Katrina sorts out the rules for having a "secular" ceremony in addition to the sacramental one.
I am in a quandary because my daughter says she wants to be married in the Church but also have a “secular” wedding ceremony so all her friends (some of whom are Muslim) can witness her marriage. The Catholic ceremony she is planning is private the evening before the secular ceremony. I did not think this would be permissible and I thought since her fiance is in RCIA her plans would have changed but she is apparently going ahead with it. I had warned her early on I didn’t think the Church would approve so I don’t know if she informed the priest of her entire plans. My questions are: Is this permissible and if not, do I have a duty to inform the priest that she is going to have a civil ceremony the next day at her reception?
What you’re describing is the growing trend of having two wedding ceremonies. There are lots of reasons the trend has gained in popularity recently — like financial reasons where some couples opt for a small and simple wedding first followed by a second ceremony later when there’s more funds available. And in cases of pregnancy or illness when one spouse needs to be on the other’s insurance a quick exchange of nuptials can happen first followed by a larger more formal ceremony later. Some couples may want a destination wedding but realize their entire wedding party can’t afford to travel so they have one wedding locally for family and a second ceremony at the destination they chose later. Couples from different religious or ethnic backgrounds may choose a double wedding to honor both traditions. And sadly, some families can’t even be in the same room together so the couple opts for double ceremonies to avoid drama.
The point is, the scenario you described isn’t that unusual. There was even a time in Europe when church weddings weren’t recognized due to the Napoleonic Code so most people had two ceremonies, a tradition that continues in many European countries today.
But because something is common and on trend doesn’t mean it’s right or we should not have our concerns, especially in regards to the Catholic Church and Catholic tradition. You’re correct when you say that the secular civil ceremony isn’t going to be recognized as sacramental by the Church.
What is of concern here is the sacramental church wedding and making sure that the validity of it isn’t compromised. According to Canon 1127:
- 3 It is forbidden to have, either before or after the canonical celebration in accordance with, another religious celebration of the same marriage for the purpose of giving or renewing matrimonial consent. Likewise, there is not to be a religious celebration in which the Catholic assistant and a non-Catholic minister, each performing his own rite, ask for the consent of the parties. [bold emphasis mine]
I am not a canon lawyer but my interpretation of the text is that the second celebration must not be religious or ask for the couple’s consent, which would have already been given in the sacramental church wedding.
I think it’s very important to find out from your daughter what exactly she has planned for this second secular ceremony and express to her that she needs to disclose these plans to her priest, if she hasn’t already. He is the only one that can rightly council her. As a parent I understand your concern but try to at least give your daughter some time to talk to her priest on her own accord first. However, if she is willfully trying to keep the second ceremony from the priest, then you may need to step in and inform him of her deceit because that potentially could affect the validity of the sacramental marriage.
There’s nothing prohibiting non-Catholics from attending weddings (except for the reception of the Eucharist), so your daughter’s desire for a second secular ceremony specifically for her Muslim friends seems a little strange. I would have an honest sit-down with your daughter about her plans and find out if there isn’t something else going on here.
[Have a problem that relates to your Catholic life? Let Katrina help FIFY! Write to her at AskKatrina@aleteia.org – Ed]
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