today, but some couples still request it. Again, we would discourage it, unless the couple has had a sincere devotion to Mary throughout their lives. As an alternative, this could be used as a prayerful ending to the wedding rehearsal.

Pictures, Video

Those who perform these services for you should be as unobtrusive as possible. They should not come into the sanctuary or do anything that distracts the prayer.

Program

A program for your guests is often quite helpful. You should let the priest and the music director look it over before you print it, in case there are inadvertent mistakes concerning the ceremony.

Music

You will be working with our music minister to select the music. In general, music should be liturgical. Non-liturgical music should be used in other settings e.g., the rehearsal dinner or at the reception.

Coordinator

At the rehearsal and at the wedding this parish requires the presence of a church wedding coordinator. They are most helpful to the priest and the music director. They set up the church; they help coordinate the entrance procession; they talk with the florists, photographers, etc.

Dismissal/Receiving Line

Some couples like to return and dismiss the guests pew by pew. Some couples also like to have a receiving line in the back of church to greet their guests. Our experience tells us that both of these options take a very long time; they delay your picture taking and your arrival at the reception. We would recommend that you avoid both of these and greet your guests at the reception.  

[Revised 1/01/99]

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Marriage Preparation Policies at St. Monica-St. George

[The following are the marriage preparation policies for couples preparing for marriage at St. Monica-St. George Parish Newman Center (for the University of Cincinnati), 328 West McMillan Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45219.  I think that they are exceptionally well written and can be a help in composing policies for your parish.  They are reprinted here with the kind permission of the authors Rev. Jeffrey Scheeler O.F.M. and Rev. Alan Hirt O.F.M.  In reading these policies I was struck by the fact that they cover so many (all?) of the areas of concern.]

1. WHO CAN BE MARRIED AT ST. MONICA-ST. GEORGE?

In order to be married at St. Monica-St. George Church, either the bride or the groom should be one of the following:

1. A registered member of our parish.  A registered parishioner is considered to be a person who has completed a parish registration form and is participating actively in the faith life and community of our parish prior to asking to be married here.

2. Couples seeking a parish home, who register and become participating members.

3. One who resides within the geographical boundaries of our parish.

4. A current student who currently attends here, or a recent graduate who was active in the parish while a student at UC.

For serious pastoral reasons, we may make an exception to these guidelines, but only with the permission of the pastor of the Catholic parties. Catholic parties must be registered in a Catholic Church.

2. CONFIRMING THE DATE OF YOUR WEDDING

Under most circumstances, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati requires a six-month preparation period for all marriages.

The first step in the marriage preparation process is to speak with one of the priests at St. Monica-St. George to discern your readiness to celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage in the Catholic Church. Once this preliminary step has been accomplished, a tentative date can be set.  It is necessary to confirm the date within thirty (30) days by submitting the Pre-Marital Information Sheet and by making an initial non-refundable deposit of $50 for the use of the church. If the date and time is not confirmed and the deposit is not received within this time period, it is presumed that the date and/or time is not needed and your names will be removed from our calendar.

3. WEDDING TIMES

Weddings are usually celebrated any time during the Easter Season or the Ordinary Time of the liturgical calendar. Weddings are discouraged during the Advent and Lenten seasons. If a wedding is scheduled during these seasons of the Church year, the celebration must reflect the spirit of the season of the liturgical calendar. Weddings may never be celebrated on Holy Saturday.

Weddings must be scheduled during times that will not conflict with our weekend liturgical schedule. Our current schedule of liturgies is: The Sacrament of Reconciliation beginning at 3:30 p.m. followed by the celebration of the Eucharist at 4:30 p.m. Therefore, weddings are usually celebrated on Saturdays at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. Given our schedule of prayer services and weekend liturgies, Friday weddings are not possible. Although three time slots are available, usually only two weddings are scheduled per weekend.

