Ask Team Practical: Family Traditions

I’m pre-engaged, so right now I’m just daydreaming and thinking about big-picture stuff. One such big-picture thing to me has always been the type of location we’ll get married in: I don’t have my heart set on a million little details, I’ve just always pictured myself getting married outdoors. However, since we started discussing the theoretical probability of us getting married, the only thing my beau has said would be important is that we get married in a church, because, “Everyone in my family has held the ceremony in a church.” He only attends religious services when he’s visiting his parents, but he still considers himself to be a Catholic, and that is perfectly fine with me (I was raised Protestant myself, but am no longer practicing; I don’t respect anybody any less because of their faith). If he were more than “mildly religious” and a church were important for himself to be happy, then I would respect that and not argue with him about it, but if it’s just to maintain the precedent set by his cousins because he thinks his parents would be upset otherwise… is this worth potentially starting a fight? I would be totally willing to suck it up and walk down an unfamiliar aisle of a denomination I’ve never associated myself with for him, but for his family, when they haven’t even explicitly said that it’s necessary? My mother, a very religious woman, sucked it up for my older sister’s fantastically hippie outdoors wedding, and while I know it’s not fair to expect the same cooperation from his parents as my sister was lucky to get from ours, they’re reasonable people. Is it unfair for me to ask him to have that conversation with them, or might he be underestimating them?

-Trying Not to Infuriate Future In-laws


This isn’t exactly cut and dried. There are a bunch of things here to untangle. First, the difference between religion and tradition. Second, the difference between general cultural tradition and family tradition. Lastly, the difference between doing something to please your family, and doing something in line with your family to please yourself.

That first part is what sticks out to me most. You mention how much (or little) your partner participates in his religion, but I’m not sure that’s really a factor here. Sometimes things with religious roots become meaningful to us for other reasons. Tradition reasons. I mean, how many of our readers will cop to listening to “Away in a Manger” around Christmastime, despite not really considering themselves religious? I’m guessing the church isn’t important to your partner because of his faith, so much as because of meaning lent by tradition.

And like I said, when it comes to tradition, there’s a difference between broad cultural expectations and just stuff that’s a tradition within your family—with that second one being more important, to me. “My family has always done it this way,” is powerful and personal. And by marrying this guy, you’re marrying those personally important family legacies. There are times when it’ll be a bit of a tug of war determining whose family tradition gets carried on, or, in some cases, if a new tradition is formed. But, in these moments when (as it sounds here) you don’t really care, it’s important to encourage your partner to continue preserving that stuff.

I hear your concern that he’s choosing a church wedding, not for himself, but to avoid making Mom and Dad mad. To be honest, I don’t get that vibe about him from your email. Carrying on a family tradition is often just personally satisfying and helps you feel connected to your roots, and to a long line of your family before you.

But, assuming I’m reading this wrong, and there is an aspect of, “Mom and Dad would like this,” behind the decision, let me assure you—that’s valid, too. Sometimes wedding decisions aren’t about religion and aren’t about tradition. Sometimes, they’re about knowing yourself and your family enough to figure out when it’s important to respect what would make your family happy. There are even times when respecting what your family would want is personally fulfilling. This goes double when you consider that the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize marriages performed outside of the Church (as some of the more knowledgeable staff clued me in). Something like that could be hugely important to family, and as a result, really important to your partner.

This answer would be wildly different if you had strong feelings about being married in a church. I mean, we already talked about that sort of scenario just a few weeks back (and, spoiler: I urged them to nix the religious stuff). But the fact that you’re verging on indifferent, means instead we talk about preserving familial ties and respecting family traditions. There will be plenty of times when, “This is important to my spouse,” butts against “This is important to my parents” (and the majority of those times, “spouse” trumps). Because of that, when you sort of don’t have strong feelings and you have the opportunity, it’s really important to be supportive of one another respecting and preserving ties to family.


Team Practical, how do you determine when and how to preserve family traditions? How do you encourage your partner to do the same?

Photo Gabriel Harber

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • Emma

    This is one of those times that I feel like APW is somehow listening to my conversations (creepy…?). I literally had this conversation with my fiance last night. I so appreciate this advice…thank you!

    • Emilie

      I have this sensation all the time.

  • Amy March

    I agree so much with Liz’s advice. I’d also strongly encourage you to research marriage in the Catholic church. I don’t think either of you can really decide about this without understanding what the repercussions would be for him marrying outside the church, or for you marrying into it.

    • Audrey

      Agreed! Having a wedding in a Catholic Church is a lot more than just location and officiant, there are extra things that come with it.

    • Kats

      And don’t forget that if you are not Catholic, you may need to convert to be married in the church.

      • Amy March

        You only need to convert if you have a full mass. You don’t need to convert just to have the marriage.

        • H

          False. Though they will discourage you from having the full mass if one of you is not Catholic.

          • Liz

            I know zip about this stuff, but based on the comments on this thread alone, it sounds like the particulars vary depending.

          • Amy March

            Yes, you’re right! My bad.

          • Yes, Liz, they do vary. It depends on the diocese, the priest marrying you, how much money you have (no one will admit this, but it does play a role – Bill and Melinda Gates had a “Catholic” wedding outside, that was blessed by their archdiocese because, well, they are Bill and Melinda Gates), etc. This is true of not just the rules/what they’ll allow, but whether you have to do the six month minimum (I have a friend who had that waived because her now-husband was being deployed, for example), what kind of Pre-Cana you have to do, how often you have to meet with the priest, etc.

        • anonymous

          I thought the non-Catholic spouse just has to promise to raise the children Catholic?

          • marbella

            No. The Catholic spouse has to promise to try to raise their children in the faith. The non-Catholic spouse does not promise anything. This was explained by our priest as ‘how could the non-Catholic promise anything, since the church has nothing to ‘hold against them’ if you like? The Catholic party will feel obliged to follow this rule, because of their faith. But the non-Catholic has nothing to lose, so there is no point to making them promise.’

