Q. What is the Catholic Church's policy on having a Catholic marriage ceremony (not a Mass) at a reception venue rather than in a church? (My local pastor says that, even if it's just a ceremony, it needs to be in a church.) (Roswell, Georgia)
A. In answering your question, I am going to assume that both the bride and the groom are Catholic. (If, on the other hand, the marriage involved a Catholic and a Protestant, they would have the option to seek from the Catholic diocese a "dispensation from form," which could allow a Protestant minister to officiate at the ceremony even in a non-church setting.)
For two Catholics, the church's Code of Canon Law notes that normally the wedding is to be held in a parish church, but it does allow the local bishop to "permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place" (Canon 1118.2).
But my experience has been that most dioceses in most situations are reluctant to give permission for a non-church wedding between two Catholics. The church tries at a wedding to maintain a sense of the sacred; it views marriage as a sacrament, a commitment made in the eyes of God, with the couple seeking the Lord's blessing on their lifelong union.
I am aware, though, that in 2018 the Archdiocese of Baltimore began allowing weddings in non-church settings (including outdoors) with a bit more frequency. (A June 2018 article in America magazine noted that, in Baltimore's new policy, the preferred location for weddings was still the home parish of the bride or groom and that locations like bars and nightclubs were still off-limits.)
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.