4. OFFICIATING PRIEST OR DEACON

The priests of our parish will gladly assist you in your marriage preparation and officiate at your wedding as their schedules permit.  At the present time, Fr. Al Hirt is serving as the coordinator for the preparation for the Sacrament of Matrimony. He will work with you to schedule a priest from our parish to preside at your ceremony. He will also work with you to make certain that you are completing other preparations that are required.

Any priest or deacon in good standing with his bishop and the Roman Catholic Church is welcome to officiate. His name, address, and phone number must be given to Fr. Al when the date and time of your wedding are confirmed. We will gladly write him a welcome letter and enclose a copy of our wedding guidelines.  The officiating priest or deacon is then responsible for all preparations, the rehearsal and ceremony as well as ensuring that all Archdiocesan and liturgical guidelines and the State of Ohio requirements are observed. (Anyone in the State of Ohio who witnesses marriage needs a license from the State. The priest or deacon must present his credentials to the Secretary of State to receive a license. It costs $ 10.)  If it is difficult for the officiating priest to assist you with these preparations for any reason, please inform us as soon as possible so that one of the priests from our parish can assume these responsibilities.

If one of you is not Catholic, generally the wedding ceremony does not include the celebration of the Eucharist.  In that case the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated followed by the Rite of Marriage.  Interfaith couples may also invite a minister from another denomination to take part in the celebration.

5. GENERAL PREPARATIONS

Since this is a very important time in preparing for your life commitment to one another, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati ordinarily requires a six month period of preparation before marriage. The steps in the preparation process are as follows:

1. Meet with one of the priests of the parish to discern your readiness to celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage and to determine if a church wedding is appropriate.

2. Attendance at a "Planning Your Wedding" session scheduled by St. Monica-St. George Parish.

3. Participation in either 1) The Pre-Cana Program or 2) The Engaged Encounter Weekend Retreat sponsored by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Information about both these programs is included in this packet.  Additional information can be obtained from: The Archdiocesan Family Life Office, 100 East Eighth Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. Phone: 421-3131. Attendance at one of these programs should be completed significantly before the wedding, but at least three months before your wedding.

Other preparation programs are available in other dioceses if it is more convenient for you to attend in another geographical area. Contact the Chancery Office of the diocese where you would like to attend for more information.

4. Completion of the FOCCUS Inventory (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding & Study). This instrument for marriage preparation is used in all parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  The instrument is administered in our parish. Once the instrument has been administered, it is computer scored. All information obtained is strictly confidential. Once the scores have been obtained, a series of sessions with a married couple from our parish who are trained as facilitators will assist you in understanding the commonalties as well as the differences in your relationships so as to draw you closer to one another. A detailed explanation of the FOCCUS Inventory is also included in this packet. The FOCCUS should be administered and discussed three to four months before your wedding.

5. With the guidance of the officiating priest or deacon, you will actively participate in the liturgical preparation of your wedding ceremony. Ordinarily, all preparations for the ceremony must be completed at least three weeks prior to your wedding date so as not to cause undue stress and anxiety for all involved.  It is the responsibility of the engaged couple to make certain that they have fulfilled all the required preparations. Please use the "Wedding Checklist" included in this packet as a reminder.

6. REQUIRED DOCUMENTS

The following documents are required and must be received by our preparation team no later than six weeks prior to your wedding.

I . The Pre-Marital Information Sheet for bride and groom. This form must be completed when your $50 deposit is made to reserve the church.

2. Baptismal certificates for both parties whether Catholic or Protestant. These documents must be issued from the church of your baptism no sooner than six months prior to your wedding date. These documents help the engaged couple discern with the priest the form of marriage rite best suited to your religious background and personal spirituality.  If you cannot obtain these documents, the priest working with you will give you alternative instructions.

3. Responses to the "M-1" form & Addendum questions included in this packet. We ask that these questions be completed at least three months prior to your wedding.

4. Pre-Cana or Engaged Encounter Weekend Retreat certificate. It is best to attend one of these programs at least three months before your wedding.

