Wedding season is upon us, and while weddings can take place in a variety of locations, for a Catholic wedding the ceremony will always take place in a church. Have you ever wondered why that is?
Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ discussed an article about a bride who wanted a Catholic priest to officiate her wedding, but she wanted the ceremony to take place outside. The article made it seem as though the Church’s rule that they be married inside a church was ridiculous and arbitrary. But Fr. Matthew explained the importance of being married in a Church, and how it points to a deeper truth in the reality of marriage. He said:
“When a Catholic person is married to another person, especially a Catholic but even another baptized Christian or non-Catholic, it almost always has to take place inside of a Catholic Church. I say almost always because there are edge cases where a bishop (and a bishop alone) can give permission to marry outside of a Catholic Church.
Usually the reasons have to do with the faith of the other party, or maybe the faith of the family that would make it difficult for them to even walk into a Catholic Church. Then the bishop would take into consideration those pastoral circumstances. But it’s almost always to be married inside another church.
Maybe this has crossed your mind as some needless rule in the Catholic Church. Maybe you’ve thought about it that way, or maybe you didn’t even realize that this was one of the important components of being married in the Church.
And you may be asking, ‘Why? Didn’t God create all of the universe and didn’t He give special beauty to the beach, and the ocean, and the garden? Why can’t we do it outside at our favorite hiking spot, or a scenic location?’
He did. And there are some really beautiful locations around the world. And I love them, because I love nature and I love God’s green earth. But I have never seen a place more beautiful than in front of the Blessed Sacrament, in front of Jesus Himself. And it could be in the simplest countryside Catholic Church, the most modest of chapels. And yet, Jesus is present there.
That’s one of the reasons. Because that is where we have Mass, and we come together to join as a community. Not only to celebrate Mass, but it’s the heart of the parish community.
The church is the heart of the parish community. The Church, in fact, invites you to profess your vows to one another before a minister of the Church – a priest or deacon – along with two witnesses who can vouch that you made your vows before that altar. And there is a huge theological reason for this.
It is this: marriage is not only for the two spouses. Marriage is not only for the husband and wife. Marriage is for the whole world, for the entire people of God. Why? Because marriage is a symbol of God’s love for you and for me. A love that requires fidelity, a love that requires self-sacrifice.
You see, the reason we have sacraments inside of the church is because those sacraments are for everybody. Even Confession, even the most private of sacraments is for the whole Church. Nobody’s going to know your sins except the priest, who will keep them absolutely secret. But the mercy that God pours down upon you in that sacrament is not only for you, because God wants to make you a saint for the whole community.
Just so, your marriage is not only for you, but it is to build up the body of Christ and to build up that community. It is to remind you and me of God’s love for us. It’s also true with the sacrament of Holy Orders, that takes place inside of a church as well. At least, I’ve never heard someone say that they want to find a bishop who will ordain him outside of the church, because they really like the beach.
But the reason that ordinations happen inside a church is because we are ordained not only for ourselves, but for others. Now, the sacrament confers a personal grace on us, thanks be to God, to help us. But the sacraments are for all of us.
To me, that’s the need that I think the Church needs to communicate to young people. To help them see that we want you in the church because we want you to remember that your sacrament is for you, and it’s also for us. That your marriage is for you, but there is also a great dignity in your marriage, that you are witnessing to this love between God and His creatures.
There’s something really deep and important about that, and it needs the church symbolism there. Not to mention it’s just simpler and more beautiful to celebrate a Mass there inside of the Church. There are many practical reasons why this is the case, but to me it always comes down to that sense that we need to realize that the sacraments are for the community. They are never just private, individual affairs, but they are about us growing together as the body of Christ.”
Listen to the full reflection below: