Why Can't My "I Do" Be Done My Way?
Wedding Bliss vs. Wedding War The decision to be married is one of the most important decisions that a person will ever make. A couple rejoices and families and friends share their excitement. Preparations for the big day quickly take off with relatives and friends offering a plethora of suggestions on how to make "this" wedding creative and unique! Unfortunately, for some Catholics, what should be the occasion for great joy can become a time of anxiety and not a few battles. The genesis of this angst can be the decision on the type and location of the ceremony. What is the Catholic response to the questions raised by a couple who love each other and want to do "the right thing?" What is the Church's response to a couple who seek "creative" wedding alternatives?
The Catholic "Form" of Marriage Church Law (Canon 1108) specifies that a Catholic must observe a proper "form" for a valid marriage. When a Catholic marries another Catholic, or when a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, such a marriage must be contracted in the presence of a duly authorized bishop, priest, or deacon, and two witnesses. This is called the "canonical form" of marriage. This "form" must be observed even when Catholics marry persons not of their faith (or indeed of no faith at all).
Where is a Catholic marriage celebrated? Why couldn't I choose to be married on the beach or another location that I consider meaningful? The Church considers the location for marriage important because it is a sacrament, a sacred action, and a community celebration. The church building is the traditional site for those seeking to be married in the Church. While the Church indeed believes that "God is everywhere," she has always built distinct places of worship and recognized them as the true house or dwelling of God.
Shouldn't the Church respect a couple's personal preferences? Marriage, as every sacrament, is not the possession of any individual—it belongs to the entire Church. A wedding, then, is not primarily the business of the bride and groom alone. A couple does not celebrate their marriage in isolation. Thus, Catholic marriages are expected to be celebrated in the place where the Church gathers. The Church's liturgical guidelines offer a couple numerous options with regard to the Scripture readings, music, and other liturgical texts that may be used at a Nuptial Mass or Ceremony. There are circumstances when the Church may dispense from the required canonical form: when one of the parties is strongly attached to his or her non-Catholic community; when a Catholic Church wedding would cause difficulties for a marriage between a Catholic and Non-Christian.
Personal preferences have a plac, but the couple should also keep in mind the circumstances of the relatives and friends who will be invited (e.g., a destination wedding can become a financial burden for those who would like to attend).
A "Church" wedding sends a Message By choosing a Church wedding, a couple says something important to their guests. It tells all in attendance and the wider community that they are making a commitment that is sacred, that is, made in the presence of God. It affirms the value that the couple places on prayer and that the wedding is more than just the party. While there are times when a priest or deacon may bring the sacred into a secular setting, when he may conduct a service in a home, workplace, or auditorium, a wedding is different. At a wedding, a couple goes to the Lord. It is an act of humility, faith, and love. It becomes a deep sign of how they intend to live their married life.
My friends had a priest preside at their wedding on the beach, so don't the rules vary from place to place? Most likely, marriages of Catholics taking place outside the church proper—on the beach or on a cruise ship—are presided over by priests who do not have the proper delegation or authority from the Catholic Church to witness such marriages. Since couples are disappointed (or even angry) that their parish priest will not agree to officiate at a wedding planned outside the church building, many couples procure the services of priests who advertise on the internet. While providing the ritual of a Catholic wedding, such priests are "not in good standing" with the Church, rendering the wedding invalid. While the marriage may indeed be recognized by civil authority, the Church cannot recognize it, since it lacked the proper form for validity. Such a union would then prohibit the reception of the Eucharist by the Catholics entering into it, and preclude their assuming the office of sponsor for baptism and/or confirmation.
What advice is best for a Catholic planning their wedding? The most practical and helpful guidance one can offer to an engaged couple is to contact his or her parish priest or deacon for an appointment
prior to planning the social aspects of the wedding.