Marriage Outside the Church

Dear Grace,
I am planning my wedding for July 2004. It will be a ceremony at a restaurant performed by a minister as we do not want to get married in a church and my partner is non-Catholic. However, having the marriage “blessed”/recognized by God is important to me. Is this something that we can do after the wedding at a later date, or can this be incorporated into the ceremony at the restaurant?

In order to take up your question, we are going to have to assume certain things since you do not include them in the information given. For example, in your question, you say that your partner is non-Catholic, but you do not say if you are. So, let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion, that your fiancé is at least a baptized Christian and that you do consider yourself to be Catholic. If that is true, it is difficult to understand why you would not want to be married “in a church,” as you put it, and yet desire that it be blessed by God. Something is missing here.

In wanting to get married in a restaurant, you (as a Catholic) are essentially failing to recognize Christian marriage for what it truly is. Christian marriage is a sacrament – a bestowal of grace (God’s assistance) for the man and woman, and an outward, visible sign of the nuptial dimension of the relationship of Christ with His Church. Just as Christ united Himself to the Church at the Cross by dying for her in order to save her, so a man and woman unite themselves to each other in order to save themselves, to help each other on the journey to heaven. The ultimate purpose of this sacrament is the salvation of married Christians. This why marriage is called a sacrament of service.

How many couples think about needing grace for their married lives when they get married? This is precisely the problem with many marriages today. Men and women seem to think they can make it on their own. Many of them, however, eventually realize that something is missing in their marriage. They need God and His grace to weather the sometimes rough road in marriage.

Unfortunately, many couples get married hastily. Often, we hear them say simply that they love each other and want to be married. And they do not want to wait. You say that it’s important to you to have God’s blessing. But, I ask you, how important is it? You must realize that Christian marriage is a union between three persons – a man, a woman, and God. God is the author of marriage. It was He who created man and woman and gave them to each other.

Keep in mind that not every church that calls itself Christian regards marriage as a sacrament. And because it is a sacrament, it should be celebrated in the public liturgy of the Church (CCC #1631). Entering into marriage is a sacred act, and therefore it should take place in God’s sacred house. The Catholic Church’s requirements regarding the way that marriage is to be celebrated are not based on something the Church made up – they are based on God’s divine plan.

Let us look at what two of those requirements are. Canon law states that “marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic party [this is called a mixed marriage] is to be celebrated in a parish church. With the permission of the local ordinary [bishop] or the pastor, it can be celebrated in another church or oratory” (canon n. 1118). In order to be valid, it must also be celebrated in the presence of a Catholic minister – the local bishop, pastor, priest, or deacon and in front of two witnesses. (Canon n. 1108)

Thus, you see that a marriage ceremony in a restaurant by a non-Catholic minister is not permitted under normal circumstances. While it is true that at some later time, and if certain conditions are met, you could approach the Church about the possibility of having the marriage validated in the Catholic Church, one should be careful not to have the attitude “we will do it our way for now and fix it with the Church later.” Having the marriage validated later would require a special permission or dispensation by the local bishop and the proper preparation on the part of both parties. The Catholic party needs to be aware that in marrying outside the Church, he or she knowingly breaks the bonds of unity with the Church and thus separates himself from it.

It is so crucial to your spiritual life that you consider with great care what you are planning to do. God loves you beyond all measure, and He wishes to bless you, but in order to be able to receive that blessing, you must conform yourself to His will for you and your life. By wanting to marry outside His Church, it is you yourself who are saying no to His blessing. This is something to think about and ponder deeply.

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: You may also visit her online at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage