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In-flight marriage opens new vista for Catholic weddings

By Susan Gately - 26 January, 2018

Pastorally maybe we need to examine the issue of couples who want to get married outside of a church building: Bishop Brendan Leahy.

Bishop Brendan Leahy in St John’s Cathedral, Limerick.

The spontaneous gesture by Pope Francis last week of uniting a couple in marriage during a flight between two Chilean cities (see www.catholicireland.net/want-marry-pope-asks-flight-attendants/), has opened up new perspectives in Canon Law, which decrees that Catholic weddings should normally take place in a church, according to the Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy.

Bishop Leahy told The Irish Catholic, “Maybe pastorally there is an issue that we may have to re-examine, which is couples who want to get married outside of a church building.”

This could be a logistical nightmare for priests, said the Bishop of Limerick, but down the road, “you could nominate lay people as your representative of the Catholic Church. It doesn’t have to be a priest you see, so who knows the future.”

Canon Law allows lay people to assist at marriages, where there is a lack of priests or deacons, once the lay person has the permission of the Conference of Bishops and the Holy See, because in a Catholic marriage it is the couple who confer the sacrament on each other. The priest or deacon is only a witness. Canon Law also allows the ‘ordinary’ (bishop) to “permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place”.

On his return from Chile, the Pope spoke to La Stampa of how the couple had done a pre-marriage course and implied they went to confession.“In other words, he was emphasising the preparation,” said Bishop Leahy, agreeing that the Papal gesture opened up new questions relating to the Rites of Catholic Marriage.

The Bishop of Limerick noted that sometimes people commented that church ceremonies were more expensive “as if all the trappings were essential” but even if people liked the trappings, they were “not necessary”, he told CatholicIreland. “In fact it [a church] is probably cheaper than a lot of commercial venues.”

Passionist priest, Fr Pat Rogers, also quoted in the Irish Catholic said the on board wedding was a “powerful image to send around the world because there are a lot of Catholic couples who are married civilly but not religiously. I think the Pope is inviting us to get a bit more active in suggesting that marriage in Church is meaningful and valuable and the plane was a sort of ‘in-flight church’.”

Fr Rogers, who runs premarriage courses in Mount Argus in Dublin, said that he didn’t believe the Pope thought “legalistically”.  “He thinks of the iconic image making an impression. And it makes a very positive impression on people.”

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