St Francis Q&A

Friday, July 11, 2008

Outdoor weddings?

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Summer Series begins! I will give a reflection, “The Mass Explained” (Part I). Hope you can join us!
“Anon” posted the following question: “Someone was telling me that her daughter and future son-in-law, who are planning to marry outside, cannot be married by a priest because they must have a consecrated altar. So, I was wondering, when we have masses outside, the Blessing of the Animals, for example, what is used for the altar?”

Good question, Anon. I’ve never heard the need for a consecrated altar used as a reason why Catholic weddings can’t be celebrated outdoors. The implication to your question is correct: in some extraordinary circumstances (Mass with the Blessing of the Animals, e.g.) we use simple tables to serve as altars. In its treatment of the issue of the location of where weddings are to occur, Canon Law makes no mention of the need for a consecrated altar. The following canons address the location of weddings:

Can. 1115: Marriages are to be celebrated in the parish in which either of the contracting parties has a domicile or a quasi‚domicile or a month's residence or, if there is question of vagi, in the parish in which they are actually residing. With the permission of the proper Ordinary or the proper parish priest, marriages may be celebrated elsewhere.

Can. 1118: ß1 A marriage between Catholics, or between a catholic party and a baptized non-Catholic, is to be celebrated in the parish church. By permission of the local Ordinary or of the parish priest, it may be celebrated in another church or oratory.

ß2 The local Ordinary can allow a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.

ß3 A marriage between a catholic party and an unapprised party may be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.

So, the question is, when the Church says that weddings can be celebrated “elsewhere” and “in another suitable place”, why can’t this mean outdoors? And again, I would say, good question! Some dioceses in the United States allow outdoor weddings, but most do not. I can’t speak for the bishops of the different dioceses, but my guess is that outdoor weddings are prohibited because the sacredness of a church is greater than the sacredness of nature. Marriage is a sacred act! The real symbolism of the couple bringing their relationship to God in His House is greater than the symbolism involved in wedding in a garden or on a beach. As the Diocese of Wilmington (DE) explains on their website, “While no one can deny that the outdoors is created by God and reflects His glory in both the Old and New Testaments, there is reference to certain places set aside for God's action with His people and the sacred setting of the Church - center of the parish family - helps us emphasize that closeness to God”.

Finally, here are some thoughts from a priest, Fr. Rob Ruhnke , whose website I came across this morning. To view his full article, please click on today’s title.

“Outdoor weddings have been more and more discouraged (and most dioceses in the USA do not allow them) because the Catholic bishops are very concerned about the sad state of marriage in most modern countries. They have seen the divorce rate continue to escalate in the 20th century, and they have seen too many silly stunts (people getting married as they jump out of airplanes, or hold their breath under water). Thus, the bishops are trying to help couples understand the seriousness of Christian marriage and think that, if they require them to be married in churches, they will be more likely to think they are doing something serious and important.

So, while bishops can and do grant exceptions (e.g. if your mother is an invalid and confined to bed, it is easy to get permission to have the wedding in your mother's home so she can be present at the wedding), they are not likely to give permission for a "garden wedding" out of this concern that such settings give the wrong message about the seriousness and sacredness of the vows.”


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