ASK FATHER: Can. 1116! “How might this apply to SSPX weddings?”

I’m about to attempt a Herculean task: help people to understand something about the Church’s law about marriages in light of SSPX issues.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Firstly, I had a question come in:

How might this apply to SSPX weddings?

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:

Okay, let’s see the whole of can. 1116 of the 1863 Code:

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.

The “grave inconvenience” means that if Catholics have ZERO access to a Catholic bishop, priest, deacon, or even a suitable lay person appointed by the bishop, either for a long time or for a shorter time in the case of danger of death, they can use this option to exchange matrimonial consent in front of just two witnesses.

What situation(s) would allow the application of this canon? Danger of death or “grave inconvenience.” “Grave inconvenience” can result from extreme geographical distance and/or the physical inability of the parties to drive a car or to walk.  It includes the inability of the priest, deacon, or lay person appointed by the bishop to, e.g., cross through a war zone to reach the parties, etc.

Moreover, the canon does not in any way indicate that it can be invoked for “moral impossibility”, which is the understandable sentiment of some Catholics who do not wish to exchange consent before a Novus Ordo priest or have any kind of Novus Ordo celebration of marriage.  That said, the “Green” commentary explicitly states that the canon cannot be invoked by a couple who do not want to be married in front of a priest of questionable theological orthodoxy.

In the rare instance that this canon is invoked, it is done in consultation with the bishop’s office when the parties must get married and cannot wait until the following month when a Catholic priest or deacon will be in the area (e.g., places in Alaska).  They can exchange consent in the presence of two witnesses, even non-Catholics.

PLEASE NOTE: Do not for a nanosecond imagine that, just because you are having a hard time finding a TLM Nuptial Mass and a traditionally minded to witness your vows, you can just get married in front of two witnesses on your own.  You CAN NOT DO THAT.  It would be invalid. This canon is for super-rare circumstances that I have laid out.

Hence, this provision does not apply to 99% of people in 99% of situations. It does not, I think, apply to the chapels of the SSPX, although I know of a video about a heroic SSPX priest who goes on rounds to Alaska.

Then I got another question:

But what about a sympathetic parish priest of the local diocesan Latin Mass parish no longer permitted to celebrate weddings according to the traditional form. Couldn’t that priest (who has jurisdiction) deliberately participate in an SSPX wedding (the way he might at a Lutheran Church or Synagogue) to create validity? That wouldn’t seem to violate the letter of TC but would no doubt eventually, if effective, be stopped by the Bishop. But at least it would work for some at the beginning.

No. There can only be one “official witness of the Catholic Church” (that is, the celebrant or officiant) for a wedding.

A Catholic priest who “participates” in a Lutheran or Jewish wedding described above presumes that one of the parties is Catholic and has either asked for permission for a mixed marriage (in the case of marrying a Lutheran), or has received a dispensation for disparity of worship (in the case of marrying a Jew).  In both or in either case, the Catholic party would also have to have requested and obtained a dispensation from the Catholic canonical form of marriage (including exchanging consent in front of the Catholic Church’s official witness, i.e., a bishop, priest, deacon, or in a case of necessity a lay person appointed by the bishop).

When a Catholic requests a dispensation from the Catholic canonical form of marriage in order to marry a non-Catholic, the celebrant or officiant is the non-Catholic minister or other non-Catholic official (e.g., Lutheran minister, rabbi). IF A CATHOLIC PRIEST IS PRESENT at such a wedding, it is not in any official capacity. He would not be the celebrant or officiant, of which there can only be one. The Catholic priest’s presence at a wedding of this kind does not in any way “create validity”. All the more so if the Lutheran chapel or synagogue falls outside of the Catholic priest’s own parish territory.

Therefore, at an SSPX wedding, either the bishop would have to give the SSPX priest the faculty and delegation for a wedding (which is what the 2017 Letter asks bishops to do), or a local diocesan priest would have to be the celebrant or officiant for the Rite of Marriage after which the SSPX priest could celebrate the Nuptial Mass.

Given that the Rite of Marriage in the traditional form takes place just before the Nuptial Mass begins, the local diocesan priest would have to be the one witnessing the bride and groom’s exchange of consent. Again, if the local diocesan priest is doing this outside of his own parish of which he is pastor, he, too, must have delegation in order to do so validly.

