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Diocese of Helena Begins Permitting Outdoor Weddings


Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 06/12/16

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This development may raise some eyebrows:

For the first time in decades, the Catholic Diocese of Helena is allowing outdoor weddings.

On Saturday, Jovlyn “Jovy” Link, 28, and Mike Satterthwaite, 46, made recent history as the first couple to marry in an outside Catholic ceremony in Butte. They gathered at Basin Creek Reservoir.

“It’s been a really long time since our parish had an outdoor wedding,” said St. Patrick Church pastoral associate Seaneen Prendergast.

In May, the couple was “ecstatic” to learn Bishop George Leo Thomas gave them permission to wed outdoors in nature instead of inside their church, St. Pat’s. Thomas gave his blessing after they sent him a written request.

In actuality, Saturday’s wedding was one of the first enforcements of a new policy Thomas approved in June 2015. Local parishes are in control of final approval depending on local weather, distances and availability.

More recently, St. Pat’s and Immaculate Conception embraced the policy, as well – just in time for warmer weather.

“We both love the outdoors,” said Jovy, a four-year Butte resident. “When I moved here from the Philippines, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I’ve been dreaming about this ever since – that when the right day comes, I’d like to be married outdoors with a Catholic blessing.”

“It’s really cool,” said Satterthwaite.

She grew up in the Philippines and he grew up in Butte.

Father Patrick Beretta, who officiated Saturday’s ceremony, said the newly instituted policy serves two purposes: to connect spirituality to sacred nature and to better serve younger couples who want to wed outdoors.

“There is absolutely no contradiction to doing the ceremony outdoors,” said Beretta. “People in Montana have a very special bond with nature. In Montana, more than anywhere, people find their peace in nature.”

Read more. 

An online search found a parish website that makes explicit the diocesan policy on outdoor weddings:

The understanding of the Church is that the parish Church is the appropriate place for the celebration of marriage involving a Catholic party (whether this celebration is a wedding or a convalidation). However, there may be circumstances for which permission may be requested to utilize another “suitable place.” This document guides requests for such permission – which must always be requested in writing on a particular case basis. Fundamental: The nature of the place needs to be consistent with a religious celebration. ♦ The following are considered suitable places for which permission may be sought. This is not an exhaustive list – there may be other places for which a request for “suitability” may be made. The “Rite for celebrating marriage outside of Mass” or the “Rite for celebrating marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person” (from the Rite of Marriage) is used in these circumstances. The guidelines of Sing to the Lord are to be followed. ♦ Certain non-denominational chapels (such as Soldier’s Chapel at Big Sky – which also requires permission and delegation from St. Joseph Mission, Big Sky; and St. Timothy Chapel at Georgetown Lake – which also requires permission and delegation from the Anaconda Catholic Community). ♦ A non-Catholic Church building (when this is a Catholic wedding ceremony: the priest/deacon presides, uses the Catholic Rite for marriage outside of Mass or for a Catholic and an unbaptized person, receives vows, etc.) ♦ Appropriate outdoor sites, providing there is an approved indoor location available, in light of the temperamental weather in Montana. ♦The following are examples of places which are not suitable for the celebration of a wedding. This is not an exhaustive list. ♦ The Our Lady of the Rockies statute near Butte; a former Catholic Church that no longer belongs to the Diocese; or the premises of Legendary Lodge. ♦ Any place where alcohol is served as a matter of course (such as night clubs, bars, casinos, dining establishments, and the like). Procedure to Obtain Permission: The priest/deacon who will officiate or the parish priest/administrator requests the permission in writing (usually directed to the Vicar for Canonical Services). The request includes: a letter from the couple making the request and giving reasons for it; a letter from the priest or deacon who will officiate outlining th pastoral reasons for the request, assuring that quality marriage preparation is being given, and making a recommendation regarding whether to grant the request; and a letter from the parish priest/administrator indication concurrence with the request and giving permission/delegation for the wedding to take place in that parish. The suitable place permission will be granted or denied in writing and this letter along with a copy of the request should be included in the pre-nuptial file.

The USCCB has this information on why Catholic weddings normally take place in church:

Many couples are surprised, and sometimes disappointed, to find out that the Catholic Church normally requires weddings to take place in a Catholic church. Paulist Father Larry Rice explains the reason: “The Church expects that a wedding, being a solemn and sacramental event, should occur in a church—in sacred space…We Catholics take this notion of sacred space very seriously. That’s why being inside a church feels different from being somewhere else. An atmosphere of peace, reverence and respect is important to us, so that all will feel welcome, and so that a sense of God’s loving presence permeates the place. We believe that weddings are sacred moments, which should ordinarily happen in the place where the bride or groom worships, with their families and their faith community. A church isn’t just a set or backdrop for a wedding; rather, a wedding is an expression of a faith community’s joys and hopes.” In order to celebrate their sacramental marriage in a place other than a church or oratory, [a couple] needs to obtain permission to do so. [The bride] should discuss with her pastor the process for seeking such a permission within the diocese. Such permission is usually given only for serious reasons. Moreover, without such permission a Catholic priest or deacon who wants to remain in good standing cannot officiate at such a wedding.

I weighed in on this subject a few years back. Read my thoughts here.

Finally, let’s see what Canon Law says:

Can.  1118 §1. A marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic party and a non-Catholic baptized party is to be celebrated in a parish church. It can be celebrated in another church or oratory with the permission of the local ordinary or pastor.
  • 2. The local ordinary can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.
  • 3. A marriage between a Catholic party and a non-baptized party can be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.

Photo: Pixabay

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