As someone working full-time in Campus Ministry, one of my frequent responsibilities is preparing couples for marriage. One frequent question I hear from couples is, “Can we get married outside in the park,” or “Can we get married at the country club?” Often what they’re looking for is a location more convenient to their reception, or a place more aesthetically pleasing than the Newman Center or their local parish church.
I usually end up explaining to these couples that the Catholic Church expects that a wedding, being a solemn and sacramental event, should occur in a church—in sacred space. Usually that’s something that they understand, and it’s not a problem. Occasionally I hear, “Well, isn’t God present equally everywhere?” To this I generally respond, “Well, yes, God’s just as present at the bus station downtown, but you wouldn’t want to get married there, would you?”
We Catholics take this notion of sacred space very seriously. That’s why being inside a church feels different from being somewhere else. An atmosphere of peace, reverence, and respect is important to us, so that all will feel welcome, and so that a sense of God’s loving presence permeates the place. We believe that weddings are sacred moments, which should ordinarily happen in the place where the bride or groom worships, with their families and their faith community. A church isn’t just a set or backdrop for a wedding; rather a wedding is an expression of a faith community’s joys and hopes.
Of course, there are occasionally special circumstances which might require a wedding in a different location. For that to happen in most dioceses, permission must be granted. The Catholic party should discuss with his or her parish priest the process for seeking such permission. In many places that permission is difficult to obtain, unless the reason is particularly serious. “I just want to be married outside” is generally not going to be reason enough.