ASK FATHER: Catholic marriages without Nuptial Masses

From a reader…


It has been over 20 years since I’ve attended a marriage in the OF between two Catholics that has had a Nuptial Mass. Why doesn’t the Church require that if two Catholics are getting married, they must have a Nuptial Mass?

My reason for asking this is I’ve noticed in magazines and on the internet that Brides are being encouraged to keep the ceremony short (anything over 30 minutes is apparently unacceptable in order to avoid boring one’s guests) and get on with the party. Furthermore, I read “Catholic” brides discussing keeping their ceremony as short as possible, cutting out anything that isn’t necessary and choosing the shortest readings, in order to get it over and done with. I feel like the option to not have a Nuptial Mass is being abused and over-used. Why do we go along with this? To me it suggests that someone isn’t ready to enter into a Catholic marriage because if they knew what it was about and entailed, they’d want all the graces and help they can get.


The current practice of the Church is that, normally, the wedding of two baptized Catholics takes place during the context of the Holy Mass. This hasn’t always been so – in fact, prior to the Second Vatican Council, very few things were done within the Mass. Marriage, for example, between two Catholics would have been solemnized and then, after the wedding there would have been a Nuptial Mass. One of the (unintended) result of the post-Conciliar reforms was the inclusion of everything within the Mass – marriage, confirmation, graduations, May crowning, Bingo, potlucks, parish council elections, dance recitals… I exaggerate (but not too much), and the nearly complete elimination of many beautiful ceremonies of the Church that are not Mass.

In recent years we’ve seen a gradual recovery of the Church’s tradition of Exposition and Benediction, but Sunday Vespers or any other of the Hours are rare in parish churches, as are the formerly ubiquitous novenas, processions, devotions.

But I digress.

The priest who marries a Catholic couple has some leeway in permitting the marriage to take place outside of Mass, but the liturgical norms would seem to indicate that he needs a good reason for doing so. The desire to make things as short as possible doesn’t seem to me to be a good reason.

At the same time, I’m well aware that some brides, and some grooms, and some parental units can be… demanding. I have a hard time thinking ill of an overworked, stressed out priest, not being willing to die on that hill if the bridal party throws a fit.

What seems odd to me is the number of times I’ve had to talk with folks upset that the priest won’t do the wedding within the Mass when one of the parties is not Catholic. Those weddings SHOULD take place outside of Mass, and can only be celebrated within Mass for a good reason and with the permission of the local ordinary.

I blame soap operas for what’s happened to our wedding culture – everyone now feels the need to “create” a special and bizarrely unique moment, but that’s perhaps a rant for another day.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. DonL says:

    “…everyone now feels the need to “create” a special and bizarrely unique moment…”
    In my ninth decade of life–six plus of those married to the same marvelous woman–I have found that there now appears to be two different elements to all of this.
    1. The wedding (ta dah!)
    2. The Marriage (a residual side-event)

  2. My granddaughter was married in September on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Her intended is a convert so his whole family is protestant. On our side, many in the family have left the Church but one family member in particular thinks that she can just waltz up and receive the Eucharist when she is at a funeral Mass or Wedding. My granddaughter decided to not put our Lord at risk and have her wedding outside the Mass. The priest was on the same page. She also decided she didn’t want me standing up and telling Father that this person wasn’t properly disposed and had left the Church. The couple also decided since it was such a special feast day that they would visit the beautiful life size Pieta for their Dedication to Mary instead of Our Lady of Lourdes or Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was quite touching.

  3. Alice says:

    As a church organist, I can’t remember the last time I played for the wedding of two Catholics without a Mass. Usually, if there is no Mass, it’s an indication that one spouse is not Catholic.

  4. APX says:

    The last OF Nuptial Mass I attended was in the early 90s. My cousins on one side married Catholics, but none had a Nuptial Mass. On the otherside two married Catholics and didn’t have a Nuptial Mass. the rest married Protestants and had their marriages in their spouses’ churches.

