ASK FATHER: Wedding of Catholics with a non-priest out in Mother Nature

traditional marriage certificateFrom 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.”

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  1. iamlucky13 says:

    It’s been years since I learned about the Duchy of Grand Fenwick’s role in 20th century global politics, and all this time, I never realized the Noble family of that nation was Catholic.

    I suppose that makes some sense since Sir Roger Fenwick settled there before the English Reformation, and his successors may have been benevolent enough to retain the thrown even as Protestant sentiments swept the region. However, I’m curious how a tiny nation on the borders of France and Switzerland, neither of which were predominantly Lutheran as far as I know, came to have a Lutheran Constitution.

    Sorry for the digression. I couldn’t resist.

    I do pray the couple will respect the canonical requirement. Being a parent now, too, I worry about catechizing my own children well enough that I never have to make this sort of decision.

  2. Pigeon says:

    “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.”

    Can’t something be done about that last one?

  3. Justalurkingfool says:

    “rooting for the Yankees.”

    Easy here, Father Z, you have readers who have fond memories of the Bronx Bombers and who still reside within commuting distance to the Big Apple.


  4. surritter says:

    “The Pope is not going to grant a dispensation for two Catholics who simply want a pretty backdrop for their wedding pictures.”
    Perhaps the current pope would, because after all, we must “meet people where they are.” Golly, if a young couple doesn’t get their way they might leave the faith altogether.

  5. Gerhard says:

    Sometimes children need a strong lesson. Later, when they sober up (repent at leisure and cry over their sins) they might at least acknowledge that the jolt of parental non-attendance at their rose tinted bucolic romp nudged them back to sanity.

  6. Deacon Don says:

    Unfortunately the question is all to prominent and spreading. This past week I was asked whether it is inappropriate to attend a service in a Funeral Home of a person who was Catholic … not once, but twice. Then you are told about the hard feelings that resulted because other family members refused to attend.

    We are witnessing one or two weddings a year … a far cry from one or two a weekend. We are seeing only a tiny fraction of the funerals.

    Like the Funeral Home, the local Wedding Chapels are now offering all-inclusive events at very favorable prices … then you deduct the cost of marriage prep, the huge limitations they view the church as placing on the service, the transportation costs, decor and extra flowers, the you-can’t-take-photos requests, the musicians who won’t, don’t or can’t play the music, and a service they are not familiar with because they don’t attend anymore … it is a slow-death spiral.

    So the odds are that the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony, like the Catholic Funeral, will become the anomaly and the number of questions will increase.

  7. RobJ says:

    A wedding is only a day, while a marriage lasts a lifetime.

  8. William Tighe says:

    “However, I’m curious how a tiny nation on the borders of France and Switzerland, neither of which were predominantly Lutheran as far as I know, came to have a Lutheran Constitution.”

    Grand Fenwick (as I recall) had a feudal dependency on the County of Montbeliard (then carrying the German name of Mompelgard; although it was French-speaking, it was a territory of the Holy Roman Empire, until it was seized and annexed by revolutionary France in 1793); the Count of Mompelgard was also Duke of Wuerttemberg. Duke Ulrich embraced Lutheranism in 1524 and later forced it on his territories. Albrecht Fenwick, then a simple Count, reluctantly embraced Lutheranism as well. In the 1620s his great-grandson reverted to Catholicism, but had no children, and so Fenwick passed to a Lutheran cousin. Only in the 1660s did the family again embrace Catholicism, but they had to agree to leave Lutheranism as the territory’s established religion. (The ruling family of Wuerttemberg itself embraced Catholicism in 1712, but later reverted to Protestantism.) Thus the peculiar religious situation of the Grand Duchy (more peculiar still, in that its Catholic population, amounting to 47% of the whole, outnumbers both Lutherans [36%] and Reformed [15%]).

  9. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Your answer is completely correct. It occasions me ruminating on the problems of form, again, but, well, your answer is completely correct. As usual. :) edp

  10. People in my family know that we will not attend weddings of Catholics when they get married outside of the Church. They don’t even bother to invite us, they just tell us about it and tell us that they know we can’t attend and they understand. It has been cause for much heartache on both sides but we just deal with it, and we pray for them.

