I spent four years working as an editor at a bridal magazine. During that time, my colleagues and I reviewed hundreds of wedding submissions each week, carefully considering each one for potential publication. I’ve seen photos of wedding ceremonies in practically every location you can imagine, from gardens and beaches, to museums and mansions, to rooftops and breweries.
When couples choose to be married in the Catholic Church, a few decisions are automatically made for them alongside that. Their readings will be from Sacred Scripture. The music will be spiritual in nature. A priest or deacon will officiate. And, in almost all circumstances, the wedding ceremony will take place inside a church.
Why Do Catholic Weddings Only Happen in Churches?
The last point can be one of frustration for some, especially if your church is not the most visually appealing or it’s a long drive from your reception venue.
While I’ll be the first to recognize and affirm the values of both beauty and convenience in a wedding, the Church reminds us what takes even higher priority: the sacredness of the Sacrament.
Sacred and Set Apart
…God himself is the author of marriage. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church 1603
While our Faith is, above all else, spiritual, there is also a richly physical element. That is evident in the striking beauty of our cathedrals, the perfume of incense, the blessed water and oil necessary for our Sacraments, and the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Jesus, truly present under the guise of bread and wine.
As Catholics, we readily acknowledge the power of what is tangible to direct us to what is not. We believe that what we encounter through our senses matters.
Likewise, the setting for a Catholic marriage is deeply meaningful. No matter how beautiful an outdoor space may be, it does not immediately turn our attention to God the way that entering a church does. The space itself demands a certain level of respect, reverence, and attentiveness that befits the sacredness of a wedding ceremony.
An Opportunity for Evangelization
Imagine two ceremonies with identical readings, music, and vows—one in a church and one on the lawn of a reception venue. Which ceremony is more likely to capture the attention of someone with little or no faith? And, if they felt a tug on their hearts, during which ceremony would they be more likely to find some direction toward God or the Catholic Faith?
For some people, attending weddings is the one and only time they will ever step foot through church doors. Their physical presence in the building makes all the words and emotions experienced during the ceremony—from joy for the couple, to wonder at the Sacrament—more impactful.
Setting the Tone for Your Marriage
The way you begin your marriage—in that sacred space—creates an anchor in your life together. Your wedding ceremony is an event you’ll return to in your mind again and again. You’ll recall the emotions when you look through your photos. You’ll remember your vows in moments of both trial and joy. You’ll reminisce about those special moments with family and friends who witnessed them for years to come.
When you celebrate your ceremony inside a church, that setting instantly becomes a crucial part of each of those memories. Your vows, your readings, your songs, and your setting represent some of the most important priorities of your life together. Some aspects of your ceremony will only live on in memories, but the church is a place you can always return to for encouragement, renewal, and refreshment.
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How to Embrace the Tradition
Unfortunately, as beautiful as what occurs inside a church may be, let’s just say that some church architects and designers have done a better job than others.
If your ceremony church falls short in the aesthetics department, consider the following tips to achieve the look you’re dreaming of, while also honoring what the Church requires.
1. Take your portraits outside.
Some of the most cherished photographs taken at your wedding will be your portraits with your family and bridal party members. Those photos often take place inside the church, but there is no reason that they need to! As a matter of fact, I recommend considering outdoor portraits regardless of what your church looks like, if you’ll have the opportunity to do so in natural light.
A few alternative options include the steps or space right outside of your church, any gardens or lawn near your church, outside at your reception venue, or even a separate (close by) outdoor space altogether.
2. Consider a Christmas or Easter season wedding.
When selecting your wedding date, consider dates that fall within the liturgical seasons of Christmas or Easter. Along with being generally joyful, lovely times of year for weddings, they’re also the times when churches are the most elaborately decorated.
Bonus: by making use of the flowers that are already in the church, you may not have to pay for additional altar arrangements.
3. Work with, not against, what’s there.
From a design perspective, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen couples make is choosing details that clash with their setting. Pay attention to the colors in your church while selecting your flowers, bridesmaid dresses, etc. You certainly don’t need to choose red flowers because of a red carpet, for example, but perhaps steer clear of anything orange or purple.
When in doubt, opt for elegant neutrals that enhance any setting, and then bring your more colorful touches into your reception.
More Catholic Wedding Resources
Dear bride, as you plan your wedding and prepare for your marriage, you are in our prayers!
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