Bridesmaids, groomsmen banned in Catholic weddings? Not necessarily

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Bridesmaids, groomsmen banned in Catholic weddings? Not necessarily

It depends not on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, but on the bishop overseeing your town or city

MANILA, Philippines – Yes, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released new guidelines against enlisting an entourage, locally known as abays, in Catholic weddings as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus pandemic.

But, no, contrary to other news reports, this does not necessarily mean bridesmaids and groommen will be banned in all Catholic parishes across the Philippines.

It all depends on the bishop overseeing your town or city, in coordination with local government units (LGUs), once quarantine rules allow the resumption of religious gatherings. (READ: EXPLAINER: What’s modified ECQ and modified GCQ?

Here’s why.

What the new CBCP guidelines state: “The Wedding Rites prescribed in the liturgical book have to be followed. But, due to the demand of social distancing, wedding celebrations this year will have to be simpler than the usual. We have to forgo all of the secondary elements of the normal wedding ceremonies, e.g., the wedding entourage (abays). Only the bride and the groom, the parents of the couple, and one set of sponsors are to be present in the ceremony.”

What is often overlooked: This provision is lifted from the May 16 document titled, “Recommendations and Guidelines for the Liturgical Celebration in ‘New Normal’ Condition.” The president of the CBCP, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, said in a May 18 circular, “This is the official set of guidelines proposed to all bishops (emphasis ours) as they make their own particular pastoral decisions and courses of action for their respective dioceses.”

How a CBCP official explains it: “The CBCP never imposes on the member-bishops; it only proposes, in its capacity as a ‘conference of bishops,’” explains Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, vice president of the CBCP, in a message to Rappler. “It is still the individual bishops who will implement them according to their specific pastoral situations, and in coordination with their LGUs, especially in determining the risks involved in restoring public religious gatherings.”

Why is this the case? Only the bishop can decide for his own territory. All Catholic bishops around the world are, in fact, directly accountable only to the Pope – not to bodies like the CBCP. This is in line with Catholic teaching that bishops are successors of Jesus’ 12 apostles, and that the Pope is the successor of the apostle Peter, the first among equals. 

The CBCP only coordinates efforts of individual bishops, much like how the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is a coordinator and not a direct superior of Metro Manila mayors. 

What individual bishops have decided: The Archdiocese of Manila (which covers only the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasay, and San Juan) has said no to abays for now. The same thing goes for the Diocese of Cubao (which covers the part of Quezon City). David tells Rappler that the Diocese of Caloocan (which covers Malabon and the southern part of Caloocan) is “adopting the recommendations of the CBCP in general.” 

All in all, there are 86 bishops leading dioceses or Catholic “territories” across the Philippines.

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email