Busted Halo
October 10th, 2008

Must Catholics Marry in a Church?

Must Catholics Have Their Wedding in a Church?


“My most powerful experiences of God have been outdoors—the glory of a sunset over a lake, a mountain vista, hiking in the woods. We want our marriage to start in this kind of setting.”

“We are having our wedding reception at a hotel which also has a space that would be perfect for the wedding ceremony. It would be a great convenience to have all the wedding festivities in one place so people wouldn’t have to drive all over.”

“My fiancée isn’t Catholic. Neither she nor her relatives would be comfortable attending a religious service in a Catholic Church.”

The comments above are common and understandable attitudes of many engaged couples. Before responding to whether a Catholic can indeed have a wedding ceremony outside of a church building, it is important to know how the church regards the sacrament of marriage.

The key element to remember about the Catholic understanding of marriage is that it is a public act of the church which recognizes the lifelong and exclusive commitment of the bride and groom to each other. The bride and groom may say “I do” to the wedding vows, but the presence of the church community is meant to support the couple throughout their married life together. All those present are presumed to be saying to the couple “We do.” We do witness, confirm, and support your marriage.

The popular notion that a wedding is primarily the business of the bride and groom is romantic, but not true in the sacramental sense. The church, and all the people of God who witness the marriage, have a stake in the sacrament of marriage. It makes a difference to the community of believers and to society that marriages are freely entered and strong. As Pope John Paul II said, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” (Familiaris Consortio, #86)

What’s all this got to do with having a wedding in God’s beautiful outdoors?
Since sacraments belong to the entire church—not just the bride and groom—they are normally celebrated in the place that the church gathers. This unites the couple with the universal church throughout the ages and puts the ceremony in the common gathering place where other sacred celebrations occur.

Although as Christians we believe that God is everywhere, we also have set aside special places for community worship—church buildings. It makes sense that baptized Christians would celebrate the vocational sacrament of marriage in the building where the community usually worships and which is dedicated to such special sacred commitments.

Are there any exceptions?
Yes, no and rarely.

If a Catholic is marrying another Catholic or baptized Christian, the wedding vows should be exchanged in a church building. If both partners are Catholic, of course this would be in the Catholic Church building. If one partner is baptized but not Catholic, the ceremony could take place in the church building of either partner.

The popular notion that a wedding is primarily the business of the bride and groom is romantic, but not true in the sacramental sense. The church, and all the people of God who witness the marriage, have a stake in the sacrament of marriage.

If a Catholic is marrying a person of another faith—a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, etc.—a special “dispensation from sacred space” can be requested from the local bishop. This is sometimes appropriate in respect for the faith of the non-baptized partner.

For example, if a Jewish person is marrying a Catholic, it is not permissible for Jews to celebrate the wedding in their own synagogue. However, it is permissible to use an appropriate neutral location.

In situations such as this, the criteria is that it be a place of dignity but not outdoors. Often reception halls serve this double duty as both the place of the ceremony and the place of the reception.

I’ve been to outdoor Masses before. And what about all those outdoor Masses that the Pope has at World Youth Day?
First, let’s talk about outdoor Masses in general.

Outdoor Masses are allowed but sacraments of vocation (Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, and Holy Orders) are to be celebrated in the usual worship space of the believing community.

In regard to the outdoor papal Masses, it is simply a matter of numbers. There is no church building that can accommodate 50,000 or more people. Hopefully you aren’t planning a guest list this large at your wedding or you might also need to call upon the Lord for another miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes!

So yes, there can be a dispensation for a wedding outside a church building for good cause, but it is rare. A dispensation for a wedding to be held outdoors is even rarer.

Where does that leave the nature lovers and those who sincerely recognize the presence of God in the outdoors? It leaves you with a beautiful place for a reception and the rest of your lives. An outdoor reception would be a fitting way to connect your wedding celebration with your desire to honor God’s natural creation. Regardless of the place of your wedding or reception, may you frequently find time to renew your love and commitment to each other in the glory of nature, even when it rains, snows, or the wind howls.

