Outdoor Catholic Weddings Now Allowed in Helena, Montana

If this is a Francis Effect, one may have mixed feelings about it: “It’s official: outdoor Catholic weddings a go in Butte.” The Montana Standard reports:

“It’s been a really long time since our parish had an outdoor wedding,” said St. Patrick Church pastoral associate Seaneen Prendergast.



  1. …and Father, if you could stand with your feet about a foot from the edge and your back to the cliff and we’ll make our vows right as the sun is setting over the mountain peaks.

  2. It’s about time. I attended two family weddings last year that were performed outdoors by non-Catholic clergy. I wonder how many Catholic couples chose to not have a Catholic marriage ceremony because they were unable to receive approval from their bishop.

    If we can have outdoor papal Masses and if other Sacraments such as Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick can be performed outdoors, then why would anyone object to this bishop’s decision????

    I hope that someday engaged Catholic couples can plan outdoor weddings without approval from their bishop.

    I have a feeling Pope Francis would be pleased with this bishop’s decision.

  3. Speaking as someone who has performed a lot of weddings and worked to prepare many couples seeking to get married, I think the difference from Mass, Anointing, and Reconciliation is that many–indeed, the majority–of the weddings at which I have presided involve people who are only loosely attached to the Church (if the bond of Baptism can really be described as “loose”) and who do not always have much of a sense of the sacred nature of the ceremony (thus their desire to have songs by Journey or Neil Diamond during the ceremony). Having the ceremony outside a church building would seem only to diminish further the sense of sacredness (I know, all nature is sacred etc., but part of the meaning of “sacred” is “set apart”).

    On the other hand, if this were allowed in my diocese, I suspect that the couples who currently come to us for marriage would continue to want to have their ceremony in the church building, since often our building itself is as much of a draw for them as the desire for a Catholic ceremony. So, funny enough, if we got a request for an outdoor wedding it would probably be from someone for whom having a “church-wedding” meant more than simply a wedding in a pretty church.

    In other words, I’m ambivalent.

  4. Is the wedding date about the individual couple or is it the couple becoming ministers of a sacrament which is a living icon of the bond between and the love of Christ for his church?

  5. I know this bishop well since he is my Bishop. I also know from him personally his reasoning for doing this. It has more to do with recognizing that the church was losing many of these couples who came to the church for pre-marriage prep and then leaving forever because they wanted to be married out doors at, for instance their family ranch or beloved cabin in the mountains. He is reaching out to the peripheries as Pope Francis has called to go where the people go. Bishop Thomas has further instructed his priests to maintain contact with the couple they marry for at least a year. Some of you may consider this pandering but I say it is the action of a wise Pastor/Shepherd. Also, Montana is an absolute eye candy place to live. Any outdoor setting rivals any parish church here. My sister recently visited the state for the first time. Blown away by its beauty….and she is from Boulder Colorado..she referred to it as “wall paper for the soul”.

    1. I am glad that the Bishop Thomas has not approved outdoor nuptial (pro sponso et sponsa) Masses, at least implicitly per the article. The canon laws which pertain to the nuptial Mass are probably, and thankfully, rigid so far as that the nuptial Mass must take place in a church.

      It is very, very unfortunate that the vast majority of the couples will not return to participate in a nuptial votive Mass with their communities. The wedding blessings are an important part of the sacrament. Perhaps the nuptial Mass could be recast as a “thanksgiving for marriage” Mass or similar terms, though unchanged from the nuptial liturgy. Again, the significance of sacramentality, as Deacon Fritz notes in #3, is lost on the vast majority of those who seek at the minimum the witness of the Church in a ceremony.

      I agree with Reyanna in her post at #6 that outdoor weddings do keep nominal Catholics in the Church by providing these couples with an alternative to a justice or a non-denominational minister. Still, is there any way to communicate the beauty of the nuptial Mass in its proper place to those who have had at best tangential contact with the Church?

      Perhaps this pains me since I am not wed and will never wed. I would want to hear the Mass, but I cannot. Ironically, those who are unimpeded to do so would rather skip the mysteries.

  6. Jordan, I am curious as to why you use the term “hear Mass”? Do you also prefer terms like “saying Mass” and “saying prayers”? I grew up with those expressions but in view of the legitimate liturgical developments that have take place they seem very anachronistic.