  11. Amante de los Manuales says:

    At least the natural law applies to wedding cases like the above one. Prudence certainly applies, and the acts of the virtues are commanded by the natural law. Father’s point about prudence is no little matter, then.

  12. Spade says:

    Having been to Mass in the outer banks on a few occasions, a celebration outside without a priest is probably just as liturgically sound as mass at the church there.

    The music was lead by a lady with a guitar who thought she was Ani DeFranco. At one mass the priest announced her CD’s were for sale in the back of the church. At another a ridiculous poem (which failed to mention God or Christ, and was obviously done by a boomer with the poetry skills of a 13 year old) was inserted into the Liturgy of the Word for no particularly good reason.

  13. TheDude05 says:

    This idea of destination weddings is mind boggling to me. Get married near home and then go to the destination without the relatives. While the part about marrying in the Church was important to my wife and I(and I converted after we married) I can see why people want to be out in nature. Still the idea of doing it without a Catholic Deacon or Priest should be of concern.

  14. Mary Jane says:

    The most beautiful weddings I’ve been to (including my own :) were in fabulous Catholic churches with high (or Solemn high!) masses, polyphony, chant, awesome vestments – the works. One doesn’t need a “great nature backdrop”. To me, the best “backdrop” is the altar and tabernacle.

  15. Elizabeth D says:

    It is not a real wedding if a Catholic is attempting marriage outside the Church. There is no wedding to attend really. I think there are an increasing number of Catholics who don’t even know this. From a Catholic perspective it is important not to paricipate in a way that affirms it as being really a marriage. I would think if Catholic parents understood they would just weep because the child is separating themself from the practice of the Faith by doing this; they won’t be able to receive Holy Communion (until they set things right, which always remains possible but it is soooo much better not to get into an irregular marriage situation in the first place). My brother married invalidly in a non Catholic ceremony; neither he nor I had good catechesis and formation when we were growing up. It deepened terribly sad divisions in the family. I keep praying for him. A friend of mine just got her longtime (invalid) civil spouse to agree to marry in the Church! She had already obtained a declaration of nullity of a prior invalid marriage but after that her current civil spouse, who wasn’t Catholic, refused to get married sacramentally in the Catholic Church (which is actually a pretty simple affair) because he was not himself Catholic, did not understand the Catholic perspective, and insisted that the civil marriage was all they needed. They had been living without having relations (“as brother and sister”) because she had grown in faith and it was important to her to be able to receive Jesus in Holy Communion and be in right relationship with God. I was so happy for both of them when she told me he had agreed to marry finally!! God is love!!!

  16. Volanges says:

    Two of my kids have opted to marry outside the Church, just so they could get married outside. Daughter married a non-Catholic, son married a fellow Catholic. I’ve felt like a failure of a Catholic mother ever since.

    I attended both weddings because I felt that not doing so would have pushed them even further from the Church. But they are in no rush to change things. Daughter has refused to baptize our 2 grandsons and has recently declared herself agnostic when mentioning that our 6 year old grandson has been asking about God. Wish I lived nearer to them. And do you know what a temptation it is to give your unbaptized grandchildren a bath?!?!

  17. iamlucky13 says:

    @ William Tighe – thanks for filling me in on the details! I can’t say I remember any of that from the books, but you seem knowledgeable enough to trust.

  18. michael de cupertino says:

    My neighbor told me that he and his wife were married in a pretty winery somewhere, but the priest secretly married them beforehand in an actual Catholic Church, because the Bishop had prevented the outdoor nuptials.

    My sister-in-law did a similar thing: immediate family-only real church wedding, followed by a big fancy outdoor-winery secular wedding with loads of guests and all the trimmings.

    Seems the sacramental ceremony is the one you’d want to celebrate, but none of these people are still practicing their faith as far as I can tell…

  19. Nan says:

    I guess it’s okay that, as a work of mercy I emailed a proud graduate of a local Catholic high school, letting him know that his immortal soul was endangered due to his plan to marry for the third time without seeking a decree of nullity for round two. I provided a link to a Canon lawyer’s book on the topic and informed him that the fact that a) he and #2 were both Catholic and b) they had a child together had no bearing on the outcome.

