Friday, December 24, 2010

Catholic Weddings, Marriages, and Canon Law...

The following is a discussion I had with a friend over at the Catholic forum based on a question regarding a relation's upcoming wedding.

Question 1: Are there priests who marry couples outside of a church and would the marriage be valid in the eyes of the Church?

Answer 1: Some diocese may have a specific policy when it comes to such weddings so it would be very worthwhile for your brother and for your sister-in-law to first make contact with their pastor and then the bishop of the archdiocese to inquire about this. If your sister-in-law is told that she would not be permitted to have a garden or beach wedding ceremony (and I think it's likely that she will be told this, but if the answer is "yes" then a dispensation from the bishop would be required), I would encourage your sister-in-law to look into a church she'd be happy to get married in and that she finds aesthetically pleasing.

Concerning why Catholic beach/garden wedding ceremonies are discouraged, here's how Fr. Vincent Serpa, the chaplain for Catholic Answers, addresses the question:

I find it a sign of the times that we so often get this question and others like it. Why can’t we be married at the beach or in our family home?
No one ever asks if an ordination to the priesthood or the final profession of a religious sister or brother can take place in a garden. These vocations are automatically associated with the worship of God and it is understood that a church is a building specifically designed for and designated as a place for worship, i.e., acknowledging God to be who He is. It is unlike any other place.
Unfortunately, weddings make a lot of money for a lot of people. So our culture demands a whole array of unnecessary attachments to this most significant and sacred of events--to the point that they take over. There is a television series—not an individual program, but a series--that is just about the wedding dress. Week after week young women are encouraged to obsess over a dress they will wear only once—hopefully. Recently I noticed in the TV listings a program about Disney dream weddings. The further weddings become whimsical fantasies, the less likely the bride is to be grounded in what the wedding and marriage are really all about.
Like the ordination to the priesthood and the profession of the vows of religious life, marriage is all about GOD! The bride and the groom are all about God, because everyone who has ever lived is all about God. We are His idea. He created us for Himself. Union with God is the goal of every Christian vocation, including marriage. In fact, Pope John Paul II called marriage the primordial vocation because it peoples all other vocations. Our blessed Lord likened the relationship He has with His Church to the relationship of husband and wife.
The further away the wedding wanders from its sublime God-centered context, the more obscure its significance becomes in society. Certainly, Mass can be celebrated anywhere. But it is most appropriately celebrated in church and for the most part, it is. The Church, in the light of a secular world that relegates religion to the sidelines, very wisely insists that Catholic weddings take place in church. It is sadly another sign of the times that so many priests, religious and laity of my generation haven’t a clue to all this.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.
Canon 1118 of the Code of Canon Law (1983) is otherwise quite clear on the matter:
Can. 1118 §1. A marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic party and a non-Catholic baptized party is to be celebrated in a parish church. It can be celebrated in another church or oratory with the permission of the local ordinary or pastor.
§2. The local ordinary can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.
§3. A marriage between a Catholic party and a non-baptized party can be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.
Question 2: I have a friend that found a priest that married her and her husband outside of a church and apparently it was legit (valid), but they had to pay $2000.00. Have you heard of that happening before?

Answer 2: Let me just start off by saying that the marriage would not be invalid due to the ceremony taking place outside the physical bounds of a church, but typically what you'd find is that the practice (i.e. a Catholic beach or garden wedding ceremony) would be discouraged.

Concerning the $2000.00 figure, in my opinion that's ridiculous; completely and utterly ridiculous! It's normal for a couple to pay a stipend to the priest and or parish, but $2000.00 for a wedding that didn't even take place within a church? Allow me to put this in perspective for you: a few weekends ago I attended my cousin's wedding in Melbourne; the wedding took place at St. Mary Star of the Sea Cathedral in West Melbourne. My cousin and his wife paid $3000.00 (which I believe was still way too much) for use of the church and for the priest's services that day. Unfortunately there may be some priests who abuse the stipend thing and run it more like a personal business for themselves, and it sounds like this is what has happened with your friend, i.e. she was ripped off. It almost sounds as though the priest was "penalising" them for having the ceremony outside of a church.

Having said that there is no flat fee or rate for stipends, but is expected to be a generous donation to the church and or priest as a "thanks" and always within the means of the couple or whoever is paying the wedding expenses. My wife and I paid a stipend of $200.00 total for use of the church and for our delegated priest's services; this is all our parish asked of us and our priest thought this was more than generous.

Question 3: Can a couple go ahead with an outdoor wedding without the permission of the priest marrying them? 

Answer 3: A couple should always inquire about it first; the priest marrying them should be their first port of call. They can then go to the bishop if necessary.

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." - Romans 13:1-2

Question 4: If a Catholic couple get married by a celebrant, how does the Catholic Church view the marriage? Is it legit, sinful etc?

