Many couples are choosing to have their wedding ceremony take place on the beach, in their own home or backyard, or some other destination or creative setting. For Catholics, it is not that simple. Catholic weddings are expected to take place in a church and the THE Church. This is not simply a matter of setting or location, however, but a matter of the Church’s understanding of what marriage is.
Getting married in a church
For Catholics, marriage is more than a legal binding. It is a sacrament that is of great importance in the eyes of the Church community. Because of this, the Church expects that the wedding take place in both a sacred space and to be conducted in a way that emphasizes the sacramentality of the ceremony and life that the two are beginning together.
Many people make the argument “God is everywhere so why can’t I get married anywhere?” There is certainly something to be said about this. For those who do not get married in a church for whatever reason, God is no less present there than at the marriages that occur in a church. However, getting married in a church is also an expression of the couple coming to God instead of expecting Him to come to them. This makes God a more prominent character in the wedding ceremony but also in the relationship between the bride and groom and the life that they are starting together.
Also, as a sacrament there is an expectation that the ritual will take place both in a sacred space and in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The setting of the wedding in a church places the wedding in a more intentionally sacred space and within the context of the Church community.
Getting married in THE Church
This is not simply a matter of location. Getting married in a church signifies getting married in the Catholic Church. While the wedding day is a great day for both the bride and groom, it is a day that the Church also takes part in and will continue to be a part of their entire marriage. Having the wedding within the Church calls the entire congregation to come to their place of worship to take part in this sacrament. The Church upholds marriage and wants to be a part of each marriage due to the role that Christ should play in each relationship.
There are a number of repercussions for Catholics who are not married in the Church. They are no longer allowed to receive communion, which is a major aspect of the Christian life. If they want their children to be baptized they will run into some problems as well. There is a process in which couples can get their marriages recognized as valid in the Catholic Church following the wedding, however, this is not meant to be a loophole but for people who are converting, etc.
There are some situations in which weddings can take place both outside of the church setting and outside of the Mass, however, these are only for situations that call for such a dispensation. In these cases, the permission of the Bishop is needed. Many people are upset by the regulations surrounding marriage in the Church but the Church reminds them what marriage truly is: a sacrament. And as a sacrament it has a place in a church and in the Church.