ASK FATHER: Marriage in “another suitable place”

From a reader…


My grandson will be married in a year. He has not been baptized but raised in a Christian home. His wife to be is Catholic. He insists their marriage can take place in a hotel and witnessed by a deacon. I have researched this and concluded that can only happen with the permission of the Ordinary. Your comments will be appreciated.

Ah, weddings always bring out the most interesting questions.

When a Catholic marries an unbaptized person, the Catholic party needs a dispensation from the local ordinary (can. 1086. 1, and can. 1129).  If the ordinary (the diocesan bishop or vicar general) grants this dispensation, then the wedding may be celebrated either in a church or “in another suitable place” (can. 1118. 3).  No further special permission is required. Permission would be required if two baptized persons wanted to marry in a place other than a parish church.  The wedding of a couple in which only one party is Catholic should not take place within the context of a Mass.

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  1. Daniel W says:

    It can’t just be any deacon but one appointed by the appropriate authority, (assuming this can be arranged).

    More importantly, the role of the deacon (or priest) is NOT simply as a witness, his role is not merely to witness but as an active assistant to the parties, who ‘assists’ by asking and receiving marital consent in the name of the Church (canon 1116 clearly implies that the cleric is in addition to the two witnesses). (Both the USCCB and the ‘New commentary on the code of canon law’ (eg.p297) minimize the role of the cleric by referring to the role as merely witnessing (passive) rather than assisting by actively asking and receiving consent.)

    However, the role of witnesses is more crucial for validity than the assistance of a cleric.

  2. Dan G. says:

    In the dioceses with which I am familiar, permission would not be granted to hold a Catholic wedding in a hotel.

    But a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic could be dispensed from the requirement of canonical form, that is, allowed to marry in a non-Catholic ceremony. For the right kind/circumstances of non-Catholic, that ceremony could be permitted to be held in a hotel. However, in the case of dispensation from form, no Catholic cleric would be conducting the wedding, which would be non-Catholic.

    So in these dioceses the grandson and his bride would have to decide: Catholic wedding in a Catholic church conducted by deacon; or non-Catholic wedding conducted by someone else in a hotel (assuming that dispensation from form with approval for this would be given).

  3. Stephen Matthew says:

    Dispension for disparity of cult is necessary in all such cases as this.

    Dispensation from the requirements of canonical form so the Catholic may marry via a non-Catholic rite may be wise.

    If both dispensations are granted, a deacon could be given permission to attend as a sort of official witness (but not preside/celebrate). The advice of the competent Catholic pastor should be sought to make sure this all happens properly.

    In any case, this marriage will NOT be SACRAMENTAL in either case. It will still (hopefully) be a fully valid natural marriage, but sacramental marriage is only possible between two baptized persons. There are still graces relating to natural marriage, but not sacramental graces.

  4. Rev. Mr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    Dan G.,

    With respect, in the case of a marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person, a diocese cannot require that the ceremony take place in a church – the universal law permits that such non-sacramental marriages can be celebrated (according to the Catholic form of marriage) either in a church or a suitable place. No permission is needed, the dispensation from disparity of cult inherently contains the permission to hold the wedding in another suitable place.

    I suppose a bishop could issue particular law stating that a hotel ballroom is not to be considered a “suitable place” – but I, personally, think that would be an odd thing, considering that the US bishops regularly meet, and pray the Liturgy of the Hours in hotel ballrooms.

  5. Daniel W says:

    Stephen wrote: “In any case, this marriage will NOT be SACRAMENTAL in either case. It will still (hopefully) be a fully valid natural marriage, but sacramental marriage is only possible between two baptized persons. ”

    Sorry, that is your opinion and the opinion of many theologians, but it is not official Church teaching. Church teaching is explicit that marriage between the baptized is always a sacrament, but it is an open question as to whether a marriage with a non-baptized person is a sacrament or not. Even Paul VI in Matrimonia Mixta leaves the question open.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    You have to be Baptized into Jesus Christ before you can validly receive any other Sacrament. If that is not Catholic teaching, it is definitely news to me. I think this is a trustworthy principle.

    The way I understand it, marriage of a Christian and a person who declines to enter into Christ through Baptism is a natural marriage but not the sacrament of Matrimony which is a marriage IN CHRIST. And a marriage where one is in Christ and one isn’t is not a marriage in Christ, even though it may validly be a marriage and pleasing to God. If the unbaptized person gets baptized, their valid marriage becomes sacramental then.

