ASK FATHER: Can I attend an invalid SSPX wedding?

From a reader…

ok — so I get that according to cannon law, since sspx marriages are not “canonically approved’, they are not valid. My God- daughter, and my CLOSEST friend’s daughter is getting married in the fall by an sspx priest. She is the oldest of 13 children, takes her faith wildly seriously AS DO ALL OF HER SIBLINGS!! The whole family is a true inspiration to Catholic parenthood. Question: CAN WE ATTEND the wedding??? Thank you for any efforts to ease my terrified heart!!

Okay… no need to SHOUT or freak out!!?!?!

Marriage, which can only be contracted between one genetically born man and one genetically born woman, is a public covenant. It has profound significance for society. It is basically the first building block of society. It’s important, therefore, that we get it right.

For Catholics, marriage has even more importance.   Between baptized persons, marriage is a sacrament. It is a sign of Christ’s love for His Church and of His abiding presence.

Because marriage is such an important public act, the Church has an interest in protecting it.

For Catholics, marriage requires exchanging consent in the presence of an authorized, official witness (usually a bishop, priest, or a deacon with the required delegation). It is an argument for another day whether or not this requirement should be retained, but for now, it is a requirement.  Anyway, I am not making this up: to be valid, marriages have to be conducted according to the proper form.  Part of the form is to have a duly authorized official witness to the marriage.

Priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X (SSPX) lack the required delegation to officiate at a Catholic wedding.  No bishop has given them the delegation or faculties to marry (though I wish that were the case).  No other competent authority has given them the faculties to witness marriages (though I wish that were the case).

If a Catholic (who is obliged to obey the Church’s laws concerning marriage ) is married by an SSPX priest (who lacks the faculty, delegation, to witness marriages), he is not truly married.

Now the tough part comes to the fore.

Should we attend the wedding of a Catholic which is surely going to be invalid?

There is no canonical prohibition against attending invalid weddings.

Each of us must assess, when faced with these situations,  perhaps with the advice of a wise and trusted pastor, what the best approach is.

If this family is truly a solid Catholic family, a good heart-to-heart conversation expressing your concerns about the proposed wedding might be warranted. Perhaps they can be persuaded to seek the services of a priest actually in good standing, who could obtain (or might already have) the necessary faculties to officiate at the wedding.

Express yourself calmly and kindly.  Leave out the exclamation points and CAPS when you talk to them.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    In New Zealand the Sppx has received facilities from the nz bishops in order to marry. I know this as a friend of mine went to such a wedding and I protested to him about it. However I was reliably told that such faculties have been granted by the nz church [I would need some proof of that before I accepted it.]

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Is it too much to ask that one can use the event to come for a teaching moment? To not attend the wedding of a friend or family member when the marriage is not valid, which can happen for many reasons, is a statement of non-support.

    I consider all those who attend weddings as agreeing with the state of the marriage, as witnesses. I will not witness an invalid marriage.

    Two friends of mine did not attend invalid weddings of their own children, and used the time to bring the reasons for invalidity to the couple and the family. Perhaps God leads us to these situations to admonish the good as well as warn those who are in more serious aberrations. One of my best friends did not attend a son’s wedding as he was a fallen away Catholic getting married to a woman in the Anglican church, and the woman had never been baptized. The officiating female priestess knew the bride was not baptized and officiated anyway. My friend had many points to cover in conversation before the wedding day.

    I am so glad you answered this question, Father Z, as this has come up many times in my own life and I have had to point out the lack of authority. Sadly, too many of those in the SSPX deny that their sacrament of marriage is actually not a sacrament. Perhaps if enough of us Catholics kept noting this at the appropriate time, the message will get through.

  3. moon1234 says:

    One thing that has always made me wonder is:

    Would it be possible for a bishop to incardinate an SSPX priest into his diocese and thereby give him the necessary faculties, while the priest remains a member of the SSPX? I don’t see how this would be different that the FSSP, ICRSS, etc. Would this not be a way to reconcile most of the society or at least part of it? [Sure, a diocesan bishop can incardinate an SSPX priest. It has happened in the past. When I was at the PCED I helped make that happen. However, the SSPX might not like that very much. Until there is a formal reconcilation with Rome, I can’t see the SSPX doing anything other than expelling a man who effectively “left” the SSPX to become a diocesan priest.]

  4. kat says:

    What I have personally witnessed, and thought rather strange (though I hardly think unique): a grandmother had two grandchildren getting married the same summer. One grandchild was getting married at the SSPX chapel. The grandmother would not attend the wedding, though did attend the reception. The other (Catholic) grandchild was getting married in a Mormon church. The grandmother did not have any problem at all attending that wedding ceremony, at which there were no Catholic Church official witnesses.

    If someone refuses to attend the weddings at SSPX chapels, which if nothing else, can at least be said to be taking place in confusing times where the faithful are trying to be Catholic, they ought to at least be consistent and never attend any other weddings in which Catholics are not following Church law as well.

  5. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “There is no canonical prohibition against attending invalid weddings.” That’s true. I always point that out when getting this question. But there is Canon 209 which requires Catholics to act like Catholics 24/7. Now that includes, I think, not attending sacramental acts that are invalid. [Indeed!]

    Remember, I am the first say that canonical form should be dropped! Two Protestants, friendly with an SSPX priest in a given state, could have him officiate at their wedding, and it would be presumptively valid and sacramental, but NOT two Catholics. I grant that is crazy, but until the law is fixed, Catholics must abide by it. All of it. [Dura lex…]

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    This is a situation that calls for our prayers on behalf of all concerned. Although it is unstated in the question, it would appear that the family must already have some connection to a community of the SSPX. Complicating the issue further, if the wedding is occurring in the US, it is unstated whether the bride and groom have complied with the requirement to attend a diocesan-approved marriage preparation course. It serves to highlight the consequences for the faithful of the failure of the SSPX’s failure to fully submit to Papal authority.

  7. Andrew_81 says:

    Dear Father,

    You are right about the general argument on the SSPX and marriages. They lack the necessary delegation. However, true as that may be, when it comes to individual marriages (and not the SSPX itself), it seems to me we can’t make such generalization, because Canon Law does not support such a hard line on individual marriages.

    The fundamental canon on marriage is Canon 1060 : “Marriage enjoys the favor of law”. This is to protect marriage from doubts and the mess that would come from being able to assume putative marriages an invalid without the Church authority intervening. The only such authority I know of is a tribunal. Thus, lacking a decree of nullity, we have to assume every putative marriage is a marriage, even if it seems not. We simply do not have the competence to judge. And even if teh case seems abundantly clear, we may not have all the evidence.

    For instance, while it is unlikely, perhaps delegation was given in a particular case to an SSPX priest. We cannot know without speaking to such a priest, or the couple, taking evidence, etc. All things the tribunal would do were the marriage called into question.

    I know of at least one marriage in Mexico where the SSPX priest (who told me directly) was given written delegation by the local ordinary for a specific wedding due to certain circumstances. The priest was known to the bishop as part of the SSPX and was given explicit delegation for that marriage.

    Further, even if some deny the argument, there is at least some doubt regarding the extraordinary case (where canonical form is not needed). And there is also the common error/doubt problem. Only a tribunal could settle whether those apply to a particular marriage.

    None of us here are competent to judge any individual marriage, because we are not a tribunal.

    Lacking that intervention of the Church’s juridical authority, we have to assume, even when unlikely, that every apparent marriage is really a marriage. That is to protect the institution of marriage itself, and families. Were the Church’s law otherwise, chaos would ensue. The terribly unfortunate family strives that have resulted from ex-SSPX priests impugning the marriages of their families is clear evidence why in the Church’s wisdom, she protects individual marriages from non-juridical accusation.

    The Church’s law and prudence is a beautiful thing — one more reason why it’s clear she’s at least partially a divine institution.

    [The presumption of validity is generally a good place to start. HOWEVER… it’s difficult to maintain that presumption in light of Pope Benedict’s statement in 2009, when he lifted the excommunications of the bishops of the SSPX. Benedict wrote that “The Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.” Granted, Benedict did not specifically and directly saying that their ministry is invalid, but it is clearly illegitimate. With regard to marriage, it is difficult to justify a bishop granting delegation to a priest who is exercising illegitimate priestly ministry, and who intends to continue to do so. I’m not saying that it didn’t happen, but I think the cases where it might have happened are pretty darn rare. If and when that happens, there’s at least still some doubt as to whether the bishop has the ability to grant delegation to a priest whom the Pope has declared is acting illegitimately. Also, my experience from the PCED is that when a priest of the SSPX approached us, even while seeking a diocesan bishop, we made sure that he did a “Adhesio Fidei” as a first step. Then he could have faculties to say Mass while the journey of regularization continued. Frankly, my experience with those priests was deeply moving. I remember one fellow who almost wept with frustration that there were whole cities in his native place where there was no priest at all, SSPX or other. “No one to baptize… no one to give them last rites…”. He was an amazing guy. He had virtually nothing after he left the SSPX, so, even in my own relative penury, I used to give him Mass stipends and the occasion lunch while the search for a situation continued. He eventually got situated, as it turns out, in the best possible location, even where his family was. He passed through the crucible. The people who have him as their parish priest are fortunate indeed. My experience with him and others convinced me of how wonderful it would be to reconcile the lot.]

  8. Auggie says:

    Fr. Z, if the SSPX were given canonical status (let’s say, this Christmas) then would the marriage in question be considered valid?

    [Individual priests would still have to receive the proper faculty/delegation.]

  9. Fr_Sotelo says:

    A very hard case. Too bad the couple couldn’t seek out the dispensation from form. It is a case where the most devout of Catholic marriages don’t get recognized, while the sham farce of a marriage in the parish is gladly officiated and registered.

  10. norancor says:

    What are we to make of the assertion/relation of Bishop Bernard Fellay, SSPX, that confessions heard by SSPX priests which contain sins reserved to the Holy See are processed by the Holy See without issue? Before someone complains that marriage and confession are different, its my understanding that the root problem with the SSPX is jurisdiction, for both Sacraments. [AGAIN…. individual priests need faculties. Were the SSPX to be harmonized with the Holy See, someone would still have to give the priests faculties to marry, preach and receive sacramental confessions.] If the Holy See is passively acknowledging the validity of confessions heard by the Society, then why this double standard with marriages? [“passively acknowledging”? no such thing in this case.]

    I can find the talk of Bishop Fellay and reference it, if need be. I would find it hard to believe he would bear false witness with regards to something as grave as the validity of a Sacrament.

    Dr. Peters, you once mentioned the name of a book on the history of the sacrament of marriage from the 1920s or 30s that explains how the Church came to interject jurisdiction into Marriage and Confession in the Tridentine period, and when, why and how the Church came to recognize non-Catholic marriages as valid as well.

    If you could name it again that would be good.

    Pax et bonum.

  11. chantgirl says:

    The questioner is the Godmother of the bride-to-be, so I think that she has a responsibility to talk to the young woman about the situation, especially since the young woman is trying to live her faith and might be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

    In my case, I am the confirmation sponsor for a relative who subsequently left the church, works for the ACLU, lobbies for gay “marriage”, and married outside of the Church in an outdoor ceremony by a woman minister, and has not baptized her two children. I did not go to the wedding, but didn’t feel that she was open to having me preach at her, so I have been praying for her, having Masses offered, and praying for Baptism for her children. God knows if my silent prayers for her are prudence or cowardice. Some days I question myself.

    [Understandable. But it’s dangerous to play the game “My disobedience is not as bad as HIS disobedience!” The SSPX has done some wonderful things and seem to be generally good, holy men, but we can’t justify their clear disobedience to the Apostolic See which, warts and all, God has placed in authority over His Church, by saying, “Other priests are doing much worse things and they are getting away with it!” Priests may be “getting away with” sin and dissent in this life, but God will not be mocked. Nor will God be impressed by the argument, “Well he was way worse than I was…”]

  12. CatholicSwede says:

    Cases like this always makes me very, very sad. A woman who takes her Catholic faith “wildly seriously” (probably the reason why she seeks out the SSPX though I don’t know why she didn’t contact the FSSP or ICKSP) is not getting a valid sacrament because she looks outside the institution of the modern Church. Her marriage would of course be canonically approved in a diocesean parish even if the pastor would applaud the gay movement, altar girls, communion in the hand, communion for the remarried, eucharistic ministers, lack of belief in the Real Presence, belief that the Mass is all about a “meal with Jesus” and on and on and on. I get the feeling that the letter of Canon Law overrules the letter of Divine Law nowadays and I cant’t help thinking about the Pharisees of the Gospels. I don’t attend a SSPX parish but I am totally convinced that we wouldn’t have seen this worldwide apostasy if the Church would have stuck to the Faith just like the SSPX did. Pray for things to get settled – the Church of today needs the same fidelity to the Faith!