    I saw him a couple of months ago and learned that he indeed had married and reiterated the need to seek a decree of nullity and that it had no effect on his son’s legitimacy, but would determine whether the marital bond was present or not in marriage #2.

  20. Ages says:

    For those who believe in an exchange between the two lungs, perhaps the RCC can adopt a page from the Orthodox book on this: a wedding outside the church temple and/or without a priest is invalid and the couple excommunicate themselves automatically. The only recourse is repentance and the performance of a church wedding.

  21. APX says:

    And do you know what a temptation it is to give your unbaptized grandchildren a bath?!?!

    My mom did that with both my niece and nephew. I told her she shouldn’t have done that, but at the same time, I feel some relief that they’re both baptized. My parents live close by so they do a lot of baby-sitting and teach my 3 y/o nephew his prayers and the Rosary. He’s rather intelligent and advanced for his age (or children just tend to be below where they should be), and has no problem sitting through Mass following along. If one can teach enough of the faith to un baptized children, they have knowledge they need to ask for the sacraments.

  22. PA mom says:

    The beauty of nature can be truly magnificent! But, rightly ordered love places God above this appreciation.

    My grandmother still talks about the High Mass wedding she had. Maybe if people experienced more beauty like that within Church, it would properly tilt the scales back to orderly.

    There are so many confused people, especially Catholics. May God help us all.

  23. davidscottpringle says:

    I would have to look at Christ’s teaching in the Holy Scriptures warning of a lukewarm faith in and in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Our Lord teaches us that “by their fruit you will recognize them”. We can certainly see the fruit of leaving the Holy Faith out of society and marriage particularly as we look around at the world today. I would have to ask if you deny Christ by supporting that which is against Him and His commandments, in this case the Sacrament of Marriage and the authority of Holy Church to bind and unbind? In our household we cannot see calling ourselves Catholic and then not living the Holy Faith to please the world.

  24. Nathan says:

    I fully support the dire need for young adults to marry in the Church, according to her precepts. A parental question of practicality, though. Is it licit and/or advisable, if a child succumbs to the temptation to have a “destination wedding” or a “photo-op wedding barefoot on the beach,” to advise said child to solemnize the marriage privately in the church (in the old days, this would be “getting married in the rectory”) and then have the silly photo-op or destination ceremony (where they can repeat their vows with the requisite meaningful looks and cheesy music in the background) follow shortly as part of the party? That is, assuming they don’t get a non-Catholic “clergyman” to perform the second ceremony?

    In Christ,

  25. Rosary Rose says:

    My own son is getting married in a barn this Fall. He was a college retreat leader and had a rosary on his rear view mirror until he met my future daughter in law. I don’t feel like a failure as a Catholic mother; my son knows absolutely where I stand. When I’m in that barn I will appear festive for him, but I’ll be fasting and praying the rosary. This is his road he has chosen. My Catholic faith helps me fight these battles. Prayer and mortification. No time for hand wringing. Time to recognize this fight is with principalities and powers.

    So, go to confession.

    How did this happen? Save the Liturgy, save the world.
    Pray for our Leaders to wake up and realize that if we truly believe Christ is present in the Eucharist, our actions in Mass must reflect that He is present: Ad orientem, communion on the tongue and kneeling, tabernacle back in a place of honor (front and center), and change the “mystery of our faith” – The Mystery is that bread and wine are now the Body and Blood of Christ, we need to say that if we say anything at all.

    Pray that WE can be the change that needs to happen.

    And by all means, pray for Fr. Z. God bless Fr. Z.

  26. Suburbanbanshee says:

    You know who usually wants an outdoor marriage, these days?

    People who spend all their freaking time indoors.

    People who like the outdoors are well aware that pretty places can also be unpleasant places, depending on the weather and on other natural events. They understand church weddings. If they want an outdoor reception, they have a Plan B.

  27. Lisa says:

    My husband and I did not attend the wedding of his brother. He was marrying a non-Catholic at a courthouse. We explained to him that a dispensation may be granted, but nothing was done on that front. His brother totally understood why we didn’t come, but his bride did not, and still doesn’t.