    I know of one Catholic who was married to an unbaptized man. Things did not go so well and they separated at some point but she was at the hospital when he died. She baptized him unconscious on his deathbed.

  7. Stephen Matthew says:

    Daniel W
    I was unaware there was any (significant) opposing view, so that is interesting to hear. I was well aware there were once theologians who held marriage was not truly a sacrament, and also the dispute over the role of consummation in validity, but I was unaware that anyone teaches that marriage between the unbaptized (or only between a Christian and an unbaptized person?) is sacramental. I would certainly argue that natural marriage, practiced in conformity with the divine plan for man and woman, would carry with it certain graces, and would even be a sort of proto-sacrament, but I would need some convincing to think it reasonable to hold it to be sacramental strictly and properly speaking.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    This is probably something Fr. Z has answered before (even repeatedly), but I’m not sure how best to search for it, and it might be useful to have the answer added to this post in any case.

    I presume both dispension for disparity of cult, and dispensation from the requirements of canonical form so the Catholic may marry via a non-Catholic rite would be obtained beforehand. But is there anything analogous that could be obtained or achieved afterwards?

    I lately heard of a case (in conversation) where a Catholic wanted to marry a baptized non-Catholic in the latter’s place of residence (outside the former’s parish and diocese) and in a non-Catholic rite (Church of England, in fact). I do not know all the facts, but bringing this up with someone ‘official’ at the parish brought a very shirty response and, so far as I can gather, no proper information with respect to the possibility of dispensations, to the extent that the Catholic spouse is quite alienated from the parish, and with the sequel that the wedding simply went ahead as entertained (C of E, elsewhere). Is this considered an invalid marriage? If so, is there any recourse to its validation?

  9. Imrahil says:

    Dear Venerator Sti Lot,

    my understanding is that when an impediment at the time could be healed by dispensation, the dispensation may be made retroactively if the marriage consent has never been revoked in the meantime, and that this is called “sanatio in radice”, but is something canonists tend to approach with caution.

    My two cents.

    The latter question, yes: if the facts presented and my brief reading of it are both correct, then that marriage is invalid. What is more, I think it could probably even be annulled in an administrative way, without involving a tribunal.

  10. SanSan says:

    “The wedding of a couple in which only one party is Catholic should not take place within the context of a Mass”. Wow, this is the first time I’ve ever heard this. My daughter and her agnostic husband were married in the Church within the context of a Mass.

  11. Heather F says:

    Daniel W, I remember you making this claim in a previous discussion, but you are the only person I have ever seen make it, and I still don’t know where you get the idea from.

    Matrimonia Mixta has this to say: “Undoubtedly there exists in a marriage between baptized persons, since such a marriage is a true sacrament, a certain communion of spiritual benefits which is lacking in a marriage entered into by a baptized person and one who is not baptized.”

    This seems to me to be a perfectly clear statement. You have to close one eye and squint VERY hard to read an open question into something that says that marriages between two baptized persons, even if they are not both baptized Catholic, receive spiritual benefits because the marriage is sacramental, benefits that are not present in marriages between a baptized an an unbaptized person. It doesn’t say “imperfect” or “partial” or “possible but unknown” and it doesn’t say that only the unbaptized party doesn’t get the benefits, it says the marriage itself lacks this sacramental communion if both parties are not baptized.

    The only sacrament that can be received by the unbaptized is baptism itself, which is the gateway to all the other sacraments. To have “valid matter” for a sacramental marriage you need one baptized man and one baptized woman, both unmarried and free from any impediments preventing them from marrying in general and marrying each other in specific. It’s either sacramental for both parties or it’s not sacramental at all.

    If a Catholic validly marries an unbaptized person, they have a valid natural marriage, and if the unbaptized spouse later comes into the Church, the marriage becomes sacramental as soon as the baptism takes place. Assuming that all proper permissions are obtained (although I personally have my doubts about whether a hotel really counts as “another suitable place”), then that is what will happen to the couple in the original question.

  12. Lirioroja says:

    This is timely for me. My sister is getting married to a non-Catholic in an Episcopalian ceremony. She asked me to be her matron of honor. I told her I wasn’t sure I could do that unless she obtained the proper dispensation. She didn’t know she had to get one and said she’d look into it. The wedding in in August. I hope this gets resolved soon because this could cause a lot of drama in my family, especially since my husband and I are the only practicing Catholics so we’d be seen as the bad guys.

  13. dans0622 says:

    Daniel W: I doubt there is any competent canon lawyer who would deny the content of c. 1108.2. The use of “witness” in that context (p. 297) seems, to me, to be a minor issue. Could you provide a quotation from Matrimonia mixta, regarding your other comment? I wonder how this could be “an open question” when the Pope is understood to be able to dissolve marriages between a baptized and unbaptized persons because the marriages are not sacramental.

  14. Joe in Canada says:

    SanSan, in my pastoral experience it is quite common to think this, and even to urge the couple not to have Mass if they are thinking of it.
    The question of the sacramentality of a marriage between a Catholic and a non-baptized person was greatly discussed in my course on Marriage in Canon Law. The teacher, now deceased so I can’t go back and ask, suggested that the baptized person could call upon sacramental graces which would be a blessing to the couple, even if the non-baptized person did not have such recourse. He emphasized this was just an opinion, probabile si non probabilior.
    There might not be a particular dispensation needed for a marriage of a Catholic and an unbaptized person to take place in (say) a hotel room, but there is no right to dispensation either. The pastor would have to investigate why the couple refuses to have their wedding in a church.

  15. Supertradmum says:



    Can. 1124 Without express permission of the competent authority, a marriage is prohibited between two baptized persons of whom one is baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is enrolled in a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

    Can. 1125 The local ordinary can grant a permission of this kind if there is a just and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it unless the following conditions have been fulfilled:

    1/ the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;

    2/ the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party;

    3/ both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude.

    Can. 1126 It is for the conference of bishops to establish the method in which these declarations and promises, which are always required, must be made and to define the manner in which they are to be established in the external forum and the non-Catholic party informed about them.

    Can. 1127 §1. The prescripts of ? can. 1108 are to be observed for the form to be used in a mixed marriage.

    Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, the canonical form of the celebration must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of law are to be observed.

    §2. If grave diYculties hinder the observance of canonical form, the local ordinary of the Catholic party has the right of dispensing from the form in individual cases, after having consulted the ordinary of the place in which the marriage is celebrated and with some public form of celebration for validity. It is for the conference of bishops to establish norms by which the aforementioned dispensation is to be granted in a uniform manner.

    §3. It is forbidden to have another religious celebration of the same marriage to give or renew matrimonial consent before or after the canonical celebration according to the norm of §1. Likewise, there is not to be a religious celebration in which the Catholic who is assisting and a non-Catholic minister together, using their own rites, ask for the consent of the parties.

    Can. 1128 Local ordinaries and other pastors of souls are to take care that the Catholic spouse and the children born of a mixed marriage do not lack the spiritual help to fulfill their obligations and are to help spouses foster the unity of conjugal and family life.

    Can. 1129 The prescripts of cann. ? 1127 and ? 1128 must be applied also to marriages which the impediment of disparity of cult mentioned in ? can. 1086, §1 impedes.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    1983 Canon Law

    Canon 1086.1 A marriage is invalid when one of the two persons was baptised in the catholic Church or received into it and has not by a formal act defected from it, and the other was not baptised.

  17. Daniel W says:

    Dans writes: “I wonder how this could be “an open question” when the Pope is understood to be able to dissolve marriages between a baptized and unbaptized persons because the marriages are not sacramental.”

    You give a great example of where the confusion comes from. The pope CAN ‘dissolve’ sacramental marriages. Just like ordination, there are “degrees” of the sacrament as indicated by the degree of indissolubility: ratum (non consummatum) and ratum et consummatum.

    Heather, I can show you where you are getting confused, you write: “[Matrimonia mixta] says the marriage itself lacks this sacramental communion”.
    See, you are putting the term “sacramental” into Paul VI’s mouth.
    In my opinion, he did not use the term “sacramental” but rather the superbly vague “a certain communion of spiritual benefits,” precisely because it is still an open question.

    Lots of the other questions people have raised are interesting objections, such as how can one spouse receive the sacrament and the other spouse not, all of which are easily answered with a clear understanding of marriage. I have no intention of discussing it further here though. Just don’t tell me the Church teaches that marriage with a non-baptized person is NOT a sacrament, because it is not Church teaching, it is an open question.

    All the objections come down to are either:

    people making up Church teaching that doesn’t exist, as Heather did when she wrote that Paul VI said that “the marriage itself lacks this sacramental communion, ”
    people with an over simplistic understanding of the sacrament, such as Dans arguing that the pope can’t dissolve a sacramental marriage.

  18. dans0622 says:

    Daniel W: I didn’t argue “that the pope can’t dissolve a sacramental marriage.” He can do so, if it is not consummated. I am arguing that he is able to dissolve marriages that are not sacramental. Consummated marriages between baptized and unbaptized persons are routinely dissolved and this is possible because the marriages are not sacramental. There really can’t be any dispute about that. I have never heard anyone else say there are “degrees” of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Perhaps you can point me to a publication which would help make my understanding of marriage appropriately complex.

    [Awkwardly worded. But unbaptized people cannot receive sacraments. A sacramental marriage requires two baptized persons.]

  19. Heather F says:

    Thank you, but I am in no way confused.

    Go back to the quote from Matrimonia Mixta.
    “Undoubtedly there exists in a marriage between baptized persons, since such a marriage is a true sacrament, a certain communion of spiritual benefits which is lacking in a marriage entered into by a baptized person and one who is not baptized.”

    It explicitly says that the reason marriage between baptized persons has “spiritual benefits” that are “lacking in a marriage entered into by a baptized person and one who is not baptized” is that “such a marriage is a true sacrament.” It is making a clear distinction between marriage between the baptized and marriage between a baptized and an unbaptized person, and the sacramental nature of marriage between the baptized is explicitly mentioned to be the reason for that distinction.

    I have no idea where you are reading ambiguity into a sentence that clearly says “marriage between baptized and unbaptized lacks a certain communion of spiritual benefits that comes with marriage between two baptized persons because marriage between two baptized persons is a true sacrament.” I’m not making up or adding anything here, I just rearranged the clauses into a different order.

    If I say that I was given a cookie and Bill was not, and I go on to say that the reason I was given a cookie and Bill was not was because I am famous, then the reason Bill was not given a cookie is because he is not famous. Likewise, if it is said that a marriage between the baptized contains certain spiritual graces because their marriage is a true sacrament, and in the same sentence it is said that those certain spiritual graces are lacking in a marriage where both parties are not baptized, then you have to try very hard indeed to read anything other than “marriage where both parties are not baptized is not a true sacrament” into it.

  20. Daniel W says:

    I agree with Paul VI, the couple do not share in a communion of graces because one is not baptised, only the baptised person benefits from the sacrament. If both are baptised they share in this communion of graces because it is a sacrament. It says nothing about situations when only one is baptised, except that they do not share in a communion of spiritual graces, ie it leaves open the possibility that the baptised spouse receives sacramental graces, but that these are not shared in a “communion” by both spouses – which is an important aspect to consider.

    You write: “in the same sentence it is said that those certain spiritual graces are lacking in a marriage where both parties are not baptized.” Again you are trying very hard to add something that it does not say. The text does not say spiritual graces are lacking, that is your opinion not Paul Vi’s. He is specific that what is missing is ” a communion of spiritual benefits”. We all agree that a communion of graces is lacking, because only one can receive sacraments.

    Dans: If a non-baptised couple consummate their marriage and then at a later stage one is baptised, you are correct that that marriage can be dissolved under certain circumstances. However, in another detail you are incorrect: If the other spouse is also then baptised, the marriage CAN STILL be dissolved if it is not “again”consummated after both are baptised.

    This is because the marital act only perfects the sacramental sign after both are baptised. A similar progression of perfection of the sign occurs in the Eucharist and in Holy Orders.
    The priest consecrates the bread and the sacrament is present, however the sign is imperfect, then when the wine is consecrated, the sign is manifested more clearly, and only when the priest consumes the Eucharist is the sign perfected (and only then is the sacrament is received, even though it is present from the consecration).

    The same gradation of perfection of signs can occur with marriage. One spouse is consecrated by Baptism, then the other, and only then can the sacramental sign be fully perfected by the marital act.

    It is not a simple question, and it is still open for discussion (hence Paul VI’s careful wording of Matrimonio Mixta). The great Catharino of the council of Trent is one example of a respected theologian who held that marriage was a sacrament even when only one spouse was baptised, there have been others since.

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