  5. hwriggles4 says:

    Here’s my two cents:

    In the post Vatican II era, permanent deacons are permitted to perform the Sacrament of Matrimony. Same with Baptism. Therefore, if a permanent deacon is presiding over a wedding, there cannot be a nuptial Mass, since a permanent deacon cannot consecrate.

    By the way, I did like the point made earlier about relatives. Well put and I never thought of it that way. I have only been to a few Catholic weddings that were not within the context of a Mass, and Catholic friends whose weddings I attended were often given the option months before of having a nuptial Mass. Even had two friends (still married today) where the pastor did their wedding as part of a Saturday evening Vigil Mass.

    I was invited to a convalidation a few years ago that took place on a Saturday afternoon. It’s nice for a priest to take his time to do this, and it was the first time I had ever been invited to attend.

  6. Ave Maria says:

    Decades ago I married my husband ,who was at that time an Episcopalian, in a beautiful wedding Mass. He later converted to Catholicism. I wanted all the protestants to experience that true and holy Mass and so they did. Now my son is looking to marry a non-Catholic and they do not want a Mass and, in fact, may go the route of a dispensation to marry at the protestant community…

  7. In my diocese, the practice for a couple who are both Catholic but invalidly married, is to have only the Marriage rite itself, but no Mass (and no music). No one says why, it’s just their policy. Personally, I could go either way on it, but it seems to me that a lot would have to depend on the individual circumstance.

  8. fishonthehill says:

    In first assignment, as a newly ordained, in a parish that was somewhat of marriage factory, the pastor insisted on the Nuptial Ceremony in his words “to prevent two sacrileges settle on one”. Now as a pastor, I insist that if the couple is not attending Sunday Mass on a regular basis there is no Nuptial Mass. I believe it is hypocritical to not go to Mass and then insist on a Nuptial Mass. But as the pre-marriage process is something that usually takes place over the course of a year (in my neck of the woods) I present this policy at the first meeting with the couple, and leave it to them. If they believe Mass is important, and begin attending Mass on a regular basis, then a Nuptial Mass it is.

  9. Arthur McGowan says:

    hwriggles4: Any deacon can preside at a wedding, not just permanent deacons.

  10. Sword40 says:

    My wife and I were married with a Nuptial Mass back in 1966. I was a non-Catholic. She was a “cradle Catholic”. We had to get permission from the then Bishop of Orange county for the Mass.

    Our priest, may God rest his soul, was so convinced that I would become a Catholic soon, really went “to bat” for us. Both of us were in the Marines at the time and had no family nearby, so our wedding was very small. The priest, two altar boys, the couple that stood for us, and about 5 guests.

    The church was huge, St Cecilia’s in Tustin, Cal. Just prior to our wedding, there had been a very large wedding so the priest had ALL of the flowers left in place. And the organist felt sorry for such a “small” group that she stayed to play the big pipe organ. I later learned that the priest used the 1965 missal for the Mass. There was a fair amount of Latin as I recall.
    and yes, I became Catholic in February of 1970. I studied for four years before I took the leap. Thank you Fr. John F. Salmon.

  11. Diana says:

    When I was married in 2003 to my newly converted spouse, we had a Mass wedding. I wouldn’t consider having it any other way, really. But most of my friends were non or nominal Catholics. I thought it would be worthwhile to show them what a Catholic Mass was like, and to use it as a teaching opportunity, so I wrote out an explanation of everything that happened in my bulletin. We were married on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so I even wrote up a short bit about the apparition story. I even put in a bit about who should and should not take Communion. People don’t know if you don’t tell them. And since all my guests loved me and my new spouse, they respected our faith and traditions. Fortunately, all my relatives–most of whom have left the Church but continue to take Communion whenever exposed to it–were 3,000 miles away in my hometown. LOL.

  12. Fr. “Fishonthehill” (is that an English name? Just wondering…) makes a point I was going to make. Semi-serious Catholics do seek to get married. They are able to get married, even if they resist attempts to get them to take their faith more seriously. A non-Mass wedding seems a good solution.