    The good news is that a couple years later they had their marriage “blessed” (not sure what the correct term for that is), and another sister was married in a church, and obtained a dispensation for marrying a non-Catholic. It seemed at the time she did so because she wanted her whole family to come to the wedding, although she is now a practicing Catholic again. Their marriage has been tested almost from the beginning due to circumstances outside their control, but they have persevered through it all in a way that most couples these days probably wouldn’t. I have no doubt that the graces from the Sacrament have helped them in this.

  28. Stevetop815 says:

    I don’t know what chance there is of the original writer reading this comment. But there is a beautiful little Church in the outer Banks called Our Lady of the Seas. It has a large window overlooking the sound. The pastor is a very kind man.

    There’s no reason you couldn’t have an outer Banks wedding AND still have it Catholic.

    And of course, you can always take additional photos with the bridal party out by the ocean. (I was once in just such a wedding).

  29. Phil_NL says:

    The thing that strikes me is that, interestingly enough, the napoleontic approach – marry in church, and marry again for the state* – prevents a lot of this nonsense. Since the state requires only a bit of paperwork, for a small fee it’s easy to deputize some friend to act as registrar-for-a-day, and you can have the civil part of the wedding where ever you please, with whatever nonsense you please. Minimum requirements are very low. Which in all likelihood takes a lot of pressure from priests (and concerned family) with respect to form, as the priest can say to all lunacy: do that at your civil wedding, not in Church.

    Consequently, in this case, I’d say: let them do what they want, as long as they don’t do anything religious in the beach ceremony, and also get properly married in church (ideally on the same day). If it’s legally possible for the priest to marry without the civil law effects, they can arrange everything in good order. Which might be a whole lot easier than to get Bridezilla (or Groomzilla) to forego whatever it is they seek in the Outer Banks.

    * In many countries in Europe the Napoleontic period meant that priests cannot conduct marriages with civil effects, and that it’s actually illegal to marry only in Church. You need to do both if you want to marry for the Church at all.

  30. scholastica says:

    We’ve been there too. The congregation was firmly forbidden to kneel during distribution of Communion until all had returned to their seats so we might be in Union with one another. After our family of 7 was made obvious by bringing up the gifts. We promptly knelt after receiving communion as did everyone in the ten pews behind us.

  31. DavidR says:

    Re: “rooting for the Yankees.”

    When the Yankees play the Red Sox, it reminds me of the quote from Henry Kissinger about the Iran-Iraq war; “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”

  32. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    My husband and I love OBX (Outer Banks, NC, for those of you from Grand Fenwick), (although it must be said, I had a difficult time getting past the word *Devil* which comprised the name of one of the resort area’s towns. Reading the local history books for background on the story of this name helped a great deal.)

    My preference, though, is for Cape Cod, Mass: I can think of nothing more charming than a wedding ceremony at Our Lady of Victories church in Hyannis, followed by a four-course wedding breakfast (Veuve Cliquot, 1988) served on a terrace overlooking the shore at one of the local, posh beach clubs (if you happen to be a gazillion-aire, and belong to one of these!)

    I wonder if the solution to the problem posed by the need to reconcile many couples’ desire for a ceremony on the beach (or at some other secular venue) with the Church requirement for a valid Catholic wedding in a church, would be to revive the ancient custom of betrothal ceremony. In medieval times such a ceremony would include the couples’ exchange of promises to wed in the future, in the presence of family and well-wishers. There would be an exchange of gifts, followed by a festive meal, or even days of festivities. A modern-day version of the betrothal ceremony might take place on the morning of the big day, or a day or two in advance of the wedding itself. During such a ceremony – which may be entirely secular in nature, or religiously-themed – the Catholic couple might could have a formal, beachside exchange of promises to wed *de futura,* conducted with any degree of formality they may wish – in full-dress regalia with bowties and tulle, candles, flowers, guests, poetry readings, music, personal reflections, etc., or in summer casual clothes with a minimum of observances. And then soon afterward, to repair to the local parish church for the mutual bestowal of the Sacrament of Matrimony (preferably with Nuptial Mass) . . . followed by a beachside meal or party to celebrate the occasion.

