There are many beautiful places where a couple may want to celebrate their wedding. Some of these places may even have a special meaning to that couple. Maybe that’s the place where they met, or maybe that’s the place where they dreamed of going together as a married couple. Whatever the reasons why the couple may want to celebrate their wedding at a place that is not a Catholic church, it is important for the couple to know the Church’s position on the celebration of weddings at places that are not a Catholic church.
The Wedding and The Marriage
In order to address this question properly, we need to remember that a wedding ceremony has so many spiritual, theological and ecclesiastical implications that tend to be forgotten when we focus our attention in the beauty of the physical space, such as the floral arrangements or the decorations of the “wedding.” In other words, a couple needs to maintain focus on the Sacrament of Marriage, not just the physical details of the wedding ceremony.
Let us remember that a Catholic wedding is the ritual through which a Sacrament takes place; the Sacrament of Marriage. This is the reason why the Church requires that the ceremony be held in a proper space; a Catholic parish. Christ, who honored the wedding at Cana with his presence, is also present in the Eucharist when the wedding ceremony takes place inside the church.
The Code of Canon Law says, “Marriages are to be celebrated in a parish where either of the contracting parties has a domicile… With the permission of the proper ordinary or proper pastor, marriages can be celebrated elsewhere.” (Canon 1115)
It looks like the Code of Canon Law may allow the wedding to be celebrated “elsewhere,” with the authorization of the local bishop, but it is almost impossible to obtain such authorization. Bishops are very reluctant to grant authorization for outdoor weddings by a Catholic parish, because they are concerned with maintaining a sense of the sacred, which is precisely what happens at a Catholic wedding ceremony — it is a sacred sacramental occasion.
The reasons why a local bishop may grant authorization for a catholic wedding to be celebrated elsewhere include political, cultural or even for safety reasons. One example may be when a church building planned for hosting the wedding ceremony has suffered structural damage, due to earthquakes or other natural disasters. As we stated previously, these circumstances are highly unusual.
A wedding is a special moment in the life of the new family that is beginning. We encourage you to focus all of your attention and efforts in making it a memorable event that will emphasize the sacredness of the occasion through the exchange of the promises that will make this an everlasting covenant.