QUAERITUR: Can we attend non-Catholic weddings?

From a reader:

Is it wrong if not in fact sinful to attend the weddings and funerals
of non-Catholics? For as Pope Pius XI stated in his encyclical
treating on Christian unity, Catholics are never to participate in
schismatic or heretical congregations. I would love to know what you Father have to say in regards to this.

Yes, a Catholic can attend a non-Catholic wedding of non-Catholics marrying in their own non-Catholic church service.  You can attend non-Catholic funerals of non-Catholics as well.

But you cannot participate in any form of “communion” they offer.

Go, and be respectful of what they do.  Say your own prayers quietly for the people involved if you need to.  And you don’t have to be a party to anything stupid, or blasphemous.

The encyclical referred to, above, is certainly Mortalium animos, which I drilled into in one of my PODCAzTs.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jfm says:

    Thanks, Father Z.
    I have attended a number of weddings and many funerals in non-Catholic congregations.
    I do not receive communion – only one time I was asked about it by a member of the family, and I simply said that my church does not yet allow communion at non-Catholic services. The family member did not seem offended; indeed, she had a look of contentment that I often feel when I learn a new fact.

    My question, in line with this, is “Can I attend an Episcopal Vespers service?”
    It’s not for any friend or family, it’s just that I live in NYC, and Vespers on Sunday afternoon at St. Thomas on 5th avenue is one of the most amazing services. The language is beautiful, and the choir of men and boys is superb. Often the service is followed by an organ recital. I don’t receive communion, but I do say the prayers and sing the hymns. Of course, I never go in place of Mass (I usually get to a beautiful service at St. Ignatius Loyola Sunday morning or the 11 a.m. Latin Mass at St. Agnes near Grand Central.) And my intention whenever I attend this service and other non-Catholic services is Christian Unity.

  2. benedetta says:

    I once stopped in to St. Thomas on 5th as I had a few minutes and wanted to see the interior and have a moment to say a prayer. I noticed the morning service at a side altar — if I am not mistaken, it was ad orientem? Perhaps someone else is more familiar with the worship there.

    I agree with Fr. Z that Catholics can certainly pray with other Christians in places of worship and be respectful. I really like praying with other Christians and prayer does unite us. I have never found Christians of other denominations to demand that I change any aspect of what I believe as a Catholic and have always been totally respected as a Catholic. There is a great deal we can learn from each other and we can always pray together.

    I have personally spoken to young people, of different Christian denominations, from different places of the world, who though not Catholic and not interested in becoming Catholic at the same time have such an interest in Catholic thought and culture and practices, from the writings of saints to art and music, to the Real Presence and they express even such wonder, such reverence, it is so beautiful and encouraging. Have even met German Protestants who love the Holy Father and read what he says with great interest. Such a light, such hope for the world, how surprising their respect and openness to listen and understand. We should pray together. I am grateful for the chances to pray with others I have been able to take part in. The prayers of those who pray together in the light of the Trinity and listening to the Gospel with mutual respect are very needed.

    I agree that our Holy Father is the Pope of Christian Unity. It is a calling and a great mystery.

  3. Titus says:

    I am away from my copy of the 1917 Code, and I must confess not having listened to the podcastz discussing Mortalium animos. But unless I am greatly mistaken it’s prohibition on participation in schismatic and heretical ceremonies was explicitly enshrined in the Pio-Benedictine code: Catholics were expressly prohibited from going to Protestant church services. I have read that JFK, for all his well-known faults, actually skipped a variety of traditional presidentially protestant events on this basis. The blanket prohibition on attendance has been abrogated, of course, as Fr. Z indicates.

  4. benedetta says:

    I did check on St. Thomas Episcopal website — their practice does appear to be ad orientem worship at this time. There are quotations from St. Augustine, lectures on the Creed…interesting. No recitation of the rosary though. I didn’t see anything regarding confessions. Certainly, a musical center. Like Trinity downtown.

    It’s a sort of NYC thing, isn’t it, or London, other immense urban areas, Rome, Paris… where you have these unbelievable choirs, men and even a boys choir (and all boys altar servers as well!), fantastic organ and organists, concerts, huge variety and exceptional technique, even cds. Feast, in the urban context, and, music-wise, famine in the suburbs and beyond? I am such an enthusiast of great music that for me to also pray and at the same time listen to outstanding choral performance, not always but it can be distracting or overwhelming. And I could attend a performance and feel elevated and be moved to praise in that way too I suppose.