    Also, there are certainly situations where a priest is tasked with shepherding three or four parishes, even more. It is not a good idea for a priest to churn out Masses like an assembly line. Canon law places limits on the number of Masses a priest can offer on a daily, and Sunday, basis. I could easily imagine such a priest saying to a couple: if you want your wedding at Mass, we will make you and your family and friends welcome at an already scheduled Mass (which is perfectly licit). But if that isn’t acceptable, then it’s not going to be Mass (and it may be the deacon).

  13. ocleirbj says:

    When we were married, I was Anglican (=Episcopalian) and my intended was Catholic. We had an Anglican wedding service, because I couldn’t imagine how you could have a wedding Mass where the bride couldn’t receive Communion. We did all the paperwork for the dispensation, and we had three ministers – the Anglican parish priest, my grandfather, also an Anglican priest, and a Franciscan whom I had met doing street ministry in Toronto. When we got to the part about “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder”, all three wrapped their stoles around our clasped hands. That was 41 years ago, and I think we were well and truly tied together :-) And dear Ave Maria, take heart, I converted two years later :-)

  14. TonyO says:

    Fr. Fishonthehill says

    Now as a pastor, I insist that if the couple is not attending Sunday Mass on a regular basis there is no Nuptial Mass. I believe it is hypocritical to not go to Mass and then insist on a Nuptial Mass.

    Fr. Martin Fox adds

    Semi-serious Catholics do seek to get married. They are able to get married, even if they resist attempts to get them to take their faith more seriously. A non-Mass wedding seems a good solution.

    Good to clarify. But can we get even MORE clarification? I have wondered about this. Of course, if a couple doesn’t go to Mass on Sundays, they are in a state of mortal sin. In that state, they cannot receive any of the graces of any other sacraments either. So, it is a good thing that they don’t try to receive the Eucharist, doing so is sacrilege and sinful. So, if I understand it correctly, they can validly become married in a non-nuptial marriage ceremony where the priest or deacon receives the vows. And of course, they cannot then receive the GRACES of the sacrament of marriage if they are in a state of mortal sin at the time. My question is this: even if they are validly married in such ceremony, is it nonetheless sinful of them to receive that sacrament in the state of mortal sin? (Analogous to: a priest who is in the state or mortal sin can validly confect the sacrament of the altar, but he sins doing so, right?)

    It seems to me that there is a presumption that the disposition necessary to fittingly receive the sacrament of marriage (i.e. to get married AND receive the graces of the sacrament) should be possible to anyone who has the proper intentions to marry as a Catholic to begin with. That is to say, while it is admittedly difficult to give up bad habits, i.e. vices, and this can make it difficult to have the proper disposition to intend to sin no more in order to be absolved in confession, the very existence of the vice (which also reduces culpability) itself attenuates the degree of completeness of the intention needed: it is sufficient to wish to be free of the vice and will at the moment to try to be rid of it. But a practice of not going to Mass is less an interior habit that holds the soul the way positive habits do: a negative habit of not bothering to do something can (generally) be overcome. An intention to remain in mortal sin by not going to Mass seems a to be an unfitting disposition to receive the sacrament of Marriage. Can Christian marriage be denied to those who are not disposed to receive its graces?

  15. fishonthehill says:

    Fr. Martin Fox,
    I got a chuckle from the question.
    My Loggged-in name is a play on an old nick name of mine. When I was young one of my many nicknames was “Frank the Fish”, its a Brooklyn thing to be given a good nickname, (my Italian last name can be construed to sound like the name of an Italian seafood). The hill, a reference to the location of my last assignment (around the time I created my account with Fr Z’s blog.)
    So sorry, Fishonthehill is not British. I thought of changing it to, fishonthebeach, referring to my current assignment, but fishonthebeach are quite stinky (my mother’s nickname for me).
    With a name like Fox, you could probably come up with some great nicknames!
    Thanks for the laugh, and if you are in cold climate, stay warm, and if your not… I’m jealous.