5. If non-parishioners, a letter from the pastor of each Catholic party giving permission for the wedding to take place in our church.

6. A civil marriage license from the State of Ohio. This may be obtained within sixty (60) days prior to your wedding from any Ohio county Probate Court. The phone number for the Hamilton County Probate Court is 946-3589. The marriage license must be received prior to your rehearsal.  No marriage may take place without a license!

7. FEES

[Fees are subject to change in 2002]

A $50 deposit is required to reserve the church. All other fees are due at the rehearsal.

Registered Parishioners or Students:  $50 deposit to reserve church. $100 balance due at rehearsal.  (Payable to St. Monica-St. George Parish)  A registered parishioner/student is one who has completed a parish registration form and is participating actively in the faith life and community of our parish prior to asking to be married here.

Newly Registered:  $50 deposit to reserve church.  $200 balance due at rehearsal.  (Payable to St. Monica-St. George Parish) 

Others:  $50 deposit to reserve church.  $350 balance due at rehearsal.  (Payable to St. Monica-St. George Parish.

ALL OF THE ABOVE MUST PAY:   $60 fee for Parish Wedding Coordinator. (Name will be provided prior to rehearsal.) $125 stipend for Music Director. (Payable to Jill Kreinbrink) $ 100 stipend for Cantor. (Name will be provided prior to rehearsal.) $ 100 stipend for each additional musician. (Names will be provided prior to rehearsal.) $75 stipend suggested for Presider. (Payable to priest /presider.)

8. MUSIC & MUSICIANS

All music at St. Monica-St. George is under the supervision of our Music Director, Ms. Jill Kreinbrink. Jill will help you plan and approve all music for your wedding.  It is important to keep in mind that the wedding ceremony is a liturgical celebration; that is, a prayerful celebration.  Music selections must be appropriate to the liturgical setting.

It is preferred that our Music Director be the organist for your wedding.  In the event that she is unable to play for your wedding, she can arrange for someone else to play. The fee for our Music Director is $125. This includes meeting with you to plan the music as well as coordinating the music and musicians, and playing for the ceremony. This fee must be paid prior to the wedding ceremony. Make checks payable to Jill Kreinbrink.

You will need a cantor at your wedding ceremony to lead the assembly in singing.  In the event that you decide to include other instrumentalists, our Music Director will make contact with these professionals. Specific requests should be made as soon as possible for either a male or female singer and other instrumentalists. The fee for each vocalist and instrumentalist is $100. Individual checks are necessary for each musician and singer you request for your ceremony. It is important to note that once a musician or singer has been contracted for your wedding, you are responsible for paying them. Checks for musicians and singers should be given to the wedding coordinator at your rehearsal.

It is important to keep in mind that our Music Director works with professional musicians and vocalists that she knows are reliable and able to perform the music you have chosen in a professional manner. The rehearsal for vocalists and instrumentalists is one hour before the wedding. Although we understand that wedding couples sometimes ask to have friends or family members involved in the ceremony, we do not recommend using vocalists or instrumentalists who are not professionally trained. If you choose to use your own vocalists or instrumentalists who need additional rehearsal time, please keep in mind that additional rehearsal times require a fee of $25.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has established guidelines for music at weddings. A copy of these guidelines is included in this packet. Any questions regarding music for the wedding should be directed to Jill Kreinbrink.

9. THE LITURGICAL CELEBRATION

Please remember that your wedding celebration is a time of prayer. The spiritual dimension of the sacrament should be the first priority in planning your wedding. The priest who will preside at your wedding will work with you to make certain that your wedding celebration is prayerful and personal. The bride and groom are the most important ministers of the wedding liturgy. Therefore, it is important that you work with the Presider and music director to make appropriate choices for songs and prayers. The book Celebrating Marriage is included in the packet of preparation materials and contains very useful guidelines for all couples preparing for marriage at our parish. We encourage you to read through this book very carefully and use the worksheets to plan your wedding liturgy.  When you are finished with the book, we would appreciate if you would return the book; it helps us keep our expenses down.

10. WEDDING COORDINATOR

We have established a position of Wedding Coordinator to assist all wedding couples at our parish. The Wedding Coordinator works with the music director and the priests on our pastoral staff to coordinate the plans that you have made for your liturgical celebration.  In some cases the Wedding Coordinator may facilitate the wedding rehearsal if the presiding priest is not available. The Wedding Coordinator will assist all visiting priests or clergy who may be presiding at wedding ceremonies at our parish. The Wedding Coordinator will also assist the florist, photographer, wedding party, family members and others who will be taking part in the ceremony. The Wedding Coordinator will also serve as a trouble-shooter in case last minute problems arise. As noted in the fee section, the stipend for the Wedding Coordinator is $60.

11. FLOWERS & DECORATIONS

Many couples consider donating the flowers or live plants for their ceremony to the church as a way of sharing your celebration with our entire parish community. We always appreciate this gesture! You may, however, take any flowers or plants with you after the ceremony if you so desire. If there is another wedding scheduled on the same day as yours, we will gladly give you the names of the other couple so that you may talk together so that you may consider sharing expenses for flowers and decorations.

Sanctuary furniture, furnishings, and church decorations may not be removed by the florist or the wedding party. You may, however, add to what is in place. Decorations may not be set prior to two hours before the wedding ceremony. Only masking tape or wire may be used to hold decorations in place. The parish has many kinds and sizes of stands for plants, candles and other decorations. We do not provide candles to be used for a Unity candle but we do have candle stands and many sizes and styles of pedestals for displaying the Unity candle.

Because of the danger of slipping, especially for those not in the wedding party as they go to Communion and leave the church, use of an aisle runner is prohibited.

No flowers may be dropped in the main aisle or elsewhere in the church. Throwing rice, confetti, bird seed, etc. is prohibited anywhere on church property.

It is the responsibility of the wedding party, photographer and florist to assist the Wedding Coordinator in removing all candles, decorations, and other equipment as soon as the ceremony is over. This is most important when another parish liturgy is scheduled later in the day. Since the florists generally do not return to the church after the wedding ceremony, please be considerate and help the Wedding Coordinator remove decorations.

Please keep in mind that the church is used for other liturgical events - funerals, novenas and Masses. It is the responsibility of the wedding party to assist the wedding coordinator clean up all flowers, decorations, programs, papers etc.

12. PHOTOGRAPHS& VIDEOS

Photographs and videos are permitted provided they do not distract the wedding party, the Presider, musicians, singers, or the congregation.  For this reason flash or extra lighting is not permitted during the ceremony.  The liturgy takes preference over photographs and videos. The photographer and/or videographer may not enter the sanctuary at any time. The general rule of thumb is that the videographer and/or photographer may not be any closer than the second pillar from the sanctuary. We encourage all video cameras to be set on a tripod in a stationary location. (This will also ensure that your videos will come out smoothly).

Photographs may be taken before the ceremony or after the ceremony provided they do not interfere with the schedule of our weekend liturgies. No wedding parties are permitted to enter the church while other services are in session. We ask that photographs after the ceremony be limited.  The rule of thumb to follow is that you have 90 minutes for your ceremony and photographs. This is important to keep in mind if your wedding is scheduled before a weekend Mass for the parish.

We encourage you to make a list with your photographer of all the photographs you want prior to the wedding, during the ceremony, and after the ceremony. We will do our best to help you in this process, especially after the ceremony, because we know that you do not want to keep your guests waiting.

13. PARKING

Parking is limited in the Clifton area. Our lot is available free of charge. It is important, however, to note that the larger portion of our parking area is behind our Catholic Center.

If your wedding is scheduled after a parish liturgy or prayer service, parking will be even more limited until the lots clear. All driveways must be kept clear. Parking spaces are designated for the physically challenged.

