Weddings not held in a church (building)


I’m not sure whether this is the right forum but it didn’t seem to fit elsewhere. A friend is planning her wedding and is tossing up whether to have the service in a church building and the reception elsewhere or to have the ceremony in the chapel at the reception centre. But tonight I was listening to a show on the radio and one of the hosts (a priest) was joking about a catholic priest who celebrated a wedding in one of these non-denominational/secular chapels at reception centre being picked up by the secret catholic police in the middle of the night. Obviously the bit about the Church’s secret police is a joke but is it true that priests aren’t allowed to celebrate a wedding outside of a church? As I know mass can be celebrated just about anywhere I assumed it was also possible to ask a priest to celebrate your wedding outside of the church too, e.g. for those who want a garden wedding or a beach wedding etc.


Marriage is a sacrament, and the normal place for the celebration of the sacraments is the church building, a sacred space erected for this purpose. Obviously if there is a good pastoral need the sacraments may be celebrated elsewhere. One good example is hospitals, where sick or dying people who can not come to church are brought Eucharist, have their confessions heard, and receive annointing.

As for a marriage, there may be good pastoral reasons to celebrate this sacrament outside the sacred space of the church building. One possibility would be a wedding held at the non-Catholic church that one of the spouses in a mixed marriage belongs to, with the permission of the Catholic spouse’s bishop. Permission to do this sort of thing is nearly always granted. But celebrating the sacrament of matrimony at the reception hall or on a beach because it is convenient for the reception or because of the photographic opportunities would not be considered a good pastoral reason.


In general…

Permission (requires a dispensation) can be given for a Catholic to be married in a non-Catholic place of worship if one of the parties to the marriage (usually the bride) is not Catholic. This is not that unusual.

Permission for the wedding to be held in a non-worship space is almost never given. There would have to be a really, really, REALLY good reason for such a wedding to be permitted.


Catholic Canon Law governs the form of marriage. As you can see from Canon 1118, 2 only the local ordinary (that’s the bishop) can give permission for a Catholic to marry somewhere other than a Catholic Church, chapel, or oratory:

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.


These are some of the rules/laws that really get my knickers twisted.

Hypothetical situation.
A couple wishes to be married & joined for life in the wilderness. Imagine the most picture perfect postcard meadow beyond a grove of trees that form a natural theatre & altar. God’s work at his finest…
NOPE, CAN’T DO IT… says the “local authority having jurisdiction”… It’s not in a “Church”, so we can’t do it…

What makes a stone or wood building more Holy or proper than it’s natural equivalent? Is it not the importance of the Sacrament that matters, rather than the place it occurs?


**What makes the stone or wood more Holy is that it is God’s House. It is the appropriate place to celebrate Sacraments. **

**People who have a problem with authority have trouble accepting the “rules” unless they 100% understand AND agree with them. It would be wise of you, and any others who suffer from this affliction, to pray for humility and a spirit of obedience:).

In your scenario, why couldn’t the couple just have their honeymoon in that picturesque meadow? Or at least some photographs? **



Well, for one thing, Catholic churches are built on consecrated ground…it’s not just a building.


Sacraments require ‘valid matter’. A consecrated building of the wood and stone (or whatever) is ‘valid matter’.

Having been to nonCatholic ‘outdoor’ weddings, I really wonder why people rush to ‘celebrate’ in “God’s wilderness” etc.
Maybe I’m cranky (we just had ANOTHER storm blow out power, knock down trees, and flood areas yesterday), but I’ve found few, if any, ‘natural’ places that are not subject to rain, wind, blistering heat, bitter cold, ‘critters’, mud, dust, etc. Why on earth some people want to subject themselves and their families and friends to at best ‘uncomfortable’ conditions (wet, heat, cold) and at worst actual dangers (flood, wind, mudslides, etc.) rather than sit INSIDE, protected, surrounded by the familiar walls of “God’s house”, is beyond me.

Further, it does seem to me that if a Church isn’t ‘important’ enough for a couple to start their marriage in, it won’t be ‘that important’ for them to attend regular Sunday/holy day services, etc. If it is SO important that I be married ‘in nature’, then by golly, why wouldn’t I want to spend my Sundays "out in nature with God’ instead of in a ‘stuffy old church’ with ‘hypocritical boring people’?

Mind you, I’m not saying that this ‘will’ happen, but certainly if people are fighting against legitimate Church authority in ONE area, they WILL continue to fight it in others.


Sure, God made a masterpiece when he made creation. But He did and even BETTER job when His son, the finishing touch, was added into the scenario. I don’t think I would want to get married anywhere else than close to the consecrated Host and the building in which it dwells.


You’ve answered some of my questions. Thanks…

And as pointed out, I do have a problem with authority… not with respecting it, but I will question it when needed…

(I’m not trying to be a wise-guy here… I’m confused)

“Consecrated Ground”… the applicable definition of “consecrate” is:: to make or declare sacred; especially : to devote irrevocably to the worship of God by a solemn ceremony.

If God created everything in the 1st place, isn’t all “ground” already consecrated?.. why does it take a ceremony (conducted by man) to give earth or a building a valid “status”?.. or is the ceremony performed to reserve the place or building in this state?

