A side-altar wedding?


A friend of mine sometimes answers questions from non-Catholics over the Internet, and he recently got a puzzling e-mail from a man interested in the Faith. The gentleman and his Catholic wife were apparently married in a Protestant ceremony (presumably without a dispensation). His wife has been under the impression that if he becomes Catholic and they marry in the Church, the ceremony would "have to" be conducted at a side altar.

I'm not familiar with that practice, though according to what I find on the 'net, it apparently used to be customary for mixed marriages to be solemnized away from the main altar of a church. Does anyone know when this practice went away? Was it a matter of law?

In this couple's case, if he becomes Catholic, it won't be a mixed marriage, so even if the rule were still in place, it wouldn't seem to apply. All in all, the lady's concern may be unnecessary.


When my parents were married in the 1950's, they were married "outside the altar rail" because my mother was Protestant. Another relative was married in the sacristy for the same reason. This rule is definitely gone. I'm not sure when it disappeared, but it probably was around the time of the Second Vatican Council. From what I'm told, Catholics were not even allowed to go into Protestant churches for weddings back then.

Like Marilyn, I am not sure when the rule disappeared, but I would imagine sometime around the Second Vatican Council as well.

Mixed marriages are still officially discouraged, but nothing is done about them in practice, including relocating the ceremony or whatnot. All we do is file for permission from the bishop, which is always granted.

As for this particular case, since they appear to be already (invalidly) married, they would need a convalidation, which typically IS done at a side altar if one is available, since we don't want to give people the impression that they can run off to the courthouse and get married for now, then have a big church wedding later.

Note that a convalidation is not the same as a mixed marriage. A convalidation is popularly called "blessing a marriage" that has already been (invalidly) contracted; in actuality it's simply the valid exchange of vows to give sacramental reality to the appearance of marriage that the couple puts forth. A mixed marriage is a standard, valid Catholic wedding where bride or groom happens to be Protestant.

Finally, for trivia's sake, a nonbaptized person (Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc) cannot have a wedding Mass if he marries a Catholic; a simple ceremony is done by the priest, and the marriage, although valid and recognized by the Church, is not sacramental.

Father, would the priest conducting the marriage have the discretion to do the marriage at the main altar, or does the law constrain him to do it at the side altar?

I've been doing some research on convalidations in the Catholic Church and I am very disappointed to see a lot of the comments. i.e Catholics shouldn't think they can run out and get married civily then go on to have a wedding in the church. However if you just live with someone for years even have children together then decide to get married NO PROBLEM in fact wear white, a veil, ect.

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

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This page contains a single entry by Richard Chonak published on November 28, 2003 11:30 PM.

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