A few questions about weddings that take place outside the Church


My wife and I got married in a Catholic church, and I’m so happy we did. :slight_smile: I’m Catholic and to me, if you are Catholic and you want to be married then I believe it must be done in God’s house. Marriage is a Sacrament. Now my questions are about other people that either are Catholic and don’t feel the same way, or people that we are close with but they are not Catholic…

  1. Does the Church however recognize marriages that:

Take place on the beach somewhere (both people are Catholic)?

Take place on the beach somewhere (only 1 person is Catholic)?

Take place on the beach somewhere (niether party is Catholic)?

  1. If my best friend is getting married outside the Church in such a wedding for example, can I still attend such a wedding as a guest if invited? According to the Church, would this really be a marriage? Or does the Church view these people as sinners and not really married eventhough they are legally and people in the “outside” world refer to them as husband and wife?


No; there is no dispensation from form for the marriage of two Catholics.

Take place on the beach somewhere (only 1 person is Catholic)?

Is the other person baptized?

Take place on the beach somewhere (niether party is Catholic)?

Not a problem at all. Presuming that the couple freely consents to the marriage, and have no impediments to marriage, they can have a valid marriage at a beach ceremony. (And, if both are Christian, then their marriage is a sacrament, too!)

  1. If my best friend is getting married outside the Church in such a wedding for example, can I still attend such a wedding as a guest if invited? According to the Church, would this really be a marriage? Or does the Church view these people as sinners and not really married eventhough they are legally and people in the “outside” world refer to them as husband and wife?

This is a tough one, and I’m sure you’ll receive a variety of opinions. Let’s start with the objective questions:

“is this really a marriage?” You don’t mention whether your friend is Catholic (and therefore, is bound by the form of marriage). “It might be valid” is the best we can do, without additional details.

“Does the Church view these people as sinners?” The Church views all of us as sinners. :wink:
(But, to your question, if a couple is not validly married, and is living together, then yes, they’re in an objective state of sin.)

Now, the opinion question: should you attend? If there are Catholics involved, then there are two questions: are you showing your assent to the (invalid) ceremony, or are you merely keeping the door open, as it were, to opportunities in the future to convince your friend to marry validly (in a way that you would be unable to do so, if you blew off his wedding)? Secondly, is there the possibility of the sin of ‘scandal’ (that is, might others look at your presence as your way of saying that the Church saw this ceremony as valid)? A prudential judgment on your part, with respect to these questions, will lead you toward an answer…



Hi Phemie,

It’s not possible for two Catholics to be *dispensed *from form.

However, what IS possible is that a bishop might give permission under Canon 1115 for the marriage to be celebrated in a place other than the parish in which the bride or groom has a domicile. That “place” might even be somewhere other than another Catholic church, chapel, or oratory.

I’ve never actually seen such permission granted, but it’s theoretically possible. I have heard there is a bishop somewhere in the Western US who gives permission for outdoor weddings. But, I’ve not seen that substantiated with any proof.


My understanding is that canonical form cannot be dispensed if both parties are Catholic; it can only be dispensed if one party is not Catholic.


Only if the marriage is witnessed by people who have authority to witness it (Canon 1108) and licitly only if the bishop gave permission to have it outside (Canon 1115)

If the Catholic received a dispensation from Catholic form, or if the same permission from #1 above were received, then yes. When a Catholic marries a non-Catholic there is a process for receiving permission to be married by a non-Catholic minister or Justice of the Peace in a place other than the parish church. (Canon 1118)

Non-Catholics have no required form of marriage. They contact marriage validly when they contract it civilly. So, in general if there are no other impediments, then yes this is fine. (Note: Orthodox Christians are under the same obligation as Catholics regarding how and where they get married. Orthodox do not marry validly if they marry other than in an Orthodox Church with an Orthodox priest).

  1. If my best friend is getting married outside the Church in such a wedding for example, can I still attend such a wedding as a guest if invited? According to the Church, would this really be a marriage? Or does the Church view these people as sinners and not really married eventhough they are legally and people in the “outside” world refer to them as husband and wife?


If neither is Catholic I think a beach is fine. I know of one party is Catholic the minister of the marriage has to be Catholic. So like priest or deacon


Unless the ordinary gives a dispensation from form, in the case where one party is Catholic and the other is a non-Catholic Christian, in which case it’s possible to be married validly, but not by a Catholic priest or deacon.


Are you sure? I was told by my pastor that a Catholic marrying a Protestant has to be married in a Catholic church, and that they can’t be married in a Protestant community, but it’s perfectly fine for two Protestants to do so.


Pretty sure. Some years ago, I attended such a wedding and sat in the same pew as the Catholic priest from the bride’s parish who was there as an invited friend but not a participant.


I attended a wedding held on a beach officiated by two priests. One was a family friend from Australia. The wedding was APPROVED by the diocese of Los Angeles. The priest from LA was considered the official even though the Jesuit from Australia did a majority of the mass. It was beautiful and reverent. This took place in July 2014. I think there are many old misconceptions about this subject.:confused:



My Catholic bride and my Catholic self were married in a Catholic ceremony & Mass* in a non-denominational chapel on the grounds of a secular university – Does that count?

(* Witnessed and celebrated, respectively, by priests from the university’s Catholic chaplaincy)



You were misinformed. A catholic marrying a Protestant (or someone of another faith tradition or no faith tradition) can validly marry outside of the catholic Church IF they apply for and receive a dispensation.

