Question about Catholic weddings

I am attending a wedding next month that will be a civil ceremony held outdoors. Both the bride & groom are Catholic. A while back, I heard that they were going to have another ceremony – a traditional Catholic one – after they got back from their honeymoon, say, a month or more later. This ceremony will be a very small, private one (I’m not invited, and I’m in the wedding party of the civil one). Not knowing anything about the details surrounding Catholic weddings, I didn’t give this two-ceremony thing much thought.

Now, it turns out that the couple have decided to relocate the Catholic ceremony over 1000 miles from where they originally planned to have it because they were afraid that the priest who would officiate that ceremony might find out that they would already be married from the civil one. The relocation was so that they could go somewhere where they would not run the risk of the priest performing the religious ceremony finding out they already had a civil one.

Now I’m a bit confused. What are the rules or protocols around a situation like this according to Catholic practice? Is a marriage not recognized by the religion if it’s not held in a Catholic church and/or performed in the traditional Catholic manner? What kind of danger would there be if the priest did find out they were already married in a non-Catholic manner? Are the repercussions so severe that it’s worth lying to the ordained officiant of your marriage? I’m having a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around what seem to be some inherent contradictions around this situation, so I’m assuming I’m just missing something. It was a large group setting where this information came out so I didn’t know how to ask about it without sounding insensitive or slightly accusatory.

Any Catholics willing to shed some light on a contextual component to this problem which might allow this to make more sense to me than it does now? Thanks! :slight_smile:

The Catholic Church does not consider you married unless you’re married by a priest in a Catholic Church. So your friends are running a substantial risk. It’s often hard even to find a Catholic Church that will let you get married – they’re often booked, and you generally can’t get married unless one, and preferably both, of the parties are communicants here. Moreover, most Catholic Churches will demand that you attend “pre-Cana” meetings with the priests, ans will want to post banns in advance. A Ctholic wedding s not something you can do (or that they will let you do) on the spur of the moment.

If a priest found out that the couple had been arried in a civil ceremony in advance, he’d be pissed. Certainly their honeymoon would be considered re-marital sex. But their sneaking off and holding a secret ceremony would be considered offensive, especially when Catholics want everything well out in the open. I don’t think any rules would be broken, aside from sexual ones, but he’d demand counseling to find out why they did it. And he could hold up their getting the Church for the ceremony.

I had (non-Catholic) very religious friends who needed to get married before their official ceremony. (They were moving into an apartment together, and their morals would not let them do this unwed.) They held a secret religious ceremony, so that they were married in the eyes of their Church. The Church knew about it, f course – it was a secret from the guests at the bigger celebration.

My experience is that most priests want to play by the rules. Marriage is one of the sacraments of Catholicism, and as such, is taken very seriously.

When Airman and I were planning our wedding, he talked to the priest at the base where he was stationed. The priest was willing to marry us, which is no small victory since I’m not Catholic. However, we’d have had to attend Pre-Cana classes beforehand. The priest did suggest that we get married in a civil ceremony first (since I was pregnant and we needed to be married) and, if we wanted, he’d do a church wedding after we’d been married for six months.

We said, screw this and got married by the county judge. Since Aaron isn’t being baptized, a church wedding isn’t relevant.


It depends on the priest. When my sister and her husband started their pre-marital discussion with the priest at her church, and he found out that they were living together, he requested that they consider remaining celibate until after the ceremony. He didn’t require it, nor did he have a problem with their cohabitation. And he is a very old-fashioned, traditional type of priest for the most part. If your friends have a good relationship with their priest, they may find out that he doesn’t have a problem with it.

In any case, I would bet he has a bigger problem with the lying/secrecy than with the civil marriage.

My younger brother was married in a civil ceremony here in the states for friends and some of the family. They had a much larger Church wedding for all the family in Mexico. Not only was the priest aware of their civil ceremony, but my nephew had already been born.

Then again, the Mexican priest, who also had officiated my parent’s ceremony back in '72, was Father Joel Padron, who has been arrested for his association with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, so he is kind of a “revolutionary”:

Not sure if more conservative ones would be as tolerant.

In Europe, most Catholics who get married in the church get married first in a civil ceremony. Why? Not because of church law, but because of civil law. As a relic of anti-clericism of years past, many European countries do not recognize church weddings as legal.

So, for instance, Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier of Monaco were first married in a civil ceremony at the Monte Carlo City Hall. Then the following day (after a night spent apart), they were wed in a church ceremony.