  13. Daniel W says:

    DR Ed writes:
    ” Two Protestants, friendly with an SSPX priest in a given state, could have him officiate at their wedding, and it would be presumptively valid and sacramental, but NOT two Catholics. I grant that is crazy, but until the law is fixed, Catholics must abide by it.”

    Firstly, far more essential than a priest are two witnesses. If our Protestant friends follow Dr Ed’s minimalist approach, their marriage will still be invalid. “Extraordinary” form requires two witnesses which Dr Ed’s minimialist advice fails to mention. (Long live canonical form!)

    You might consider the following loopholes:
    Can. 1116 §1. If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only:
    1/ in danger of death;
    2/ outside the danger of death provided that it is prudently foreseen that the situation will continue for a month.
    §2. In either case, if some other priest or deacon who can be present is available, he must be called and be present at the celebration of the marriage together with the witnesses, without prejudice to the validity of the marriage before witnesses only.

    Loophole 1: It is always gravely inconvenient (canonically) for a priest in good standing to assist at a wedding in a StPX parish (just ask one), so 2/ is easily fulfilled.
    Loophole 2: Failing that, someone just has to threaten to kill either betrothed if they don’t marry in a StPX ceremony (knowing of course that they will not have to carry out the threat) and that covers 1/ !
    (in either case, as Dr Ed points out, we should follow c 1116.2 which foresees that even a StPX priest be called upon)

  14. slainewe says:

    I fail to understand how individuals or organizations that consider themselves more Catholic than the Holy Ghost can be described as “serious about the Faith.” What faith?

    Seems to me that if Church culture reforms to the point that the SSPX willingly come back, the reform will not be because of their disobedience, but because of the faithfulness of those priests who, with eyes wide opened, stayed with Our Lady under the Cross of the “Spirit of Vatican II.” The Church will forgive the SSPX, as Christ forgave the Apostles who ran away from His Crucifixion, but what a horrible thing if they do not acknowledge their betrayal before returning. What good would an “I told ya so” priest be to the Bride of Christ?

    It seems better that these priests come back to Rome one by one, while it still takes a real Act of Faith on their part to do so.

  15. interminomaris says:

    What are the rules regarding an SSPX priest / seminarian serving at a non-SSPX wedding mass, or participating in some way at a diocesan wedding mass?

    My girlfriend’s brother is at an SSPX seminary. Would he ever be allowed to participate in some way at a wedding if we got married at an approved Latin mass (FSSP, etc).

    Even though the societies might tend to not get involved with each other, would permission need to be granted from someone or would it be a local situation (ie get the permission of the officiating Priest and no one would notice who assisted at the altar)?

    My girlfriend and I have talked a bit about if we were to get married that we don’t want to have any doubt regarding the validity of our marriage, so we would err on the side of a non-SSPX TLM/extraordinary form wedding, so that there would be no doubt. I am just curious if there would be a way to include her brother in our sacrament.

  16. bruceb says:

    Hello Father. As an interested non-Catholic, I am very confused about what the Church and clergy can and can’t do, how far the Church’s ability to bind and loose goes, etc. This post brought to mind some questions I have.
    To what extent does the Church and clergy’s ability to bind and loose effect objective reality? Let’s take marriage as an example. Do the particular details of canon law, which can change, really determine whether or not a sacrament (which I assume is an objective reality) really exists? Dr. Peters above characterized certain applications of the current canon law as “crazy.” Does the power to loose and bind include the power to make crazy things an objective reality?
    Another example that confuses me is annulment. Clergy can make mistakes in the process of determination or can even be insincere in application of the process. Does their declaration of marital invalidity “make it so” because of the power to bind and loose or is the reality of the existence of the binding sacrament an objective reality that’s independent of the clergy’s decision.

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