ASK FATHER: My Catholic son is marrying a Lutheran. Can a priest bless the marriage?

From reader…


My son is Catholic and woman he will marry is Lutheran. Her father is a minister and will be doing the ceremony. May a Catholic priest be present to bless the marriage? What is the rule?

The Church requires that Catholics marry Catholics, and that they do so within a Catholic ceremony. Marriage, as a sacrament, is strengthened by the faith of the parties, and since marriage is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation of children, it is only logical that the good of the spouses is strengthened by a common faith, by regular reception of the sacraments together, by common prayer, and by a common identity.

Even more, the Church knows that children’s faith is best secured when both parents share that faith.

That said, the Church recognizes that human heart and affections are difficult to regulate.

Understanding that there are circumstances where a Catholic might desire to marry someone of another faith, and respecting the autonomy of the individual, the Church can grant permission for a Catholic to marry a baptized non-Catholic, or even a dispensation for a Catholic to marry an unbaptized person. In both cases, before the permission or dispensation is granted, some assurances are required: the Catholic party needs to be advised of the seriousness of this exception, he has to state that he is intending to continue to practice his Catholic faith, and he has to state that he will do all within his power to ensure that the children born to the marriage will be brought up in the faith. In addition, the non-Catholic party must be advised that the Catholic party has made these promises. Then, if the bishop is convinced that this marriage will not be a danger to the faith of the Catholic party, then he may give his permission, or grant a dispensation.

The bishop has the further authority, should he deems it reasonable to do so, to grant a dispensation from canonical form, that is, permission for the Catholic to be married by a non-Catholic minister.

If that dispensation is given, then the wedding should follow whatever format the non-Catholic minister uses. It’s not good to “mix” rituals and have a Catholic priest do part and a (in this case) Lutheran minister do part. Particularly egregious (and actually invalid) are situations where the Lutheran minister receives the vow of the Lutheran party and the Catholic priest receives the vows of the Catholic party. There must be only one minister officiating.

Priests are not forbidden to attend such weddings, and may do so as a guest, especially if there’s a close family relationship. Priests may, with their bishop’s permission, even attend “in choir” (that is, they may wear their proper choir dress).  I suppose it would not be entirely wrong for such a priest to have some small part of the ceremony, such as proclamation of the Gospel, the offering of a prayer, if his bishop permits it. One must allow the bishop to lead his diocese in the arena of ecumenism to avoid scandal or indifferentism (cf. art. 157 of the Directory on the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism).

If the bishop does not give his permission, or if the priest or deacon prefers (I’d probably opt for this option), the priest can skip the wedding ceremony that’s taking place with a dispensation from form, and instead, come to the wedding reception and give the newlywed couple a blessing and bless the food.

Even better, Father could greet the couple after Mass on the Sunday after the wedding (just because one gets married on Saturday, doesn’t give one permission to skip Mass the next day!.  Have Gaius and Sempronia come up to the Communion rail and give them a blessing before they toddle off to their honeymoon destination and their lifelong, happy marriage together.

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  1. Elizabeth D says:

    Since Catholics marry validly only when they marry in accord with Church law, a marriage attempted outside the Catholic Church without appropriate dispensation(s) is NOT valid (it is null). Someone living in such a union is not able to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church (though still obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days).

    Really, it is inappropriate to start setting up wedding plans with a protestant pastor before the Catholic party has even spoken with the local Catholic parish priest about whether they are able to meet the conditions for a dispensation. I know someone might do this out of sheer lack of knowledge of Catholic teaching on marriage. But this is all the more reason why it’s so necessary for them to work with their Catholic priest and learn what they need to know to actually be able to live their married vocation faithfully as a Catholic.

  2. Agapitus says:

    You note that “There must be only one minister officiating.” I am curious as to why this is so. Since it is the couple themselves that are the ministers of the Sacrament, why should it matter whether there are one or ten official Church witnesses. Maybe I do not have a proper understanding of a priest’s role in a Marriage ceremony. I had thought that his only function (in the Latin Church) is that of an official witness on behalf of the Church. Sincerely curious.

  3. Sword40 says:

    I was in that very situation almost 50 years ago. My wife to be was a cradle Catholic. I had never been Baptized. We met with the local priest who after he heard our request to be married, told me that we needed a dispensation from the Bishop. He asked me if I could agree to raise the children as Catholic. I had no problems with that. So I started a 30 day instruction session with him. As the wedding day approached, I received word that the Bishop had granted the dispensation AND he gave permission for a Nuptial Mass. So there we were in this huge Catholic church, with the organist, two altar boys, about ten guests and the priest. How was I to know that this marriage was to last 50 years. But it has.
    Seven children, 19 grand children and two great grand children later. So on April 23rd (next month) we will have made the grade. (God willing).

    I became Catholic 4 years after we were married. It was totally my own decision. I found the Traditional Mass and fell in love with it. Its been a long journey in seeking the old Mass but we have it available to us daily. Thanks to the FSSP I have arrived home.

