Dear Fr. Joe: I recently became engaged and set up a meeting with our priest. We were excited about having our wedding at an outdoor chapel but the priest said we can’t. When we asked why he said he didn’t know! Why can’t we have an outdoor ceremony with a Catholic priest?
Getting married in the Catholic Church is a life-giving process that can help you and your future spouse with all sorts of wonderful elements of the Catholic life and philosophy. You’ll grow in your love and knowledge of each other and of the wonders of our faith. You’ll also find that, in many Catholic churches, you’ll get some great help with planning the wedding ceremony itself. With all this information, though, sometimes the “little basics” get lost. With your question, we’ll be able to look at some of those things.
For the Catholic Church, the desire is that each person within that parish see themselves as members of a parish family. Individual priests and pastors can come and go, but the people of God who register, attend and support a parish are the engines behind it all and a major part of the reason that parish exists. The goal, hope and prayer of the Church is that, when we find our parish, we have found our spiritual home where everyone there is, in a special and unique way, our brother or sister. Obviously, everyone on earth is our brother or sister, but in order to love more than 7 billion people as your family, you have to start within your biological family and parish family and move from there!
This brings us to the idea that, when a member of our parish family gets married, it’s an event that is for all of us! We hold family events like this in our family home and all are welcome. Your marriage begins in your spiritual home, and is an opportunity for everyone in the parish to come and be strengthened and renewed by your love. This also provides you at your wedding with more people there praying for and with you and that, my friend, is a great blessing.
Most Catholics don’t realize that they are welcome to attend any wedding ceremony that happens in their parish, but they are. I think that part of the reason we’ve lost that knowledge, or this vision, is because we have moved further from the Catholic view of marriage and more into the “private moment” idea. The U.S. bishops’ website says this: “Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals or the couple, but for the community as a whole”
And that statement takes us to our next point: As Catholics, we believe that marriage is a sacrament: a sacred moment given to us by Jesus. When you celebrate this wonderful sacrament, we hold it in a space that is dedicated, sacred and consecrated. We have these three requirements because marriage is so important to us, so let’s take a look at each of them.
A dedicated space: We consider weddings so special that we recognize they should be done in a place that is set aside for them. Obviously, weddings do not need to be the only thing toward which the space is dedicated. You may point out that Las Vegas wedding chapels fill this requirement.
A sacred place: When we describe something as sacred, we are recognizing it as blessed by God or touched by God. Many places that are not churches also fall into this category.
A consecrated place: The Church teaches us that, sometimes, we take a place (or even a person!) and set them aside from “common” use for sacred use. This is a movement of the Holy Spirit from the people of God through our clergy, which culminates in a ritual where we say, “This place is special”.
Your Catholic church building hits all three of these requirements and, in that, offers you and your fiancé a gift: a chance to start your married life together in a remarkable place – a place that is dedicated, sacred and consecrated for the purpose of you two coming together and entering into a sacred union.
The next time you step into your church, look around and ponder the wonder and the beauty of that building. See in it the culmination of the dreams and hopes of Catholics for many, many years. See how this space, built for worship of God, offers you something nothing else can. Hundreds, even thousands of couples have stood in that sacred and consecrated place and given themselves to each other and God, surrounded by those they love.
What better place to start your life together?
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!
Send your questions to: “In the Know with Fr. Joe” FAITH Magazine, 1500 E. Saginaw St., Lansing, MI 48906 Or: JoeInBlack@priest.com