By Msgr. Jonas C. Achacoso, JCD
As a basic principle, the proper place to celebrate the sacraments is the church, except, of course, the anointing of the sick, for obvious reasons. But most of the sacraments, whenever there is a situation that justifies it, can be administered somewhere else. For instance, we see confessions and Masses in these times of pandemic held outdoors.
The sacrament of marriage, however, has a specific provision requiring the permission of the bishop to celebrate it outside the church (cf. canon 1118 §2). The canonical provision on the proper place for Catholic weddings is a positive norm and not a negative disdain for the beach, mountain, or garden where it is sometimes desired at whim to celebrate weddings. I would say that the first wedding — that of Adam and Eve — was celebrated in a beautiful garden but, by elevating the marriage to the level of the sacrament, the church requires celebrating such a sublime occasion in a sacred space.
The norm may be positive but, unfortunately, some people read it in a negative and prohibitive perspective. For instance, a prospective bride begged to have a garden wedding because she always dreamed to have her wedding outdoors with lots of fresh flowers and white butterflies.
She justifies that she would only marry once in her life and thus would do everything possible to fulfill what she wanted since when she was a little girl. Several parishes denied her request, but she remained implacable and inflexible, so she suspended indefinitely her marriage.
You will understand that the case I mentioned is a caricature, but such behavior has reflections in real life. The bottom line of such an attitude is a disconnection with the essential and an undue focus on rather the romantic settings and fantastic trappings for weddings. I think there is wisdom in the classical principle:
In medio stat virtus. Virtue is in moderation. Not in excesses or extremes. The most painful among the many reasons I’ve heard to justify a garden wedding or elsewhere outside the church is because they feel more connected to God in nature than inside the church. I agree that God is also felt in nature as the Creator, but there is a unique and personal divine presence in the church as a Savior.
To carry out their life project of dedication and fidelity “in prosperity and adversity, in health and disease, and thus love and respect every day of their life,” the spouses need the strength of grace from that divine presence. In those moments when their promise is put to the test, the couple can always return to the altar where the vows were made and ask for the comfort and strength that the beach, the mountain, or the garden can never provide. Some time ago, I was asked permission to have butterflies in the church for a wedding.
I hesitated, but then finally gave in to the request. I laughed at the thought that this could be a happy compromise to indulge in treats and observe the rules.
Msgr. Achacoso, JCD, is Adjutant Judicial Vicar at The Tribunal of the Diocese of Brooklyn, liaison to the Ecclesial Movements, and Administrator of the Corpus Christi Church, Woodside.