    I hope this idea might be of help to some Catholic family struggling with this problem.

  33. Volanges says:

    @Phil_NLMost, if not all, the countries where only the civil marriage is legal also require you to marry civilly BEFORE your Church ceremony. The Church requires you to present a marriage certificate prior to the religious ceremony. I wonder how many Catholic marriages are not celebrated because the couple decided not to bother with the second ceremony – especially if they couldn’t do it on the same day.

  34. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Off-topic, but here goes: Volanges noted “Most, if not all, the countries where only the civil marriage is legal also require you to marry civilly BEFORE your Church ceremony.”

    Because of the advent of so-called homosexual marriage, we may be moving toward this requirement here in the U.S., with the State no longer recognizing the authority of the clergy to witness a *legal* wedding, thus imposing on observant Catholics the necessity of separate civil and religious ceremonies.

    The prospect irritates me very much. I have therefore decided that if ever I should be widowed and remarry where such a law obtains, I would show up for the secular wedding dressed in black business attire – trousers, a nice t-shirt, and a jacket – with nary a flower or an article of jewelry, but complete with briefcase and an iPhone; on the latter I would keep my face fixed throughout the entire proceedings, as I might during the closing on a house, or the settlement of litigation: . . . after all, the civil wedding is is nothing but a *legal procedure,* is it not?

    And I would hope my groom would follow suit.

    Then for the *church* wedding, all the gorgeous flowers, satin, sparkly things and other traditional trappings we can bring to bear.


  35. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    God has no grandchildren.

  36. Elizabeth M says:

    My friends parents did this in the late 70’s. They wanted to marry outside, the priest told them no, and so they both left the Church and haven’t returned. Obviously they had little faith to begin with, even though one was “taught by old fashion nuns” in HS.

    I don’t think most RCIA or whatever get the point across to young people the real and necessary graces needed to get through a lifetime marriage and to be married in front of God present in the Tabernacle.

    Marion Ancilla Mariae: I think it’s a lovely idea for a betrothal ceremony but too many would be tempted to take advantage of that position so to speak. “Well, we’re betrothed, and back in the day that was pretty much the same as being married so…” Up walks the bride in a maternity dress.

  37. michael de cupertino said:

    My neighbor told me that he and his wife were married in a pretty winery somewhere, but the priest secretly married them beforehand in an actual Catholic Church, because the Bishop had prevented the outdoor nuptials.

    My sister-in-law did a similar thing: immediate family-only real church wedding, followed by a big fancy outdoor-winery secular wedding with loads of guests and all the trimmings.

    This strikes me as very odd, although perhaps you are writing from outside the U.S. — i.e., where the celebration of the marriage in the Catholic form has legal effect, therefore obviating any recourse to a civil ceremony.

    In this case, it is really improper to have another ceremony. Do I need to explain this? I guess I do: if you have two ceremonies, which is real? And what does it mean to enact a ritual that you actually consider fake? The word “lie” comes to mind.

    And the business of a priest conducting a “secret” Catholic wedding — very strange to me. Why secret?

    Look, all this is goes to the question of what we truly value. As my wise instructor in moral theology taught me, “rules exist to protect values.” When people don’t understand rules, it’s because they have lost perspective on the values that are at stake. In order to address this, we must explain what those values are, and how the rules serve to protect them.

  38. OldProfK says:

    Root for the Cleveland Indians. :-)

  39. Matamoros says:

    A question. I have always read that the man and woman are ministers of the sacrament of marriage and that they marry each other, with the priest as the witness for the Church. Is that not correct any more?

    I have read arguments that on the frontier, for example, where no priest was available, or only occasionally available, Catholics would marry each other without the priest, and when he arrived would reswear their vows to achieve the Church’s witness.

    I realize that this couple’s wanting a non-prist wedding is incorrect if a priest is available, but why would it be invalid if the two are the ministers of the sacrament and the priest only the witness?

  40. ChgoCatholic says:

    Our first experience with a non-church wedding was as teens when our older cousin married his non-Catholic wife in some nature preserve. We were running late trying to get us all there, and then had to trudge through a bunch of…nature…to come in on the ceremony already in progress.

