Can You Attend the Catholic Wedding of a Non-Practicing Catholic?

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion, Canon Law, Marriage Involvement, Sacraments

Should I stay or should I go?

A reader writes:

I am caught in the odd–maybe not uncommon–situation of my Catholic godson getting married in the Church to a non-Catholic, yet, based on reasonable presumption, not living a Catholic life, not attending Mass, not having anything to with the Church practically, etc. and presumably having no intention of doing so in the future.

If my presumptions noted above are accurate, I find it distasteful to be “using” the sacraments this way.

Perhaps, my godson will even be engaged in receiving the Sacrament of Marriage in mortal sin, thereby sacrilegiously receiving it.

Yet, it appears, my godson is being faithful to the Church’s mind since he is bound to be married in the Church, and he is doing so.

Despite the fact the Church still requires him to be married in the Church, is there not something to be said for witnessing to the seriousness of what is taking place by deciding my godson is not at the point of taking it seriously enough and therefore not attending?

Alternatively put, as godfather, might it be wrong or even sinful for me to be present and witness to my godson that he can act like a Catholic for this ceremony and then go on about his business as a non-practicing Catholic?

Thoughts on any or all of these fronts?

I take a strict line on attending weddings that are presumptively invalid. I never advise people to go to those because of the signal it will send to the participants–and others.

But if the marriage is presumptively valid, I don’t view it that way at all.

Who Else Is “Showing Up”?

After all, if God is willing to show up for the marriage (i.e., make it valid), and if the Church is willing to show up for the marriage (i.e., witness it, which is what the Church does, since the sacrament is performed by the parties themselves), then you should be able to as well.

I understand the distaste of a situation where the person may be celebrating a sacrament in a sacrilegious way (i.e., in a state of mortal sin). But the fact is that the sacrament will still be valid. God will still cause it to come into existence.

Big Trouble!

That’s a good thing because lots and lots of people are not in a state of grace at the time they get married.

That’s been the case since marriage between baptized persons was made a sacrament (and, frankly, it was the case even before marriage could be sacramental).

If not being in a state of grace invalidated marriage then we would be in big trouble.

So God has determined that, though it grieves him the parties are in a state of mortal sin, he is willing to go ahead and make their union a sacrament.

The Church’s Pastoral Judgment

The Church has also judged it pastorally prudent to go ahead and conduct such weddings, perhaps in part because it will help the people in question maintain contact with the Church and, though they aren’t leading a Catholic life now, the fact that the Church was willing ot marry them may help them return to the Catholic ife of faith later.

Marriages, like funerals and baptisms, are one of those moments in a person’s life that get really emotionally charged, and if they get alienated at that moment, it can do enormous–perhaps permanent and fatal–damage to their relationship with Christ’s Church.

As a result, the Church has judged it pastorally prudent to marry such people, even though the situation is not what it should be.

A Godfather’s Role

I would counsel you to do likewise. In other words, if you can reasonably go, go! Particularly in light of the fact you are the gentleman’s godfather. Like the priest or deacon who officiates at the wedding, you are also an official representative of the Church to this young man, and I would show the same attitude that the Church does.

In fact, staying away as a way of making a statement about the young man’s practice of his faith would send a mixed message that could appear to put you in opposition to the Church on this point. As a godfather to this young man, that’s a signal you don’t want to send.

I would also bear in mind that the young man may not be in mortal sin–or at least he may not incur a new mortal sin by getting married this way. If he is like many young people today, he may lack the knowledge needed to realize his situation, and thus one of the needed requirements for a mortal sin may be missing.

Ways to Help?

This is not to say that you might not be able to do things to help the young man.

Depending on your relationship with him (and this is always a judgment call), you might invite him to see this as an opportunity to renew and grow closer to his faith.

You might even mention going to confession before getting married, to make sure he’s right with God before undertaking this sacred step. (Though you might also check first to see if this is covered as part of his marriage prep, in which case you don’t need to bring it up).

If you yourself went to confession before getting married, you might speak of how it meant a lot to you to be able to approach the altar knowing that you were right with God–or whatever you think might best help him.

The Bottom Line

In any event, if you can reasonably go, I would say go–especially in view of the fact that you are his godfather.

If God and the Church are doing their parts to help him have a valid marriage, I think it would be a good idea for his godfather to do so as well, despite the understandable concerns and discomfort about the way the situation appears.

