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Monday, January 17, 2011

Why can't Catholics get married on the beach, in a garden, on the top of a mountain?

 “Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Why can't Catholics get married on the beach, in a garden, on the top of a mountain?

The question is a bit misleading, for Catholics can get married on the beach, in a garden, just requires a dispensation.

Can. 1115 Marriages are to be celebrated in a parish where either of the contracting parties has a domicile, quasidomicile, or month long residence or, if it concerns transients, in the parish where they actually reside. With the permission of the proper ordinary** or proper pastor, marriages can be celebrated elsewhere.

(**Ordinary:  A cleric, such as the residential bishop of a diocese, with ordinary jurisdiction over a specified territory)

However!  It is my understanding that fewer and fewer dispensations to marry outside a Catholic Church are being granted.  (One such example of a dispensation that might be granted would be if the bride were the daughter of a Protestant minister and wished to get married in her father's church, with a priest officiating.  On a beach, however, it is doubtful.)

Here's why Catholics must get married in a Catholic church, unless given a dispensation.

Firstly, while God is indeed present everywhere--on the beach, in the mountains, in a garden--certain places are CONSECRATED to Him.  God is physically present in the sacred space of the Tabernacle.  Just like God was present in the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament--(a place so holy and sacred that only the High Priest could be in its presence, once a year, after a period of ritual fasting and cleansing.)

So, reminiscent of the discussion of why Catholics need to go to Mass rather than be with God via a contemplative walk in a beautiful forest--it's because God is truly, physically, substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle on the altar of all Catholic Churches.  And a sacramental event ought to rightfully take place in a space consecrated to God.
We can tell our children begging for an outdoor wedding: "Get married in a Church; you can have your party/reception on the beach, in a garden, on a mountaintop!" 

From Catholic Answers :
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, religious and laity of my generation haven’t a clue to all this.--Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online

Another article on Catholic outdoor weddings

Catholic Answers forum discussion on "Where can Catholics get married?"

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15


  1. It is apparent that the concept of giving someone a solemn vow aka. your "word" is no longer binding in this world and I think, this is why our church has come down so hard on these 'fanciful' locations for wedding ceremonies and have advocated the need for a church setting in an attempt to make a couple realize the sanctity of the words that they speak to each other. I can empathize. Although I respect this opinion, I still think it is a bit narrowed and to justify this trend, the church has been guilty of making up an apologetic for this case. In our attempt to be pious before God, good common sense and practicality seem to have flown out the window. Dare I say that before our church was even fortified by Rome, with sacred churches, rules and hierarchies of power,the people of Yahweh were a minority group among the gentiles and were very much penalised for outward signs of our belief. Were unions of that era "unholy" because they might not have occurred in a dedicated space? Indeed we cannot argue based on time period because times have changed but has the power of God changed? Or is this one of our numerous attempts to indoctrinate the concept that God's power is only manifested in certain scenarios and spaces while in others his presence is void?Sounds a bit legalistic and Pharisitic to me. I don't like this implication and the bible has numerous miraculous stories to disclaim that kind of thinking.
    Secondly,as Catholics, we know it is the couple who confer the sacrament on each other.I remember reading on another Catholic site debating this topic that in the absence of a church or even a priest,the vows can be made by the couple in the presence of God and they are just as binding. What gives? So it does seem we can bend the rules? The inconsistencies are what annoy me mostly. -_-
    In my opinion, if a couple want to go before the alter of God, by all means go ahead, but if they choose elsewhere (where God is also present), why the hastle? Will this meaningless factor affect the alarming number of divorces we are seeing? Nope. Does it affect the fidelity (or the lack thereof) of the couple making the vows? Nope. In the words of my mother...It's the living that counts, not the ceremony.

    1. Thanks for your comments, TriniJay.

      What you see to be objecting to is the authority of the Catholic Church to declare where Catholic marriages ought to be confected.

      And that this declaration has changed. At one point, prior to the existence of church buildings, Catholic marriages were validly confected outside of a church sanctuary. Now it is the requirement, unless a dispensation is received.

      You object to this "inconsistency."

      Regarding your first objection: I am uncertain why you feel that the Catholic Church cannot declare under what circumstances and conditions a wedding may be conferred? Does not the US govt have this same authority regarding civil marriage? Why, then, do you restrict Holy Mother Church from this authority?

      Regarding the apparent "inconsistencies": again, is this not the Church's purview? For example, at one time eating meat on Fridays was prohibited. Now it is not. I have no problem with the Church binding and loosing. That is, after all, what Christ commanded.

      Just as parents may allow one child to drive at age 16, but restrict driving to age 18 for another child, we recognize that Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, can declare binding for one generation a particular set of disciplines, and loose for another generation this set of disciplines.

      I don't see the inconsistency in that.

  2. I don't think it matters to God where we marry. I think He wants us to love one another, be faithful to Him and each other and have a family.

    1. Thanks for your comments. However, I'm not sure where this idea comes from that it doesn't matter to God where we marry. It's important that we don't create a god after the almighty self. What the self thinks is fine = what God thinks is fine.