Sometimes couples have a soap opera–like vision of getting married on the beach at sunset or in a gazebo in the backyard. It looks beautiful on television and at the movies, but couples fail to realize the essence of the marriage. Marriage is a Catholic sacrament. A sacrament is instituted by Jesus Christ to confer grace. The Catholic Church regulates this sacrament in many ways. First is by delegation of its ministers. The minister performing the ceremony must be a validly ordained bishop, priest, or deacon. In turn, this minister must have proper jurisdiction from the bishop and pastor in whose parish the marriage is going to take place. In other words, Reverend Smith just can’t walk into any Catholic Church and perform a marriage. If the priest is the pastor of the church, the bishop of the diocese gives ordinary faculties to witness marriages in his parish. If the priest or deacon is assigned to the parish in which the marriage is going to take place, they usually have faculties from the bishop for that parish as well. If it is an outside clergyman, then the pastor has to give delegation to perform the ceremony in the parish.
Second, the proper place for marriage is in a sacred place, which is usually the parish church. For pastoral reasons, weddings can take place in the chapel of a college that one of the couples attended, in a military chapel, or, if need be, in the hospital. Permissions are obtained by the Catholic minister who is preparing the couple from the chancery office and the Catholic chaplains of these chapels.
Third, a marriage can take place in a sacred space that is not Catholic. When either the bride or the groom is not Catholic and it would cause great problems for the non-Catholic families to celebrate a marriage inside a Catholic Church, the Catholic minister may obtain permission from the chancery for the marriage to take place in another denomination’s church.
Fourth, a marriage can take place outside of a sacred space by way of dispensation from the bishop in which the proposed marriage is going to take place. For example, when a Catholic marries a Jewish person, for the sake of peace in the families, a Catholic minister may apply for a dispensation for the marriage to take place in the reception hall. The marriage file is then registered at the Catholic Church closest to the hall. Yet, marriages of this sort are usually never given permission to take place on the beach or in some common space. Even in the reception hall, great care must be taken to set aside a chapel for the proper celebration of the marriage. This permission is never given to two baptized Christians, whether both are Catholic or not.