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Janet Rivera wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Why must a Catholic wedding ceremony be performed in a Church building instead of outdoors?

It seems that men build Church buildings, but God built nature.

Thanks for taking the time to clarify this for us.

Janet

  { Why must a Catholic wedding ceremony be performed in a Church building instead of outdoors? }

Mary Ann replied:

Janet —

A Catholic wedding ceremony involves the celebration of a sacrament, an act of Christ through and in the couple, and this sacrament conforms the couple to the Body of Christ in a special way.

Since the sacrament requires a clerical witness, and since it is an expression of the Body of Christ, the Church desires it to be celebrated in the presence of the Eucharist, preferably with a Mass, and in the presence of the assembly of the faithful.

  • God created nature, and
  • God created the Eucharist and the Church,

so it is fitting and required, when possible, though not intrinsically necessary, to celebrate Matrimony in the Church building as a sign of its nature, and as a sign that the family is the domestic Church.

Marriage is much, much more than a romantic event. It is public, ecclesial, solemn, and holy. When necessary (mission lands, sacrament deprivation for years, no available Church, mixed marriage), the sacrament may be celebrated in another location or outside, but a Catholic cleric must witness the celebration.

The couple themselves are the ministers of this sacrament.

Mary Ann

Janet replied:

Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

Let me rephrase my question.

  • Why can't a Catholic priest perform a Catholic wedding for a Catholic couple outdoors instead of in a Church?

I once attended a Catholic funeral that had to be held in a gym because so many people attended. All the required sacred items were included and it was a very nice ceremony.

  • So, why can't a wedding be performed outdoors?
  • Does it have to do with it being an inconvenience for the priest or is there another reason?

Thanks,

Janet

Mary Ann replied:

Janet,

If there is a Mass involved, the Mass should be in a Church or Shrine. If more room is required,
it should be moved to an outdoor shrine. It should only be moved to another venue in a case of necessity (e.g. having Masses at hotels for conferences, in the woods for camp-outs a la John Paul II, etc.)

If there is no Mass involved, then the rule is that the marriage should be celebrated in a Church or Shrine, (for the Catholic theological reasons I gave you in my first answer), but can be held elsewhere for good reason (anywhere from a Protestant church building to, in the old days, the rectory).

As a matter of general rule:

  • backyard
  • garden
  • park, or
  • beach — weddings

are not allowed unless there is a serious pastoral reason.  The important and determining reason behind this is due to the nature of the sacrament, not the subjective feelings of the couple.

Because of the romanticization of the marriage ceremony, we already see such practices as the groomsmen escorting the bridesmaids before Mass (losing the Biblical symbolism of the train of virgins and groomsmen), and the lighting of the unity candle which gives a false picture of the sort of unity that marriage is: It is not a fusion, as romantics would have it, but a union of two whole persons who remain separate yet belonging each to the other.

In any case, this rule about where marriage is to be celebrated (which was partly made to discourage abuses arising from a prior practice of private marriages without witnesses) is a canon law, not a divine one, and can be changed and dispensed from for good reason.

Perhaps a compromise would be an outdoor Shrine.

Mary Ann

John replied:

Just to add to Mary Ann's remark:

The Church (and Her ministers) are not hired guns. If one is seeking to enter the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, one's concern, respecting the ceremony, should be that it be done validly and licitly according to the liturgical norms of the particular Rite.

That is, assuming one is a practicing Catholic.

John

Mary Ann replied:

John added a crucial point.

The Rite of Matrimony is a Liturgy, an official act of the Body of Christ, and it is a sacrament where Christ Himself is acting efficaciously for members of His body through certain signs.

So it is fitting that the Liturgical elements receive their proper setting, which is the home of worship of the Body, the Church.

However, in extreme circumstances, just as with Baptism and Confirmation, and Mass itself, the sacrament may be celebrated elsewhere. However, this is not the norm.

Mary Ann

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