Kat is right - it depends on the priest. I had friends who had lived together for yeats, gotten married in a civil ceremony, and finally in a Catholic one. The priest knew and had no real problem - other than they wanting to do it on Good Friday ! (They didn’t want to wait for an open weekend, and forgot it was Eastertime).

I had other friends whose priest had no problem with their having lived together, but wouldn’t perform the ceremony because she was Greek Orthodox and he was Roman Catholic. The Greek Orthodox priest didn’t want to perform the ceremony not so much because Robert was Catholic - the problem was he wasn’t Greek. They finally got married by a Lutheran.

My friend Legs got married in a Catholic church by a priest after having lived together and been married in a civil ceremony in one of those chapels in Las Vegas. They did have to go to pre-marriage counseling, where her “future” husband, not a descendant of Werner Von Braun, screwed up one of the basic questions. The priest asked if he was impotent, and Einstein answered yes, of course. When she stopped laughing, she assured the priest that he wasn’t. She admitted that she knew from personal experience. She swears up and down that when the question came to having children, the priest rephrased it slightly to “are you sure you want to have children with this man?”

In general baptised Catholics are supposed to marry in the Catholic church. A civil marriage ceremony between two Catholics is not regarded as valid, and is usually frowned upon.

Of course, there’s no difficulty in countries where the local law requires you to have a civil ceremony. But you’ll still be expected to have a church ceremony as well.

Where the law doesn’t require a separate civil ceremony but you are having one anyway, two problems can arise.

First, the priest will be concerned as to why the couple are having an apparently unnecessary civil ceremony. Does this suggest that they regard the civil ceremony as their real wedding, and are having the religious ceremony (a) as a nice photograph opportunity, or (b) to keep Great-Aunt Mary-Therese happy? Many priests would be reluctant to celebrate a church wedding if these were the reasons, so they’ll want to explore the reasons. But (in my experience) there would be no problem if, e.g., the purpose of the civil ceremony was to enable the couple to apply for a visa to migrate somewhere, and they wanted to get this process under way in advance of the religious ceremony.

Secondly, depending on the location, there may be civil legal problems. If the local law recognises a religious marriage ceremony as valid in civil law, then there may be a legal problem for the priest in marrying for the second time two people who are, as a matter of civil law, already married. I don’t know if this is a problem in any US state, but it can be in other countries.

Surely that would be the sex that took place after the second ceremony???


:smiley: Grim

There sure do seem to be some contradictions here. The idea of the civil wedding being the "real one"and the church wedding being for photos and/or to keep the family happy doesn’t make sense in a place like the US where the religious ceremony is recognized. Much easier to cover both with one ceremony, as many people do. Although it’s not uncommon for couples who were married in a civil ceremony to later have a Church ceremony, it generally happens much more than a month later (when someone finally gets the annulment that prevented a church ceremony, or starts practicing again, for example). The only thing that remotely makes sense is that the couple finds it very important both to be married in a Catholic ceremony and to have a ceremony take place outdoors and doesn’t want to choose one or the other. Catholic weddings, in general, must take place in a church. They couldn’t have a Catholic ceremony first and then a civil one outdoors, because if they are not already legally married before the Catholic ceremony, they will have to get the license for the Catholic wedding after which they will be legally married and unable to have a civil ceremony.

I’m actually suprised that they could even get a catholic ceremony somewhere else. It has been my experience that the bishop in your area has to approve of it and “transfer” the ceremony to the bishop of the other area where they are planning on having the ceremony.

Example: When Mrs. Bernse and I were married we got married in a different city from where we live (her home town, we live 10 hours away from there). So, we went to our local parish and started the paperwork. The church here verified that we met the required “criteria” to get married. This includes that both of us are Catholic, we were baptized, had the engagement encounter, and just good folks. Then, the sacrement officiater guy sent the request off to our bishop to request that we get married in another location. He allows it signs off on it and it goes to the bishop in the city that we were getting married in and he allows it.

SO - I guess what I am saying is that in our example, in order to get married in a catholic ceremony in a different city, we had to do the exact same legwork/background checks as if we were married at home.

PS - The sacrament director outright asked us if we were previously married in a civil ceremony or anything like that. I think they always do. Granted, it isn’t like we’re talking to Jesus or God but I would feel a little uncomfortable lying to him outright like that.

My .02

We were married in a Presbyterian church ceremony and when my husband wanted to become re-established as a Catholic we had to go through another ceremony, including “premarital” counselling. It wasn’t exactly a wedding ceremony–it was just to legitimize our 15 year marriage in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

The problem your friends may have is not getting married in a Catholic ceremony–they should be able–in fact, encouraged–to do that by their priest. The problem is the secrecy and wanting to have the full marriage mass.