Q. I have two upcoming marriages in my family; I’ve been wondering how they are each viewed in the eyes of the church, and I’m hoping that you can help. First, my nephew (a baptized Catholic, but currently not attending church) is marrying a Methodist. Because his family has had trouble with their parish priest, who has not been welcoming to them, they are going to be married by a minister in a Methodist church.
If my nephew wants to continue practicing the Catholic faith and goes to confession, can he still receive holy Communion at Mass after he’s married in the Methodist church? (I told his grandmother that he could.) Also, could a priest be at the wedding to bless it, and if he is, would it then be recognized by the Catholic Church?
Next, my niece is marrying a Baptist. They are getting married in a Catholic church with a priest presiding, but they are not having a Mass. Can I assume that this is still considered a valid sacrament of marriage? (City of origin withheld)
A. You raise a host of issues, and since a fair amount of confusion reigns among Catholics regarding interfaith weddings, let me try to answer your questions one by one and as plainly as possible.
First, what you told your nephew’s grandmother is incorrect. If he were to go ahead and get married in a non-Catholic ceremony without Catholic approval, his marriage would not be recognized by the church.
Though still a Catholic, he would have separated himself from full participation in the church and should not receive Communion. His going to confession would not “cure” that situation, because he would still be living outside the church’s guidelines on marriage.
The solution, though, is easier than you think. If the wedding has not yet taken place, they can be married in the Methodist Church (with or without a Catholic priest present) and have it recognized by the Catholic Church — provided that neither one has been married previously and that they meet in advance with a priest and provide him with the information he will need to seek diocesan permission for the wedding.
The Catholic party (your nephew) will need to promise that he will be faithful to his Catholic faith and that he will do all that he can, within the context of the marriage, to see that any children are baptized and raised as Catholics. It will be recommended that he seek the sacrament of penance before the wedding, particularly since he has been away from the regular practice of the faith.
It would not be unusual for such a wedding to take place in a Methodist church, especially when that is the parish of the bride. If a Catholic priest can also be present at the ceremony to say a prayer of blessing, all the better; this usually makes the Catholic family feel more comfortable, but it is not required for validity.
If, by the time you read this, the wedding has already taken place without Catholic approval, there is still a solution. The couple should meet with a Catholic priest of their choosing to provide the necessary information, and the priest — having obtained diocesan permission — will do what is called technically a “convalidation”; i.e., the couple will repeat their vows in the priest’s presence and bless their marriage, which will then be recognized in the Catholic Church’s eyes.
Your nephew will then be in full communion with the Catholic Church and free to share completely in the sacramental life of the church. Your niece’s situation is simpler. Clearly, they will be married in the church’s eyes. A Mass is not required for the sacrament of marriage.
When two Catholics marry, ordinarily they do so within the context of the Mass, since the Eucharist is the supreme act of worship and the couple is seeking the fullness of God’s blessings.
With a mixed marriage (such as a wedding between a Catholic and a Protestant), the couple is free to have a Mass if they so desire. More frequently, though, they opt for a wedding ceremony apart from the Eucharist — i.e., with prayers, Scriptural readings, petitions, the exchange of vows and blessings — and this is what I normally recommend.
I believe that a wedding ceremony ought to highlight what unites the couple rather than what divides them. (It’s awkward when half the church is unfamiliar with the ritual and unable to take Communion.) What I often do in this situation is offer to celebrate Mass for the Catholic family (and anyone else who might wish to attend) at a different point in the weekend.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.