By Father Kenneth Doyle
Q. My daughter and her fiance, who both went to Catholic schools from preschool through college, would like to get married in an outdoor ceremony in a garden. My understanding is that the church requires that sacraments be performed inside a blessed building, but I just can’t understand why. The first baptism was performed outside, and the pope distributes Communion at Masses held outdoors. I would love for my daughter to have her marriage blessed by the Catholic Church, but this seems to be an unreasonable rule. Isn’t it true that wherever two or more are gathered in his name, God is there? (Mantua, New Jersey)
A. It is not unusual for people to say (young people in particular) that they experience the wonder of God most directly when they are outdoors — gazing at a glorious sunset over a lake, for example, or hiking in the mountains. So it is not surprising that they would opt to profess and celebrate their love in such a setting.
But you are correct that the Code of Canon Law (in No. 1118) says that “a marriage between Catholics … is to be celebrated in a parish church.” While the rule is not absolute (No. 1118, Section 2, does say that the “local ordinary can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place”), the vast majority of dioceses would not normally allow it in the situation you describe.
The church desires to highlight the fundamental spiritual nature of the occasion: The couple is affirming God’s role in having brought them together and seeking God’s blessing through the years to come. It is a sacred and sacramental event — an act of worship — so it is celebrated where Catholics traditionally worship: in the presence of Christ in the tabernacle.
In my experience, the situations in which a bishop would see fit to dispense from that tradition are rare, although I have seen them (a case, for example, in which the bride’s grandfather was seriously ill and unable to leave home and travel to a church.)
It would be best if you could convince your daughter and her fiance to respect your family’s Catholic allegiance by having their vow ceremony in a church — followed by a reception in the garden setting. If your plea fails and they insist on being married outdoors, the next best thing would be to encourage them to have their marriage blessed later by exchanging vows before a Catholic priest.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.