ASK FATHER: Two-phase wedding? First in church, then at the beach?

matrimony marriage wedding cardFrom a reader…


I have a question regarding the situation of two Catholics being married by an unapproved minister.

Would any law prevent the couple from contacting the parish and explaining what they want to do, then following the course of Pre-Cana classes and doing all other things required, THEN, on the day of their Nature Wedding, or the day before, have the exchange of vows before the pastor or deacon in the church or rectory with no fanfare?

After this they could go pledge their love on the beach or whatever they wanted to do, and before whomever they’d like (or no minister at all!).

Would this be tantamount to simulation of the Sacrament?

I know the Church doesn’t want to permit anything that may cause confusion or mislead the faithful, but after all is said and done sacramentally, I can’t imagine another ceremony would have any bearing on the prior ceremony done according to the Church’s laws.

GUEST PRIEST: Fr. Timothy FERGUSON responds:

Weddings are one-time things. Ideally, those called to this vocation go through precisely one (1) wedding in their lifetime. A man and a woman commit to each other to enter into a communion of the whole of life through that one, wonderful, poignant act of consent. Our lives our made up of a series of wonderful, un-repeatable events – from our conception, through our birth, our first word, our first step, our first heartbreak, our wedding, (our ordination, our first solemn vows), up to our unique and un-repeatable death.

We live in a culture of instant playback and do-overs. We video record and photograph every event of our lives so that we can constantly play it back (though, in reality, how many times do we actually view those recorded events?). Great pressure is put on the production value of these home movies that our lives have become. Was the lighting just right? Was the backdrop perfect? Was every cute little foible and hiccup recorded, and every embarrassing foible and burp deleted so that absent family and friends – and posterity will think that we have achieved absolute perfection, even in our imperfections?

The Church envisions our one, unique shot at matrimonial consent being just that – a man and a woman, capable in law, free from impediments, saying “I do” in the presence of a duly authorized witness of the Church. That’s what counts – that’s what makes a marriage. That, followed by a lifetime of daily “I do’s” and a complete sharing of life with one another and, hopefully, the children that follow along.

There are situations that are less than the ideal – such as places where the civil authorities don’t recognize the validity of a Church marriage and couples have to marry civilly before they can do so in the Church. There are circumstances that cannot be avoided. But we really shouldn’t be interested in staging recreations of that one, beautiful, significant moment when a man and a woman become a married couple.

Additionally, as a word of advice: for every ten minutes that a couple spends on planning their wedding, at least ten days should be spent on planning the marriage – getting to know each other, discussing your faith, your hopes, your dreams, your practical plans and understanding of finances, roles, families, habits of prayer. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

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  1. ajf1984 says:

    Esatto! I am especially fond of the line about following up the one “I do” with a “lifetime of daily ‘I do’s’…”

  2. haskovec says:

    I was going to mention the Civil wedding situation and glad Fr Timothy covered it. Since my wife was from Mexico at the time of our wedding we had to do a Civil Wedding in the US in front of a judge for legal purposes and then we went and had our Real wedding in Guadalajara. We don’t celebrate our civil wedding date, just our real wedding and actually I had to look up at one point when I needed that date to even see what the “legal” marriage date is, as in our eyes we weren’t married until we had our Mass and did our church wedding.

  3. ASPM Sem says:

    Canon 1127. §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.

  4. rdb says:

    This is truly a pastoral situation that priests will be confronted with. I have found great value in getting the couple to have their wedding in the Church with their family and friends present in a simple prayerful ceremony, then going to their outside event as a renewal of vows. It is only to be done with couples who have already made their plans and will not be changing them and who understand what marriage truly is.
    The reality is that many Catholics are not aware of the requirement to be married in the presence of a cleric.

    In reality this is rare, but in every instance the couple has remained active Catholics and they have all said that while the Church liturgy was simpler, it was the one that meant the most to them.

  5. mburn16 says:

    “they have all said that while the Church liturgy was simpler”

    You know this part surprises me. I’ve attended my share of outdoors weddings, and found virtually all of them to be very simple and, usually, very brief. True, none have involved practicing Catholics, but I have yet to see one that would parallel even a low mass (or its modern equivalent) or basic Protestant Church wedding.