    St. Patrick’s Cathedral also offers fantastic music, and there you can hear from Archbishop Dolan. Or further down along you can go to Our Saviour’s which similarly offers beautiful prayerful music and fantastic homilies. And the new icons there, just incredible works by a young artist.

    Through music and the arts we obviously can and do make contact with all that is good.

    And quiet prayer with silence is always offered, simple, doesn’t require any special talent or training. Simple songs anyone can sing, that’s possible too. An icon. The essentials with joy, reverence, care, love.

    You can go over a bit more further then and stop at…Holy Innocents! And see Fr. Z in person! Now there is a unique and so rarely encountered spectacle…! ;)

  5. Legisperitus says:

    I guess the question includes the assumption that this is not a “remarriage” of a divorced person, since that brings in a whole other set of issues…

  6. Joe in Canada says:

    Legisperitus; I think that is a good point. Attending a wedding is public witness of the fact of the marriage; if you have moral certainty that the couple cannot really marry, you might have to consider not going. Just because the non-Catholic group accepts it as a marriage doesn’t necessarily make it so.

  7. Charles E Flynn says:


    Thank you for reminding me of the glories of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where ushers with walkie-talkies very discretely take care of the annoyances that plague other churches. Every time I am there, I look at the rather gaunt depiction of St. Patrick, and I thank him for not abandoning my distant ancestors in their time of need.

  8. benedetta says:

    I had never read Mortalium Animos before now. It’s quite beautiful and I can see why it still holds even today. I liked this line, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another”. It seems to me that ecumenism asks first that we be faithful to our own vocations as Catholics and at the same time not wish we were something else or demand that others be something else to fit our own design for things.

  9. benedetta says:

    Charles E Flynn, I like the Ushers at the Cathedral — NY’s finest, serving the Church! You know, everybody eventually winds up at the Cathedral, one way or another. Those guys have to deal with quite a lot, don’t they. But you know like so many NYers they have no problem with a smile or saying hello even in the midst of juggling whatever else is going on. I haven’t been there in quite a while actually but last time I was there, it was winter time, there were such long lines at the confessionals. God bless those priests, and the entire staff there for all that they do.

  10. jfm says:

    St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC is one of the true glories of the world. It is one of my favorite churches. One can spend an hour per side altar, and still not enjoy the whole cathedral. For those of Polish ancestry, the altar dedicated to Our Lady of Czestechowa stirs in my Polish blood a pride and devotion that would humble Blessed Pope John Paul II. For those with a more modern bent, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton altar may be one of the most gorgeous works of the 20th century. The devotions to St. Patrick (to the north) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (to the south) remind us of the history of the New York Church – its past and its future. And nothing can beat the glories of the Lady Chapel, added after the cathedral was built, but with the most sublime stained glass, illuminated at all hours of the day — one morning I went to pray, and I swear that the light was as bright and beautiful as the light of creation. Each altar throughout the cathedral is worthy of praise. The Pieta near the altar of St. Elizabeth is nearly as gorgeous is Michelangelos. I often go to the cathedral in the late afternoon, walk around, listen to Bach or a Haydn mass on my iPod, and thank God I am alive to spend time in a temple to His majesty.

  11. edm says:

    Evensong at Saint Thomas is one of the glories of the City of New York. I don’t think you should worry about “not receiving Communion” since that is not a possibility within the structure of Evensong (Evening Prayer/Vespers).
    The daily round of Office and Mass at St. Thomas’ is very complete and always within traditional Anglicanism. All altars are “ad orientem”. Weekday Low Masses are usually in the beautiful Chantry Chapel where one can find a most beautiful shrine to Our Lady but sometimes in The Resurrection Chapel.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    A word of caution. Some of the Protestant services in the Midwest now incorporate New Age symbolism and what the Catholic Church would consider occult symbolic actions. Two young people married in a Missouri Lutheran church had Native American actions and blessings in the ritual. I personally would not attend a pseudo-Christian marriage ceremony of this type. In addition, many of those getting married have been married before without annulments, which makes the entire ceremony invalid. It is good to know something about the situation before attending.