        • marbella

          Incorrect. We had a full mass and I am not Catholic (Anglican, like OP here). They may not encourage it, but if you can show that you will be respectful and it’s important to you (which it was to my husband) and you get to know and trust your priest, you will be allowed to do this. One of the reasons they don’t like to is that in a mixed wedding like this there will likely be lots of non-Catholic guests and it can be awkward for communion since many non-Catholic Christians don’t realise they are not supposed to have communion. We added something in our programs about not taking communion for the non-Catholics (which greatly outnumbered the Catholics, which was pretty much only his family and a couple of our guests). It’s also a loooong wedding for people not used to Catholic mass to sit through.

      • Meagan

        And furthermore- the above is only true if you are Christian. Non-Christians have to jump through a few more hoops with an Archbishop – not impossible , just need more time. Sidenote, our priest told me that without a mass, he was mostly a witness for the church. That we administered the sacrament of marriage on each other. Coolness.

        • Samantha

          That is always the case even with the Mass. The bridal couple ministers their own Sacrament.

      • ElfPuddle

        Completely False about the conversion.
        Nor do you have to be Catholic to be married in a mass.
        Nor do you ever, no matter your faith/lack thereof, need to meet with the Archbishop.

        Please see my long comment, and those of other practicing Catholics, below.

      • Jessamarie

        At least as far as I was able to understand (while planning my catholic wedding 9 months ago). The Catholic church will marry a Catholic to a non-catholic without any trouble, as long as that other person is a baptized christian (and can produce a baptismal certificate). That was our situation and we received nothing but support from the clergy we dealt with, though they did take time to make sure we were prepared and understood the problems that may come up in a marriage between people of different faiths.
        They also ask you to sign a statement agreeing to raise any children in the Catholic faith (this happens at the very first meeting with the priest, and while that was the general plan already, we hadn’t had a serious conversation about it together yet, and it really caught us off guard).
        There was also a section in the back of the marriage prep book for weddings between a catholic and someone unbaptized. I assume that section wouldn’t exist if such a wedding were impossible within the church, though I know the sacrament is a bit different and there are certainly more hoops to jump through.

        • april

          Yeah- totally depends on the church. My fiance is Catholic and I’m a loosely affliated (unbaptized) Episcopalian. Some Catholic churches in our large East Coast city would only perform ceremonies between two baptized Catholics, and some were fine with just one person being Catholic. You just have to ask around a bit …

          My advice for for TNIFI, if she does decide to go with a church wedding, would be to shop around a bit for a church that she feels welcomed by. Talk with the priests and find out how they approach the marriage process. We’re going with a simple ceremony (not the full mass) at a beautiful Catholic church near our reception site. The congregation has a reputation for being very progressive, and I have loved working with our priest despite my initial hesitations about a church wedding.

          • jlseldon7

            I agree with finding a church you are comfortable in. This is so important no matter what denomination. Our (catholic) priest was fantastic with my now-husband who wasn’t baptized and overall it was a fantastic experience. Our priest was great about explaining what was happening, why and answering any questions my husband had. This made my husband a lot more comfortable.

            I’m so ever thankful that my husband was gracious enough to allow me to experience the Sacrament of Matrimony. I didn’t realize until I was engaged how much I had built that into my ideas about marriage.

      • Samantha

        You will not be asked to convert and you can still have a full Mass if one party is not Catholic (but Christian) although it may require a dispensation from the Bishop depending on you priest.

  • efletch

    I would suggest talking to him about it. When I was pre engaged I made a lot of assumptions about what I thought would be important/not important to my partner. I thought I knew him pretty well and I was basing my assumptions on the bits and pieces of conversations we had around weddings. What I found when we started to actually plan the thing was surprising. Things I thought would be important to him weren’t, and other things that I hadn’t even considered where. All I’m saying is I think you need more information before you decide if this is something you want to pursue. He may not have given it much thought or it could be really important to him, but you won’t know unless you ask.

    • Yes! I catch myself doing this more than I’d like. When I brought up that I’d like to do pre-marital counseling, I was nervous because I assumed he’d be dismissive, but he was totally on board with the idea. I also brought up the idea of a ring-warming, thinking that we’ve already agreed on the importance of community at a wedding, and he thought ring warming sounded weird/pointless/logistically awkward/etc. Bummer.

      Definitely talk to him!

    • Katelyn

      Same goes for discussing this with the parents or in-laws. I thought my mother would be adamant about having a Catholic ceremony, so when she said “you can do whatever you want, honey!” I almost fell over. You know what they say about when you assume…

      • Amanda

        My mom was very supportive of what we wanted to do with our wedding, but I still had the assumption that she wanted it in the church. She said afterward that she was so glad we didn’t have a Catholic wedding. This was great, and a little astonishing.
        My mother REALLY wants to be a grandmother. My husband and I are going to start trying in a year or two, but we haven’t told her yet (because I think she would just pester me more!) I am also afraid to talk to her about not baptizing our future children, as I think that this might be more of a sticking point. I don’t think she really cares if I choose not to be religious, but I think she might care if our babies aren’t… based on how much she valued religious education when my sisters and I were young. I think that this is one of those conversations that I will wait to bring up.

    • mmouse

      This happened to us too. He had all sorts of strong opinions about things that I thought he’d care nothing about (wanting the reception in a classic “reception hall” venue, the color scheme, and wedding favors). He also had little to no opinion about things I thought he *would* care about (groomsmen, his outfit).

      It was actually pretty fun to do that part of the wedding planning, because I liked seeing what he’d been envisioning.

  • One thing about having your heart set on marrying outdoors, nature can often turn up at the last minute to change those plans. (Says someone who plans to marry outdoors but has jokingly called it our “Plan b” in case of nice weather, and picked a venue with a nice indoor space that will also easily work.)

