A Wedding Priest on Call
Frequently Asked Questions:
Why not a Catholic Wedding Outdoors?
The most often asked question related to the Catholic Church and Weddings that I hear is “Why can I not get married outdoors by a priest?”
A good question. A reasonable question.
Many times a bride or a groom will ask me "Why can't we have our marriage “Out in God’s Creation”
In answer to the question, I will give my unofficial answer for anyone who may want to know the answer beyond just not understanding why the Catholic Church in many dioceses does not allow outdoor weddings.
Many dioceses hang on to the notion that we find God primarily in the Church building. For those of us in our 70s or a few years younger, that is what we learned. The Church where the Blessed Sacrament is kept in the tabernacle is where we best experience the presence of God. That was what we were taught and what I suspect most of us believed prior to the Vatican Council in the 60s.
Today like the bride to be I mentioned above, I hear couples say, “Where can I be more close to God than in Nature?” To me that reflects a change in our thinking about religion and spirituality. We tend to be more inclined to believe now that God is everywhere and not just in Church. It is a change in emphasis from doctrine to spirituality. When I was young in the 1950s the Church was about the Baltimore Catechism and what we needed to believe to get to heaven. Unfortunately, some or perhaps many of the bishops and hierarchy in general are still holding on to and emphasizing doctrine.
Having been an active priest for 20 years I can appreciate and understand the dilemma of the church maintaining the traditional teaching. Having been a married priest now for 26 years I can easily appreciate what is in the mind and heart and understanding of the faithful, the people of God.
Many of the weddings I help with are outdoors. In any case, my goal is to treat the marriage ceremony as sacred no matter where it takes place because of the specialness of what the couple is doing.
Sacraments of Baptism:
Frequently Asked Questions about Other Sacraments
1. We do not regularly attend a Parish in the area, and we cannot find a Priest who will Baptize our child. We want our child to receive the sacraments of the Church. What can we do?
There are several options that are open to you. Most Roman Catholic parishes will require that you have at least some connection to them before they allow you to baptize your child. In many cases, the parish will require that the parents be married in the Church, or that they take part in lengthy sacramental preparation programs. If you are open to doing so, seek out a parish where you feel comfortable, meet with the priest and explain that you would like to join the parish and that you have plans to have your child baptized. If you still have parents or relatives living in this area who belong to a parish, ask them to speak to their priest about your request.
All Catholics who approach a Catholic priest for any sacrament, or help of any kind should be welcomed and listened to with kindness.
If you do not feel that you are being welcomed or treated kindly by your local priest or parish, I assure you that I will treat you with kindness and acceptance – nonjudgmental.
2. We are not married, will you baptize our child?
Your marital status in no way affects your child’s ability to receive the sacraments. I look forward to sharing these gifts of God’s love and mercy with your child. God is most generous in bestowing the gifts of His Grace on all who seek Him, as well as those who call out His Name. Your child will not be denied!
3. Do both of us have to be Catholic? Do we have to be practicing Catholics?
At least one of you should be a Catholic. You do not have to be a practicing Catholic, although it would be encouraged. Why? You are asking that your child be initiated into the People of God--the community of believers. The Church is a community, and your child will need your guidance and example to learn how to live their new faith and be a member of the People of God. None of us is perfect. Your child is not looking for perfection, but merely an example they can come to follow. You are the first and best teachers of your children in the ways of life and faith. Although my role as a Catholic Priest is one of leadership and service, through teaching, prayer and the sacraments; nothing can ever replace the impact you will have on your beloved child. Even if you are not Catholic, or a practicing Catholic, we can talk about baptizing your child and helping you to be the best examples of life and faith for them. Maybe this baptism will become a new beginning for you?
4. If our child receives baptism from you, will they receive the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church? Will your celebration be valid?
I am an ordained Roman Catholic priest. I left ministry in the institutional Church in 1991.
Since I am no longer ministering as a cleric within the institutional and juridical Church of Rome, I lack jurisdiction from the Vatican to celebrate sacraments on its behalf. Your baptism will be celebrated in a ceremony in the Catholic tradition, according the rites of the Catholic Faith, officiated by a Catholic Priest. It will be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a valid reception of these sacraments, although they will consider such celebrations as illicit. If being able to receive all of your sacraments within the Roman Catholic Church--that is the institutional “Church of Rome”--is important to you, then it will be easier on you or your child to pursue reception of all of your sacraments within your local parish. If you receive these sacraments from me, even though they will be valid and efficacious, the local parish may challenge them on the grounds of being illicit (irregularly celebrated). You will receive a certificate of reception of these sacraments from me.
