From a reader…
My son and fiancee are Catholics and considering having a non-priest perform the ceremony in the Outer Banks, NC. We have two family members saying that as Catholics, they can’t attend the wedding because it is outside of the church. Is there some rule that is keeping them from attending the wedding?
Once again we wade into the harsh waters that flow between the permissible and the prudent.
Catholics are obliged to marry in the presence of a duly delegated official witness of the Church, almost always a priest, deacon, or bishop. When a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, the Catholic’s bishop can (if certain conditions apply) give a dispensation, and permit the marriage to take place without the presence of such a duly delegated cleric. If two Catholics wish to marry without the presence of a duly delegated official witness, the only one who can grant that dispensation is the Holy Father himself. Quite rare, but it does happen. There would have to be some serious conditions for that to take place (the Catholic Duke of Grand Fenwick is marrying the Catholic Archduchess of Unst, and the Lutheran bishop of Grand Fenwick must officiate at the wedding for some obscure constitutional purposes…).
The Pope is not going to grant a dispensation for two Catholics who simply want a pretty backdrop for their wedding pictures. And that is 99% of the reason for this sort of folderol, these shenanigans, this tomfoolery.
First question that needs to be asked: Why are your son and fiancee not getting married in a Catholic church by a duly delegated priest?
Let’s see what is permissible.
Nothing in the law prevents Catholics from attending invalid marriages. There is no prohibition, there are no penalties, nothing prevents this from happening.
There is also nothing in canon law that prevents Catholics from
- sticking their heads into the mouths of sharks,
- running with scissors,
- eating processed cheese-flavored products, or
- rooting for the Yankees.
The fact that something is not prohibited by law does not, thereby, make that something a good thing to do.
Prudence, that queen of all virtues comes in to play here.
Does a Catholic, who attends a wedding he knows to be invalid, show support for something that is patently wrong? Does his presence give the couple and their guests the impression that, “Hey, this apparently is not a big deal!”?
Or would it, as it does in some cases, mean that the couple, who know that what they are doing is wrong, conclude that Aunt Betty still loves them and maybe is even leaving the door open for them to come to their senses and return to the practice of their faith once their marriage situation is resolved?
We must return to the other question: Why is this couple not following the laws of the Church, which their Catholic baptism obliges them to follow? Were they poorly catechized? Do they not care about their faith and hence, about their eternal destiny?
As a parent, you are presumably quite concerned about their well-being.
Have you, or someone else close to them, taken them aside and said, “You need to get yourself married in the Church. It’s not just about window dressing. It’s about the state of your souls. Here’s Fr. Gelasius’ phone number. Please call him. Talk this over with him. Please.”
The moderation queue is ON.