    Perhaps you can figure out what part of getting married outdoors is important to you, and work those aspects into another part of the day? Maybe have the reception outdoors. Maybe have a pre-ceremony meeting between you and your almost spouse to quietly whisper your personal vows to each other? Or do the same thing in an immediate post-ceremony private time.

  • 39bride

    You may also be worrying about something that might be irrelevant. In many Catholic churches, the priest will not perform a ceremony if both people are not Catholic.

    • One More Sara

      A compromise could be reached if you chose to get married in a church of another denomination, BUT if budget is an issue, non-member fees at churches can get REAL expensive REAL fast.

    • As long as the non-Catholic is Christian, it’s generally not a problem for an interfaith couple to get married in the Catholic Church.

      • ElfPuddle

        It generally isn’t a problem with other faiths, either.
        Please see the long comments below.

    • Samantha

      This is not true.

  • Sarah

    I agree that wanting to get married in a church does not necessarily mean that it has its basis in religion. Sometimes it’s about connecting to something different — a cultural upbringing (that may or may not include ‘religion’), a strong tradition, family values, a legacy.

    Sit down and unpack what means the most to you both — him getting married in a church and you getting married outdoors. What’s behind the desire? Is it because it’s what you’ve always envisioned? Is it modelling after someone else’s wedding? Is it to please someone else? Then if you still have different opinions you have to compromise but at least you’ll what what’s important ABOUT the decision.

    My fiance has said about several decisions that he doesn’t want it to look “weird”. At first I thought he cared too much what other people thought, but as we discussed more and more I realized that he was really expressing his own sense of tradition and what he has always envisioned a wedding should look like.

    So much of the wedding industry is about the groom giving the bride what she wants. Men have been told their opinions should not matter or that they shouldn’t have opinions at all. So maybe when he says his family expects it, it’s his way of saying it’s what HE really wants. Just a thought.

  • Anne

    Have you (or better yet, your Catholic partner) checked with the priest at the church he wants to get married in about their requirements? I have had a lot of non-Catholic friends and relatives marry Catholics, and it seems like the level of commitment on the part of the non-Catholic person varies a bit by parish. At a minimum, most places require you to be a baptized Christian. Others require that you attend church regularly, and/or go through their pre cana marriage preparation sessions. Anyway, I know that after looking at what it actually entailed, a lot of the couples I know decided that it actually made more sense not to go the church route and had an easier time communicating that to their families.

    • Another Meg

      I agree with this. A Catholic wedding usually requires not only pre-Caana (a type of pre-marital seminar with a bunch of other couples) but a test that you take and then discuss with the priest who will marry you. They’ll make suggestions and possibly have some requirements, such as having the groom sleep in another place for the months before the wedding (if you live together). They also tend to require that you get certified in Natural Family Planning.
      I have also had friends who originally wanted to get married in a family church but ended up changing plans after further discussions with the priest.

      I also agree with having further discussions with your partner to suss out who really wants what. Key before going down the Wedding Venue Rabbit Hole.

      • Christina

        There is definitely a lot of variance between parishes, and between dioceses. I would recommend that anyone who goes the Catholic route does so in a parish that is most comfortable to them, and one where they’re hopefully been attending services for a while. That should give you a good sense of how they will handle marriages and marriage preparation. You’ll also likely need to be a registered member of the parish for a few months before you can even start the wedding preparations. We had months of pre-marital counseling via a “retreat,” a few different questionnaires/personality tests, and working for about 6 weeks with a couple married for 60(!) years. The whole purpose is to make sure that you as a couple have all the tools/resources you can to have a strong marriage. Nothing was ever said to us about living together. We received a pamphlet on NFP in our welcome packet, but that was the extent of it. Granted, our parish is a very large, urban, liberal church where there is more emphasis on inclusiveness and welcoming everyone than anything else. It’s our kind of parish and Catholicism and I’m delighted we’re getting married there next week!

  • I don’t mean to get all pysch 101 on you here, but I’m wondering if you’ve thought about why it gets your back up to consider doing something just to please his parents? Because you pointed out you’d totes do it for him, but doing it for them, is obviously making you feel squicky? Something.

    Nothing wrong with it getting you back up – it would totally grind my gears to be asked to do something just to please my in-laws, but I know why it would and that helps me make decisions or have discussions with my husband that get results. Because me not wanting to do something to please them is sometimes about me taking a stand in my marriage and my relationship with his dysfunctional family and sometimes its because I’m being selfish. It helps to know the difference – at least for me it does.

  • KateM

    As someone who grew up Catholic and comes from a huge Irish Catholic family, it a huge deal in our family to get married in the church. If you are Catholic and getting married outside the church without a priest present, not only doesn’t the Church recognize it, other practicing Catholics are not supposed to attend it. Regardless of whether or not you agree with this, it is a big deal to pit a family’s faith against attending wedding. If I had gotten married outside the church, my family would not have come. I knew this, and again it doesn’t matter if I agreed with it, it wasn’t worth the potential conflict.
    On side note, you can get married outside of a Catholic Church with a priest presiding, and it is recognized by the church and practicing Catholics are “allowed” to go. You do have to jump through more hoops, but it might be a good compromise for you both. I have been to many weddings where the couple did this. Outdoor wedding at a vineyard, one in hotel.

    • KW

      Being married by a priest without being in a church building is definitely something that varies by diocese, be warned. My dad is a Catholic deacon and his diocese and bishop expressly forbid Catholic weddings to take place outside a church, and the minimum wait period is enforced as well.

    • I am Catholic with a huge Irish Catholic family, as are almost all of the people I grew up with, and I’ve never heard this bit about discouraging people from attending. I’m in no-way suggesting it’s not true, just offering that I don’t think this is a common belief/practice.

