Interfaith Ceremonies

Julie Bhusal Sharma

The distance from my hometown (Columbus, Ohio) to my husband's (Kathmandu, Nepal) is 7,976 miles. My walk down the aisle at St. Mary Catholic Church to my husband, Manjul, was approximately 100 feet.

Within that walk and the rest of our ceremony on August 27, 2016, we were able to reflect both of our religions—and luckily, not go through at least 12 time zones. Funnily enough, we hadn't even thought of doing so until our officiant, Deacon Roger Minner, and his wife, Mary Kelly, asked us if we'd like to incorporate any Hindu readings or hymns into our ceremony.

I had never heard of a Catholic wedding ceremony that incorporated other religions or cultures and was surprised when this was offered as an option, but it's one Kelly, a member of the St. Mary's marriage team, says is important.

“You know, I'll ask couples if there's something you want to incorporate, because we do have to follow the Rite of Marriage as prescribed by the Church, but there are some spots where it's permitted to incorporate an extra prayer or a hymn,” says Kelly. “But a lot of people often just don't take us up on it.”

Although we had decided to have a Catholic wedding in the U.S. and a Hindu wedding in Nepal, we decided to be one of the few to take up St. Mary's on the offer to incorporate Hinduism into our initial Catholic nuptials. We knew the first ceremony would feel the most official, because we are waiting a few years to have our Nepali wedding.

Officiant Chase Waits of Columbus Wedding Officiants says there's no need to have exact balance in religious representations.

“Within my experience, it's whatever the couple is looking for and whatever they're happy with as far as [balance] goes,” Waits says. “I've definitely done ceremonies where there's a lot of religion or just a little, or more of one culture compared to the other.”

Manjul and I decided to include a Hindu reading and adjust the format of our ceremony. Minner and Kelly encouraged us to have a Liturgy of the Word, rather than a full Mass, to avoid excluding Manjul's family from receiving the Eucharist during the Catholic Communion.

Liturgies of the Word are common for interfaith couples where either the bride or groom is Catholic. And though the Liturgy of the Word has a specific formula, finding a spot for the Hindu reading wasn't a headache. An optional part of a Catholic ceremony involves the bride and groom kneeling before a statue of the Blessed Mother Mary, typically following the exchange of vows. We opted instead to incorporate the Hindu reading, both in Nepali and English, from Manjul's father.

Though Manjul and I found the Catholic Church to be flexible with our religious melange, some interfaith couples may find that a secular setting is a better route for their ceremony than the bride's or groom's house of worship.

For secular Columbus officiant Missy French of Missy Marries, the most important thing for interfaith couples to do before their big day is to walk through their ceremony, step by step, with their officiant.

“I treat the wedding almost as a script. I have a theater background, so I think that's what forces me to do so,” says French. “The couple gets the script at least two to three weeks prior to the ceremony so they can look over everything and they understand exactly what I'm going to say ... so that there aren't any surprises.”

And surprises are bound to happen otherwise, as many officiants have to research specific religious traditions for an interfaith ceremony.

Though interfaith ceremonies tend to be more work, having one was worth it for Manjul and me. And best of all, we got to share a bit of each other's religion and background with our guests. 

Beyond the Ceremony

We found several creative ways to incorporate Nepali culture outside of our wedding ceremony here in the States:

The backs of our invitations (pictured above) had an elegant banana leaf print, a nod to the Nepali tradition of using banana leaves as plates at weddings.

We included pouches of chai tea mix, incense and embroidered ties and wallets from Nepal in hotel “welcome bags” for guests.

Because the rehearsal dinner is traditionally hosted by the groom's side of the family, the event was completely Nepali. We even asked guests to wear Nepali attire only. We performed many Nepali traditions, such as breaking a coconut for good luck.