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Question Corner: When it comes to venues, weddings should be joyful events celebrated in the bride or groom’s community — Jenna Marie Cooper

Jenna Marie Cooper writes Question Corner for OSV News (OSV photo)

Q: Why can’t a Catholic couple receive the sacrament of Marriage at any church? My grandson and his fiancée chose Indianapolis as a midpoint of getting married, to help their family travel distances. They sought the ceremony at several churches but were declined because they were not parishioners. Our family is devastated and angry at the church. We thought any Sacrament could be received at any church. (Location withheld)

A: It is theoretically possible for a Catholic to receive the sacraments in any parish church. However, some sacraments are intended to be ordinarily celebrated in specific churches, and marriage is one of these sacraments.

Canon 1115 of the Code of Canon Law tells us: “Marriages are to be celebrated in the parish in which either of the contracting parties has a domicile or a quasi-domicile or a month’s residence […] With the permission of the proper Ordinary or the proper parish priest, marriages may be celebrated elsewhere.”

Translated into layman’s terms, this means that under normal circumstances Catholics should have their wedding ceremonies in a parish church where either the bride or the groom has an established permanent residence, called a “domicile” in canon law, or a part-time or long-term temporary residence (that is, a “quasi-domicile”) or at the very least, in the parish whose geographical territory either of them have been living in for one month. This is in keeping with the notion of the sacrament being a joyful event within the community of the parish.

If a Catholic couple wants to be married in a church in which neither of them are parishioners — or at a shrine or chapel that is not a parish — they would need the permission of the appropriate Ordinary (generally, the local bishop or his Vicar General) or the parish pastor who was empowered to grant this kind of permission. And if the couple does get permission to marry in a diocese where neither of them are resident, there is some additional “behind the scenes” paperwork that must be signed by the Chancellors of both respective dioceses.

As disappointing as this may have been for your family, your grandson was not “owed” this special permission to be married at a parish that was not his own, in a diocese in which he did not live.

But why would a priest or bishop withhold this permission? Without knowing all the details involved, I can’t give answers about your specific situation. But there are a few general reasons that come to mind.

First, marriage is a very serious commitment that requires careful discernment and preparation. If a Catholic seeks to marry at a parish not their own, especially one that is at some distance from where they live, the parish pastor might have some legitimate concerns about whether the premarital preparations were sufficiently addressed. Further, it is often easier to rule out any potential impediments to the marriage when the wedding is set to take place within the couple’s local community.

Additionally, there are some churches and chapels that are well-known for their exceptional beauty. Sometimes these sacred spaces are widely sought after as a wedding venue. In these cases, a parish might run the risk of becoming overly burdened by wedding requests from non-parishioners, to the extent that the actual parishioners risk suffering some degree of neglect. To counteract this, such places often have strict policies of who is eligible to be married in their church or chapel.

It is possible for a Catholic to marry in a parish other than their own, but this takes extra planning and communication from all sides, and ultimately the necessary permission is up to the prudential decision making of local pastors.

Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to CatholicQA@osv.com.

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