  4. Jeannie_C says:

    My Catholic father married my Anglican mother in her church – no dispensation from his bishop. I was baptized at the United Church in the neighborhood to which they eventually moved. I was finally confirmed in the Catholic Church as an adult, having missed out on the experience of being raised as a Catholic. Those about to be married seldom give thought to the effects on future generations when they do whatever they want, disregarding the Church’s teachings and as a result we lose many would be Catholics in the process.

  5. Mariana2 says:

    “The Church requires that Catholics marry Catholics”

    The chances of our son marrying a Catholic girl are almost nil. Tiny parish, Lutheran country. A miracle is required.

  6. Volanges says:

    Forty years ago last July I was the one meeting the priest and asking to marry a non-Catholic (United Church of Canada). That was under the 1917 Code of Canon Law and I needed a dispensation to do so and he needed to promise to allow the children to be raised Catholic. One of the first things my Pastor said to me was,
    “You know you can marry in the United Church.”
    “No, I was not aware of that, but he hardly ever sets foot in his church and I want to be married here in the the parish where I was baptized, confirmed and attend regularly. ”

    Hubby, in the meantime, was meeting with the Catholic Padre on the military base where he was posted and learning about his duties if he married a Catholic.

    We got our dispensation and married outside of Mass. Unlike Sword 40, he has never converted, although he was always there to support me in passing on the Catholic faith to our children. He was at Mass when I had to be a reader or EMCH. He learned the Hail Mary and relearned the Lord’s Prayer in French so he could help the children with their prayers if I had to be away from home at bedtime. More recently he sang in our church choir for a few years. I’m still hopeful that one day he’ll say “It’s time. I want to be Catholic.” He hinted at it a few times but never saw it through. I wish there was an Extraordinary Form Mass somewhere close to allow him to experience that. It might make a difference.

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “…the Church can grant permission for a Catholic to marry a baptized non-Catholic, or even a dispensation for a Catholic to marry an unbaptized person.” I love it when people use technical terms correctly. Luvit.

    Agapitus: Canons 1108.2 & 1120.

    Note on ‘skipping wedding but attending the reception’: that advice ONLY holds, I suggest, when the wedding one fests with a reception is itself presumptively valid. Lest people take Pater to have said more than he actually did.

  8. ReginaMarie says:

    If there is no EF Mass nearby, perhaps you could find an Eastern Catholic parish which celebrates the beautiful & ancient Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Praying that your husband finds his way home to the Church.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Years ago, a good priest told a community of Catholic youth, that if they could not find a Catholic to marry, to move. Why not? America is a mobile country. Send your children to Catholic colleges, like TAC and Christendom, and they will find Catholic spouses.

  10. Imrahil says:

    Just because one gets married on Saturday, doesn’t give one permission to skip Mass the next day.

    I learned (to my initial surprise) from the dear Dr Peters who also commented above that, if the wedding includes a nuptial Mass, as is the usual case, and if said nuptial Mass does not begin before high noon of normal time or 13 o’clock of daylight saving time, as is also the usual case, then that officially counts as an anticipated Sunday Mass as far as the obligation is concerned…

  11. Mariana2 says:

    “I wish there was an Extraordinary Form Mass somewhere close to allow him to experience that. It might make a difference.”

    I’m sure that would make a difference to my Lutheran husband, too. Our parish priest thinks the Extraordinary Form silly. He has celebrated it for us twice, but, alas, clearly showing he thought it too daft for words. At the same time he will not allow our young chaplain (whom I had the honour of being accepted into Holy Mother Church with) to celebrate the EF, although he would love to!

    We have the OF in Latin once a month.

  12. Tristan says:

    My Father in Law, a Lutheran minister, officiating our wedding at his parish, after my bride and I went through pre Cana through my parish. We required a dispensation by the bishop of the diocese where the wedding took place (in another state). Giving Fr plenty of time helps. Wife (and FIL) was made aware of the additional requirements for open to children, raised Catholic.

  13. Volanges says:

    ReginaMarie, that’s a nice thought but I’m at least a 2000 mile round trip from either an Extraordinary Form or Eastern Catholic liturgy.

  14. TAH says:

    The Diocese of Harrisburg entered into an ecumenical covenant with the neighboring Lutheran and Episcopalian ecclesial communities back in the 90’s. One fruit of their ecumenical efforts was a very detailed guidebook that spells out exactly what can and cannot be done in the matrimonial liturgies of each of the three traditions. This includes what ministers of the other communities are welcome to do in each other the other’s liturgies (according to each’s own rubrics).

    The actual guidelines aren’t online, but info about them and the agreement between the communities are online. For the very interested I am sure the Harrisburg chancery has copies of the guidelines, they could be helpful to those trying to figure out the best procedures for mixed nuptial ceremonies.

    Keep in mind, these guidelines would only be helpful in planning a wedding in a Lutheran church that is part of the ELCA. My understanding is the Missouri and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans would not welcome a Catholic priest’s participation in the wedding liturgy.

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