The number of interreligious partnerships has steadily increased in recent years. Since not only the elements and processes of marriage and marriage rituals differ, but also the understanding of marriage in the various religions, brief introductions to some aspects of partnerships between Christian and non-Christian people follow at this point. The descriptions relate to the specific context and characteristics of religious traditions in more countries.
1. Interfaith Wedding – Practices and Situations in Other Countries
In practice, interfaith wedding celebrations are rather rare and they are usually not welcomed from the perspective of the respective religions. The majority of couples therefore opt for a wedding according to one of the two religious traditions, such as marriages between Christians and Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. In an interreligious partnership with a Jewish person, marriage in the synagogue is out of the question. In both the Reformed and Roman Catholic Churches it is possible to incorporate non-Christian elements to varying degrees with pastoral sensitivity. Contrary to many other countries, in Switzerland, for example, a religious ceremony is only an individual addition, but by law it is not binding. Couples who want to get married in Switzerland must therefore have been married in a civil ceremony before the religious ceremony.
2. Interfaith Wedding – Rules to Follow
From a Christian point of view, there is basically nothing against a marriage of a couple of different religions. In order to be married in a Roman Catholic Church, one of the spouses must be a baptized Catholic and a member of the Roman Catholic Church. The other can belong to another denomination or no religion, in which case a dispensation by the diocese leadership is required. Further requirements are that neither of the two has ever entered into a sacramental marriage. In order to be able to get married in a Protestant-Reformed church, one of the two spouses must belong to a Reformed or another Protestant church. It is also possible for a non-Reformed couple to marry if they intend to lead the marriage in a Christian sense.
Church weddings differ in their elements depending on the denomination, but also in their theological understanding. The main difference between the Roman Catholic and the Evangelical-Reformed Church is that in the Evangelical faith the marriage ceremony is a marriage blessing, in the Catholic faith it is a sacrament. A sacramental marriage is fundamentally indissoluble. Under certain circumstances, a “natural marriage” between two non-Christians can be recognized by the Catholic Church as valid, i.e. sacramental. Before a church wedding, there is always a detailed pastoral conversation with the two – the bride and groom. In the Catholic Church, witnesses play a role in the wedding service, where they witness the wedding by their presence and sign the wedding document at the end. In a Protestant-Reformed wedding ceremony, witnesses and other people can also take on roles in the celebration in a participatory sense.
The marriage covenant is usually publicly proclaimed with a liturgical celebration in the church. In the Evangelical-Reformed Church this takes place as part of a Protestant service, in the Catholic Church as part of a Mass or a celebration of the Word of God. Important elements are the opening with the couple entering the church, prayers, readings, intercession and blessing. The actual wedding ceremony forms the central part, in which the bride and groom give each other the wedding vows or say the wedding saying or the “yes” word and exchange the rings. In the Evangelical Reformed Church the couple is blessed, in the Roman Catholic Church the rings are also blessed. In the case of a Roman Catholic mass, the ceremony ends with the celebration of the Eucharist, in the case of a Liturgy of the Word as well as a Protestant-Reformed service, the celebration ends with the “Lord’s Prayer”/”Our Father” prayer and a final blessing.
This is often followed by a social festival, where everyone eats and celebrates together. Depending on the size of the wedding party, it is also possible that only some of the guests are invited. According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, for the final realization of a sacramental marriage, physical consummation, i.e. sexual intercourse, is required in addition to the “yes” word. Only then is it considered indissoluble.
3. Interfaith Wedding – Muslim and Christian Wedding
A Muslim can marry a Christian. He has to be a role model and help his wife to live her faith, for example he has to drive her to church. Mutual children become Muslim. From the Islamic side, a woman’s conversion is highly recommended. When a Muslim marries a Christian, the marriage ceremony can be performed as described above. In addition, the hodja explains the difficulties of an interfaith marriage and the special duties of the man and the rights of the woman to practice religion. From an Islamic point of view, a Christian cannot marry a Muslim woman without first converting to Islam himself. Although this is very simple, it must be carefully considered, since there is only one entry but no exit from Islam. Basically, a marriage is for life. Divorce is possible according to Islamic law, but it is only considered the very last option if living together is really not possible.
