Friday, July 11, 2008

Outdoor weddings?

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Summer Series begins! I will give a reflection, “The Mass Explained” (Part I). Hope you can join us!
“Anon” posted the following question: “Someone was telling me that her daughter and future son-in-law, who are planning to marry outside, cannot be married by a priest because they must have a consecrated altar. So, I was wondering, when we have masses outside, the Blessing of the Animals, for example, what is used for the altar?”

Good question, Anon. I’ve never heard the need for a consecrated altar used as a reason why Catholic weddings can’t be celebrated outdoors. The implication to your question is correct: in some extraordinary circumstances (Mass with the Blessing of the Animals, e.g.) we use simple tables to serve as altars. In its treatment of the issue of the location of where weddings are to occur, Canon Law makes no mention of the need for a consecrated altar. The following canons address the location of weddings:

Can. 1115: Marriages are to be celebrated in the parish in which either of the contracting parties has a domicile or a quasi‚domicile or a month's residence or, if there is question of vagi, in the parish in which they are actually residing. With the permission of the proper Ordinary or the proper parish priest, marriages may be celebrated elsewhere.

Can. 1118: ß1 A marriage between Catholics, or between a catholic party and a baptized non-Catholic, is to be celebrated in the parish church. By permission of the local Ordinary or of the parish priest, it may be celebrated in another church or oratory.

ß2 The local Ordinary can allow a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.

ß3 A marriage between a catholic party and an unapprised party may be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.

So, the question is, when the Church says that weddings can be celebrated “elsewhere” and “in another suitable place”, why can’t this mean outdoors? And again, I would say, good question! Some dioceses in the United States allow outdoor weddings, but most do not. I can’t speak for the bishops of the different dioceses, but my guess is that outdoor weddings are prohibited because the sacredness of a church is greater than the sacredness of nature. Marriage is a sacred act! The real symbolism of the couple bringing their relationship to God in His House is greater than the symbolism involved in wedding in a garden or on a beach. As the Diocese of Wilmington (DE) explains on their website, “While no one can deny that the outdoors is created by God and reflects His glory in both the Old and New Testaments, there is reference to certain places set aside for God's action with His people and the sacred setting of the Church - center of the parish family - helps us emphasize that closeness to God”.

Finally, here are some thoughts from a priest, Fr. Rob Ruhnke , whose website I came across this morning. To view his full article, please click on today’s title.

“Outdoor weddings have been more and more discouraged (and most dioceses in the USA do not allow them) because the Catholic bishops are very concerned about the sad state of marriage in most modern countries. They have seen the divorce rate continue to escalate in the 20th century, and they have seen too many silly stunts (people getting married as they jump out of airplanes, or hold their breath under water). Thus, the bishops are trying to help couples understand the seriousness of Christian marriage and think that, if they require them to be married in churches, they will be more likely to think they are doing something serious and important.

So, while bishops can and do grant exceptions (e.g. if your mother is an invalid and confined to bed, it is easy to get permission to have the wedding in your mother's home so she can be present at the wedding), they are not likely to give permission for a "garden wedding" out of this concern that such settings give the wrong message about the seriousness and sacredness of the vows."


At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was talking with a man last who, ironically, happens to be the son of a Catholic deacon. He told me that he isn’t Catholic anymore. Beyond not being part of the church anymore, he had decided that he really didn’t like the church anymore and was only too happy to share his reasons why. One of the things he talked about was the en persona Christi doctrine. He said he can’t understand how those who believe in God believe that a priest could be a conduit for Him. He went on to talk about priests who were committing grave sins and still hearing confessions. He asked me if I thought that Christ would be present (en persona Christ) in a man such as that. That question reminded me of something-

I read about the actions of a priest who had done some bad things. In reading about him, there was one man’s account of what this priest had done. This man said he recalled watching this priest celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist and lost his faith. He didn’t believe that consecration could occur while that man was holding the host, for how could Christ work through one such as that?

I’m bringing this up because I know quite a few who say similar things and I wonder how the church responds.

At 10:11 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

I recently played clarinet at a friend's son's wedding, held in a garden, and was thus reminded of what goes on at outdoor ceremonies:

Sun: *shines merrily*
Male Guests Who Unwisely Wore Suits or Sportcoats: *gasp at heat*
Female Guests Who Unwisely Wore Shoes with Spiked Heels: *stumble*
Wind: *rustle*
Musician Who Neglected to Clip His Music to His Stand: #! (chases after music)
Bee: bzzzzz
Musicians: (play music)
Truck Slowing for Nearby Intersection: screeCHHH
Ambulance: eeeeEEEEEEEEEeeeee

So much for ambient sounds...

At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a child growing up, we didn’t have many choices on what to wear to church. It was “Sunday best”, with no room for negotiations. With the arrival of warmer weather, Father Mike was intuitive enough to remind his congregation to dress modestly and appropriately (sorry Fr. Mike, I don’t remember your exact words but I heard your message loud and clear, albeit much gentler than that of my parents!)

I don’t attend a ton of weddings, but the few weddings, Catholic and non-Catholic, that I have attended over the last 10 or so years, seem to have brides and wedding parties that, in my opinion are, less than modestly dressed.

I’m an under 50 mom that probably would not be described as “prim and proper”. I basically try to dress with some sense of style and have no problem wearing pants to church. I’ll even throw on a pair of jeans from time to time. If my kids have brushed their teeth and hair, look somewhat put together, out the door we go. Yet, I have a really hard time watching a bride walk down the aisle of a church with a strapless wedding gown. It seems like a little more flesh than we really need to see. Doesn’t our Lord deserve the respect modest clothing, wedding gowns included project? Were do we draw the line?

At 7:48 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

anon 10:27, your comment about "more flesh than we need to see" brings to mind the following memory:

Some years ago I was standing in the back of church with several kindergarteners before a service. There was a woman wearing a back-less dress sitting in a pew a few rows in front of us.

Kindergartners: *gasp* Miss C, that woman ISN'T WEARING ANY CLOTHES! (not an unreasonable perception...they couldn't see any fabric from where they were standing.)
Me: She's not all naked. Just her back.
Kindergartners: (huffily) You're not supposed to have a naked ANYTHING in church!
Me: Yes, sweeties.

At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Church's response to first Anon:

"Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

This is the meaning of the Church's affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God." From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister.
Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1127 and #1128

"The ministers of the Church do not by their own power cleanse from sin those who approach the sacraments, nor do they confer grace on them: it is Christ Who does this by His own power while He employs them as instruments. Consequently, those who approach the sacraments receive an effect whereby they are enlikened not to the ministers but to Christ."
-Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 64, Article 5

To claim otherwise is to fall into the heresy of Donatism. This heresy began in the 4th century, and held that "only those living a blameless life belonged in the church, and, further, that the validity of any sacrament depended upon the personal worthiness of the priest administering it.” (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed.). This heresy was consistently and forcefully condemned by the Church and St. Augustine in particular. St. Augustine “constantly maintained that the holiness of the Church is not derived from the average level of virtue of its individual members, but is derived from the holy nature of its Head, Jesus Christ.” (


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