  16. fishonthehill says:

    Your name sounds like my butcher (I digress)
    “Can Christian marriage be denied to those who are not disposed to receive its graces?”

    That’s a good question!
    I do encourage the couple to make a good confession before marriage. That being said, from what I remember from Canon Law class (i’m not a canon lawyer) by virtue of Baptism, the couple has a right to marriage, barring any impediments. Certain vices (I believe) are impediments (ie. excessive gambling, drug abuse) which are asked during a pre-nuptial investigation/inventory.
    I once had a couple who bold faced lied during a pre-nuptial investigation (under oath). When I discovered the lie, I contacted the Chancery and was told it was not enough to deny them marriage. So to answer your question, I believe only impediments can cause a denial for marriage.
    You raise a great point!
    We need a canonist to chime in!

  17. Tony:

    I second Father Fishonthehill’s answer.

    To which I add:

    As a priest, I have many times wondered if the couple in front of me really ought to get married. When I can name a specific concern, I share that with the couple. But sometimes, it’s not so simple as that; it’s just a hesitation or a “bad feeling.” But how can I know? Who says I’m right? I remember a couple that seemed to be on the right track, and they were divorced in three months!

    Relatedly: I cannot really know the state of anyone’s soul. Of course neglecting Holy Mass, and the other aspects of our Faith, is grave matter — and I’m not naive, I know what is likely to be the situation. Nevertheless, not every individual is culpable. There is a mystery to every person, and I have to respect that.

  18. Fr. Fishonthehill:

    Yes, many nicknames, but I suspect not all were revealed to me.

  19. tho says:

    Wow, how our church has changed. When I was in grammar school, and as an altar boy, when two Catholics were married they made their vows on the altar, retired to a kneeler, on the altar. This was followed by mass. If a catholic married a protestant, the protestant had to promise that their children would be raised as Catholics, and they were married in the rectory. Unless my memory is faulty, this was the rule throughout the whole Catholic church prior to VII.

  20. TonyO says:

    That being said, from what I remember from Canon Law class (i’m not a canon lawyer) by virtue of Baptism, the couple has a right to marriage, barring any impediments. … I discovered the lie, I contacted the Chancery and was told it was not enough to deny them marriage.

    I recall that a priest told a couple, roughly speaking: “according to the Church’s rules, in principle you have a so-called “right” to get married. But I won’t do it.” They had to go somewhere else if they wanted it, with whatever obstacles that implied. Was he violating Church law in doing so?

    If I understood his thesis correctly, Canonist Ed Peters has pointed out that the current canon law arrangement in which a Catholic cannot be married at all (even in a non-sacramental marriage) without it happening under canonical form (or with explicit exception made by the bishop to the extent such exceptions are allowed) is actually a fairly modern legal arrangement, and he advocates changing back to a different arrangement where there are other possibilities. It seems to me that if the Church allowed a Catholic to contract a natural (non-sacramental) marriage without involving the Church, then the person’s “right” to get married would not be infringed by a priest refusing because the evidence is clear that they are not properly disposed for a sacrament. And they could get married without committing a sin, because the intentions necessary for being married do not per se include the intentions necessary for receiving a sacrament worthily.

    I also have heard of a situation where a man obtained an annulment from his first “marriage” due to personal attributes that (according to the tribunal) implied lack of consent; and eventually he went on to contract a new Catholic marriage – but (as I understand it) the evidence upon which one could determine whether the personal situation which implied lack of consent was no longer an impediment was, let’s say, not much forthcoming or at least was highly disputable. Can a priest hold a man like this to a higher standard than an ordinary first-time-to-be-married man as to whether he has the capacity to consent to marriage, e.g. standard that includes something like “I need a statement from a qualified psychologist or priest/psyphologist that you are capable of giving the consent involved in marriage”?

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