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“Ask a Priest: What’s the Big Deal About a Wedding in a Church?”
Q: I am having a conflict with the Church about its policy that a Catholic wedding should only take place within a church building regardless of whether it is a nuptial Mass or just the wedding ceremony. I know of at least two young couples who have used non-Catholic ministers for their wedding ceremonies because they could not get the Church’s approval for the ceremonies outside of a church setting. I was lost to give them a reasonable explanation. Why is the church building so important? Is it not the ceremony that is most important? Where were weddings held in the early Church when there were no church buildings? I really cannot see the logic nor the rationale for this policy. We will continue to lose young people over this as more and more opt to be married by non-Catholic ministers — with all the repercussions that this has on their marriage, baptism of children, etc., etc. I just don’t get it! – J.M.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Thanks for your concern about these young couples. It might help to realize that the Church is concerned about them too.
Since a Catholic wedding usually involves a sacramental marriage, it is fitting that it be held in a religious venue.
The Church as custodian of the sacraments has authority, given by Christ, to stipulate the conditions for when and where and how the sacraments are to be administered.
A sacred venue for a wedding helps people to understand the spiritual dimension of what the couple are entering into.
Now, for a couple to attempt an invalid marriage because of a disagreement over the venue of a wedding indicates a deeper problem.
Perhaps their catechesis was weak. Or perhaps they simply don’t believe that Jesus is working through his Church to guide us.
If that is the case, the solution is not to water down what the Church has established — and really, it’s not such a heavy demand that Catholics marry in a church or chapel — but rather to help the couple understand their faith better.
My guess is that the Church has lost more young people over the years because of weak catechesis than from norms about where weddings should be celebrated.
For the record, it is possible for a couple to marry outside of a Catholic venue, but it requires a bishop’s permission. That kind of permission is usually granted only for serious reasons.
You might want to pray these couples find their way back to the right path.
You might also point young couples to our “Three Hearts: A Retreat Guide on the Sacrament of Marriage.”
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