      • It’s an old-school thing. Most (younger) Catholics don’t pay much attention to it, but a lot of your either really devout and/or older Catholics (i.e., those who grew up prior to Vatican II) still stand by this. My coworker’s cousin is planning a non-Catholic ceremony (just because, not for any strongly held belief), and she’s indicated that her grandparents are leaning toward not attending for this reason.

  • Kirstin

    I would agree that more research needs to be done. As someone who was raised Catholic, but is no longer practicing, I am aware that choosing to get married in the Catholic Church brings with it additional expectations.

    When my parents got married in the Catholic Church (granted, a long time ago), my father, who was not Catholic, was asked and expected to agree that any children would be raised Catholic, as a condition of getting married in the church. He wasn’t pushed to convert himself, but they were asked to make a future decision in that moment.

    I am not sure if this is still practice any longer, but it may be a conversation that you have to be ready and comfortable discussing in any premarital counseling with the priest (which is still expected). I have had friends tell me that they have openly lied about this, just to get through those meetings. Again, something else you’d have to decide on in regards to what you would want to do.

    • Carolyn

      Um yeah, they still do. The Catholic Church already called ‘dibs’ on my imaginary future babies.

    • MDBethann

      My Lutheran aunt ran into the same thing in 1970 when she married. The Catholic church in which she married even went so far as to ask my Lutheran grandmother to sign a document agreeing that my cousins would be raised Catholic. According to my mom, my grandmother refused to sign it, so my then-teenage (also Lutheran) mother signed the document. My cousins were raised Catholic, but none of them married in the Church – one of them even got married in a Lutheran church – and I don’t think they even attend services at Christmas & Easter. So much for that promise!

  • mmouse

    It sounds to me like TNIFI *does* have some strong feelings about where she gets married. I don’t think it’s automatic to have to preserve the in-law’s family tradition to “make them happy”, but I do think that very careful consideration needs to be taken and honest conversations need to be had in this instance. How important are each of these places (outdoors for her, church for him?) Liz is also right that it doesn’t matter *why* he has feelings about getting married in church, it only matters that he has those feelings. I think if it comes out that the future fiance doesn’t truly want to go through with a church wedding either, then it’s okay to move away from that family tradition.

    We go through these tradition conversations mostly surrounding holidays. It’s hard, because many times we both feel strongly about things that butt against the other’s wants. Funnily, we are both starting to change perspectives over time. I used to be adamant that I would never go a Christmas season without seeing my family for an extended time, but I’m now more willing to bend on that. My husband now seems more willing *not* to bend on that and wants to plan our holidays so everyone is seen (no matter how crazy our schedule ends up being). It’s hard to predict how your baby family will evolve over time!

  • never.the.same

    “Is it unfair for me to ask him to have that conversation with them, or might he be underestimating them?”

    It’s not unfair to ask him to have that conversation. It’d be unfair to ask him to convince his parents not to care, or it’d be unfair to ask him to have that conversation before he’s ready. But I think it’s absolutely fair to say that, before you become legally tied to him and his family, that your concerns are addressed.

    It is, however, probably a conversation that can wait until you are actually engaged.

    Although I find the term “pre-engaged” to be pretty tongue-in-cheek (as intended on APW!) I do think it’s an actual stage in a relationship. It’s the stage when two people know they want to marry each other and are having marriage conversations, but aren’t asking for family/community/cultural/religious input, yet. That’s where you are, TNIFI. Engagement is when you say that you’ve made the decision and are in the space where everyone else gets to have their say.

    So for now, it’s a conversation between you and your partner and you can (and should!) say, “This is important to me and when we’re engaged I’ll want you to ask your parents about their feelings, instead of just assuming or guessing what they want.” But don’t push for that until you’re actually planning the ceremony.

    And it probably would be best to also ask, now, “Is this important to you and/or your parents?” because I think that’s not understood totally, yet, as Liz noted.

  • NTB


    As someone who grew up in an insanely stereotypical Italian-American Catholic family, I can relate. I myself was raised SUPER Catholic, and so was my stereo-typically Irish-Catholic husband. But the church bit was more important to him than it was to me. Our parents INSISTED that we get married IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. As in, INSIDE THE CHURCH. This also came with those pre-cana classes that lasted most of the year that we were engaged and that DROVE ME NUTS. Sure, I am spiritual and all, but the formality of everything pretty much drove me insane, and I am Catholic, so that tells you something.

    Anyway, I see this as a chance for you and your pre-fiance to have important discussions about compromise. Before I got married, compromise was a foreign idea. I came home everyday, cooked up a pot of boxed mac n cheese, put on my food-stained pajamas, and watched re-runs of Dawson’s Creek until 1am the next day. But now being married I have to make all sorts of compromises, and it’s really hard for me sometimes. But in all honesty, it’s kind of a give-and-take thing when you get married. You’ve got to make compromises on both ends (both you and him) or things can get….difficult. This is your chance to test it out. Have discussions. Be open and honest about what you both want for your day.

    If you decide to get married in a church, and you feel that you are meeting him more than halfway by doing so, consider a compromise on your end. Perhaps you will determine the reception site (OUTDOORS!) or another important part of the wedding. One thing that I learned in this process was to have this discussion with my spouse and create a plan that satisfied both of us . It might not be a 50/50 deal, but maybe if you can come up with other ideas so that the day is a reflection of both of you, both parties will be satisfied with the outcome.

  • I know I’m repeating a lot of what has been said but be sure to look at the requirements for being married in the church. To be married in the Catholic church there are a lot of pre-marriage requirements, and since you are not Catholic you will need to get permission from the bishop and will likely have to provide proof of baptism in a Christian church. In addition there is a counseling requirement and test that you have to do before you are allowed to marry. This isn’t just a tradition/venue question, there is a lot more involved.

  • ElfPuddle

    I’m currently planning my Catholic wedding.
    I teach RCIA (the classes for those converting to the Catholic faith).

