ASK FATHER: Does drinking alcohol before wedding affect validity of marriage?

bride 01From a reader…


Would one of a couple going to a bar for a moderate amount of alcoholic drink before a nuptial Mass have any effect on the validity of a marriage?

Marriage is a serious thing. Matrimony should be entered into seriously and soberly.

For most people, the decision to marry is the most important decision of their lives.

Matrimonial consent must be freely given by persons capable of positing such a momentous juridic act.

Christian marriage is a sacred, indeed usually sacramental, act. By its very nature it requires clarity of mind and purity of intention.

Why someone would want to take such a serious step with senses dulled by intoxicants is beyond me.

However, for consent to be invalid, a person would need to be so intoxicated that she was truly incapable of using reason in a manner proportionate to marriage. Someone who was merely tipsy, however stupid that would be, would not be unable to marry.


Apart from why someone would get drunk before her wedding, why would someone want to marry someone who would get drunk before her wedding?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    While I would agree with your general comment, the presence of the word “moderate” in the question impels me to suggest that one should perhaps discriminate between someone getting drunk before a wedding and another who might simply wish to steady his or her nerves on such a grand occasion, while by no means diluting vital faculties.

  2. APX says:

    I once saw on an episode of Wedding SOS, there was a Catholic wedding and the groom and his groomsmen were doing pre-marriage shots in the church when the priest came along and severely reprimanded them and refused to officiate until they sobered up, so I’m assuming that a priest can also refuse to officiate at a marriage if either party is under the influence of alcohol? [I sure would, and have. I once crawled all over a wedding group who were drinking in church and even putting their beer cans on the altar. Grrrrr.]

  3. Southern Baron says:

    A number of people bought Talisker for me the evening before, but that morning it was all coffee, all the time. Alas, there was no Mystic Monk at the inn, and I failed to supply my own; there were other pressing matters.

    [Talisker? Good choice. If a number of people want to buy some for me, I’ll send my address! If you can’t find Talisker, I’m happy to accept Lagavulin 16 o{]:¬) ]

  4. Spade says:

    This came up in the Pre Cana course my wife and I took.

    Friends of one of the couples who gave the class got divorced. Husband was cheating on the wife. Husband divorced wife, wanted to marry new young thing. All parties were Catholic (how the mistress and “husband” reconciled their behavior with their demand for a Catholic wedding was not elaborated upon).

    The local diocese looked at the video of the original wedding and the groom was visibly intoxicated during the Mass. Annulment granted and three children now had a broken home.

    This wasn’t the “best” diocese in the world, so I dunno if that would’ve happened everywhere. I suppose the priest should’ve put a stop to it, but I guess that wouldn’t have been pastoral or nice or something.

    Consequently we were stone sober for our wedding.

  5. Someone please be the Garrigue says:

    What if other mind altering substances are involved, such as Mystic Monk Coffee?

  6. anilwang says:

    That’s one reason why don’t want to elope and rather than have a proper long engagement.

    If you’ve repeatedly stated in front of the the world that you intend to marry for the last year and a half (without being drunk) and if the marriage would have been valid if it were held at each of those times, and your will never wavered, it’s clear that your will was to marry even if you were stone cold drunk at the time of the wedding. Of course, the priest that marries someone in this state has a lot to answer for.

    If you eloped and found and found a priest to do a quickie marriage, it’s no way sure that your decision was made with your rational will rather than your emotional whims, even if you did mean it at the time and were not drunk in any way and had no impediments.

  7. Latin Mass Type says:

    I was present at my church for the rehearsal of a wedding of people I did not know–I had the key and knew where things were. The priest shocked me when he told the wedding party not to be drinking and doing drugs the night before the wedding.

    I think it was his tone–as if he expected these 30-somethings were going to do this…sort of a wink-wink-nod attitude.

    I am probably old and out of touch. What has happened to personal responsibility?

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Obviously the Communion fast would be something to think about; and tradition had people fasting before other important Sacraments, also. (And Jewish people are supposed to fast for 24 hours before their weddings, IIRC.)

    Don’t get into it to the point of fainting, though!

  9. Random Friar says:

    I tell the wedding party: if I so much as smell booze on your breath before the Rite, you will have to explain to your guests why Father went back into the rectory, and I tell them why, and that I am deadly serious.

    Fortunately, I’ve had no impairment incidents so far. I’ve had just about everything else happen, but the couple was always sober and ready.

  10. The Cobbler says:

    Don’t most people drink after the wedding?

  11. Supertradmum says:

    The night before I was married, as I was nervous, being single until 38 and a half, and rather monastic already, my dad took me out for a shot of The Macallan and gave me one of those serious dad talks about men, life, and the universe. Well, I do not think that counts as the same thing, but Father Z, your question as to why someone would marry a person who gets drunk relates to other posts on this blog. Why would anyone get married to someone in mortal sin? Don’t get it.

  12. Seamus says:

    It is obvious that if a person is thoroughly drunk, he or she does not have the capacity to contract marriage. I understand too that if a person is high on cocaine, that also weakens or destroys the necessary capacity. Guided by these facts, I have sometimes asked, semi-seriously, whether someone who marries while under the influence of the state known as “being in love” should also be judged incapable of validly contracting marriage, given that that state tends to be the product of a powerful chemical cocktail of serotonin and dopamine (the latter of which affects the brain similarly to cocaine). Usually, when I raise this question with a priest, he gives me a half-smile and notes that there could be certain practical problems with adopting a premise that more than 99% of all marriages contracted in this country are invalid, but doesn’t actually tell me I’m wrong.

  13. MarylandBill says:

    Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the eucharistic fast, I wouldn’t have minded a shot or two to steady my nerves before the wedding. My nerves kicked in starting about 12 hours before the wedding and stayed that way until the vows were pronounced… the moment I had said my vows I was the happiest man in the church, but I can understand why someone would want to drink. Obviously though drinking more than one or at most two would be wrong (and of course if you are having a nuptial mass, you have to observe the fast).

  14. Cafea Fruor says:

    “Why someone would want to take such a serious step with senses dulled by intoxicants is beyond me.”

    Only one possible answer: they don’t think it’s a serious step.

  15. AngelGuarded says:

    Sorry for the late reply but this one struck a chord. My niece married her (sadly soon-to-be-ex-) husband in the Catholic Church with much “preparation” to which I was not privy. The priest celebrant took the two of them moments BEFORE the nuptial Mass and the three of them had a drink (or two, not sure) together, the THREE of them. Oh, repeating myself. Later, during his homily, the priest held these two youngsters up and told the assembly they were the “living definition of true love.” This, to an assembly containing many mature Catholic couples, great-aunts and uncles, who had been married for 40 years, raised families of 10 or so children together. Instead of holding these great mature examples of married love up as the ideals from the large extended Irish Catholic family, he said we should learn from these youngsters. (I’m leaving out the other wacky things he did during the wedding.) I still shudder remembering it. Long story shorter, this poor couple has now civilly divorced (too much drinking being one reason given, not close enough to know more and don’t wish to). One wonders what sort of priest would drink alcohol with the couple the morning of their wedding and what sort of preparation this man conducted with them. It is sad. My niece and her husband, and that priest, need many prayers. Thank you.

  16. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    Um, I re-read the question. It doesn’t say it was the woman who was headed to the bar. It is carefully written to leave the question open. So I agree with the answer except on that point. Not that I haven’t met women who over-indulge.

    [We can be inclusive, rather than picking on men all the time.]

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