People are coming up with very “creative” canonical half-guesses, not understanding how canon law actually works.  I’m afraid that there’s no canonical workaround. The bottom line seems to be that other than the Mass, all sacraments according to the older forms are being forbidden. There really is no way around this that I can see.

The message from restrictive shepherds to those who embrace Tradition is clear: We don’t love you.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tm117 says:

    It seems Francis wants to push me into the SSPX, or even other groups like the SSPV. Everyday he opens his mouth or dispatches his underlings to do his work is another day closer to getting his wish. I hope God corrects this before my will breaks, and I am forced to make a horrible decision. We shall see.

    I have less and less in common with the parish down the street, and more and more in common with traditionalists and sedevacantists everyday. At what point will I just say that enough is enough and leave the church that appears to have already left me.

  2. James C says:

    In the light of the further disintegration of orthodoxy, orthopraxy and rule of law in the Church (see today’s latest–the German bishops agreeing to establish a rite of blessing of homosexual unions), couldn’t it be said that we are in a state of emergency and “the Church supplies” principle can be invoked?

  3. FrBlock says:

    I think some people are confused as to what having faculties mean. A quasi-equivalent would be a lawyer who passes the bar exam to gain jurisdiction in a state. A member of the bar in Pennsylvania cannot practice law in California. If he tries, the legal process is null and void. The lawyer might be the most knowledgeable man on the planet in this field; he might be the best lawyer ever — but if he lacks jurisdiction, he cannot practice law there.
    Because of historical reasons, two of the Sacraments require faculties/jurisdiction to be valid in ADDITION to being a priest. A priest might be personally holy, but if he lacks faculties, he cannot hear Confession or act as an authorized witness to Holy Matrimony. Any attempt would be invalid.

    [nb When someone is dying, any priest, even an excommunicated or a laicized one automatically has the faculties to hear Confession and absolve them from their sins; this is not the case for Marriage.]

  4. timothyturtle says:

    Has anyone looked across the pond lately? These are not Catholic bishops they are heretics and so are bishops here who are suppressing actual Catholic worship and denying sacraments to faithful catholics.
    We are in the middle of a slow motion train wreck which was predicted by the founder of the SSPX. I have only visited a SSPX chapel 3 times (all in 2022) but it was like Catholic heaven. Beautiful liturgy, beautiful music, solid preaching, strong Catholic identity and large families. Oh I left out beautiful church.
    Time to wake up and smell the coffee; many ,maybe most of the people calling themselves catholic bishops actually belong to a new religion that is taking over the structures of the actual Catholic Church founded by Christ and his apostles.

  5. moon1234 says:

    Where does this leave the FSSP and ICRSS? Are they also forbidden from offering any of the traditional sacraments? Are weddings still allowed in their chapels? How about extreme unction and baptism?

    Is a confirmation by an SSPX Bishop valid even if it may be illicit ? [Yes. No doubt. It is valid.]

  6. redneckpride4ever says:

    When delegation is granted, is it for a specific form of a rite?

    Let’s say a priest is dishonest and does the wedding in an “illicit” form (Vetus ordo). Would the delegation then not apply?

    That leads to whether or not the bishop specified “no VO”, whether the couple being married had any clue about this, etc.

    This could lead to a huge rabbit hole. But does delegation assume a specific form of the Roman Rite? [No. And it would be pretty strange and rare were it so expressed.]

  7. Trad94 says:

    Also this Canon:
    If a censure prohibits the celebration of the Sacraments or Sacramentals or the placing of an act of jurisdiction, the prohibition is suspended whenever it is necessary to take care of the faithful who are in danger of death; and if an automatic censure is not a declared one, the prohibition is also suspended whenever a member of the faithful requests a Sacrament, a Sacramental or an act of jurisdiction; this request can be made for any just cause whatsoever. (New Code Canon 1335)

    [I am not aware of any censure in these situations.]

  8. Fr Jackson says:

    Dear Father. Allow me to ask a hypothetical question, triggered by the “no canonical workaround” comment at the conclusion of your post. Can we envisage a situation where cultural attachment to the older forms becomes a grave inconvenience? Yes, I realize I’m treading on delicate ground here. Perhaps a follow-up question would be: at what point is one justified in looking at workarounds that go beyond canon law? Not contra-canonical, but praeter-canonical : a situation where canon 1116 becomes a starting point for an analogy to discuss a case that isn’t explicitly developed in canon law, but still adheres to “suprema lex salus animarum.” Can cultural attachments become so important that we can legitimately say that the salvation of souls is at stake? What rules would apply in a situation where a massive cultural shift alienated a significant group of souls in a way that canon law doesn’t seem to account for? Interested in your thoughts, if you have a moment.