    So, with those credentials…

    The Catholic Church does recognize marriages outside the Church. Many of my fellow parishoners were married at City Hall, or on a beach, or to a non-Catholic.

    The important thing, to the Church, is the difference between Marriage and marriage. A marriage is a legal agreement between a man and a woman (let’s not get into gay marriage and the Church since that isn’t the point) to live together as husband and wife forever. A Marriage is one of the seven Sacraments of the Church that grants God’s Grace to a couple.

    In order to have a Catholic Marriage, at least one of the couple, or their parents, must be Catholic, and must be a member of a Catholic parish in good standing (regular attendance, etc.). The couple will need to meet with either the parish priest or his designate (some parishes have wedding counselors that do all the meetings) several times and complete the diocese’s requirements. Those requirements vary from diocese to diocese, and the only way to find out is to ask at your local parish. The Marriage is not performed by a priest. The couple themselves are the ministers of the sacrament. The priest, or deacon (it doesn’t have to be a priest) is there as God’s witness only. I realize that difference is hard to see from the outside. You’re just going to have to trust me that the verbage is important.

    A marriage can be blessed in the Church later (we call it con-validation). This adds some of the Sacramental Grace to a marriage that was performed outside the Church. If we didn’t recognize those marriages, we wouldn’t have con-validations. This happens a lot when people marry non-Catholics, or when a Catholic marries without getting an annulment after their divorce, or for a variety of other reasons.

    Additionally, some dioceses allow priests and deacons to con-celebrate at weddings taking place outside the Church. For instance, if I (a Catholic in good standing) were to marry a nice Jewish or Protestant boy, and we chose to have our wedding on neutral ground, we could have his pastor/rabbi/minister and mine celebrate the marriage together.

    Whether or not a particular parish okays a wedding between a non-Catholic and a non-practicing Catholic is strictly up to whether or not the couple completes the requirements for their diocese.

    As others have suggested, chat with the boyfriend about it. Together, talk to a local parish priest about it. My parish’s priests and deacons are always happy to talk to couples, whether or not they’re engaged, about the faith and what the Sacraments mean to us; I’m sure yours are too.

    Many blessings to both of you.

    • ElfPuddle

      I meant to add that pre-marriage counseling does not always last long.

      We met with in our parish twice and went to one 6-hour Saturday Pre-Cana class. That was it.

      (We also have waited a huge amount of time for his annulment, but that’s another story.)

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, thank you for clearing those things up. There are a lot of misconceptions being stated on this comment thread, some of which are pretty cynical.

      I was also married in the Catholic Church, and we took a short test and met with a married couple once for about two hours. We also met once with the priest who performed our ceremony for coffee. But, there were no lectures on NFP or any other “hoops to jump through.” In fact, I found the marriage prep to be helpful.

      Also, you don’t have to have a full Mass to get married in the Catholic Church. I’ve had a lot of friends who married non-Catholics choose this route.

      • ElfPuddle

        You’re quite welcome.

      • jlseldon7

        We didn’t have the full Mass either, because over half of the attendees would not have gone up for Eucharist. Considering that the whole point of Marriage is the joining of two people, I considered it a bad move to point out our differences during Eucharist. I simply requested to receive Eucharist prior to the service. I think overall it was a good choice for our situation and would recommend it to other couples with non-Catholic partners.

        I also really enjoyed our Pre-Cana classes. My hubby is christian but not baptized and he liked them also. (Which is a minor miracle.) We did have a couple show up to talk to us about NFP, but they were fun and made it more informational and light-hearted than anything else.

    • Samantha

      Yes thank you thank you thank you! Catholics get such a bad rap when in truth it is such a truly beautiful way to marry and not so strict as people think.

      • NTB

        absolutely :)

    • Elfpuddle, I am a Methodist marrying a Catholic in a Catholic ceremony (not a mass.) Could you possibly recommend some resources for me to learn about Catholic stuff? I tried an RCIA class, but it was not a good fit for me since I am not converting and I am already familiar with Christianity in general. I really just want to learn more about the Catholic church. My fiance is terrible at answering questions-he is a cradle Catholic and can’t understand why I get confused by some of the traditions he takes for granted. If you have any suggestions, that would be wonderful!

  • Lauren

    I was the OP’s boyfriend when my husband and I got married. Our solution (and it depends somewhat on the priest you choose): have a small, immediate family-only ceremony in the church the day before the outdoor ceremony with all your friends and extended family. I got the important, church-recognized ceremony that was important to me and my family, and we still got to have the outdoor ceremony and reception that really reflected us as a couple.

  • There are some lovely compromises you could make! I’ve seen a few outdoor ‘cathedrals’ and sometimes all you need to agree to is having a catholic priest and an alter with a cross — easy to replicate out doors. Some churches even have outdoor spaces if you want to marry outdoors!

    My parents would definitely prefer me to marry in a church but I just don’t like the aesthetic and I find church weddings can feel impersonal. My not quite fiance and I would love to marry outdoors but weather where we live can be very unpredictable so I’m looking for a compromise like a cool tavern with an outdoor patio, or a greenhouse space.

    • Copper

      Or get married in a church with a reception in a nearby outdoor space.

  • StillSmiling

    Just a couple of technical notes that might be informative.

    If a Catholic gets married outside of the Church, that marriage is still recognized. The technical language is that the marriage is “valid” but not “licit.” In other words, “you’re still married, but you shouldn’t have done that.” Should you all (or the grandparents) ever want to baptize your child, for example, that whole not-licit part could complicate matters, depending on the diocese and on the parish.

    Different dioceses and parishes have different approaches to non-Catholics marrying Catholics, but yes, the Church has a whole system for it, and yes, it does include a commitment to raising any future children Catholic. (In defense of the Catholic Church, of which I am a joyful part, we happen to think that being Catholic is a REALLY great thing, and so want to encourage people to share that with those they love, like their children.)

