“Ask a Priest: Should I Be a Bridesmaid at My Sister’s Non-Catholic Wedding?”

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Q: My sister wants me to attend her wedding as not only her closest sibling but also as a bridesmaid. My sister has fallen away from Catholic Church and wants to have her wedding outside the Church. Her boyfriend is a non-believer, and I can see why she wants her wedding that way — especially on his side of the family with Catholics, Protestants, and, unfortunately, gays. I am aware of the teaching of the Church regarding invalid marriages and have talked to my sister about it, but she just wants to shove the subject for now because they have not decided on where and how the wedding would take place. But is certain it will not be in a Catholic church. I am not even sure if she plans on going through any process on validating this wedding. So my question is, should I attend her wedding? My sister and I are very close, and I strongly believe that not attending will actually have a bad impact on our relationship. Also, my mother would probably ostracize me for life. – D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: As far as simple attendance at these kinds of weddings goes, the Church doesn’t issue specific rules. It does, however, teach that we have the obligation to avoid scandal, that is, to avoid things that would give bad example to others.

So a question that would need to be asked is, would your attendance at this wedding cause scandal by 1) implying your consent for an objectively invalid marriage? or 2) encouraging others to ignore Church rules regarding marriages?

More precisely, what kind of signal would your attendance send to little children who might be present? Will they grow up thinking it is OK for Catholics to get married anywhere they want?

These questions take on more intensity if someone plans to actively assist in such a wedding, such as a bridesmaid. That is a strong signal that a person approves wholeheartedly about the marriage — or at least, people would assume as much.

So one question is: What kind of signal would you send by participating in the wedding as a bridesmaid? What would your sister assume?

Now, people have a right to follow their conscience. And if you know this marriage would be invalid and you don’t want to promote it, then you certainly have the right and duty to avoid it.

If you feel pressured to go along with the wedding, perhaps another question is worth asking: Why should your family members expect you to go against your conscience? If they seem ready to disown you when you follow your conscience, what would that say about the family dynamic?

As for your relationship with your sister, perhaps you could have a heart-to-heart talk with her and share your concerns. Remind her of your love, but share your concern about her spiritual well-being.

And if none of that works, remember the words of Jesus in Luke 12:51-53. “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother …”

Perhaps one last question: If God created marriage, and he has a plan for it, doesn’t he have a say in all this? I will pray for the Lord to enlighten and strengthen you in your decision.

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One Comment
  1. Thank you so much for posting this question, because I think that it is a question that many a practicing Catholic has asked themselves. I had a similar incident with my brothers wedding. Him and his fiancée wanted my son to be a ring bearer at their wedding which was held in a restaurant. I said no because i wanted to teach my kids that the sacrament of marriage happens in a church, and is performed by a priest. My whole family stopped talking to me. You would have thought that I had killed someone. At first, I felt stressed for months about it, but I have had much support from many couples that it was quite a brave thing to do in defence of my faith. Thank you for your wonderful reply Father. It really has cemented the decision that I made. Also, my family is talking to me again. I figured, that if martyrs give up their lives for Jesus, certainly I can take some ridicule from my family.

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