5. We want to have our child baptized in an outdoor ceremony, but our priest will only officiate if it takes place in a service inside the church building. Will you perform an outdoor ceremony?
Yes, I will be more than happy to baptize your child at a reception hall, home, or other appropriate setting, inside or outside. We can discuss the setting that you have in mind during our first meeting.
6. How long does the typical ceremony last?
A baptismal ceremony runs about 30 minutes, depending on how many children are involved, or how you wish to personalize it. In addition, you may include people who are special to you in roles such as a reading, music, or giving a blessing or reflection during the ceremony.
7. What is your stipend to officiate of our child, and what services does this include?
I do not require a fee for Baptism. Donations are accepted but not required.
We can then work together to craft a ceremony that reflects your unique family and faith experiences. This is not a “test” to see if you or your child will or will not receive these sacraments. Your faith and love have led you to this moment, and that is sufficient for me! We will celebrate these sacraments!
8. What if I want to go to confession, can you absolve me of my sins, and will you maintain the “seal of confession”?
As a validly ordained Roman Catholic priest I can and will gladly absolve you of all of your sins when you make your confession and are truly sorry for what you have done. The act of absolution that I will impart is as efficacious as the one you would receive from any parish priest. As a priest, I am merely the Lord’s instrument through which He forgives your sins.
As for the “Seal of Confession,” or more simply, keeping the secrecy of the person’s identity and sins that they confess--it is true, like any other priest in a parish, I cannot reveal what you tell me in confession to anyone else, EVER! This secret is absolute!
9. Is there a stipend involved in going to confession?
Absolutely not! Church law and the guidelines for the Sacrament of Reconciliation completely forbid the practice of receiving any gift from a penitent. The same is true for someone receiving the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, and its closely associated practice popularly called “the Last Rites.” Since this sacrament is intimately related with the forgiveness of sins and healing, the Church has never permitted, nor have I ever accepted any compensation for celebrating these important sacraments and rites of mercy.
10. Will you go to a hospital or home to celebrate the Anointing of the Sick, or to provide “the Last Rites”?
I will gladly go to the hospital or a home to provide this sacrament and rite for those who are simply ill, or even dying. You do not have to be at risk of death to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. If you are about to undergo a medical/surgical procedure, experiencing prolonged pain, illness, or recovering from an injury, you can ask and receive this sacrament of healing.
I ask that you inform me as soon as you are aware of the illness and not wait till the last moments of life so that I can provide this spiritual comfort to your loved one as soon as possible, and while they are conscious. If you allow the hospital to contact me, keep in mind that they are very busy trying to save lives and comfort the dying with the best that medicine can provide. Ordinarily they will not place spiritual comfort as a priority on their “things to do” list. In my experience, hospitals often call when it is too late for me to do anything. What does this mean? Once a person has died, no sacraments can be provided for them. That is the teaching and the practice of the Catholic Faith, and something I hold to. Sacraments are not magic, but the celebration of the gifts of Grace for the living.
14. Where’s Christ in all of this?
Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River at the hands of John the Baptist. Our Lord frequently ate and drank with anyone and everyone, especially those whom others considered to be outcasts – tax collectors, sinners, and lepers. Jesus often healed all who came before him. He forgave the sins of the Adulterous Woman. At the Last Supper he instituted the Eucharist, offering His own body and blood in the form of bread and wine to unite Himself to his disciples for all time. Jesus always reached out to those whom others rejected or ignored, to bring them the Good News that no one is beyond the love and the mercy of God. Of course, this placed Jesus at odds with the religious leadership of his day, and the institution that supported them. Jesus did not place value on the opinions of these religious critics, but sought out those whom God has called to His heavenly home.
Catholicism is larger than the institution that has evolved around it. Catholicism is more than its corporate structure. It's more than the bishops – though we ought to respect them. It is more than the Pope, though he has claim on our loving attention. It is more than the Vatican. Popes, bishops, and priests may be the ones with legal title to the buildings, but they are just people. They can be woefully mistaken, or even malfeasant, as just a glance at recent headlines reminds us.