I hope this helps, and I encourage people to keep the young couple–and all in similar situations–in their prayers.

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lenchoy2k August 15, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Mr. Akin, thank you for your great response. What would be, in your opinion, the prudent thing to do if the couple getting married were getting remarried without an annulment: for example, two Protestant baptized Christians who married validly at one point and got a divorce, but because they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church have no recourse to the annulment process?

marycatelli August 16, 2012 at 4:44 pm

 @lenchoy2k If they were married validly, access to the annulment process would not help them — or at least, should not.  The question arises when you have reason to believe that the marriages were, in fact, invalid, such as knowing that one of them said at the time of the first marriage that if it turned out badly, a divorce could always be gotten.

EVERGREENSTWA August 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm

@EVERGREENSTWA Thanks for the RT. :)

Charles723 August 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

This is VERY useful information for us, Jimi.  I am afraid my son is about to undertake the Sacrament of Matrimony without being in a state of grace.  My son is now engaged to a nice young lady, neither of whom have “bad intentions” with regard to the Catholic faith, and in the latter case, the Mormon faith, but neither of whom are practicing.  He is now co-habitating with her.  We don’t really know how much we should “truth-forth” with them.  We know we would like to help, but feel helpless.  

eileenmechler August 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Jimmy,  can you please tell us when a wedding would be presumptively invalid, and not to be attended?

marycatelli August 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm

 @eileenmechler The most obvious would be open and flagrant violations of the requirements.  Suppose one of the couple had been divorced and there was no annulment.  Suppose it was a pagan ceremony, and you knew the bride had agreed to perform the pagan ancestral rites as a condition of the marriage, and so could not have gotten a dispensation.

BrianBrown August 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm

“That’s a good thing because lots and lots of people are not in a state of grace at the time they get married.” Should a statement like this be made when we don’t have a way of knowing for sure if someone is in a state of grace?

DavidOrrino August 18, 2012 at 7:10 am

My niece and her boyfriend who were baptized Catholic and their parents say are practicing Catholics decided they did not want to go through the 9 – 12 month preparation process required by the Archdiocese of Denver to get married.  So, they went and got married before a Justice of the Peace without permission of or notifying the Archdiocese.  Then in a few months they intend to get married in a Protestant Church with no permission from the Archdiocese of Denver or notifying the Archdiocese.  They are convinced that this process will end with a valid sacramental marriage recognized by the Catholic Church.  I am concerned that it is an attempt to find loopholes in Canon Law and Church teaching that are not there that is going to end in disaster.  I’m especially concerned because they have already had the Civil wedding.  Can somebody tell me how to help them? Or, put my mind at ease!  I’ve looked at Canon 1108 and it indicates none of this is valid.  But, I’m not a canon lawyer.

Charles723 August 18, 2012 at 7:47 am

 @DavidOrrino   Isn’t it interesting how pretentious people can be before God.  Did they ever consider God might not approve of their decision?  Or does pleasing themselves matter more than pleasing God?  In the former case, isn’t that the very nature of Original Sin?  
I have to appreciate your predicament because I, too, have very pretentious young adult children who “know better than the Church”.  
I know that Jesus had to put up with a lot of pretentious people all the time in His ministry. Perhaps if we ask Him how to cope, He will give us some way that will be helpful to our loved ones.  

DavidOrrino August 19, 2012 at 8:17 am

Your thoughts are very profound.  How correct you are about Original Sin, a sin of pride, that we know better than God or can be like him.
What really makes this so sad is that my sister, my niece’s mother is now in home hospice at the end of a 21 year illness.  She is grieved that once she dies she will never see her daughter again in heaven because of all of this.  I just keep reminding her of the great mercy of our Lord the Good Shepherd.  That he will do anything to bring a soul back.
Thank you for taking the time to respond.

marycatelli August 19, 2012 at 6:15 pm

 @DavidOrrino  Remind her that there is always hope.

Norah August 19, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Jimmy what if the non practising couple intend to receive Holy Communion even though they haven’t been to confession or Mass for that matter for years?
I recently attended a family baptism in a Mass and was on the receiving end of a lot of flack from immediate family for letting the people know that they shouldn’t receive Holy Communion because they weren’t practising their Faith and didn’t intend to go to confession. 

sacredheart29 August 24, 2012 at 10:09 am

@JimmyAkin3000 90% of the time it’s like that! :(

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