“Ask a Priest: What If Relatives Don’t Want to Attend Our Non-Catholic Wedding?”

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Q: My fiancé and I are non-denominational Christians and are getting married in our church. Our families, however, are devout Catholics and are very uncomfortable with this. They do not think that a marriage such as ours will be considered valid or sacramental in the eyes of the Catholic Church. My fiancé’s parents and many other family members are threatening to not even attend our wedding because of this. What can we do in this situation to make everyone happy? –N.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is admirable that you would like to make everyone happy. It won’t be easy in this case, however.

First off, it is good to remember that the Church sees marriage as a sacrament and thus something that brings a grace that can help the spouses grow in holiness. As such, the Church takes its responsibility very seriously to prepare its members well for marriage. That is why marriages involving Catholics ultimately need the approval of a bishop (usually relayed through a pastor).

Now, I can only surmise that you and your fiancé were baptized as Catholics — hence the opposition of your families to your marrying outside of the Catholic Church.

Permit me to give the canonical (legal) point of view here. Anyone baptized in the Church is considered to be under Church law. Thus, you and your fiancé, in order for the Church to recognize the marriage, would need to marry with Church approval.

Your relatives, as Catholics, understand that your marriage is not considered valid and sacramental in the eyes of the Church. Hence their unwillingness to attend the ceremony.

Now, permit me to give a pastoral take on the situation. You and your fiancé have chosen, for various reasons perhaps, not to practice your Catholic faith. You are content to have a wedding in a non-denominational setting. You are exercising your religious freedom. God alone knows your hearts.

Your relatives, too, are exercising their freedom, by trying to follow their Catholic beliefs, which include certain beliefs about marriage. The thing is, there is no clear way to reconcile your beliefs and theirs right now. The situation is at a standoff.

I’m sure they love you and your fiancé very much, which is one reason why they don’t want to compromise their faith. They want to witness to their beliefs, in part for your sake, even if it means not attending your wedding. (The Church, by the way, doesn’t issue hard-and-fast rules for attendance at this kind of ceremony.)

In a sense, you and your fiancé are simply experiencing a consequence of your own decision not to practice the Catholic faith. You have decided, for now at least, to travel a path different from your families’ path. It is just the way it is.

So what could you do? Perhaps you can take all this to prayer and see where the Holy Spirit is leading you. From what you describe, it seems unlikely that your families want to compromise their position. That is a decision that is to be respected.

They likely did not make this decision lightly. It might be as difficult a moment for them as it is for you. Perhaps they are concerned that everyone reaches heaven, and hence they fear that their presence at a wedding not approved by the Church would send the wrong signal.

Again, you and your fiancé might want to take all this to prayer. Perhaps this is a moment to examine why the Church teaches what it does about marriage. This website might help. You also might want to watch together our free Retreat Guide on marriage, “Three Hearts”.

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