We are the Church -- you and I – we are the People of God. The Church is the Spirit of Christ within the community of believers who support and nurture one another through prayer, the sacraments, and charitable words and deeds. We seek to promote the growth of all people in holiness of life. It is our journey together – and on that journey each one of us has the right to feel welcomed at the Lord’s Table, where we recognize Him in the breaking of bread. Each person has a right to receive God’s blessing in great moments of happiness and sadness –the birth of new life, in our own sickness and weakness, and at the hour of death. Everyone has a right to receive help on the journey from those called to be helpers and guides in the way of the Gospel. Isn't that what the priesthood is all about, being a wise and helpful guide on the journey of the soul to God?
When the hierarchy loses its way – as it has from time to time throughout history – it is incumbent on the rest of us to claim our rights and assume our responsibility as members of the Body of Christ. If you are alienated from the institutional Church, you need not be alienated from your Catholicism. The Church – though not its current leaders – welcomes you just as you are. It welcomes you in your second marriages, it welcomes you if you are gay, and it welcomes you if you are burdened down with some unspeakable guilt or shame. It welcomes you in His name, the one who has never ceased loving you – not even during the times when you felt farthest from Him.
Q. 1. What does the expression "You are a priest forever" mean? Since some priests are laicized and get married, they cannot be a priest forever.
A. 1. The Code of Canon Law # 290 states:
"Sacred ordination once validly received never becomes invalid. A cleric, however, loses the clerical state:
1° by a judgement of a court or an administrative decree, declaring the ordination invalid;
2° by the penalty of dismissal lawfully imposed;
3° by a rescript of the Apostolic See; this rescript, however, is granted to deacons only for grave reasons and to priests only for the gravest of reasons."
In simple words, the Holy Orders of a priest never become invalid. But he may no longer be able to practice as a priest for a number of reasons.
The Code of Canon Law # 1582 states, "As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. the sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily."
The Sacrament of the Holy Orders is similar to the Sacrament of Baptism. While a baptized person can stop practicing his faith, he can never undo his baptism. Equally, while a priest can stop being a minister of God, he can never undo his ordination.
As Canon Law # 1583 states, "It is true that someone validly ordained can, for a just reason, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. the vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently."
Canon Law # 291, "Apart from the case mentioned above in can. 290, n. 1, loss of the clerical state does not entail a dispensation from the obligation of celibacy, which only the Roman Pontiff grants.
Canon Law # 292 A cleric who loses the clerical state according to the norm of law loses with it the rights proper to the clerical state and is no longer bound by any obligations of the clerical state, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 291. He is prohibited from exercising the power of orders, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 976. By the loss of the clerical state, he is deprived of all offices, functions, and any delegated power.
Canon Law # 293 A cleric who loses the clerical state cannot be enrolled among clerics again except through a rescript of the Apostolic See."
Although a priest can be discharged from all obligations and functions linked to his ordination, the fact remains that if someone is dying, he can still administer the Last Rites (includes Confession) to that person because he is a priest forever.
Canon Law # 976 "Even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present."
A final note, a priest who leaves the priesthood, he is not automatically entitled to get married. Canon Law # 291, "Apart from the case mentioned in can. 290, n. 1, loss of the clerical state does not entail a dispensation from the obligation of celibacy, which only the Roman Pontiff grants."
To be dispensed from the vow of celibacy, the priest must obtain that permission from the Pope. Such applications are rare since Pope John Paul II established his practice of refusing such requests.
Can. 290 Sacred ordination once validly received never becomes invalid. A cleric, however, loses the clerical state:
1° by a judgement of a court or an administrative decree, declaring the ordination invalid;
2° by the penalty of dismissal lawfully imposed;
3° by a rescript of the Apostolic See; this rescript, however, is granted to deacons only for grave reasons and to priestsonly for the gravest of reasons.
Can. 291 Apart from the cases mentioned in can. 290, n. 1, the loss of the clerical state does not carry with it adispensation from the obligation of celibacy, which is granted solely by the Roman Pontiff.
Can. 292 A cleric who loses the clerical state in accordance with the law, loses thereby the rights that are proper to theclerical state and is no longer bound by any obligations of the clerical state, without prejudice to can. 291. He is prohibitedfrom exercising the power of order, without prejudice to can. 976. He is automatically deprived of all offices and roles and of any delegated power.
Can. 293 A cleric who has lost the clerical state cannot be enrolled as a cleric again save by rescript of the Apostolic See.
We do not regularly attend a Church or Parish in the area, and I cannot find a Priest or minister who will marry us. Being married in the church means a lot to us. What can we do?
