Why get married in a church? That’s a question that has increasing relevance to many Catholics. Often, engaged couples are looking for a location that will easily accommodate both the ceremony and the reception. Or they want their wedding to be remembered for its “surroundings” which spurs them on to plan a “destination wedding.” Because most church weddings don’t meet the muster of convenience or create a memorable backdrop, the idea of a church wedding is being questioned by many couples.
The real reason for a “church wedding” is to celebrate a solemn Sacrament. Since marriage is a Sacrament, the Catholic Church requests that it be celebrated within a sacred place – a church. That is why we celebrate weddings in the same building that we celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion and Reconciliation.
One priest describes it this way. “I usually end up explaining to (engaged) 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?’”
Stop and think about this. Stepping into a church is very different from stepping into any other building or location however beautiful. By its very nature, a church is meant to be a place of reverence, awe, and peace. It is meant to welcome all persons into the loving presence of God; the creator of love and life. In fact, within a Catholic Church, Jesus is literally present in the tabernacle. A church is not just an environment that can be “themed” or a location that will produce great pictures. It is a sacred place for sacred promises; like the promise to be faithfully married forever.
This can seem like legalism to some people, and it can be frustrating to engaged couples who want to design their own wedding experience. But the Catholic Church is trying to teach us what God’s plan for marriage is. This is especially important when our culture attempts to equate an over the top wedding extravaganza with a successful life-long marriage.
Joyful marriages spring from a mutual understanding by the engaged couple that God’s presence within the marriage relationship and in the family that grows out of the marriage is much more important than the sentiments of the wedding day. It’s not enough for us to give into the cultural expectation of a wedding as a romantic event and try to “keep the religious stuff in mind. The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony needs to be central to the wedding so God will be central to the marriage. That’s why the Catholic Church celebrates weddings in a church.