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Can We Tolerate Civil Marriage over a Church Wedding?

QUESTION: Dear Father, I am seeking for advice that comes from my religion. I am a Catholic and a Filipino. I want to get married but my girlfriend and I don’t have enough money budgeted for a church wedding. We are looking for a civil wedding but based on our faith, this wedding doesn’t have a blessing from our Lord God. Is it possible that we can get married through a civil wedding and after that go to our parish priest to bless us as a couple? Can we have our honeymoon then? Please give me advice. Thank you and God bless.


You seem to already know the answer.  I cannot tell you anything different.  It might sound harsh, but I will keep you both in prayer. 

Some countries require a dual ceremony, even Italy, since priests do not function as magistrates of the state. In the United States, parish priests are authorized to witness weddings that are recognized both by the Church and by the state. You are right that the Church gives no weight to a strictly civil wedding. It must be witnessed by a priest and at least two witnesses.

I have heard your plight before and I am not very sympathetic. You could still have a church wedding because the sacraments are free. You do not need the expensive window dressing. My father got married in his blue suit, the only suit he owned. My mother wore her prettiest dress. The family had a picnic afterwards. They lived happily as man and wife until my father died 40 some years later. They had seven children and went to Mass every Sunday.

Get your priorities straight. Marriage outside the Church would place your beloved in serious sin and cut you both off from absolution in Confession and the reception of Holy Communion. A fancy gown and reception is not worth your immortal soul. Any children conceived deserve a mother and mother who are truly married in the eyes of God. Otherwise, what would it make you?

A priest could con-validate a civil wedding, but this does NOT bless the prior secular bond. The con-validation would be your true wedding. What came before was play-acting. You would have to repent, receive marriage preparation and receive the sacrament of Penance before the con-validation. Many priests today refuse to give large church weddings for couples civilly married and/or with children. Instead, they insist upon small con-validations with a few family and no music and no Mass. The reason for this is simple, so that other couples would not imitate such shameful and sinful acts. It is a proper punishment and/or penance for couples who are more interested in “show” and “money” then in “truth” and “virtue.”

God gives helping graces to couples who share the sacrament of marriage.  Believers who reject the covenant of marriage for a secular contract forfeit divine help, cause scandal, and threaten each other with the prospect of perdition.  That does NOT say love in my book.

6 Responses

  1. “Seeking to be human” — both your replies were great! 🙂

  2. Yes, as the apostles were instructed not to take fees for healing, etc. Also, many U.S. marriages are beginning to occur at a regular Sunday Mass as many foreign countries have been doing for generations.

    FATHER JOE: That may not be so bad a thing as it gives emphasis to marriage as a public sacrament. The only wrinkle is that Church law insists that the Sunday Mass with the appropriate readings must be followed, not a nuptial Mass with votive readings. We are allowed in the Archdiocese of Washington to replace one of the two readings before the Gospel, but generally Sunday weddings are discouraged. Given guest lists, it usually has to be scheduled outside the regular times and it is already a busy day for the priest. He is not supposed to say more than two Masses without episcopal approval, although the priest shortage forces many of us to regularly celebrate three or four. I could well understand why a couple might not want to get married on the weekend when the required gospel would be the woman caught in adultery or the poor suffering lepers.

  3. LOL, I wrote the thing about the church charging you twice…ugh, we have a baby now, babies make you a little silly. They’re amazing, but they steal your brain power. That would be my other advice—wait at least 6 months to a year before you have a kiddo! NFP works, I promise!

  4. This priest has given a lot of reasons why *not* to get married merely civilly, and I feel he has left out the many reasons why a sacramental marriage is wonderful and something you’ll appreciate throughout your marriage.

    So, speaking as a married woman:

    When you get married, your relationship will go through some major changes, and there will be new struggles, different from those you experience as an unmarried couple. You don’t want to go through those without the grace of the Sacrament of marriage. Trust me! My parents were civilly married for a long time and then later had their marriage blessed in the Church. There were definite, positive changes to our family dynamic after that blessing, and I feel many of those can be attributed to the grace of a sacramental marriage.

    I feel my own marriage has benefited from being sacramental as well. We didn’t have a ton of money, either, but I don’t think we regret having to scrape by those first few months as much as we would have regretted and questioned getting married without the Church.

    Some practical advice for money help:

    1) Keep it small. Like this priest said, weddings really needn’t be flashy affairs. Invite only your closest friends and family, and FORGET bridesmaids and groomsmen! When you think about it, there’s almost no point to that tradition. Or at least that’s my (perhaps overly strong) opinion.

    2) Wear the nicest things you can afford, and don’t worry about the rest.

    3) Enlist creative friends and family to help make things you might be tempted to buy, such as flower arrangements, invitations, or decor. There’s a ton of fun ideas on the Internet.

    4) Buy a copy of St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Marriage and Family Life from St. Vladimir Press. Okay, I know that’s more money spent, but he totally affirms the small, sacramental, not-too-expensive wedding, and he also has a ton of wisdom for a happy marriage.

    5) If your church wants to charge you an amount you can’t afford, explain your situation and see if you can workout a payment plan.

    6) Host the “reception” in someone’s backyard or house rather than renting a big hall. Maybe make it a pot luck or have a good cook in the family make the food.

    7) If your church is charging you a large amount, explain your situation and see if they will give you a discount in exchange for some volunteer work or if they will make a payment plan with you.

    God bless your relationship! Sacramental marriage is wonderful and I wouldn’t change mine for anything in the world.

    FATHER JOE: I have heard of churches rented out, particularly to non-parishioners, for weddings. But while a donation is nice and expected, I cringe when I hear about definite charges for church use. Pastors are obligated to witness the marriages of their flocks. It would be sinful to directly charge for sacraments. A rental for a hall is one thing, but the church is God’s house and Church law stipulates that marriages be conducted there. The priest would be on shaky ground to charge for a wedding. He must offer the sacred space and his services freely. A stipend or donation might be requested but cannot be demanded. Filipinos sometimes have very elaborate weddings and gifts are given, not just to the couple, but to sponsors and guests. There should also be no payment expected for the daughter’s hand. While it is nice to give presents to the couple getting married, the rest is a custom that should be discarded. Elements that encourage couples to live in sin should be minimized or subtracted.

  5. The future of the west belongs to the Liberals.
    The most important issue in most peoples minds is employment and health.

  6. Yes, father, when we do something correctly from the start, God has an amazing way of making it even better than we could imagine!

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