The ideal situation is to be connected to a parish who will assist you and welcome you. If for some reason this has been difficult for you or cannot be comfortable talking to a parish priest and may feel alienated for one reason or another to find a parish, I may be of help and assistance. All Catholics who seek out a priest should be welcomed and feel they are being listened to.
If you witness our marriage will it be legal in the eyes of the state? Will the Church recognize our marriage?
The International Council of Community Churches and all other Christian denominations will recognize your marriage. Because I am no longer ministering within the Roman bureaucracy, however, I lack jurisdiction from that organization to witness marriages on its behalf. It will be recognized as legal by the state. If you wish, you may seek organizational approval from the bureaucratic church through the process called
"convalidation": (See below for more details).
The Roman bureaucratic Church requires that its members follow the "form" of marriage as established by Canon Law (i.e., you must be married according to the rules and custom laid out in Canon Law).
Couples I marry are not following the form of Roman Catholic Canon Law, so the Roman Catholic Church Hierarchy will not recognize them as sacramental.
How are married priests able to perform wedding ceremonies?
Though the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the ceremony of a married priest as being “sacramentally valid”, they do recognize the ceremony performed by the married priest to be legal in the eyes of the state.
We want to be married in an outdoor ceremony but our priest will only take part in a service in the church. Will you perform an outdoor ceremony?
Yes, I will be happy to perform your ceremony at a reception hall, home, or other appropriate setting, inside or outside.
Will you perform ecumenical, interfaith, or non-denominational marriages?
Yes, as long as you ask God’s blessing on your marriage or commitment to each other, I will be happy, and privileged, to help you.
Where’s Christ in all this?
Christ welcomes everyone to be at his Holy Table. He did not "pick and choose". He wants all of us to be with Him on His spiritual journey. Walking with him to help us become whole in His Father's eyes. We are all called to love and be loved. We are created to bring His love to others and not to shut the door on any of his creatures.
"I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and I must lead these too. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, one shepherd.
The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father. " John 1: 10-18
What is the process of Convalidation?
Convalidation Requirements: Catholics, however, are bound to observe a certain form of marriage ritual in order that their marriage be valid. Canon law—the law of the Church—requires that Catholics enter into marriage by free mutual consent that is witnessed in a church by an authorized bishop, priest, or deacon and at least two other witnesses. Marriages in which one or both parties are Catholic and which are not witnessed by an authorized bishop, priest, or deacon, or which do not receive proper permission to take place in another forum, are considered invalid in the eyes of the Church.
It may be that the Catholic who entered into marriage outside the Church did not realize that these requirements existed, but more often, it is because one or both of the spouses was not free to marry in the Catholic Church because of a previous marriage or because they were awaiting an annulment. Also, the Catholic partner(s) may not have been active in the Church and did not consider having a Catholic wedding.
The Church very much wants to assist these couples who later want to enter into valid Catholic marriage, and it offers them pastoral and spiritual support as they need it. When these couples are ready and free to do so, they celebrate what is called a convalidation, from the Latin word meaning “to firm up” or “to strengthen.” This is sometimes referred to as the blessing of a marriage.
It is important to realize that a convalidation is not merely a renewal of vows made previously but is a new act of consent by each spouse. This new act of consent is essential to marriage, and the words that the couple expresses are the outward sign of the gift of self that they exchange. This convalidation of marriage may be celebrated within Mass or outside of Mass, again depending on the particular situation of the couple. If both are Catholic, it is fitting that the convalidation be celebrated within Mass. If one spouse is not, it is preferable that it be celebrated outside of Mass.
Customarily, since the couple’s married life is a known and public fact and may have been so for many years, a simple celebration with an invitation to close family and friends may seem more appropriate than a large celebration. Where appropriate, the priest or deacon who will witness the vows can help you use the Together for Life booklet to prepare the celebration.
"In the eyes of the Catholic Church, a couple who has married outside of the Church, it has entered into an invalid marriage. To remedy the situation, the couple must present itself as a couple to the parish priest. It needs to demonstrate that it entered into the non-canonical marriage without malice or deception. Both individuals must show that they are penitent of their misunderstanding and misdeed and that they desire the bond that “by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive” and through which they are “strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state by a special sacrament” (Canon # 1134).
For further information on how the priest proceeds to convalidate a marriage, please contact a local priest or bishop of your diocese.