Before the Islamic ceremony, the bridal couple must have been legally married. The hodja (or imam – prayer leader) submits the marriage form together with all the details of the bride, the groom and the two witnesses, i.e. two men or one man and two women. In Albanian weddings, both fathers are also present, in Turkish weddings the immediate bridal gift, called “small Mehir”, is also noted (e.g. money, gold jewelry, real estate). The ceremony usually takes place in a private apartment or in a “mescid” (mosque, prayer room). The hodja explains the rights and obligations of starting a family and asks the bride and groom whether they want to marry each other and whether there is no compulsion. If the witnesses can confirm the statements, they sign the marriage form after the bridal couple, and in the case of Albanian weddings both fathers as well. The hodja also gives his signature after asking the woman for her consent to the mehir – this dowry is given to the woman in the event of a divorce or the death of her husband. At the end of the ceremony, the hodja recites a dua: a prayer of blessing for the bridal couple, for their health and their future children. Afterwards there is a meal together or an aperitif. Usually only the closest family members are involved. A large social celebration in a rented hall often takes place later, and several hundred to sometimes over 1,000 guests are invited.
4. Interfaith Wedding – Jewish and Christian Wedding
The marriage of a Jew with a non-Jew has no binding force under Jewish religious law and is religiously invalid, even if it has been blessed by a hundred rabbis. In practice, however, the feelings are not always based on religious laws, which is why there are many Jewish-Christian mixed marriages. According to conservative estimates, this should be about a third of all marriages. A wedding celebration in a synagogue is excluded. The only way to legally marry a Jew would be to convert to Judaism. However, this is not easy and if the conversion is only to take place for marriage reasons, there will hardly be a rabbi who will support him. If the mother is Jewish, the children are considered Jewish under Jewish law, even if the marriage is not considered valid. Conversely, a Jewish father cannot pass on his Judaism to his children if the mother is not Jewish – even if he is a practicing Jew and the whole family observes the religious laws. If the mother converts to Judaism, then the children are also recognized as Jewish.
The marriage of a Jewish man to a Jewish woman is considered the most important moment in Jewish life – life without a partner is not a complete life. The Torah only sees the moment of maturity is reached with marriage. Marriage is preceded by engagement as an obligation to marry in due course. The “conditions”, such as the date and the financing of the wedding, the maintenance of the young couple and their consent are recorded in writing and after both have signed, a plate is broken. On the wedding day, the bridal couple fasts and the bride attends the ritual bath (mikveh). A rabbi leads the wedding ceremony in the synagogue. The celebration takes place under the “chuppah” (wedding canopy) and its elements are:
- a blessing over a glass of wine that the bride and groom drink from;
- the groom puts the ring on the bride’s finger;
- the rabbi reads the ketubá, and the groom hands it over to the bride;
- the rabbi says the seven blessings of marriage;
- the bride and groom take another sip of wine and the groom crushes the glass with his foot.
At the end, the couple retires to a room and eats the first light meal after the fasting day. Only after the two have been alone for a while is the ceremony over. The course of the celebration may vary.
5. Interfaith Wedding – Hindu and Christian Wedding
About 85% of Tamils are Hindus, 10% Christians and 5% Muslims. The minority of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka has come together closely and there are basically no fears of contact between Hindus and Christians. Tamil Hindus can easily marry Christians and this is happening more often in Sri Lanka. If both are Tamil, there are no major cultural differences to consider, and since Christians are caste-free, caste does not need to be considered. Traditionally, marriage is mediated by the parents. Some points have to be right, for example the caste and the horoscope. Especially in the diaspora, caste differences are no longer so important and there are more and more marriages of different castes. The horoscope is also not so important in love marriages, because affection can override the astrological component.
Although a prerequisite for a religious marriage, it is not considered marriage for Hindus. Socially speaking, couples who only have the official blessing live in unmarried marriages. Marriages between Hindus and Christians are practically exclusively love marriages, because interreligious partnerships are hardly mediated.
