From a reader…
Is it wrong for a Catholic to attend a wedding that is a civil ceremony only….even if she is my sister? I know you are very busy…answer if you can…I apologize for asking a question that I should already know the answer to…I am so very confused lately..Thank you and God bless You.
It is likely that this now common scenario will become even more common in the future. As relatives and close friends fall away from active practice of their faith, and as poorly catechized young people come to be over marriageable age, we will face situations of loved ones, who had been baptized Catholic, marrying outside the Church. Our response to these situations will need to be serious, and will need to take into consideration our own faith and practice of the Faith.
First, Canon Law. The Church’s law does not prohibit Catholics from attending invalid weddings. There is no penalty attached to attending such a wedding. A Catholic in good standing, who does so, remains in good standing after the wedding.
Moral law is more subtle. It calls calls heavily upon the virtues of prudence and fortitude. There is no clear universal answer. Every situation will call upon our reserves of prayer, discernment, and evaluation. A good confession before making any decision is always a good idea.
As we decide we need to ask questions. Why is the Catholic party marrying outside of the Church? Is it ignorance, apathy, antipathy, or some other motivation? Is this person marrying outside the Church as an act of defiance against the Church (“I’m a ‘recovering Catholic’ and won’t let those old white men in dresses tell me how to live my life!”)? If so, a faithful Catholic should not attend. Similarly, any situation which makes a mockery of the Church’s teaching on marriage, such as “same sex marriage” or “plural marriage” or marriage before a “woman priest”, must be avoided like the sham and embarrassment and sacrilege that they are. Offer prayers for the deluded souls participating in them.
Most situations are much more subtle, much more difficult to deal with. Catholics might marry outside the Church out of pure ignorance. Again, questions must be asked. Did they go to Catholic school? Were they ever taught that Catholics must marry before a pastor or duly delegated priest or deacon? Do they understand the significance of marriage? Have they lapsed in their faith out of laziness? Might a kind word from a trusted friend or relative open them up to the error of their ways?
We must ask: If the ultimate goal is to draw the erring person back to a regular practice of the Faith, what response from a faithful Catholic is most likely to accomplish that goal?
If I attend the wedding, will my lapsed Catholic loved one think that I (and therefore the Church) approves of the union? Will my presence then harden the person’s will against repentance?
If I don’t attend the wedding, and let my Catholic loved one know that I’m not attending because the wedding is not a Catholic one, will that stir his conscience to repentance and reform? Or will it drive him further away from the Church?
If I attend the reception, but not the wedding, and make a gift of a Catholic Bible, with a holy card inside directing the couple to the nearest Catholic Church, will that be seen as kind and gracious, or overbearing and meddling?
How will my actions be seen by other relatives, especially younger relatives? More importantly, how will children view the choices of their parents? Parents are responsible for the moral rearing of children. They must set good examples.
Considering all the variable parts in these situations, it is no wonder that people become confused.
Some priests – even very good priests – often fail to acknowledge the subtleties and either recommend, “Do not go, under any circumstance! Stand strong in your faith!” or “Go! Keep peace in your family and keep the door open to repentance and reconciliation!”
The reality is that each situation needs to be carefully, and honestly approached.
Notice that I am not telling you what to do, other than to weigh all these elements. If you have a wise and trustworthy priest in your area, you might make an appointment to talk about what to do.
In the meantime, pray in a special way to your Guardian Angel and their Angels to move hearts and minds to do the right thing according to God’s will.