Can a Catholic get married on the beach?


“Ask the Deacon” features three Transitional Deacons who will be ordained June 3 to the priesthood in the Diocese of Providence — Deacons Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers.

Marriage season is upon us, and this question comes up quite often, especially with the advent of “destination weddings.” We see it in movies all the time when a couple gets married on a beach or some other beautiful outdoor setting, and there’s the “priest” in a Roman collar celebrating the ceremony. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s ignorance creates a lot of confusion among Catholics about how the sacraments, especially marriage, are supposed to be celebrated. Marriage is a sacrament in the Church, it is not just a contract that can be broken. Although marriage certainly existed before Jesus, He, in His infinite wisdom, elevated it to the level of a sacrament so that couples could be given the graces that flow from it to grow in love of God, of each other, and love of their children.

The short answer to the question is no. When two Catholics are to be wed, they are asked by the Church to have the wedding in a Catholic Church. For Catholics, marriage is a sacrament, and sacraments are received in a church before the physical presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Think about it this way. My brother deacons and I are going to be ordained priests in less than a month. How would it look if we did our ordination on the beach with tiki torches, rather than in the cathedral? So, why do we think any less of a couple being married? In fact, the effecting minister of the sacrament of marriage is not the priest or deacon; they are simply the witness for the Church. The effecting ministers are the couples themselves. By making their marital vows in the sacred space of a Catholic Church, they are saying that they take this seriously and that they want to make this commitment in front of God and the people of His Church. Although we do believe that God is everywhere in His creation, we have set aside special places to worship Him as a community and the sacrament of marriage is a communal event. By professing their vows in a Catholic church, they are performing an act of humility, acknowledging that only through His blessing and power will their marriage be a happy one. They don’t expect God to come to them, they go to Him.

There are provisions for the bishop to make certain pastoral exceptions to this though. No Catholic has any right to be married anywhere but in a Catholic church in front of a Catholic priest or deacon and two ministers. In the case of two Catholics, an exception might be given in some kind of rare emergency situation. For example, getting married in a hospital or the home of a homebound person. For a Catholic marrying a non-baptized person, the bishop can grant a dispensation to be married before a Catholic priest or deacon in a neutral site (such as a reception hall or restaurant). For example, a Jewish person and his family might not feel comfortable in a Catholic Church for whatever reason. The important thing is that the couple works with their priest to obtain the proper dispensations from the diocesan bishop so that the marriage is valid in the Church. Even in these special situations, the Church offers its full preparation to the couple as they approach Holy Matrimony. For that reason, the usual pastoral assistance of a parish priest and formal marriage preparation (i.e. Pre-Cana) remain essential.

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