The Author : Susan Vogt
Susan Vogt,www.SusanVogt.net, speaks and writes on marriage, parenting, and spirituality. She and her husband live in Covington, Kentucky.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Steve

    Dear Getting Married Outside,

    I agree that the hoops you are having to jump through are ridiculous. For that, I apologize on behalf of Catholics everywhere. However, just because you are getting the run-around at the parish level does not mean that it is right to ignore the rules. As Catholics, the Catholic form of marriage is necessary for your marriage to be considered valid.

    I recommend doing whatever is possible to be married within the church so that your marriage is sacramental. One possibility is to skip the limos. Another is to have a private ceremony at your local church and then a civil ceremony at the reception. Alternatively, perhaps you could just level with the parish officials and point out how ridiculous their regulations are – under Canon Law, you can never be denied a sacrament due to financial impracticalities. Finally, you can also ask about getting a dispensation from your bishop; in that instance, you can be release from your obligation as a Catholic to have the Catholic marriage ceremony.

    I’ll be praying that the local parish officials come to their senses and that you make the right choice.

  • Getting Married Outside

    Both myself and my fiance are catholic and while our church is beautiful, it’s just too far of a drive from our reception location. I had looked into using the catholic church in the same town as the reception, however they told me it would be considered a “destination wedding” since we’re not using our normal church (ludicris!) and I’d have to pay the church $700 + get our own priest to drive up to our location (probably another $350) because they need their own priest to be there for their own parishioners. What? Not only that then I needed to rent limos for driving people here there and everywhere ($1000+) It became too much of a financial burden to do any of this so I opted to have the ceremony outside at the reception location. I’m having a reverend marry us since no priest would accommodate our hope of having a catholic ceremony outside. This whole business of not doing outdoor ceremonies is a silly and antiquated idea and pushes dedicated parishioners away from the church.

    It’s too me a travesty that even sick individuals that have attended church every Sunday their whole lives can’t be visited for anointing of the sick in their homes. I think Jesus would say shame on you.

    • ElizD

      You weren’t really married in your outdoor ceremony. As a Catholic you can only marry validly at a Catholic Church or for a serious reason could marry elsewhere with a special dispensation granted by the bishop. Location of the preferred reception venue is not by any means a serious reason. The reception was really more important to you than actually marrying? It’s really important for couples to approach their parish and begin working with their priest on marriage preparation well before the time when they plan to marry and certainly BEFORE they decide on the specifics of the reception.

  • Confused As Well

    I am having the same battle. Serriously, this issue has become a battle between faith and religion. My faith in God tells me that the outdoors is the most perfect, simple, and appropraite place to celebrate both of us become one with God through marriage. My religion (and family) tell me that becasue I want an outdoor wedding I am not faithful, not Roman Catholic, do not love God enough or in the “right way.” I love God, Jesus, Mary and the Saints; however, I honestly feel like the Church does not want me to belong or be a part of it. This issue is just pushing me farther and farther from the Roman Catholic Church…but not from my God. I guess I will have to wait and see if I have the courage to follow my heart and my God or if I settle for making the Church and my family happy with it indoor. Peace be to all who are also struggling with this issue and may the Holy Family bless all new marriages.

    • Bill Guentner

      You write “…however, I honestly feel like the Church does not want me to belong or be a part of it [the Catholic Church]”. No! It is you who do not want to be part of the Catholic Church, otherwise you would do as she asks.

  • Just In

    In the end, it’s about what is most important. So the question becomes is the church more important than the dreams of its people.

    For me, what is at the root of all this is the manner in which most/all religions are exclusive… Why in the world would we want to exclude others who are attempting to exress their love and share the celbration with others.

    I just feel that this ‘grasping’ or exclusiveness is at the heart of so much suffering in our world. What could be wrong about openess, acceptance, comapssion, and understanding.

    What if LOVE and ONENESS with ALL That Is, actually included ‘all that is’.

    God, Jesus, Life… The bottom line is we are all in it together… I believe it is time for openess, compassion, and understanding. When will we learn I wonder… When will we let go of excluding and starting bringing in others to our hearts and communities.

    What feels better to YOU? Being told yes, no, right, wrong, do, don’t do… or being welcomed, loved, understood, accepted as you are… There’s a big difference and it big enough to start paying attention to.

    Thank you to everyone who’s sharing their feelings on this. For me God IS me, IS the world around us… He’s EVERY thing and so I treat every thing with love and equality (as best as I can). And I guarantee you everyone at my peaceful outdoor wedding will feel ‘His’ power and will be thankful for ‘Him’ bringing us all together to celebrate the promises my Angel and I are making to each other.


  • Diane Morrison

    My daughter, Roman Catholic is marrying a Chinese gentleman. I am not sure of his or his family’s religious affiliation but his Mom adheres to Chinese tradition. Will a priest marry them in a hall so that my mother and I will feel comfortable that she will be considered married within the Catholic Church?

  • Kathy

    Another example of cafeteria Catholics. They say they are Catholics until they come across some church regulation they don’t agree with and then it’s Katie bar the door!

  • Brooke

    I attempted to post a comment several days ago. Was my comment malicious? I didn’t think so. I had hoped for some further explination or at least encouragment in my situation. I was honest in that I am struggling with feeling hurt and excluded in the process. I don’t feel that should exclude my comments from this talk.

  • D

    Let me see if I understand you, Joseph Pedulla and Chris D… “Do it my way, or get the hell out.” Yeah, that sounds a lot like Jesus, who said to the woman about to be stoned for adultery, “You ARE Catholic, aren’t you? No? Go ahead and stone her, guys.”

  • Mary Q

    My wedding will take place sometime next year but the ceremony venue has yet to be chosen because of this very issue. My fiancee is Christian and I am of Catholic faith, but I prefer not to receive the sacrament of Marriage within the church–my older brother does not agree. Though I understand the concept of the sanctity of celebrating Marriage in a church, I believe that not all sacraments (or any) MUST be celebrated within a church. Was Jesus not baptized, OUTSIDE, in the Jordan River? Who made up the rules that we MUST celebrate these sacraments indoors? And to make things worse, your marriage is “not recognized by the RCC community” if you do it any other way. Ridiculous.

    • mike


      For the most part, the reason for having mass in a church fits with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. People were worshipping in community at the Jordan and following John. I don’t think that they exactly had baptismal fonts back then.

      Today, people worship in a church where the community comes together to pray. The marriage of two people needs to be recognized in community and therefore you need to go where the community is and not vice-versa.

      Lastly, as a practical matter, with most masses on the weekend, priests can’t be flying and driving all over the place to do weddings AND be available for Saturday and Sunday mass.

  • Chris D

    Those who reject the Church’s teaching are simply selfish. They want the Church to conform to their wants. If Jesus were here today, some would tell him they’d only follow Him if he cut His hair, or only if He didn’t travel so much. If you don’t follow the Catholic teachings, then you are not Catholic. Leave the Church already.

    • ElectricFire

      Actually, it’s the church that seems selfish here.


    It’s a matter of obedience to Christ. The Church’s authority comes directly from Christ! What you want is one thing; what Christ wants is another. Obey, and stop whining about the beautiful outdoors. Christ came, at least in part, to show us that He is superior to his creation the outdoors, and that we have a higher calling than the trees and wind can bestow upon us. Being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament is the most natural place a Catholic can ever be! What are we all becoming–Druids? Get your disobedient asses back in the pews and stop all the carping. When you disobey your Church, you disobey Christ.

  • Karen

    After reading the comments on “Must Catholics Marry in a church?”, my concern is if anyone is listening/reading…looking around in our area Catholic Churches, they are full of the elderly ~ We need to work WITH these young please; not AGAINST them~ Would SOMEONE PLEASE recognize these sincere people and the simple requests they have…It’s 2009, not 1909… Thank you for LISTENING.

  • bridget

    my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years and i have been discussing marriage. we are both 30 years old and neither one of us has ever been married. each of us has been in several extended relationships with others, but never felt compatable enough to commit to “the rest of our life” with any of these subjects. he is my best friend and i am his. we look forward to every moment that we spend together, but we make sure to engage in activities apart from one another also…long story short…very healthy relationship.
    i was raised in a very large devout catholic family. i am an active member of the catholic church and devote myself to service at masses a couple time a month.
    he was raised a methodist, but doesn’t practice this religion. he does believe in God and Jesus Christ. he is very supportive of my faith and feels comfortable that our children will be raised catholic. he is a very giving man and wants nothing more than my complete happiness.
    i, on the other hand, feel that i want to accomodate his happiness also…this is part of which make us a great couple…and i know that nothing would make him happier than an outdoor wedding. i feel that no matter where i am…god is present. no where does the bible say that there needs to be a building…it states “where two or more are gathered in my name…” and it also hurts my feelings that my faith will not support my want and need to bring him happiness to.