    1. @Jack Feehily:

      Father, as you might well know, from my previous posts I have made clear that I was a traditionalist for more than two decades. Indeed, when i started posting here I was still very traditionalist and belligerent. In many respects I still hold positions which some might view as traditionalist (but aren’t really), such as a great love of Latin in liturgy. The terms you mention are indeed archaic and also not reflective of new developments in eucharistic theology. However there is a faction in traditionalism which still uses terms like these. I am transitioning towards modern Catholicism, but some old habits are difficult to shake.

      I’ve made a shift towards active descriptions of Mass attendance, such as “participate in Mass”. However, I don’t see any difficulty with “say the Rosary”, given that this is often a solitary devotion. In traditionalism, generally “Holy Communion” is preferred over “Eucharist”. I still prefer to write and say “Holy Communion”, and I don’t see this term as liturgically problematic for a modern Catholic. Our terms and expressions for Mass and all sacraments should be in tune with conciliar documents. Still, some variety which is orthodox is important unless all fall into the same “liturgyspeak”.

      I have no more affection for traditionalism. Aren’t we still, in some way, shaped by our experiences good or ill?

      1. @Jordan Zarembo:
        Jordan, sometimes I use terms like that precisely to deprive of them of the shibboleth quality (from both “sides”). The regrettable tendency of people to convert usages into shibboleths is often best combated in day to day life by being a deliberate mixer/scrambler of usages.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur:

        This is a good point. Certain terms should remain even in infrequent use. Many in Britain still use cliches which relate to the old Lsd monetary system, even if the country decimalized more than forty years ago. These old cliches should, even must, be preserved for the integrity of folkways,

        Sometimes I think of a phrase in Latin or German when speaking to somebody. I mumble off a macaronic merger of different languages. Is is usually when I substitute coffee for sleep. Eds., I know, way OT. Sorry.

  7. Three cheers for Bishop Thomas. May all the other bishops quickly fall in line behind him. If we want to draw people into the church (both building and body), we must be willing to leave the building and find them.

    But let’s not stop there. Next, let’s disable all of the other impediments, costs and hoops-jumping we require for Catholic weddings. All weddings should be free to the couple. A maximum of two meetings required. Kill the marriage prep programs and couples-assessment requirements (but keep them as options for couples who want them). It may be crass to say it but we’re competing with Las Vegas, resort beaches, the county court house and many other wedding alternatives. If people come to us for sacramental grace, let’s not require heroic effort of them to obtain it. Seems better that we help them to dispense it to one another generously, as they’ll need it for a lifelong marriage.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:
      This is the bias of our overall sacramental practice: prepare people half to death, celebrate the sacrament, then provide no followup or support for living out the graces of the sacrament. Perhaps we could move half of the study sessions, couple-to-couple sessions, retreats, etc. to the months following the wedding when they are actually learning to live as husband and wife. Of course if the quality is lacking they might not return, so we’d have to do it so well that people will come back voluntarily. Some tired old minister droning on and on in the rectory basement over the hum of fluorescent lighting may not cut it.

  8. Thanks for your explanation, Jordan. I have grown to have great admiration for your journey of faith. Room needs be made for the old and the new in light of the old. Pax Tecum.

  9. Scott – exactly right.

    FWIW: I don’t do many weddings – itself a damning little factoid, as ideally the parish would be so awash in wedding requests that all of the deacons would be pressed into regular service to handle the load. But I do a ton of baptismal prep for young couples. I would describe their attachment to the church as cultural/familial, well-intentioned, not grounded in habitual attendance or practice, mostly without a social support network, and consequently weak. The exceptions are the immigrant couples from the Asia-Pacific part of the world; the corrosive aspects of developed-world culture haven’t worn away the ties that bind them to the church yet. Overall, our young adults are willing to give the church a fair hearing but certainly aren’t deferential to its religious or moral authority: the church doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt and there is no default assumption that they will be attached as they go through their family life.

    There was a news item I saw earlier today, in which Pope Francis became visibly angry and dressed down priests who withhold the sacrament of baptism of children of unwed mothers. Let’s hope that anger is contagious and all the bishops catch it.


    If the church hopes to rebuild its reputation, it can’t just throw open the doors and wait for people to show up. Generationally speaking, that’s a recipe for catastrophic failure, and really, the catastrophe is just about upon us.

    That’s my happy thought for the day.

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