ROME, 23 MARCH 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina
Q: Last Saturday I participated in a wedding Mass. As I
remembered that there is no wedding celebration in the Lent, I
asked the presider about this. He answered, "Holy matrimony is a
sacrament so we can celebrate it even in Lent." Is this true? —
N.T., Houston, Texas
A: The precise answer to this question is yes, no and it
There is no universal rule that would prohibit celebrating the
sacrament of matrimony during Lent.
The ritual for matrimony foresees this possibility (No. 32 in
the Italian ritual) but indicates that pastors should inform
couples so that they take the nature of the season into account.
This would usually mean moderating the external elements such as
flowers and decorations in the church. On some days, it might
also mean that the ritual nuptial Mass would not be allowed and
that in some cases the priest would have to celebrate the
wedding in violet vestments.
Weddings are forbidden on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
According to the Congregation for Divine Worship's 1988 Circular
Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter
"61. All celebration of the sacraments on this day [Good Friday]
is strictly prohibited, except for the sacraments of penance and
anointing of the sick. Funerals are to be celebrated without
singing, music, or the tolling of bells.
"75. On this day [Holy Saturday], the Church abstains strictly
from celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Communion
may only be given in the form of Viaticum. The celebration of
marriages is forbidden, as is also the celebration of other
sacraments, except those of penance and the anointing of the
In cases of imminent danger of death, even these restrictions on
the celebration of matrimony could be lifted.
Therefore, the universal laws do not forbid weddings during Lent
but nor are they particularly enthusiastic in promoting it.
Some dioceses have gone further than the universal laws and have
established rules that range from encouraging pastors to
dissuade couples from scheduling weddings during this season, to
actually forbidding weddings.
For example, after its diocesan synod in 1993 the Diocese of
Rome for all practical purposes forbade the celebration of
weddings during Lent. Exceptions can be made but only for very
good reasons, and the celebrations have to be sober.
This is more a pastoral question than a doctrinal one. The
decision regarding the Lenten celebration of matrimony depends
on many factors, including local traditions and culture. The
Roman synod's decision probably stems from the great difficulty
in persuading couples and their parents to tone down the
typically pompous and ebullient external elements associated
with a wedding.
Other places and countries, with diverse traditions and customs,
might see no need to make such restrictions on the celebration
of matrimony during Lent.
* * *
Weddings in Lent [4-13-2010]
Related to our reply about weddings in Lent (see March 23) was a
question from a Michigan deacon: "Can a deacon witness the vows
of two Catholics during the Rite for Celebrating Marriage during
Mass? I was told that the rite would be valid but not licit. I
have not found this addressed within the rite itself. Also, what
about the nuptial blessing?"
Although this question has not been publicly addressed by the
Holy See, I am aware of a 2007 official private reply on
precisely this matter issued by the Congregation for Divine
Worship and the Sacraments.
In its reply, the congregation suggests the following canonical
principles. First of all, the Code of Canon Law entrusts the
pastor with the pre-eminent responsibility for the spiritual
life of the parish and, by virtue of his office, the faculty to
assist at marriages in his parish (canons 528.2, 530.4, 1108.1).
Deacons, on the other hand, assist at marriages (provided that
both parties are Latin rite) only by virtue of a delegation
granted by the bishop or pastor.
Passing from the canonical argument to the liturgical, the
Vatican congregation states that a change of presider in the
course of the same celebration is not admissible. Hence, neither
a deacon (whether permanent or transitional) nor a priest other
than the principal celebrant can preside over a wedding liturgy.
The letter says that it is not correct to deprive the couple of
a Nuptial Mass solely for the purpose of allowing a particular
deacon to preside over the wedding.
The document then explains why apparent exceptions do not
detract from the rule of no change in presiding celebrant. These
apparent exceptions —
such as a non-concelebrating bishop who presides over some
moments of the Mass, or the newly ordained bishop who becomes
the principal celebrant —
arise from the nature of the bishop's ministry.
The letter thus concludes that the priest who celebrates the
Mass must be the one to preach, receive the vows and impart the
nuptial blessing. At the discretion of the pastor, the deacon
may preach the homily.
Admittedly, this letter is official but, as a private missive,
has no force of law. It does, however, reflect the
congregation's thinking and is based on sound canonical and
It does not address all possible issues and human circumstances,
for example, when adult children of permanent deacons desire to
be married by their father. In such exceptional cases, perhaps
it would be possible to have the deacon preside the rite of a
wedding outside of Mass followed immediately by a Mass of
thanksgiving with the pastor.