    My brother, ever quick with the quips (a solid Catholic and a big Simpsons fan), whispered to all of us the Reverend Lovejoy line from the episode where, looking into the future, Lisa Simpson is supposed to marry–but then the wedding is called off. Rev. Lovejoy says: “This is very sad news. And it would never have happened if the wedding had been inside the church with God instead of out here in the cheap showiness of nature.”

    Since then, I’ve shared the story with my husband. I always think of the Simpsons, and poor Lisa, when I hear about this desire to get married in nature (or a pub…or a hotel ballroom…or a barn…etc.).

  41. Charivari Rob says:

    With respect to “rooting for the Yankees”…

    Bob Sheppard (’nuff said)

    With respect to “destination weddings”…

    Build a sufficient relationship with a Catholic Church at your “destination”. Case in point – my Irish cousin’s wedding in Dubrovnik. Beautiful Church and Mass; and plenty of great “destination” stuff outside of that.

  42. Volanges says:

    Matamoros asks:
    A question. I have always read that the man and woman are ministers of the sacrament of marriage and that they marry each other, with the priest as the witness for the Church. Is that not correct any more?

    I realize that this couple’s wanting a non-prist wedding is incorrect if a priest is available, but why would it be invalid if the two are the ministers of the sacrament and the priest only the witness?
    You’re correct that the bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament. But the Church herself ruled a few centuries ago that Catholics were to follow a specific form for marriage in order for it to be valid. As Catholics we are bound to obey.

    The form itself can, at times, be dispensed by the bishop, as if often is if one of the couple isn’t Catholic. The Church also doesn’t ask the impossible. If a priest isn’t available for a prolonged period, such as your example of of the frontier days situation, the couple can exchange consent in front of two witnesses without the presence of Catholic clergy.

  43. Sonshine135 says:

    If I may suggest to the couple that they marry at Our Lady of the Seas in Buxton. The sanctuary has a picture window that makes you feel like you are on the beach. Thus, they can have the beach backdrop and be properly married. Father there is a bit eccentric, but I doubt there would be a problem bringing in a Priest of choice with a little coordination.

  44. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Matamoros recounted (above): “I have read arguments that on the frontier, for example, where no priest was available, or only occasionally available, Catholics would marry each other without the priest, and when he arrived would reswear their vows to achieve the Church’s witness.”

    I believe that – at least today – another option would be available . . . (whether this option was available in earlier times, someone more expert than I might answer.)

    (I quote from the Code of Canon Law, Chapter 5, and have edited the this slightly to make it more relevant to this question:)

    Can. 1112 §1. Where there is a lack of priests and deacons, the diocesan bishop can delegate lay persons to assist at marriages, with the previous favorable vote of the conference of bishops and after he has obtained the permission of the Holy See.

    §2. A suitable lay person is to be selected, who is capable of giving instruction to those preparing to be married and able to perform the matrimonial liturgy properly.

    Can. 1113 Before special delegation is granted, all those things which the law has established to prove free status are to be fulfilled.

    (And circling back to Can. 1111 . . .)

    §2. To be valid, the delegation of the faculty to assist at marriages must be given to specific persons expressly.

    If it concerns special delegation, it must be given for a specific marriage; if it concerns general delegation, it must be given in writing.

    End of quote.

    So, it would seem that where no priest is available, the local bishop may, with the approval of the Holy See and the national conference of bishops, appoint a suitable layperson to witness a marriage on behalf of the Church. The couple must establish with the bishop that each is free to marry in the Church, and the appointed layperson must be prepared to instruct the couple and to conduct the liturgical celebration properly.

  45. hwriggles4 says:

    I am glad some posters mentioned that they are worried about the decline of Catholic weddings. Several dioceses and archdioceses have seen the number of marriages drop in half (or more) over the last 15 years.

