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Why Must the Sacrament of Marriage be Performed in a Church?


Why can’t a Catholic priest celebrate the sacrament of marriage in a garden? After all, a priest can celebrate Mass anywhere, right? What’s the difference?


I find it a sign of the times that we so often get this question and others like it. No one ever asks if an ordination to the priesthood or the final profession of a religious sister or brother can take place in a garden. These vocations are automatically associated with the worship of God, and it is understood that a church is a building specifically designed for and designated as a place for worship, that is, acknowledging God to be who he is. It is unlike any other place. Like the ordination to the priesthood and the profession of the vows of religious life, marriage is all about God. The bride and the groom are all about God, because everyone who has ever lived is all about God. We are his idea. He created us for himself. Union with God is the goal of every Christian vocation, including marriage. In fact, John Paul II called marriage the primordial vocation because it peoples all other vocations. Our blessed Lord likened the relationship he has with his Church to the relationship of husband and wife.

The further away the wedding wanders from its sublime, God-centered context, the more obscure its significance becomes in society. Certainly, Mass can be celebrated anywhere. But it is most appropriately celebrated in church and for the most part, it is. The Church—in contradistinction to a secular world that relegates religion to the sidelines—wisely insists that Catholic weddings take place in church. It is, sadly, another sign of the times that so many priests and religious of my generation haven’t a clue to all this.

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