We share with all Clifton residents and businesses the challenges of the many hills in the area. During the winter, our parking lots tend to become slippery slides. Please make certain that guests who may have trouble managing a lengthy walk have someone to assist them.

14. THE REHEARSAL

We suggest that the rehearsal of your wedding be scheduled as soon as you confirm your wedding date and time. If the celebrant will be a priest of our parish staff, he can schedule it with you. If the celebrant is not a member of our staff, it will be necessary to make arrangements with our parish secretary as well as with the celebrant.

Usually rehearsals are scheduled for one hour, at 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on the eve of your wedding. It is very important that all members of the wedding party be in attendance. We also encourage all other ministers (especially readers) to be in attendance. It is also important that all those attending the rehearsal be here on time. Traffic in Clifton is usually heavy on Friday evenings so it is important to plan accordingly.

When two weddings are planned on the same day, you will be informed of the time of the other rehearsal. A novena service is scheduled in the church every Friday evening. Delays on your part will result in a shortened rehearsal thus creating possible confusion on your wedding day.

Arrangements can be made for the rehearsal to take place on another day and time if necessary. Please inform the priest if you would like to make arrangements for another time.

Checklist  of things to, bring to rehearsal:

Give to presider:  Marriage License

Give to Wedding Coordinator:  All Church wedding fees;  Programs; Unity Candle (if used); Celebrating Marriage book

15. THE DAY OF THE WEDDING

You may begin to decorate or take pictures in the church two hours before your ceremony. This may not always be possible due to other weddings, funerals, liturgies, etc. scheduled in the church. If you have a 6:30 wedding you may arrive at 5:30 when Mass is over. The wedding party and all other ministers during the ceremony should arrive at least 45 minutes before the ceremony is to begin.

There is a small room in the undercroft of the church where the bride and bridesmaids can gather. Restrooms are available in this area of the church as well. You may choose to dress in this area. If this space is used, it must be cleaned as soon as the ceremony is over. Although this space is convenient for the bride and bridesmaids, it is also the main restroom in the church. This can be a problem if privacy is a must. This area is in the undercroft, accessible only by stairs. There is also a handicapped accessible restroom in the side vestibule of the church.

The groom and the best man usually wait in the sacristy with the priest or deacon. Ushers begin seating guests approximately 20 minutes before the ceremony begins. There is a restroom 'in the parish office building for use by the groom and groomsmen.

It is virtually impossible for the bride and bridesmaids to have contact with the Presider, the groom, and the best man before the ceremony is to begin simply because of the distance involved. Last minute delays or problems can result in panic! The wedding coordinator will provide assistance for the wedding party and family members prior to the ceremony.

We do have a telephone in the sacristy but it is not equipped to handle in-coming calls and we do not always have a receptionist in our offices on Saturdays. If you are anticipating any situation where someone may need to contact you, we suggest you ask a family member or friend with a cellular phone to serve as a contact person.

16. OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Our Pastoral Team and the Wedding Coordinator are here to help you make your wedding day very special. Our main priority is that your wedding will be a time of prayer and joyful celebration for you and your guests. We will cooperate with you to make certain that the planning process is completed with great care and concern.

All facilities at St. Monica-St. George are smoke-free and alcohol free.

It is the responsibility of the wedding couple to make certain that you are following the Preparation Checklist so that you will be ready for your celebration in ample time. It is your responsibility to contact the Pastoral Team member you are working with if problems arise or if you do not understand what is required.

Please remember, no drinking of alcohol anywhere on church grounds!

Please remember:  we are available to help you, but other parish and campus ministry responsibilities sometimes make it impossible for us to return your calls immediately. Please leave messages with phone numbers where we can reach you day and evening.

We hope that you will continue to celebrate your faith throughout your married life. You are most welcome to become involved in our parish ministries.

Ask about participating in a discussion group with other newly married couples.

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To Think About

How reasonable to you find the above guidelines?

How can you help the couple come to see the importance of the gift (sacrament) they give to the parish?

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/08/10.  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.