Religion Etiquette: The Case of the Christian Coworker

Plus: Jewish naming ceremonies, Hindu funerals, and Protestant weddings in Catholic churches

BY: the editors of Beliefnet


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My fiancé and I are planning our wedding. He was brought up Catholic, and I was brought up Presbyterian. We'd like to have a Presbyterian minister officiate at the wedding, but in a Catholic church. Is this possible, or will we just offend everyone involved by asking? Our families are totally okay with it -- I'm just wondering about the church and minister. We know the minister personally -- but we do not have a connection to the Catholic church we had in mind. Any advice about how to approach this delicately would be greatly appreciated! --Ms. WH

Laura Sheahen responds:

You won't necessarily offend anyone by asking, but your request almost certainly won't work out. The Catholic Church requires that couples marrying "in the Church"--meaning not a physical building, but within the guidelines set by the Church--complete a marriage preparation course and fulfill other requirements for the sacrament. If the Catholic spouse is marrying a non-Catholic, there may be even more hurdles.

Specific requirements vary by Catholic diocese. But since you and your fiancé aren't planning to marry "in the Church," you also probably won't be allowed to marry in an actual Catholic church building. "It's like saying, 'Can I come to your house and throw a dinner party? ...But we're not going to abide by your house rules,'" says the Rev. James Martin, associate editor of America magazine.

So it would make the most sense to marry in a Protestant church with your Presbyterian minister officiating. However, there are ways to show you value the faith of your fiancé's family. According to the Rev. Kenneth York of the Diocese of Belleville, a Protestant marriage can be recognized by the Catholic Church if you talk to your local Catholic parish priest and request a "dispensation from canonical form" from your bishop. If you're not up for the

paperwork and other tasks

that would involve, you might consider asking a Catholic priest to be present at your Protestant ceremony and give a blessing.

We are attending a Jewish naming ceremony this weekend. We gave a gift at the child's birth, which we know has been opened. We are unsure of the etiquette for attending a naming ceremony, and whether we are expected to either bring or not bring a gift, or if it is perhaps optional. I am the baby's uncle. --Chris

Alice Chasan responds:

If you gave the new parents a gift on the occasion of the child's birth, it is not necessary to give another gift at the naming ceremony. However, since you are a close relative, and this is presumably a religious ceremony, you might choose to give a second gift, especially one with Jewish significance, such as a mezuzah or a kiddush cup. This would become part of your new niece or nephew's Jewish legacy as she/he grows up.

I, a Christian, attended a funeral for a Hindu woman last week. I would like to find out the meaning of all the items that the Hindu priest used during the service. I can remember a coconut, flowers (yellow and white), rice and I am not sure what else there was on the table. Can you offer any help for me to learn about the items used for Hindu funerals?-- Pat

Laura Sheahen responds:

Different Hindu sects use different items, but most Hindu death rituals share common practices. Only light-colored flowers are used in the rites, usually as an offering to the deity (such as Shiva) most meaningful to the family. The rice and coconut are also offered during worship. When placed in the mouth of the deceased prior to cremation, the rice symbolizes nourishment for the departed soul.

The rites are complex and can last for many days, with commemorations at fixed intervals during the weeks and months following the death. For detailed information on Hindu death rituals and the meaning of objects used in ceremonies, see these articles:

  • Hindu Rites for Death and Grief
  • A Day-by-Day Guide to Hindu Death Rituals
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