Weddings in Lent

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Weddings in Lent


Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Last Saturday I participated in a wedding Mass. As I remembered that there is no wedding celebration in the Lent, I asked the presider about this. He answered, "Holy matrimony is a sacrament so we can celebrate it even in Lent." Is this true? — N.T., Houston, Texas

A: The precise answer to this question is yes, no and it depends.

There is no universal rule that would prohibit celebrating the sacrament of matrimony during Lent.

The ritual for matrimony foresees this possibility (No. 32 in the Italian ritual) but indicates that pastors should inform couples so that they take the nature of the season into account. This would usually mean moderating the external elements such as flowers and decorations in the church. On some days, it might also mean that the ritual nuptial Mass would not be allowed and that in some cases the priest would have to celebrate the wedding in violet vestments.

Weddings are forbidden on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. According to the Congregation for Divine Worship's 1988 Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts:

"61. All celebration of the sacraments on this day [Good Friday] is strictly prohibited, except for the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick. Funerals are to be celebrated without singing, music, or the tolling of bells.

"75. On this day [Holy Saturday], the Church abstains strictly from celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum. The celebration of marriages is forbidden, as is also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of penance and the anointing of the sick."

In cases of imminent danger of death, even these restrictions on the celebration of matrimony could be lifted.

Therefore, the universal laws do not forbid weddings during Lent but nor are they particularly enthusiastic in promoting it.

Some dioceses have gone further than the universal laws and have established rules that range from encouraging pastors to dissuade couples from scheduling weddings during this season, to actually forbidding weddings.

For example, after its diocesan synod in 1993 the Diocese of Rome for all practical purposes forbade the celebration of weddings during Lent. Exceptions can be made but only for very good reasons, and the celebrations have to be sober.

This is more a pastoral question than a doctrinal one. The decision regarding the Lenten celebration of matrimony depends on many factors, including local traditions and culture. The Roman synod's decision probably stems from the great difficulty in persuading couples and their parents to tone down the typically pompous and ebullient external elements associated with a wedding.

Other places and countries, with diverse traditions and customs, might see no need to make such restrictions on the celebration of matrimony during Lent.

* * *

Follow-up: Weddings in Lent [4-13-2010]

Related to our reply about weddings in Lent (see March 23) was a question from a Michigan deacon: "Can a deacon witness the vows of two Catholics during the Rite for Celebrating Marriage during Mass? I was told that the rite would be valid but not licit. I have not found this addressed within the rite itself. Also, what about the nuptial blessing?"

Although this question has not been publicly addressed by the Holy See, I am aware of a 2007 official private reply on precisely this matter issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

In its reply, the congregation suggests the following canonical principles. First of all, the Code of Canon Law entrusts the pastor with the pre-eminent responsibility for the spiritual life of the parish and, by virtue of his office, the faculty to assist at marriages in his parish (canons 528.2, 530.4, 1108.1). Deacons, on the other hand, assist at marriages (provided that both parties are Latin rite) only by virtue of a delegation granted by the bishop or pastor.

Passing from the canonical argument to the liturgical, the Vatican congregation states that a change of presider in the course of the same celebration is not admissible. Hence, neither a deacon (whether permanent or transitional) nor a priest other than the principal celebrant can preside over a wedding liturgy.

The letter says that it is not correct to deprive the couple of a Nuptial Mass solely for the purpose of allowing a particular deacon to preside over the wedding.

The document then explains why apparent exceptions do not detract from the rule of no change in presiding celebrant. These apparent exceptions — such as a non-concelebrating bishop who presides over some moments of the Mass, or the newly ordained bishop who becomes the principal celebrant — arise from the nature of the bishop's ministry.

The letter thus concludes that the priest who celebrates the Mass must be the one to preach, receive the vows and impart the nuptial blessing. At the discretion of the pastor, the deacon may preach the homily.

Admittedly, this letter is official but, as a private missive, has no force of law. It does, however, reflect the congregation's thinking and is based on sound canonical and liturgical reasoning.

It does not address all possible issues and human circumstances, for example, when adult children of permanent deacons desire to be married by their father. In such exceptional cases, perhaps it would be possible to have the deacon preside the rite of a wedding outside of Mass followed immediately by a Mass of thanksgiving with the pastor.


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