Elsewhere: where Catholics marry


Catholics take marriage very seriously. Marriage is a life-long vocation and getting wed is a sacrament.

Yet, due to the influences of secular society, some Catholics ask to wed in venues outside of a church. As it happens, even some priests serving as chaplains on cruise ships would sometimes agree to on-board weddings (now explicitly forbidden by the Vatican).

Recently, Father Serpa addressed this on Catholic Answers in his apologetics forum response to a question on the topic.

I find it a sign of the times that we so often get this question and others like it. Why can’t we be married at the beach or in our family home?

No one ever asks if an ordination to the priesthood or the final profession of a religious sister or brother can take place in a garden. These vocations are automatically associated with the worship of God and it is understood that a church is a building specifically designed for and designated as a place for worship, i.e., acknowledging God to be who He is. It is unlike any other place.

Unfortunately, weddings make a lot of money for a lot of people. So our culture demands a whole array of unnecessary attachments to this most significant and sacred of events–to the point that they take over. There is a television series-not an individual program, but a series–that is just about the wedding dress. Week after week young women are encouraged to obsess over a dress they will wear only once-hopefully. Recently I noticed in the TV listings a program about Disney dream weddings. The further weddings become whimsical fantasies, the less likely the bride is to be grounded in what the wedding and marriage are really all about.

Like the ordination to the priesthood and the profession of the vows of religious life, marriage is all about GOD! The bride and the groom are all about God, because everyone who has ever lived is all about God. We are His idea. He created us for Himself. Union with God is the goal of every Christian vocation, including marriage. In fact, Pope John Paul II called marriage the primordial vocation because it peoples all other vocations. Our blessed Lord likened the relationship He has with His Church to the relationship of husband and wife.

The further away the wedding wanders from its sublime God-centered context, the more obscure its significance becomes in society. Certainly, Mass can be celebrated anywhere. But it is most appropriately celebrated in church and for the most part, it is. The Church, in the light of a secular world that relegates religion to the sidelines, very wisely insists that Catholic weddings take place in church. It is sadly another sign of the times that so many priests and religious of my generation haven’t a clue to all this.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.


  1. "…marriage is all about GOD…" This is true. But, I believe the Church needs to relax the canon law about weddings in Church, and to rethink some of the theological aspects of weddings taking place outdoors.

    I learned as a child that "God is everywhere." This was not a pantheistic idea. It was about God's presence upholding all of creation—keeping it in existence. Jesus, Himself, walked the earth, perhaps even barefoot. So, logic tells me that if God's feet touched the dirt, the dirt became sanctified, in a sense consecrated.

    Certainly, depending on the setting, the outdoors is beautiful. God is Beauty itself, and nature reflects that.

    When the Church says, "NO," about certain venues for weddings, they really do turn some young people away. They get married where they want to and later return for a blessing of their marriage—or not.

    What I am trying to get across is that "sacred space" in not only the interior of a Church building.

    Nevertheless, the outdoor wedding ought to be conducted reverently. The officiant of the wedding can give a homily that includes explicating the sacredness of God's presence at the particular venue. It CAN be done in a holy way. And more often than not, it is being done.

  2. Thanks Ruth Ann for the very good points. I agree with you that it is particularly important not to drive young people away.

    My interpretation of Fr. Serpa's comments is that for something this sacred, this important, this permanent, this life changing — the most appropriate venue is the most holy one and that is in a church.

  3. "Marriages" of "Catholics" marrying outside the Church (i.e., not by a priest) will be automatically null by the Church due to lack of form. So if young people are going to choose to marry outside the Church just so they can have an outdoor wedding, my thinking is that they shouldn't go through the pretense of having a sacramental wedding at all! So our priests have nothing to apologize about if they won't marry people except in a church: if they did, then they may as well be marrying people outside the Church!

  4. Thank you, George, for you kind response to my comment.

    Upon rereading Fr. Serpa's essay, I agree wholeheartedly that the wedding part of marriage has become and industry. In fact I just heard about that T.V. show about wedding dresses today when I was working at my parish annual rummage sale, which had a couple of nice wedding dresses for a mind-blowing $20!

    Micha, I was talking about marrying in a church building. I was not talking about marrying outside the Church community. There is a difference.

    What I am trying to say is that the current canonical practice of requiring a couple to marry within the church building be relaxed. It is a Church discipline that can be changed. As I stated earlier, perhaps this ought to be seriously rethought and theologically interpreted more broadly.

    I would favor that if the couple wants to marry within a Mass, then it ought to be in a church building. If they want to marry elsewhere, then no Mass, but nuptials only.

    Also, I'm not saying that marriage is not a sacrament. It IS a sacrament. But the couple confer this sacrament on each other. The priest or deacon is merely a witness. I am suggesting that the witnessing might take place elsewhere than a church building.

    Also, Micha, it may surprise you, as it did me, to learn that some young people who participate in the marriage preparation process within their parish (pre-cana) are advised by their priest/pastor to marry "outside the Church" first, at the venue they desire, and then get the marriage blessed later. Are these young people being misled? Perhaps, but I think the pastors are looking at this as a way to give a pastoral response to what's happening in our culture. Fewer and fewer young people—decent young people—actually choose to marry in a church building.

    On the other side, I have been to weddings of young couples inside the parish church building, but the majority of guests had no clue what to wear and how to behave in a Catholic Church. Is that good? Well, it does fulfill the "letter of the law."

  5. I am curious. This is the first I have heard that the Vatican opposed shipboard weddings. Why?

  6. Elizabeth, here are a few additional links that may help:

    Deacon Greg Kandra’s piece

    American Catholic's coverage

    a note on Clerical Whispers

  7. Thanks for the links. I did get the enote with them as well.

  8. I have a question. In maryland there is the National Lourdes Grotto where mass is held outside occasionally. Can a catholic get married there? It is blessed ground with a permanent alter etc. I am just curious.

  9. That's an interesting question! I passed it along and received the following reply from Carol Kortisses who is an Administrative Assistant there:

    The essential requirement for a wedding to take place at the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes is that one party be a member of the Mount Community. Those included as eligible are:

    a.) Students currently enrolled at Mount Saint Mary's (who have completed at least 2 semesters).

    b.) Members of the National Alumni Association.

    c.) Employees of Mount Saint Mary's.

    d.) Members of the Board of Trustees.

    e.) A son or daughter of either an employee or a member of the Board of Trustees.

    The privilege of being married at Mount Saint Mary's Grotto cannot be extended to the general public, in accord with the policy agreed upon by the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Mount Saint Mary's College. The sons and daughters of Alumni do not qualify.

    So… I guess the answer is "yes", but not open to most people.

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