Why do Eastern Catholics differ from us about who confers the Sacrament of Matrimony? Why is that Not a doctrinal difference?

Howdy guys.

I’m usually pretty good at answering questions people have about the faith, but today I got one that stumped me. A Catholic friend of mine who is considering becoming Orthodox asked me if it counts as a doctrinal difference that Orthodox people think the priest confers the Sacrament of Matrimony, while we Catholics think the priest just witnesses the couple while they confer the sacrament on themselves. (He also insisted that this difference is a “sticking point” which blocks our churches from reuniting, but I doubt that because I’ve never heard an Orthodox person even bring it up, let alone make it a sticking point.) I told him I don’t think it is a doctrinal difference because our Eastern churches confer marriages the same way the Orthodox do, but I agreed with him that, at least on the surface, the question of who has the “power” to confer a sacrament Sounds like a doctrinal difference. Does this have something to do with delegation of powers? How is it that ordinary lay people have a power in the Western church which they plain-and-simple do not have in the Eastern church? (Or is that a mistake in my understanding?) Is that a doctrinal difference? Am I missing something?


Its not a sticking point for the Catholic Church…at all. As you point out, Byzantine Catholics receive the sacrament of matrimony from the priest. A Byzantine Catholic marriage witnessed by a Deacon would be completely null and void.
I don’t really have an answer but here are a couple things to consider:

  1. Even the Orthodox will acknowledge that the early Church did not have a liturgical rite of marriage. Christians simply got married, according to the norms of their culture, and then received the Eucharist together and were thus considered married. The Byzantine rite of Crowning and any other liturgical wedding rites that exist in the Church evolved centuries after the Church’s founding. So even from an Orthodox perspective, it must be possible, or at least it was possible, for a couple to confer marriage upon themselves?

  2. While Latin theology maintains that the couple confers the sacrament on themselves, the Church reserves the right to regulate when and how this can happen. Consider this…if a Catholic attempts marriage outside of the Church, without a duly authorized priest or deacon, the marriage is null…no sacrament occurs. So couples can only confer the sacrament upon each other when authorized to do so by the Church.

In both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, valid marriages must be authorized by the parish priest and/or bishop. Who exactly must witness the marriage is a lesser issue.

eastern Catholics are differen to eastern Orthodox

God Bless

Yes, I know that. I am sorry if I suggested they are the same.

The thread title is misleading. CAF is not “Roman Rite Catholic Answers Forums”. Eastern Catholics are just as much a part of the “us” as Western Catholics.

I know you did not intend it to sound that way, just pointing it out.

It is possible for marriages to be valid with no authorization from the priest. It is not the usual custom, however. It is permissible in circumstances where the couple is reasonably unable to approach a priest or any suitable delegate.

I thought of that when I wrote the title. There’s a certain balance between length and understandability that made me choose to pretend CA Forums is only Latin Rite for the sake of this thread. I know it’s inaccurate, but I sacrificed accuracy for shortness, nonrepetitiveness, and familiarity.

I am from an ancient Catholic Rite, which many today are unfamiliar with. We are fully in union with the Catholic Church. Our heritage requires informal clothing at our Liturgies, which we expect to be short and simple. My hope is that my Rite will survive in its integrity.
We are just a tiny bit, forgivably conceited, but basically good guys. Just ask us!


I think I’m missing something here…sarcasm maybe…can you give more details?

Not sarcasm, just affectionate humor. I am American, Latin Rite Catholic. I am proud of this, but I know we tend at times to think of ourselves as center of the universe - both as Americans, and Latin Rite Catholics. But we are also good Christians. Just ask any of us.

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