    I have nothing against outdoor weddings, beyond their potential incompatibility with Catholic matrimonial practices….but I think we’re going to hit a point where getting married on the beach or in the park becomes cliche.

  6. Sliwka says:

    I was married in the new Rite and I can see how a civil ceremony, especially outdoors would be way more work. Things for outside: setting (arch aisle, chairs, backup weather option…) logistics (sound system,) the readings–infinite choices, my friend had his JOP back out or not be able to make it and had to scramble to find a replacement that had met them enough times, etc

    We picked readings (not a problem in the EF) and our friend who sang picked the hymns. Done.

    I’m sure city hall is the most simple, but you cannot Instagram that for them kids these days (as one of them myself)

  7. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    The distinguished canonist, Dr. Edward Peters, has long argued for the abolition of the modern requirement of “form,” i.e. that marriage vows only be valid if made in the presence of a priest or other representative of the Church with faculty to hear them. Until the Council of Trent, and even after in some places until later, marriage only depended on proper disposition and proper words of the couple making vows. I think that he might have some comment on this issue?

  8. cwillia1 says:

    I see no problem with this provided it is clear that the couple are expressing commitments to each other that have already been made, before family and friends at a beach party. After all, what is happening when a couple renew their vows after so many years? Done the right way it could be a moment for evangelization. Done the wrong way it is a capitulation to a post-Christian culture.

  9. Scott W. says:

    The modern wedding in picturesque outdoor settings is the the perfect illustration of how the marriage of the hollow sentimentality of liberalism to the excessive comfort of capitalism is destroying our souls.

  10. Two questions:

    1. If a couple has two ceremonies, with vows or some other expression of commitment taking place twice, which one is “real”? When did you actually (not “legally” but REALLY — in your own mind) become married?

    If your answer is not instantly, and unambiguously, when in the presence of the Church’s minister — then now you see the problem.

    2. How would you feel if a priest, the day after he is ordained by the bishop, then stages a second “ordination,” at some place special to him (the beach, the mountains, a favorite restaurant or bar, an amusement park), at which time some sort of “ordination” ritual is enacted. Perhaps by a cleric of another sect or religion; perhaps by family, perhaps by himself. Does this in any way concern you? Why or why not?

  11. Gaetano says:

    Have beautiful liturgies in churches that don’t look like community centers, and the problem will solve itself.

  12. Xmenno says:

    I work in the bridal business world, and deal with approximately 300 brides per year. As a conversion starter, I usually ask where the bride’s wedding will be held. In just the past 5 years, I estimate that the 7 out of 10 weddings held in churches (of any kind), has dropped to about 1 in 10. At this point, only the Catholic girls, and a few Baptists marry in churches. I attribute this to 3 reasons. First, brides do what is fashionable at the moment, and outdoor and barn weddings are fashionable, mostly due to photographers who make lovely pictures in these settings. Second, in order to have the beautiful setting for weddings that girls want, it takes much expense to decorate the very utilitarian/ugly churches built these days. Third, and the sad element for me, is that I think that people do not feel a connection and love for a home church where there are family ties and history of family celebrations – further, for most people, a church is like a lecture hall, or similar place and does not have a sacred element, and therefore, there is no special holiness connected with the place. For what it’s worth, the Catholic brides that I work with do not express regret about having their weddings in their Church. Perhaps some wish for that beach sunset wedding, but they have gotten past that desire by the time I see them.

  13. Stephen Matthew says:

    I grave concerns that a couple seeking such an arrangement may have a misunderstanding of the nature of sacramental marriage.

    However, that being said, I can imagine some sort of ceremony of a non-religious nature that essentially presents the married couple to their friends for the first time immediately followed by a reception/party.

    Further, it should be noted that there is in fact an option for blessing a married couple found in the book of blessing that might suite a situation where a couple marries in a semi-private fashion but wishes to mark the occasion with a larger gathering of people at some later moment.

  14. Phil_NL says:

    I’m not so sure it is less than ideal that in many European jurisdictions, one has to have a civil ceremony as well. First of all, it keeps the state out of Church weddings, and the Church has an easier time shrugging off civil ceremonies, which may all to often stretch the meaning of the word “marriage”.