For example, I was raised Lutheran. My husband was raised catholic. If, when we married, we wanted to marry in my Lutheran church, we’d have to apply for and receive dispensation for my husband to marry a non-catholic and for him to be released from canonical form. Once those permissions were received we’d be free to marry at my church and the marriage would be valid. Now, if we went and married at my church or at the Justice of the Peace, for example, without those permissions the marriage would be invalid.


If all the proper permissions were obtained, yes it was valid and licit.

If there were permissions regarding the place skipped over by a priest who had the faculties to marry you, it was still valid but illicitly celebrated in a place other than your parish church. Not your fault and not a problem for validity.

It would be a bit trickier as it concerns WHO your pastor is in such a case and what permission would be needed from him to marry you (as marriage is valid if celebrated by your ordinary, pastor, or one designated by them-- canon 1108). Depends on whether you had a quasi-domicile or if you resided elsewhere and went back to your college to be married.

The priests from the university no doubt deal with this frequently and probably have something arranged with the bishop to take care of the paperwork.


Perhaps you misunderstood.

Canon law absolutely allows for a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic in a non-Catholic ceremony through a dispensation from form.

Can. 1117 The form established above must be observed if at least one of the parties contracting marriage was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not defected from it by a formal act, without prejudice to the prescripts of ⇒ can. 1127, §2.

Can. 1118 §1. A marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic party and a non-Catholic baptized party is to be celebrated in a parish church. It can be celebrated in another church or oratory with the permission of the local ordinary or pastor.

§2. The local ordinary can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.

§3. A marriage between a Catholic party and a non-baptized party can be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.

Can. 1127 §1. The prescripts of ⇒ can. 1108 are to be observed for the form to be used in a mixed marriage.

Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, the canonical form of the celebration must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of law are to be observed.

§2. If grave difficulties hinder the observance of canonical form, the local ordinary of the Catholic party has the right of dispensing from the form in individual cases, after having consulted the ordinary of the place in which the marriage is celebrated and with some public form of celebration for validity. It is for the conference of bishops to establish norms by which the aforementioned dispensation is to be granted in a uniform manner.

§3. It is forbidden to have another religious celebration of the same marriage to give or renew matrimonial consent before or after the canonical celebration according to the norm of §1. Likewise, there is not to be a religious celebration in which the Catholic who is assisting and a non-Catholic minister together, using their own rites, ask for the consent of the parties.


Was it a place other than your (or your bride’s) domicile? Then 1ke’s assertion holds: with permission, it’s possible.

(In my general neck of the woods, there’s Heinz Chapel on the grounds of the University of Pittsburgh. That’s within the boundaries of the Cathedral parish. So, it’s not uncommon for Pitt grads who are Catholic to be married there, with a Cathedral parish priest officiating.)

That doesn’t contradict anything that’s been said here. (And, I bet, if you were to look at the parish’s documents for your wedding, you’d see a document from the tribunal that gives their approval for your wedding Mass. :wink: )


Mea culpa, it was a rhetorical question, primarily for the benefit of those who mistakenly believe that two Catholics cannot be dispensed to marry in a place other than Catholic church building. Yes, the proper dipesations/permissions had been obtained by the chaplaincy which was *extremely well *versed in the procedure.

:smiley: The concelebrating priest was in fact our pastor – The chaplaincy at the time had been erected as a non-geographic parish serving the university students, faculty, and staff, but with no building of their own save their residence. (The main celebrant and witness to our vows was a junior member of the chaplaincy)



Thanks for all your replies so far. I guess pretty much the people involved that are getting married to eachother should consult their priest (or Bishop) and simply take it from there… And in terms of attending or not, we should go with “our best feeling” as to what we feel is ok and what is not ok to attend…

Can a Catholic attend/celebrate freely the following 2 types of weddings:

  1. How about attending a religious wedding that is not Catholic, or not even Christian at all (some other religious wedding) ?

  2. How about a non-religious wedding (like in a court or whatever) ?


Yes exactly. No matter where a Catholic is going to marry, they must complete premarital preparation and the investigation of freedom to marry. Those intending to marry must start with their pastor before they do anything else.

Well, I would say that the Church has objective criteria for us to follow regarding whether or not a particular wedding is going to be a valid marriage or an invalid marriage.

When we KNOW a marriage will be invalid-- a Catholic marrying outside the Church (i.e. no dispensation from form) or a Catholic involved in a marriage that is a second marriage for either of them, etc, then we should be cautious. In most cases it would not be prudent to attend such a ceremony.

While prudential judgment in the matter can be used-- such as an attempt to not alienate family with the goal of getting them back into the Catholic fold-- we definitely should NOT do anything that would falsely indicate approval of invalid marriage attempts.

And in no case can we attend or witness an attempt at “same sex marriage” which is no marriage at all.

A Catholic can attend such a wedding. I don’t know what you mean by “celebrate freely”. A Catholic should not participate in religious ceremonies of other religions (for example, a Hindu ceremony) so participation would be limited, but attendance and witnessing are permitted.

If it involves non-Catholics or a Catholic with a dispensation, no problem. That is a valid marriage for non-Catholics.


I didn’t mean it in terms of participating in the actual ceremony.

By “celebrate freely” what I meant was like having a good time at the reception. Like if there’s music to dance, socialize with others… to simply “celebrate” by having a “good time.”

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