  13. Father K says:

    For those who love to quote from Mortalium animos as if it is the last word on ecumenical relations, I suggest they look at the documents of Vatican II, the 1983 Code, rather than the 1917 Code, the Eastern Code and the 1993 Ecumenical Directory. I recall Pope Benedict took an active part in Vespers at Westminster Abbey during his recent visit to UK and shared the sanctuary with the Archbishop of Canterbury. A nice touch was he wore a stole made for Leo XIII! By the way, Protestants and the Orthodox are no longer considered to be heretics or schismatics, but they do lack full communion with the Catholic Church. Remember Pope Benedict’s ‘hermeneutic of continuity.’

  14. RichardT says:

    On my reading of Mortalium Animos, it forbids Catholics to attend ecumenical services – not a protestant group’s own services.

    Mortalium Animos does also mention that the Church forbids Catholics from participating in the assemblies of other religious groups, but that is merely a description of what Canon Law said at the time, not an actual command of Mortalium Animos itself. Such provisions of Canon Law can be, and have been, changed.

  15. RichardT says:

    And let us remember that provided the two parties to the wedding are baptised non-Catholics, and neither has any impediment to marriage, then their marriage will be a sacrament.

  16. benedetta says:

    I would say that it would be a very fair reading of Mortalium Animos that the notion that Catholics with Protestants could sit down and craft out a unique liturgy of the Eucharist that both ordained “concelebrate” (as if) in and offer it to the faithful in lieu of or as something better than what the faith already offers as sacrament is what would be prohibited. Unfortunately where I am there are things going on where one invites a Protestant minister to give homily and then has him “concelebrate” or appear to do so. Obviously that’s problematic. It’s tricky but not totally impossible to discern what is constructive, and what is not helpful or confusing to people within their own traditions.

    I would agree though with Supertradmum that when it comes to an ecumenical service then one has to look at it a bit as not just with Protestants but unfortunately Catholics also can sometimes introduce something that is not of the tradition and could even be blasphemous. When the memorial service in AZ was held and the Native American shaman came up and prayed and said his blessing, well. If one were in attendance and as a Catholic (as likely there were many as the little girl who died was a Catholic) then at that time since one is sort of held hostage to that then one would have to interiorly resist praying to whatever “spirits” were called upon and perhaps make an act of reparation…Others would know best what would be called for in that circumstance.

  17. dans0622 says:

    From the 1917 Code, fyi: Can 1258 §1. Haud licitum est fidelibus quovis modo active assistere seu partem habere in sacris acatholicorum.
    §2. Tolerari potest praesentia passiva seu mere materialis, civilis officii vel honoris causa, ob gravem rationem ab Episcopo in casu dubii probandam, in acatholicorum funeribus, nuptiis similibusque sollemniis, dummodo perversionis et scandali periculum absit.

    So, attending weddings and funerals and similar solemnities can be tolerated, if there is no danger of scandal or “perversion.”

  18. benedetta says:

    You know, 40 Days for Life is a great ecumenical effort and also brings together clergy and laity. With that effort, one can pray alone for the intentions, in common with others, and outside abortuaries (if you are a brave soul — be not afraid). As in the days of the abolition effort, and then again the days of desegregation, clergy and lay faithful from all traditions participated in prayer, preaching, study and discussion, and activism.

    We tend to discount the power of prayer and yet how could we underestimate the prayers of those who suffered the most through enslavement, so many dying in that state. Even now we in the States commonly sing the songs that were the very prayers of those living in total enslavement.

    I often wonder about the prayers of the unborn. Do we deny that they have them? How could we decide that, ahead of time. I have become totally convinced that their very lives are a prayer. And that their prayers are totally heard and loved. It is not God’s choice that they are disposed of, suffer cruelty and pain, not listened to or acknowledged. To pray in solidarity with those who are slated for death, it takes courage, humility, acknowledgment of our need for God, a pretty simple way to pray with others of all faith traditions.

