Why Do Catholics Have To Get Married in Church?

That’s the gist of this piece by writer Cara McDonough, who raises a question that’s increasingly common these days.  I get several calls a year from people who ask if I can do a wedding for them in a catering hall or on a beach.  (Usually, it’s after a priest has turned them down; deacons, of course, are always the last resort.)

McDonough writes:

My sister-in-law is getting married this spring. I’ve tried on my bridesmaid dress, jotted down the date of her New York City bachelorette party and also, intrigued, watched her struggle as she strives to book a priest.

Like me, she was raised Catholic and is marrying one. And, like my husband — her brother — and I did when we got married in 2005, she and her fiancé are trying to make this a Catholic affair.

Trying. Because there are rules.

I remember sitting in the chapel of the Newman Center at the University of Chapel Hill with many other couples during a Pre-Cana conference prior to our own wedding, listening to the priest talk about the importance of our forthcoming unions.

And then, unexpectedly, but with true passion: “You can’t get married outside.” He paused, then repeated, “You just can’t.”

My sister-in-law, however, wants to do just that. Plenty of people do.

Why can’t a Catholic ceremony take place outside? I turned to the wisdom of the internet to help me sort this out, and found many reasons, both casual and, seemingly, from on high.

Catholics marrying non-Catholics can get a special dispensation allowing marriage someplace other than a Catholic church. But if you’re both Catholic, the church wedding is important. The answer, as I’ve interpreted it, mostly concerns the fact that the church is the true “house of God,” and marriage, being a sacrament, should be celebrated there.

The sites Catholic Education Resource Center and Catholic Answers , as well as many others, approach the subject with articles and online forums.

But really, the best explanation I’ve heard was from that priest. “You just can’t.” [More]