Occasionally a phone call will come into the parish that goes something like this:
“Hello. Am I talking to the priest?”
“Yes, how may I help you?”
“I’m planning in getting married on June 3rd and I would like to get married (INSERT ONE OF THE FOLLOWING: ON THE BEACH, IN THE BACKYARD, PARK, PARTY CENTER, ON A BOAT, WHILE SKY DIVING . . .) and I was wondering if you would do the service.”
The next question out of my mouth will be, “Are you both Catholic?” If they say yes, chances are that I will not be able to assist them in the matter. After initial sounds of disappointment the question will arise, “Why can’t we get married in the (wherever)?”
Of course the Church (or the bishop or the parish or the pastor) comes off as the party spoiler who wants things their way. I understand the concept. Part of this is due to the “service” paradigm in existence in many other Churches. This sees “Church” as something akin to the banquet facility. I want a banquet and so I call a caterer to give me the reception of my dreams. Similarly, a bride (usually) has been dreaming of a certain wedding “since I was a little girl” and so assumes, logically enough, that I call my parish and for a modest sum, they will provide me with it.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on what you believe, this runs counter to how the Church envisions the marriage ceremony. It is a public event. It is not too different at all from ordination. We could not say to the bishop, “We have a dream of being ordained in Forest Lodge Park. It is the center of our community and plus we will be in the middle of nature that we love so much.” The bishop would rightly answer, “Boys, it’s not about you. This is not a private ceremony. It belongs to the Church. And we will have it at the cathedral, the central worship placed of our local Church, and throw open the doors to any who wish to attend.”
Marriage, too, is a public event and it belongs to the whole community. It is a sacred event and thus has a special connection to the faith life of the Church. This is exemplified by the banns being published the three weeks leading up to the wedding. The public has a right to know about and have a right to voice objections should there be any true impediments to this marriage. The ceremony belongs to the Church (and by Church I mean all the people) and most technically there would be no such thing as a “private” wedding. (There may be some legitimate reasons for it to be that way in practice, but not in ideology.) The bells ring 5 minutes before the wedding Mass not to call your guests in but anyone in the community who wishes to be a witness. A wedding is an event of the Church, not simply a perfect day for the wedding couple, though if properly catechized, the two should really be one – an event for the Church and a perfect day for the couple.
So almost all weddings between two Catholics take place in a church, the place of the community, the sacred space where sacraments are performed. As a general rule, the show is not taken on the road.