The exact timing of the Hindu marriage ceremony is determined according to the horoscope. Certain days or months are unfavorable for getting married and so the possible dates are limited, especially if the wedding is to take place on the weekend. The ceremony usually takes place in a rented hall of a restaurant or a parish hall. The Hindu temple is usually too small for this and also requires ritual purity. The following are considered ritually unclean: anyone who has eaten meat or drunk alcohol, menstruating women, married couples whose child is less than a month old, mourners for a period of time. In a neutral hall, on the other hand, the cleanliness regulations are not as strict.
The bridal couple needs two witnesses, preferably parents or siblings. In addition, three more people are needed during the ceremony. Guests come in any number. The ceremony begins without a bride. The first puja (worship ritual) is for the elephant-headed god Ganesha with a request for a successful wedding ceremony. The next ceremony is for the pair of gods Parvati and Shiva, blessing the wedding necklace Tali. The groomsman leads the bride to the groom. He gives her the tali and a special wedding sari, which she then puts on. While the couple sits in the manvarai, the wedding canopy, the priest performs the lengthy puja with many recitations, after which they circle the sacrificial fire three times. The bride and groom then leave the ceremony site and give each other food, which concludes the actual religious ceremony. The guests will then receive a vegetarian wedding meal.
6. How to Organize an Interfaith Wedding
Nowadays, binational couples are more and more numerous. If this is your case, you will therefore have to think about organizing an interfaith wedding since your families probably do not share the same religion! But don’t panic, the language of love is understood all over the world. You will still have to make sure that there are no obstacles in your marriage if you marry someone of another religion. All guests should feel comfortable and welcome at such an important event. It’s not just two different traditions and religions that come together, it’s also two different languages, or sometimes more! It is therefore all the more important to plan your wedding from start to finish with the utmost care. Thus, all guests can feel at home.
It all starts with choosing the date of the wedding and sending out the invitations. Announcements must be written in both languages so that all guests understand them and do not feel excluded. It is a sign of respect for families, it shows that no country and religion is more important than another. It is best if invitations are sent out in advance so guests can plan their trip with time. It is also important that the bride and groom provide support regarding hotels, transportation, etc.
Regarding the speeches of the spouses or the family, it is obvious that all the guests will want to understand them. It is advisable to give your speech in your native language and then translate it into English or your partner’s native language. The couple can do it themselves or the translation can be done by a friend. You can also try your hand at a few sentences (or even the whole speech) in the native language of your great love, what matters is to show your good will! Guests will be pleasantly surprised by your initiative. It will make the moment even more unique and special! If you choose to celebrate a secular ceremony, it is possible to use a bilingual celebrant so that all guests follow the important moments. Another solution is to hire a simultaneous translation service and provide headphones for foreign guests. Of course, the ceremony of an interfaith wedding will be longer than a traditional ceremony. It is important to take this into account and discuss it with the officiant so that it is not too long and boring.
Respect for different cultures and religions must be present in all the details of the wedding. It is important that all visuals and texts on the big day are written in both languages. The invitation, the program of the ceremony, but also the wedding menu and the signs of your reception. After all, it is important that foreign guests are well oriented and feel at home.
It does not matter where the wedding is celebrated, it is important to remember that some typical and “normal” foods for the people of the host country, may be too exotic or strange for some. Your wedding menu could be a mix between your cultures, but always respecting the most sensitive palates. Pay particular attention to spicy seasonings. For the service, the ideal is to hire at least one waiter or butler who speaks English (or the language of your partner). Thus, all your guests can count on the assistance of a professional who can serve them best. They will also be able to ask all the questions they want about the menu.
A wedding isn’t meant to keep the dance floor empty, is it? So, be careful when selecting songs for your wedding. It is recommended that you prepare a list of the best music from each country with your partner. You can also include songs common to both cultures. Do not hesitate to ask your DJ to favor international music.
All in all, remember that the wedding is made up of a multitude of personalities, so it is essential to think of each guest. Strangers travel and schedule their schedules to experience that special moment with you.
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