Further, it does seem to me that if a Church isn’t ‘important’ enough for a couple to start their marriage in, it won’t be ‘that important’ for them to attend regular Sunday/holy day services, etc. If it is SO important that I be married ‘in nature’, then by golly, why wouldn’t I want to spend my Sundays "out in nature with God’ instead of in a ‘stuffy old church’ with ‘hypocritical boring people’?

I was married on Sept. 2nd, and it was stuffy, and hot, and uncomfortable indoors… while it was 74 deg’s and a breeze outside. And I’ll assume that everyone (including Fr. Tim) would have loved to go outside on the grounds instead of sweating in 30lbs. of dress, robes & Tuxedos! And my current pastor probably spends a lot of time repenting his wants to go fishing & bird hunting on a perfect Sunday… (he’s quite the outdoorsman, and holds 2 or 3 camps annually for the youth fishing & hunting)… he’s a Priest, but he too is human.

Quite frankly the Church (it’s additions, annexes, and basement) I was married in would fit inside (with room to spare) the Narthex of where I attend now …yet we revere these mammoth stone structures with their 24-karat gilding while we’re supposed to remain reserved and un-prideful…hypocritical? (and given the choice of an hour with boring hypocrites or out on the water with a line bobbing… I’ll choose fishing - I won’t do it, but it’ll be my 1st choice!)

Just a few months ago I was at a camp with the Scouts at a Jamboree. On Sunday morning about a dozen of us hiked about a 1/2 mile into the middle of a huge open field for Catholic services. Imagine 3000 (yes 3 Thousand) boys & men sitting on the grass in front of a card-table. The field was our Sanctuary, the card-table our Altar.
(We were about 100’ back, at full zoom for this pic)
A local Priest traveled in and presided over the Mass (using a bull-horn to be heard!). Because of the environment was this not a “valid” ceremony?.. even when presided over by the local Catholic Priest? (I’ll also guess the ground couldn’t be “consecrated” as it is normally used for Military Artillery exercises!)

Again, I’m not trying to be a wise-guy… I’m just pointing out my personal observations & experiences in debate.


I can’t tell you all the reasons or origins for consecrating the ground beneath churches (someone more educated than me will have to do that), but it is to make it an especially holy place dedicated to God. (Same as the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple. Built and consecrated by humans, but recognized by God as His spirit dwelt there.) I know that the Sacrarium, the sink in which they wash the holy vessels, must empty directly into consecrated ground incase any unconsumed Blood or Body of Jesus is lost in the washing, so that it is returned directly into holy ground.

If you are going to reject things because they are conducted by man, then you are not going to be able to accept anything the Church does. It is Jesus’ human representative on Earth, run by humans. All its ceremonies are conducted by humans. If human worship were unimportant to God and unecessary, why would He have commissioned it and given us the tools and institutions with which to worship Him in the first place? (This is not meant in a confrontational way, I just want you to really think about this concept. Tone-of-voice is hard to communicate in type, and I don’t want anyone seeing this as attacking.)


We also bury people in consecrated ground. It’s not a joking matter. Not to divert the thread, but especially in this country, is anyone unfamiliar with the undeniable trend that places of preternatural incidents often occur (all together now…)… on old Indian burial grounds.

Satan was called the “prince of this world.” In many lands that are becoming Christianized, there are still vast areas that are completely given over to pantheism, worship of multiple “gods” and witchcraft, among other things.

In the grand scheme of things, it DOES matter if ground used to worship the Triune God is on consecrated land.

Secondly, it matters that our Liturgy, the official prayer of the Church, is conducted in a proper setting. Yes, God created the mountains and valleys and streams. And many are undeniably beautiful, but they are not sacred spaces. And worship of God there is not the official liturgy of the Church.

The building actually matters. Because our Liturgy is an encounter with the Eternal. When we cross the threshold of the church door, we are crossing into Eternity. The celebration of the Eucharist is God present and the sacrifice on Calvary in the present.

You cannot cross the threshold into eternity on a beach. This is not about buildings or air conditioning or bugs or anything like that. It’s about the sacramental life of the church being a moment when our lives intersect with the Eternal.

And as for gilt and stained glass and statues and beautiful churches… why have a problem with that? Are we not to give the best to God? Our resurrected glorified Christ is no longer a baby in the stable. He is in Heaven. Our shopping malls are painted gold and no expense spared in their marble floors and decor. Have they become our new temples? Doesn’t God deserve at least as much as the restaurant or mall down the road?


Exactly…this was the reason for the grandeur, riches, and splendor of medieval cathedrals. They were literally trying to build the biggest, loveliest, richest tabernacle. They wanted to give their earthly riches for Jesus’ resting place, because what other pursuit deserved it? Jesus doesn’t need our gold or stained glass, but we offer the richest and most beautiful we have to Him to show him our respect. Abel had the finest of his flock to offer God. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, humans had precious metals and soaring artwork to offer. Nowadays, most people seem to dismiss the whole idea as ridiculous, and look at our modern churches. Plain, ugly, boring, and usually built with the tabernacle in the wrong place! Are we offering our best to God? Are we even trying?

In short, the building is not unimportant, for many reasons. I know when my husband and I got married, it was powerful for both of us that we were being joined in our childhood parish church. At the same time we were being connected to each other for life, we were connecting with our earliest memories of faith, with the families that took us to that church…


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