    [Thoughts. No. Can. 17 requires that the plain meaning of the canon be honored. “Cultural attachment” doesn’t morph into a “grave inconvenience”.]

  9. emmatag1126 says:

    How can a dispensation from the Catholic canonical form of marriage be valid? It seems that a priest needs to be the one witnessing and blessing the marriage of a Catholic (even to a non-Catholic) for it to be a valid sacrament. Is a marriage then only valid if a bishop says it is?

    [This is why it is a dispensation. There is a NATURAL right to marriage and the Church knows that life is messy.]

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    “The bottom line seems to be that other than the Mass, all sacraments according to the older forms are being forbidden.”

    How malevolent does a person have to be, to inflict this kind of persecution against the very people he is charged with protecting. His actual responsibility is to protect and defend the faith, and he is doing his best to destroy it and torment the faithful.
    Does he have absolute power and control over the faith? Is everything completely up to Francis, the entire church and the faith, all of it? Does he own it? Why did we ever have bishops, if that is the case. Why have anybody at all except Francis. He is sovereign, his word alone is law, why consult scripture and tradition, we ought just read whatever Francis wrote, he has the last word on everything. I had no idea this is how Catholicism works. I did not realize the pope, even a dodgy one, can just decide on his own to ban our heritage, our Mass, what God Himself has given us and what edified the saints throughout church history.
    Every bishop now must choose.

  11. Chaswjd says:

    One could perhaps have a wedding with a SSPX priest and then seek out a priest with faculties to have the marriage validated. I assume that the situation should be no different from a canonical point of view than having a civil marriage subsequently validated.

    [No. You can’t “validate” it, like getting your ticket validated at the restaurant for the parking garage. Have an invalid wedding, wind up not married. Then you can get married at some point after that. Lots of people think that they are married and they just need to get their marriage “blessed” or “validated” by the Church when, in fact, they have never exchanged matrimonial consent in front of a priest or other who can serve as the Church’s official witness for a marriage. Something invalid isn’t going to be validated. What needs to happen is that the couple at last does it right.]

  12. Archlaic says:

    This is NOT “how Catholicism works”, any more than the stereotype of a disordered priest who molests altar boys is “how Catholicism works”… both are grave abuses; one could – and should – call them “un-Catholic” (among other things!). Please note that I am not equating the two abuses to each other in any way; I am citing a different sinful behavior, also contrary to the nature and teachings of the Church Herself, that is often adduced by anti-Catholics as “proof” of the Church’s fallibility. Remember Belloc’s quip: “the Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine – but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight”!
    The Faith is true, our challenge is to hold and keep it… sometimes despite the Church ;-)

  13. robtbrown says:


    1. How do you justify the validity of marriages in the Orthodox Churches?

    2. It is not just for historical reasons that priests need faculties to hear Confessions. It is a manifestation of the power to bind and loose that Christ granted to the disciples. This approach. used by St Thomas, posits a real relation (not just logical) between potestas ordinis and potestas iurisdictionis.

  14. mibethda says:

    I believe that the questions posed by moon1234 in respect to the FSSP are answered in the Decree of Pope Francis of February 11, 2023:
    It is not clear whether this extends to the ICRSS.

  15. robtbrown says:

    Fr Block.

    Also: A priest who absolves in danger of death, does so validly even if he lacks the faculty. cf. cc 976.

    [Not quite. In the case of danger of death the law itself gives the priest – even “laicized” – the faculty to absolve.]

  16. Imrahil says:

    Well, it obviously doesn’t, as neither does can. 1127 (SSPX are not Eastern Orthodox). Which is why the SSPX to my knowledge never said they did. The only thing those canons might possibly be used here is to ponder about the spirit of the law, together with the last half-sentence of can. 1752.

    The actual canon the SSPX base their argument on is can. 144. I said under another article that I found that one rather convincing, but be that as it may, it really is can. 144 they base their argument on.

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