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Father Endres for April: Why no outside weddings?

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Q: I have heard that Mass can be offered outside, but in inquiring about having a wedding Mass outside, I was told that Masses could only occur in churches. Can you please explain the church’s position on outside wedding Masses?

A: Catholics place a high value on the eucharistic liturgy. The Mass is recognized as the “source and summit” of the Christian life and the church is careful to celebrate it with dignity and solemnity. For this reason, Mass is ordinarily celebrated only in a sacred space (a church or chapel) unless “in a particular case necessity requires otherwise” (canon 932.1). The church has long recognized that sometimes Mass outside of a sacred space is necessary, such as offering Mass for military personnel.

However, in all but the most exceptional cases, there is no necessity to hold a wedding Mass outside of a church. Church law relates that “marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic party is to be celebrated in a parish church” (c. 1118). A parish at which the bride and/or groom have worshipped is the most appropriate place for a wedding since every sacrament, including weddings, has a communal dimension. It is a parish family that often has supported the bride or groom during his or her early life and will continue to support them in marriage. The participation of family, friends, and neighbors witnesses to the wider, communal sense of the marriage covenant.

The limitations placed on the location for weddings even outside of Mass is derived from the church’s understanding of marriage. Marriage is one of the sacraments instituted by Christ. As the famous Archbishop Fulton Sheen often said, “It takes three to get married,” reminding us that the spouses offer their vows, but God joins them together through a special bond.
The church sees marriage as a sacred covenant. Early in the church’s history, it developed rites and laws to protect the dignity of marriage as a sacrament. Its sacredness is best expressed through its celebration in a special space dedicated to worship. A church is such a house of prayer, a place where the community gathers to acknowledge, celebrate, and offer worship to God. While weddings taking place outside may be seen to glorify God in His creation, it is not a space set aside for prayer. When weddings take place outside, they risk losing the sacred character of the celebration.

A wedding outside of Mass, between a Catholic and a non-baptized person, out of respect for the other party, may be celebrated in “some other suitable place,” but not outdoors. Any Masses celebrated outside of a sacred space must have permission of the bishop and must occur there for a specific reason. The desire of a bride and groom to have an outdoor wedding does not necessitate a valid reason.

If a couple wishes to be married in the Catholic Church – for which all baptized Catholics are required – it might mean sacrificing some of their own ideas of what they imagine for their wedding. Through the process of wedding planning and preparation, the couple can explore the meaning of marriage and its sacred quality. At times, a couple who at first considered marrying outside the Catholic Church, through instruction, prayer, and discernment may commit to the importance of exchanging their vows in a church. For as we are reminded in Scripture, it is God who joins husband and wife (Mark 10:9).

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