Answer 4: By celebrant I'm assuming you mean a non-Catholic/non-ordained celebrant like a judge or Justice of the Peace.

All Catholics are required to be married by the local Ordinary or priest, or delegated priest, deacon or orindary in order for the marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church:
Can. 1108 §1. Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses according to the rules expressed in the following canons and without prejudice to the exceptions mentioned in cann. ⇒ 144, ⇒ 1112, §1, ⇒ 1116, and ⇒ 1127, §§1-2.
Question 5: If a Catholic couple gets married by a celebrant, are they able to Baptise their kids in a Catholic Church?

Answer 5: All Catholics have a moral obligation to raise their children in the faith and thus all Catholic parents should be able to have their children baptised. If the priest, however, believes that the parents are either unable or unwilling to raise the child in the Catholic faith (e.g. if the parents do not practice their faith, if they only want to have the child baptised to get into Catholic private schools, for example), he can defer baptism until a more appropriate time when the two of you are better prepared to meet the religious requirements of baptism. If this priest does choose to defer baptism, he'll let you know and you can then ask him what you and your husband need to do to demonstrate your ability and willingness to raise your child Catholic.
Can. 868 §1. For an infant to be baptized licitly:
1/ the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent;
2/ there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason.
Question 6: When we say "valid in the eyes of the Church", what exactly does that mean?

Answer 6: Validity pertains to the [marriage] bond itself: that there is nothing impeding the marriage (e.g. age, consent, previous marriage, etc.) and it has received the Church's "blessing", so to speak.

Question 7: What's the difference between having the Catholic Church's blessing and not having it?

Answer 7: Having a marriage blessed and receiving the Church's "blessing" are two different things. The latter is an informal way of saying that the marriage is valid (and may take place within the Church to begin with given there are no impediments to it) as discussed/mentioned earlier. Having a marriage blessed (the correct term for this is "convalidation"), on the other hand, essentially makes a marriage Catholic and thus valid and sacramental. This would need to take place, for example, if two Catholics did not get married within the Catholic Church, i.e. married by judge or Justice of the Peace.

Question 8: So a couple can get married where ever they want, by whom ever they want, and just get a "convalidation" to make it Catholic?

Answer 8: A Catholic couple should get married in church and by the local Ordinary and priest (or a delegated priest, deacon or ordinary), but let's just say that a Catholic couple many, many moons ago decided it would be a great idea to elope and get married by a judge or a Justice of the Peace (i.e. or another type of non-ordained/non-Catholic celebrant) and many years later realise that their marriage is not valid (in the eyes of the Church) and sacramental. Having their marriage convalidated makes it a "Catholic marriage" (i.e. valid and sacramental) as opposed to merely a civil union/legally recognised marriage.

Obviously couples with no Catholic or other Christian background/upbringing are not obligated to get married in a church or have it recognised by an ecclesial authority.

Bible version cited: RSV

*     *     *     *     *

I hope you have found this helpful; please do note hesitate to contact me via email if you have any questions about this blog entry.

God bless!


  1. Good article--

    I have a suggestion for a follow-up, if I may be so bold:

    How about exploring issues of canon law as they apply to annulment?

    After all, the question of annulment focuses on the conditions present at the time that the couple makes their wedding vows, so it might be a good idea to explore those issues while planning the wedding instead of years afterward.

    The Diocesan spokesman here in Birmingham, Alabama, USA has told me multiple times that he has known numerous grooms among his friends who deliberately created evidence during the time leading up to the wedding in favor of getting an annulment later on, in case they ended up wanting a divorce. They would do things such as mailing letters to friends who would promise to keep them, where the letters expressed their desire NOT to have children with their brides-to-be.

    Just two days ago I advised a priest friend of mine that it would be a good idea to get out the required annulment questionnaire during pre-Cana counseling and explore those questions in detail with bride and groom before the wedding day. Though the priest is a good man who loves the Lord Jesus mightily, I was surprised he never thought of or heard of this approach!

  2. I am planning to mary my fiance in an anglican church. Neither of us are currently practicing a particular religion, though I feel strongly that I should be married in front of god. I was raised catholic he was raised protestant. My parents strongly disagree with this and will not attend the wedding. According to the Catholic church it is invalid and by participating they are commiting a sin. I spoke to a catholic priest he will only accept a close relationship or tie of my fiance with a protestant church as a valid reason for submitting an application for dispensation of canonical form and will not accept that my relationship with my parent will effectivly end as a reason. IS there a priest in Sydney who is slightly more lenient in there reasons for application for canonical form?

  3. I'm not familiar with parish priests in Sydney as I am in Perth, myself.

    Before I offer any advice, would you mind asking if your fiancée would be willing to be married in a Catholic church? Would he have an objection to this at all?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.