    But secondly, it focusses the attention of the couple that there are in fact also a lot of legal issues that need to be sorted (from power of attorney to distribution of goods, inheritances received during the course of the marriage and what not. Even though as Catholics we can have just one marriage, that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t discard the possibility of things going wrong. It all to often does). Dealing with those in a flurry of pink-cloud “I do” moments is less than ideal.

    So, split things up, and if with the civil ceremony comes a nice photo op, well, that makes the part that’s essentially a business contract a bit less crude. Rather that than having a lifetime of pinkish fantasies and the fashions of the moment projected on the marriage Mass, undoubtedly to the dispair of many a decent priest. (In itself probably enough reason to see two ceremonies as a neat solution, especially if held on the same day. Let the Mass be Mass, and kick out all those custom desires – it’s more than enough if the couple can choose the music).

  15. Daniel W says:

    I appreciate Fr Ferguson’s response and especially the bit about spending more time preparing for marriage than the wedding, however, I think it is better to take a more nuanced approach within the boundaries of canon law and prudent marriage preparation.

    As mentioned in a post above, canon law only forbids other celebrations if they are religious, i.e. you can’t have one celebration for the Catholic spouse with a priest, and one for the non-Catholic spouse with a minister, rabbi, or imam etc. Otherwise, the Church wisely leaves these things up to local custom, and local custom often includes celebrations relating to marriage in beautiful natural surroundings

    I have found most people (including work colleagues, friends and relatives) who want a beach/mountain/parachute wedding have been satisfied with combining a canonical celebration of marriage with a non-religious pre- or post-marriage ceremonial celebration.

    Moreover, marriage is by no means a one off “I do.” Courting involves a serious though remote …”I might,” engagement involves an explicit and more proximate “I will,” and consummation involves a “We have” which definitively confirms the “I do” of marriage. Many cultures have benefited from formal celebrations of at least engagement and/or “hometaking” ceremony (such as the Jewish ceremony which ratifies the initial “I do” of marriage).

    Even in modern capitalist cultures, the non-religious celebrations which follow the religious ceremony often include ceremonial aspects, and there is no reason why these should not be performed in a beautiful natural surrounding and be more profound than throwing the bridal bouquet and garter and a bridal waltz! This arrangement has worked various times for friends and relatives who would otherwise have not gone through a canonical celebration.

    I married in Mexico and had to do the civil ceremony thing, which we integrated with our wedding reception. I refused to say “I take you … as my wife” and said “I have taken you …” (If I had done that at the real wedding it would be invalid!)

  16. Daniel W says:

    Dear Fr Fox,
    You ask: “How would you feel if a priest, the day after he is ordained by the bishop, then stages a second “ordination,” at some place special to him (the beach, the mountains, a favorite restaurant or bar, an amusement park), at which time some sort of “ordination” ritual is enacted.”

    Immediately after you were ordained, didn’t any priests lay their hands on you in silence? This beautiful ritual gesture at priestly ordinations confirms that there is nothing wrong with follow up gestures that involve others in the various steps that make up the process of the “contraction” of marriage, as long as it is clear that the canonical “I do” is the essential act, just as it is clear that the episcopal laying on of hands with the required words is the essential act.

    Moreover, after an episcopal consecration, there follows a “second” ceremony, the installation. Again this sequence drives home, by your comparison, that it is natural to have a sequence of celebrations of marriage, not just the religious, canonical “I do.”

  17. MrsMacD says:

    As a very young wife and mother I was distressed to find someone I loved and looked up to was going to have a civil ceremony for the unCatholic friends and a small Catholic wedding. I prayed and prayed and begged the help of The Comforter. I told the couple that marriage is hard and if they didn’t start their marriage by doing what is hard and right then their marriage wouldn’t last. They went ahead, thanking me, but pursuing their initial desires. Less than a year later the couple divorced because,’they didn’t really like each other.’ Ahhh! I feel like I was being used to predict the downfal of a great empire.

    I really like the comparisson offered by Fr. Fox.

    It’s also a good argument for beautiful churches. Churches should have the air of the place where earth and heaven meet and earth and heaven do meet when a couple exchanges vows.

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