    Finally, there will be marriage preparation you will be asked to do if you decide to marry in the Church. It will include sessions intended to help you have conversations about children, finances, fighting, intimacy, etc. It will also likely include an assessment designed to help you both identify areas of strength and weakness in yourself, and in your relationship so that you can talk about them. Finally, they will want you to go to at least an introductory session on Natural Family Planning.

    I will be the first to admit that some of these programs are run better than others. But, they are designed to help people have stronger, happier, healthier marriages, before they even start. And, I have to say, I think that’s a really, really, really good thing. Even if you’re not considering getting married in the Catholic Church, I would highly recommend looking into these things. What resources are available to help you have conversations you might not otherwise have? What can you do to learn more about yourself, your partner, your families of origin and how that shapes you? (And, on the NFP idea- even if you’re not planning to use it for actual family planning, I really recommend learning about it! It’s helped me and my partner understand my body and therefore me, so much better, and that is awesome.)

    I happen to think it’s good that the Catholic Church makes this kind of help available and do-able and I wish there was a broader push to purposefully prepare for marriage in some way (beyond the great conversations here at APW, of course!) I just think that the more people who take preparation like this seriously, the more happy, healthy marriages we might see.

    Hope this is helpful!

    • ElfPuddle

      You and I were typing at the same time! Thank you. :)

    • Sara

      One quick note about promising to raise children Catholic – that, too, seems to depend on the diocese and even the priest. When my Protestant fiance and I were planning our wedding (held in a Methodist church, co-officiated by a Methodist minister and Catholic priest) the priest was careful to say that we were only promising to raise children Catholic “to the best of our abilities,” but that our commitment to each other and the health of our marriage came first. In other words, we’ll decide together what’s best for our family, and that’s totally fine. And this is in one of the most traditional dioceses in the country – even there, though, there’s room for conscience and discussion!

    • Jessica

      I was going to type a very similar response as yours!

      I *loved* our pre-cana session- we did an all day retreat, and it was so strangely intimate and awesome to focus solely on each other and our future marriage and have those types of conversations. My coworkers and non- Catholic friends all thought it was such a hassle that we had to do it, but in the end, I was so glad.

      (As for NFP- as a practitioner, I give it two thumbs up! Once you learn it, it becomes second nature and can be really helpful! Personally, I discovered fertility issues that I had not known I had and I was able to take steps to correct them now, instead of waiting until we were trying for children and going through infertility.)

  • Jenny

    Assuming you are cool with marrying in a Catholic Church and all that entails and means, one of my friends was in a similar situation and they had a small (immediate family only) wedding mass in the morning and then had the same priest perform a renewal of vows that afternoon (the wedding they invited everyone to). It allowed them to be outside, read there own vows, and also meant that everyone was happy (or so it seemed from my POV). I’m sure this would required talking with the priest and making sure he’s cool with it. But it’s one option.

    • amigacara

      Yeah I had friends do this too! They had a big, non religious, outdoor ceremony + party, and then a small catholic ceremony the next day just for family.

  • elorrie

    This was pretty much the exact situation my husband and I were in. We ended up getting married outside with a protestant minister (my aunt). He has an uncle that is a priest as well so we both had people close to us we wanted involved. His uncle ended up not being able to make it to the wedding at the last minute so I was glad things worked out the way they did. His parents were a little uncomfortable with the idea of getting married outside of the catholic church at first but they seemed to be fine with in the end. We did talk to the priest about getting married in the church but we would have at minimum had to sign something saying we promised to raise our future children catholic. While I know it is by no means a binding contract the idea made me uncomfortable. That was kind of the final tipping point for our decision.
    I totally understand the not wanting to do things just because his parents want something. We had that majorly with the guest list. They wanted to invite tons of extended family and friends my husband didn’t even know. I was fine with it if he wanted them there but not just to please his parents. He finally had the conversation with his parents about that once I pointed out that not only would we be paying for these people, but that we would have to spend a lot of time on our wedding day greeting and talking to these people we will likely never see again.
    You’re early on in the process. Its hard to start pushing these issues when they’re still kind of a hazy idea in the future. Once things got closer and more “real” the discussions got taken a lot more seriously.

  • Miriam

    Also, regardless of what space you get married in and what that means for what kind of counseling/conversion you will be going through, it sounds like this is a perfect jumping off place for a conversation about the role religion (and here I’m talking both about the God stuff and the trappings of religious culture) both of you want to play in your lives together moving forward. I am to Judaism what it sounds like your boyfriend is to Catholicism – I don’t go in for the God stuff, but the cultural aspects of it are very important to me (he’s an atheist but raised Episcopalian). We’re getting married in a synagogue, and it was very important to figure out what we wanted our married life (and kids’ lives) to look like in terms of its relationship to religious culture. If your guy wants to get married in a church, even if he doesn’t seem now like he cares all that much about religion, I bet he has some deep-down desires about Catholicism in his future family that would be really good to unpack now – especially in the pre-engaged stage – so you know whether you want to sign off on it.

    • Rachel

      So true! AND a good jumping-off point for the role your parents and their wishes will play in your lives!

  • Rachel

    Liz touched on this but I just wanted to second it: sometimes “it would mean a lot to my parents” is code for “it would mean a lot to me”…or at least, it is with my fiance. And that’s fine! But it helps to figure that out.

    I tend to feel like post-engagement wedding planning requires you to start completely over in terms of your vision for your wedding (and that goes for both partners). I had ideas about how I always saw my wedding…then I had ideas about how I saw my wedding to Eric (and he had ideas of his own!)…but none of those REALLY took into account the things that we hadn’t yet discovered really mattered to us and to each other. (Also, we were planning them with pretend money!) Before we got engaged, Eric made me agree to stop talking about getting married at City Hall — for his mom’s sake he said. It was tough but I eventually agreed. We are now planning our courthouse wedding. His mom thinks it’s great. So…yeah. Things change once you start talking to your families and sort of officially planning.