    Prolife in general really unites believers from all traditions. Crisis pregnancy centers are often ecumenical efforts, or if sponsored by one denomination or Catholic they extend assistance and support to women being pressured to have abortions regardless of what the woman professes as faith or if she professes no faith at all.

    While we sometimes would like to show that we all come to Eucharist together regardless of our various traditions, perhaps it is not that goal which is the one most important…maybe the ecumenism is in the small and simple things that we are able to do without disturbing people in their vocations to their faiths just as their faith teaches. Believers can always read scripture together and share faith experiences and how they understand things in the light of their faith.

    The churches and cathedrals of the wealthy urban areas are a wonder, no question, and a place like the Cathedral is every Catholic’s home in the middle of the city. But you could also take a trip up to the Bronx to Adoration at the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, where people of all denominations stop in to make a visit. They also go out to visit everyone in their ministry to the poor and do not exclude non-Catholics from their ministry and if you have a spare hour to work with them you can also have conversations and prayer with people who are not necessarily Catholic at this moment in time for whatever reason and perhaps may not even be called to become Catholic, they are respected and listened to and no one feels the need to compel them to change but only to have faith. They also don’t discount the idea that God might call someone by another’s example to look into the faith a bit more, that happens too. They even offer a wonder of their one to behold when the Friars and Sisters together offer the most remarkable presipio at Christmas time…I couldn’t begin to describe it but it’s nothing you could buy in a store and so beautiful, so surprising…another glory of the city!

  19. irishgirl says:

    I’ve been to only one non-Catholic funeral (for the rector of the big Episcopal church in my hometown in late 2009). I sat with a Franciscan friar-friend of mine. We joined in the hymns with the choir and the congregation. When it came time for the ‘communion’ my friend leaned over and asked me, ‘Should I go up?’, because we saw some local Catholic priests going up to receive. I said in response, ‘No’ (and I think I added, ‘You’d better not’). We both stayed where we were-I knew better about NOT receiving non-Catholic ‘communion.’
    I’ve been to more than a few non-Catholic weddings-again, they were Episcopal. One of them was the wedding of a cousin on my father’s side in the 1960s. It was the first time I had set foot in a non-Catholic church. The others were for co-workers at my first job.

  20. MJ says:

    “A Catholic can attend a non-Catholic wedding of non-Catholics marrying in their own non-Catholic church service” – this is because the couple confect the sacrament on each other. Back in college I attended the wedding of a friend of mine from high school – not Catholic – so I just sat and watched but didn’t participate in anything else.

  21. RichardT says:

    I think the old (pre Vatica II) system was that one could attend a non-Catholic service with the permission of one’s Bishop.

    Therefore Canon Law has not changed from banning all attendance to allowing all, but has merely changed the conditions under which one can attend. This is therefore not a doctrinal change but merely a procedural matter which it is perfectly legitimate for Rome to change from time to time.

  22. Joe in Canada says:

    Fr K, I’m not sure that the Catholic Church no longer considers Protestants to be heretics, since many of them clearly are. Not obstinate, perhaps, and not even formally, but still materially. And I’m not sure that the Catholic Church no longer considers the Orthodox to be schismatic.

  23. chonak says:

    Is the invalidity of a marriage ceremony (when one or both of the parties has been married before) necessarily an obstacle? If the invalidity of a sacrament were by itself an obstacle, then we would never be permitted to attend an Anglican service of Holy Communion.

  24. AnAmericanMother says:

    Funny this should come up . . .
    A couple weeks ago I attended the funeral of a coworker . . . in a Mormon church.
    I’m not exactly spiritually sensitive but I have never felt so sure that I was in the wrong place.
    I hied me to confession ASAP. Wild horses couldn’t drag me back there.

  25. Father K says:

    Joe in Canada I can assure you what I said is accurate – just read the texts I have cited

  26. Father K says:

    AnAmericanMother – Mormons are not Christians so in a different category

  27. AnAmericanMother says:

    Father K,
    True, but they spend a great deal of time trying to convince you otherwise.
    At a funeral there can’t really be any concealment.
    I really wasn’t prepared for just how weird the entire experience was. Plus one of the elders nobbled me on the way out and had a shot at trying to convert me.
    Out of respect for the dead I was extremely polite, but I have never wanted out of a place so badly in my life.

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