Q — My daughter is a practicing Catholic and wanted to get married in an outdoor ceremony. The priest said this was not possible. The priest and secretary actually suggested getting married outside the church and then having the marriage blessed in the church. Many couples today would like outdoor weddings. We know a Catholic couple getting married by a Unitarian minister because they want an outdoor wedding. I have been to several Masses in houses, an outside Mass at Glacier National Park and an outside Mass at a retreat. My husband has had Mass celebrated on the hood of an Army jeep. These were not on consecrated ground. Why is it that a wedding cannot be conducted outside when a Mass can?
A — This is obviously a very sensitive issue, and the answer that I offer here may not be particularly satisfying. The response I will offer is dictated by the norm that should be operative in Catholic parishes. I won’t comment on the reported suggestion of the priest and secretary that the couple get married outside the church, and then have their marriage blessed at a later time. The wedding day is one of the happiest days of the life of a couple, and as they wish to share their happiness with family and friends, they wish to do so often in a “space” that appeals to them and that has particular significance for them. All this is very understandable. So, why does the Catholic Church prefer that couples be married in their parish church? There are two basic reasons. First and fundamentally, the church is trying to emphasize the seriousness and sacredness of the marriage commitment by requiring that the sacrament be celebrated in that place where the church community normally gathers for worship and prayer, that is to say, the local parish church. Second, a couple that marries in a Catholic church is demonstrating that their faith is part of their new life together from the beginning, and furthermore by doing so they are also recognizing that all the sacraments are sacraments of the church, and are never simply private affairs, not even the sacrament of marriage. This latter point is often difficult to convey in our culture, which too often values personal choice and personal freedom in a highly individualistic fashion. Canon 1118 of the church’s Code of Canon Law states that “marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic party is to be celebrated in a parish church. “By permission of the local Ordinary (bishop) or of the parish priest, it may be celebrated in another church or oratory.” In both cases the common and public bond brought about by the sacrament of baptism, and deepened through regular celebration of the Eucharist, is being re-affirmed. If a Catholic marries a non-baptized person, they may be allowed an exception to be married in “some other suitable place.”