    Anyway, while I’m all for taking a stand on things that are important to you and have been for a long time, I’d encourage you (either now or once it’s all offish and such) to figure out where being married outdoors falls in the grand scheme of wedding battles you’re willing to fight. I personally knew that I was willing to go to battle to not be married in a church for religious (or in my case, non-religious) reasons. But I was totally willing to consider getting married in the summer even though I’d always REALLY wanted to be married in the winter because it was an idea he was into. I kinda feel like we only get one or two “fight your parents on this one” battles during planning, so I’d suggest you think about other things that matter to you that you may need to fight for before you make this The Issue.

  • Amy March

    I’d also read some of Meg’s posts about the use of symbols of faith that aren’t your own. Tangential to your situation, but an interesting way to think about faith, tradition, and symbolism and how to be respectful if your own beliefs and the beliefs of others.

  • Rebekah

    After reading this far in the comments and rereading your original letter to Liz, my reaction is still the same. You’re (possibly) freaking out over something you’re not sure is even a thing yet.

    And please don’t get me wrong. I’m pre-engaged. I do the same thing. I take comments he makes on their own or in response to something I say and I assume he’s going to feel a certain way about a certain topic in the future. Or sometimes he hasn’t even said anything that leads to my assumption, rather, it’s my guess on a culmination of tiny things from the past.

    So I tried to put myself in your shoes as the girl writing this, and it wasn’t too hard. For me (and just for me, but maybe also for you), I would want a friend to go over things with me, hug me, and remind me that it’s not an issue yet. I would need to clarify with my SO that he did indeed want to get married in a church, in the Church, and then explain to me why it was important, especially because it wasn’t what I thought I wanted.

    So hopefully you find some resolution, and hopefully you both come away from any discussions with a better understanding of why you and your partner want what you want.

  • Kat

    Couldn’t you do both? I had wonderful friends who had a huge outdoor wedding followed two days later by an intimate family only catholic ceremony. I guess what I’m trying to say is that whatever the two of you want to do is possible and I think this decision is one that this community can’t really decide for you.
    I feel that the deeper question here, which is a big one in wedding planning, is how do you have a wedding that EVERYONE is okay with, and the fact is that’s not really possible. There will be things you and your partner don’t agree on. There will be things that you and your family don’t agree on. I found wedding planning to be a huge growing up moment because it required me to decide over and over when I needed to compromise for the sake of my family and relationships and when I had to put my foot down and say this is what I need.
    You may have always dreampt of an intimate cocktail reception, he doesn’t think a wedding is a wedding without a sit down plated dinner and an all night dance party. What if the bride has stage fright and chokes up at the idea of having everyone looking at her, but the groom can’t imagine a wedding without all his extended family there? At the end of the day, no matter what you do you will step on some toes and someone else’s vision will not match yours.
    Personally, we had an intimate wedding of fewer than 25 guests at a beach resort and a midday reception. There were so many compromises I can’t really enumerate them all but I can say for certain that what we ended up with was not the vision anyone (bride, groom, parents) entered with. That being said, it was the most fantastic and wonderful day of my life and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.

  • There definitely isn’t a cut-and-dry answer. Communication is important in a situation like this. Whether it’s a religious or traditional reason, and one person is indifferent, then do what makes the other person happy. But if one person really feels uncomfortable, then it’s important to talk about it.

  • Jessica B

    Is there a specific outdoor place you had in mind, or did you just want to be in nature? I know a lot of churches have gardens or outdoor space, so it could be a compromise to get married on church grounds without needing to walk down the traditional aisle, but it would also make it easy for a back up location in case of inclement weather.

  • JC

    What really helped us in figuring these things out (He was raised SUPER Catholic, I was raised moderately Catholic. He is now a moderate Catholic, I am not practicing) was to go through the reasons that he wanted certain things (A Full Mass). I was very adamantly against a Mass, he was wishy-washy pro Mass.

    When his parents really started pressuring us to have a Mass (I’m talking like “I must have failed as a mother to have raised a son who doesn’t think it’s important to have Jesus as part of his wedding” when we were always getting married in the Catholic Church anyway), he started saying that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea, maybe we should just do that. I would always ask him to explain the reasons he saw to have a Mass, and the reasons not to. Consistently, the reasons to have a Mass revolved around how other people would perceive our wedding (“But my aunts are all going to talk! No one has done this before!”), and the reasons not to were always from himself (“I want our non-Catholic friends to feel included, I like feeling like the Marriage is the important part of the day, not the Mass itself”). I would then go through the same exercise (Pro: keep the peace with his parents. Con: I don’t enjoy the ritual of Mass, I don’t like everyone to be staring at me so I want the ceremony to be quick). After a few of these talks he finally realized that what he really wanted was to skip the Mass and just get married in the Church.

    These conversations also really helped when it came time to break the news to his parents, who promptly broke out the “I’m so disappointed in you” when the talk of skipping the full Mass came up (to reference a comment up-thread – I know EXACTLY why it makes me feel all squicky to think about doing things just for his parents!)