    Here’s a few reasons:
    – Even among practicing Catholics in their mid to late 20s, 30s, and even early 40s who attend weekly Mass, quite a few are having a difficult time connecting with other Catholics unless they are on one of the Catholic online dating sites. While two of these dating sites have had thousands of successful marriages (I know several personally), it’s harder for Catholics called to marriage to find Catholics (who are 7/7 on Church teaching as one dating site uses) with like minded beliefs.
    – While there are some good Young Adult Groups which tend to be good and safe meeting places for fellowship and growth, quite a few today are not “dating clubs”. While there are some positives to this (i.e. I never liked the “singles concept”, as there were always people who would show up at a dinner or happy hour or dance thinking “what girls are coming” and some would just come for the alcohol – the Young Adult concept is good at keeping the stragglers at bay) with the main ones being “substance”, “real conversation”, “learning”, “friendship”, there isn’t much dating. Part of this is issues with “gossip”, or “what if this doesn’t work out between us – I will have to leave the group” – I’ve had friends that have experienced that. This is one reason single Catholics are utilizing the online Catholic dating sites.
    – Many Catholics today, both men and women, in the age group mentioned above, are leery of dating today. Some remember parents and family members going through horrible divorces, and some women today treat men like “they don’t need men.” This is one reason men (even Catholic men) are sometimes afraid to ask a woman out, even for a Saturday lunch. It’s also a little awkward sometimes to approach women after Mass (outside of course or at the coffee and doughnut social in the hall), although I have had some success with this.
    – Many young adults 25 to 40 are working longer hours to build a career and a nest egg. With costs today and student debt, many serious Catholics today (both men and women who are 7/7 on Church teaching) aren’t getting married until they are in their early to mid 30s. Quite a few doctors and lawyers are getting married for the first time in their late 30s, and some even in their early 40s. Getting married later also delays childbearing.

    This is one reason I like to make successfully married Catholics aware that there are some good, well adjusted faithful single Catholics out there who are having a difficult time finding a suitable mate. I have attended a few of the National Catholic Singles Conferences myself, and I have met like minded people there as well.

  46. Volanges says:

    Marion Ancilla Mariae, it has happened in my diocese that the bishop has appointed a lay person to witness the marriage of two Catholics in remote parishes. In the one case I’m most familiar with it was the Sister who was employed as the Pastoral Assistant in a remote parish which usually only sees a priest at Christmas and Easter … if the weather cooperates.

    But the frontier marriage would be better addressed with canon 1116.

    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.

  47. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Thanks, Volanges for pointing out the provisions of Canon 1116, which I believe even today would be very helpful to Catholics living without priests in war-torn or remote districts (especially in developing countries), without roads, with few means of modern transport, and accessible only on foot by passing over tall mountains, or through dense rain forest, or by boat along rivers, and with incursions by foes or with seasonal extreme weather conditions making travel outside the immediate region unsafe for months at a time.

    On the other hand, to speak of the U.S. frontier of times past (17th c. to 1912), the question becomes: how does the Church define, “no priest available.” I believe that most of our frontier population, by the time of the Civil War, was within a few days’ stagecoach ride of either a riverboat port-of-call, or a stop along the Missouri-Pacific Railroad, or the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, and thence to some town or city with at least one priest. (Else how might the stores that provided frontier families with the gunpowder, kerosene, agricultural supplies and equipment, and many other necessities of frontier life come by their goods?)

    It would seem that by the mid 19th c., most Catholics, even those living on the frontier, would have been able to make their way to a town or city that was home to a priest so that they might be married in the Church.

    This being so, I’m more curious than ever about the provisions of the relevant canons from the time of the Council of Trent to the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which may or may not have changed over the centuries.

  48. Don Abbondio says:

    There are traditionally nine ways in which we can accessory to the sin of another: 1. by counsel; 2. by command; 3. by consent; 4. by provocation; 5. by praise or flattery; 6. by concealment; 7. by partaking; 8. by silence; 9. by defence of the ill done.

    Attendance at the invalid civil wedding of Catholics typically makes us accessories to their sin on various counts: consent, praise (congratulation), participation, silence and defence of the ill done. It is one of those very difficult occasions when we must choose between the natural and supernatural charity we have for our loved ones. By refusing to attend, we are in good company: if God is not invited, we do not wish to be invited either, and by our stand we make it clear to our loved ones that our supernatural love for them is greater than our earthly affection. – A Catholic priest.

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