  • judy

    the reasoning is a bit lame. baptisms can be celebrated anywhere. and yes, it is wonderful to celebrate a wedding in a church, because that is where the community of believers generally gathers, since outdoor masses are held, that resoning goes out the window.
    Also, what about a couple that chooses NOT to have a nuptial mass ?
    As long as the priest or deacon officiates and the couple is married in front of witnesses and ideally a congregation of family and friends–how can the “official” Church teaching counter the validity of the sacrament ! There have been plenty of bad marriages made in cathedrals, with beautifully sung high masses, flowers, priests, bridesmaids, et al !!!
    Let’s get back to basics, people. Remember jesus’ words about the coming times when we will be worshipping at the riverbanks !

    • David Bates

      > Remember jesus’ words about the coming times when we will be worshipping at the riverbanks !

      What passage are you thinking of here?

  • D

    However much people’s reasons for choosing to marry outside a Roman Catholic building may be trivialized by the Roman Catholic Church, the fact is that this matter is a significant factor leading many individuals and couples to abandon the RCC. I have performed dozens of weddings for couples who have left the RCC for just such nonsense rules that apparently remain so that the hierarchy can hang on to the vestiges of its one-time secular authority. Some priests, et al., really like to “call the shots” and say, “Sorry, it’s our way or the highway.” What a shame that the RCC would lose people for this and other debatable hard-line rules–not very Christlike, if you ask me. But, of course, you didn’t, because the RCC seems to care more for its rules than its people–either that or maybe you just don’t want it to rain on your silk damask vestments ;-)

    • David Bates

      > What a shame that the RCC would lose people for this and other debatable hard-line rules

      Who gets to decide what is debatable and what is not?

  • Ann

    This seems like a trivial topic to base a person’s faith on. What’s more beautiful than that walk down the aisle with all the people important in your life watching in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. if it’s not just about romance why is there no problem with the sacraments that have to be celebrated in the church. If you love your church you won’t want to go anywhere els If it’s not that important to you there are all sorts of accomodations for outdoor weddings

  • D

    For me this was the final straw that drove me away from the Catholic Church. The idea that God’s blessing, or a community, can only exist within an artificial, man made edifice is quite frankly ludicrous.
    Furthermore, I do take exception to Fr. Larry’s comment that having an outdoor wedding is merely a “romantic” idea. Where better to experience God’s majesty than outdoor’s.
    And finally, what makes this policy even worse are that exceptions are constantly made. Several celebrities have received dispensation to have outdoor marriages. Why is it good for them but not for the regular flock?

    • David Bates

      > Several celebrities have received dispensation to have outdoor marriages.

      Who are you thinking of here?

  • FrLarry

    Part of the problem here is that our catechesis about marriage has been so poor that most of the couples who want “their” wedding outside of a church don’t have any idea that their wedding has anything to do with their community of faith. Instead, it’s all about their romantic moment in the spotlight. For lots of couples (regardless of the venue they choose) the church is simply a backdrop for the ceremony, and means nothing more to them than the reception hall or outdoor gazebo.

    When I meet couples who want to be married outdoors, I remind them that such plans are easily ruined by such capricious elements as rain, wind, humidity and swarming insects. That romantic attachment to outdoor venues can be surprisingly fragile.

  • Rebecca

    This is one of a few reasons I am choosing not to be married in a Catholic church.

  • Ed

    Is this rule not, perhaps, just another one of those things that push Catholics away from their faith?

    I am thinking of a couple, who are both Catholic but chose to be married by a minister so that they could be married outside. It was a tough decision for them to make , but at least the minister was willing to listen to their hearts, and their needs..

    I can’t help but think that in centuries past within the Catholic Church, there have been fully Catholic weddings out of doors and the sky has not fallen, nor has God failed to bless their union.

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