  • Sarah

    I would highly recommend the “Together for Life” book for marriage outside of mass (it’s really more of a pamphlet, it only cost $5 on Amazon). I am Catholic but didn’t really know about the marriage traditions (like many of us on here) and it really helped to lay out what the church thought was important for marriage/couples. I looked at both the outside-of-mass one and the regular version but preferred the outside-of-mass because I thought it showed, even when the church knew it wasn’t getting its way by having you marry in the church, what its hopes for you as a Catholic were. Also, because it came from a place where there were no assumptions about what your wedding would be, I felt like it made more of an effort to explain why certain things were important to the Church/Catholic tradition. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would get married in the church or not, and I found it really helpful. Ultimately we were married in a Presbyterian church, and the book also helped me to be a little more understanding of some of the restrictions there!
    We were married in my husband’s faith because once we decided (painfully) to get married in his hometown/part of the country rather than mine, it just made more sense. He’s spent his entire life with that church community and in that building, and though I feel strongly about my faith it’s not tied to a particular church building in the same way. He was fine with marrying in the Catholic church, but knowing the pastor for years, knowing the ladies on the wedding committee since you were in diapers, having run around the building your whole life–those things outweighed an impersonal location that just happened to be part of my faith tradition. If we’d gotten married in my hometown, you’d better bet I’d have fought to the end to get married in MY church though!
    I’d also note–the church we were married in had the most incredible natural light from the giant windows, that it felt like we were surrounded by/floating in light in a way that you usually only feel outdoors. If the light is what’s important to you, check out different churches–some feel more airy/natural than others!

    • samantha

      Also check out these two websites: and They do a really great job like the book of outlining the ceremony, the parts, the options, what it all means, etc.

    • ElfPuddle

      I want to exactly this a million times!!

      My head and my heart just hurt reading so much misinformation.
      Even people who are practicing a faith don’t always understand everything, so giving advice about a faith because you used to be a member makes no sense–if you understood all of it, it wouldn’t be in your past.

      I appreciate that there are things some people understand and still choose to leave behind, but that’s not what I see here.

      And don’t get me started on advice based on rumors or second-hand stories.

  • N.

    I’m a Catholic who married a Jew in a ceremony officiated by a Rabbi. My marriage is recognized by the Catholic Church (and I have the papers to prove it!). I got a dispensation for disparity of cult (for marrying a non-baptized person) and a dispensation from canonical form (for having a Jewish ceremony, not in a Catholic church). While my marriage is not a sacrament, I was married “validly and licitly” according to the authorization letter from the Church.

    There is so much incorrect or misleading information out there on marriage for Catholics, unfortunately including in this post and some of the comments. I could cite the open Catechism of the Catholic Church sitting in my lap, but to anyone with questions or who wants to learn about this, you should speak with a priest who can guide you through the process. And if you are not an expert on this, as I’m certainly not, please be careful what information you give to people on something this important.

  • ANW

    A possible compromise is to find a church that brings the outdoors inside. In my homestate of Washington, the Chapel on Echo Bay comes to mind with its sweeping views of the water from the altar. There are amazing glass chapels around the country too. Perhaps you can find middle ground that way?

  • I read this yesterday afternoon on my iPhone while walking to my car, and I knew I had a lot of thoughts about this. I read some of the comments above, but not all, and I may be echoing a lot of previous sentiments, but I wanted to get my comment down on paper before I got distracted by something else, so I apologize if I am repeating anyone. :)

    My husband and I both grew up Catholic. Up until 2008, I was going to Mass pretty regularly (not EVERY Sunday, but most Sundays). I found a parish I liked and was thinking about not only joining but perhaps becoming a lector or a eucharistic minister or something to that end. But then the election began, and it got nasty and divisive in the Church. I was being told that, essentially, because of certain viewpoints I hold strongly (i.e., pro-gay marriage), that I wasn’t a Catholic and I wasn’t wanted. (I should note, not at the parish where I was attending mass regularly, but in general.) This rhetoric had surfaced before (i.e., in the 2000 election, the 2004 election, etc.), but this was the first time under a new pope, who had come out publicly that he wanted a more exclusive church, it was especially troubling.

    I remember sitting at Easter mass, and not feeling any joy, any solemnity, nothing. This was after going to mass twice a week throughout Lent (Wednesdays and Sundays), and going to Holy Thursday and Good Friday services. I felt out of place, an imposter, unwelcome. Again, not by my parish, but in general. I decided then to take a step back and see how I felt. That was, of course, 5 years ago. My husband went through a similar break, though he did so before he met me (he was supportive of my practicing, but he did not want to attend with me, which I respected).

    When we got engaged, we both decided immediately that we did not want a Church wedding, for exactly the reasons I mentioned above. We explained it to our parents, who took it well. My mother – who I thought would be more upset – said to me, “I completely understand and respect why you both don’t want to.” I don’t regret the decision we made, though there are times I really miss the Church. It’s one of those mourning the path not taken while not regretting it at the same time.

    Had getting married in the Church been really important to one of us, however, we may have approached things differently.

    Catholicism is VERY cultural for a lot of people who grew up Catholic, and though your husband might not be practicing, it still sounds like he identifies as Catholic culturally. Liz addressed this above, but if you had strong reservations about the Church itself, my answer would be different, but if it is, “Well, I would be fine with a Church wedding except that I really want to be married outside,” I think it is a little different. (This is coming from someone who got married outside, by the way, so I completely understand the urge.) There are other ways to incorporate this (i.e., what about an outdoor reception? Or even an outdoor cocktail hour?) while still reconciling your fiance’s vision of a wedding. Because, it is his wedding, too.

    • I wanted to add, too, some of this was mentioned above regarding the particulars, but seeing as not only are you not Catholic, but presumably at least half of your guests won’t be, either (right?), you may want to skip the full mass and simply have the liturgy ceremony. While I think the full mass is beautiful in many ways, I also grew up Catholic, and for those who did not it is confusing and long and, sometimes, off-putting for those guests (i.e., Communion, which is only for the Catholics). And did I mention long? Like, about an hour and a half long? The liturgy ceremony is about a half hour, give or take.

  • The vibe I’m getting is definitely that your intended wants to get married in a church himself, but it’s a conversation you need to have more in depth. There’s a lot of points that could use clarification here: does he mean specifically that he wants to get married in the Catholic church particularly, or just that it’s important to get married in a church of any kind?

    Keep in mind that unless you’re actually planning the wedding already you’ll revisit a lot of this once you get there, but being on the same page about what matters in a wedding first will help.