Increasing numbers of engaged couples do not have a parish in which to host their wedding or they get told by a church official that they don’t qualify for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony for various reasons, e.g., they’re not registered members, they’re cohabitating, one of them is divorced…  Many such couples grew up in a household that was affiliated with Catholicism, closely or loosely, but they are no longer practicing the faith—also for various reasons.  I am encouraged when I am contacted by engaged couples that want to stay connected, want to marry in the church, or want a priest to bless their union.

Since a wedding is one of the most important days of a person’s life, it probably ought to occur in one of the most important places in a person’s life.  For those who grew up in the church, received sacraments in the church, and hold Christ as central, church seems like a logical site.  Though happy that brides and grooms want to stay attached and want their special day focused on faith with God’s blessing, I am sad that many engaged couples feel marginalized by church officials or get turned away with no support or encouragement for their nuptials.  As a priest, I, and others, want to help those in irregular situations—those who are not active registered members at the church where they desire to wed and those who are confounded by ecclesial regulations—to receive a church blessing.

Couple’s cases are as varied as colors and their myriad shades: a forty year old widowed Catholic engaged to a divorced non-Catholic who doesn’t want to hassle with a year-long annulment process (and neither does she), a twenty-eight year old bride who experienced abuse in her Catholic elementary school and parish who wants to stay connected to the larger church but not her own parish, a pregnant couple whose pastor told them they cannot have a sacramental wedding, a medical student who is culturally Catholic (attended Catholic schools and holiday Masses) and doing his residency far from home where he plans to marry his non-Catholic fiancé, those that simply want their civil union blessed by their church…  Situations that were once uncommon are now common.  My hope is that while couples are engaged and reach out to engage the church, they will be welcomed by church officials with hopes that they will continue to engage God and faith in ever deepening ways in the future.

Some of those who meet objection or rejection by a harsh or dour church figure will separate from religion for good.  I pretend that those cases are rare; and I have been as guilty as other clerics who tell couples what we’re not permitted to do for them rather than figuring out what we can do for them.  I think it is important to distinguish the institutional corporate church that seems to put rules and regulations above compassion, wielding judgement and condemnation, from the community of believers that supports a couple’s sacramental expression of faith to one another and to God.  If brides and grooms encounter the former, they might never engage with church again.  If, however, church representatives accompany the couple to find a path in which their union can be supported, blessed, or sacramentalized, it might be an incentive for fuller engagement in many facets of their life together as they grow deeper in love through marriage.

I pray that we will all stay engaged, that we don’t give up on humanity or the church in general, even if we give up on some individuals and some elements of church in particular.  I think that the time of engagement of bride and groom can also be a time of greater engagement with the church and a time of creating a firm foundation for further engagement as time goes by. 

18 thoughts on “Engagement

  1. Father,You are a breath of fresh air!!!!The Church needs more priests like you.I’m from St Louis and I know of a couplethat was in one of those situations andour dear friend Msgr Steley who is nowVigar General in the Archdiocese wasthe only one that would bless their union.They were not from our parish but he thinkslike you do.I hope people will read your Column and findhope. God bless you🙏🙏🙏Pat Hagenhoff 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone


  2. I was divorced co~ habituating with a divorced catholic and was seeking Reunion with the church.

    After 3 years and 900 pages of testimony in the annulment process’ we were granted an annulments.

    And married in the church. Our six children were the best man, maid of honor and groomsmen.

    That was 41 years ago and that marriage of man and women (families) is still intact today.

    It is the single most important event in our long marriage ~ Inclusion without restriction or stigma.

    I appreciate the extraordinary efforts made on our behalf. It is a life changing event.


  3. My prayer is that more priests would be a forthcoming as you. Many are quick to condemn the actions of fallen away Catholics when they should be seeking solutions to their individual problems.


  4. Father Don I loved your message, so much comes from this. Have known couples that have been told they Can Not be married in the church. At this time, in this world today, we should accept anyone that wants to attend our Catholic Church and hopefully will become Outstanding Members.


  5. Fr. Don, This would be an interesting topic for some of our next St. Augustine Discussion group meeting being held at John Massman’s. Not sure i read your solution but i definately better understand the challenges & turning couples away w/o an option/solution/direction seems like a poor direction. Thanks for always scratching the surface of issues to make the flock think more!

    Jerry Haake 1 West 127th St. K.C., Mo 64145-1362 Cell#: 816-305-8065 jerryhaake@gmail.com jerryhaake@aol.com


    1. I found your opinions interesting. It wasn’t mentioned explicitly that all Catholics are welcome and encouraged, no matter the situation, to attend Mass. While receiving Communion may not be allowed, everyone should be taught to still attend.
      With this being said-God made Marriage a Sacrament, one to be respected and followed. A Sacrament is not to be pieced out or changed to fit todays societal low standards.
      If those are not willing to follow Gods Laws, he still loves us, but taking his Body and Blood should not be allowed.


  6. Three cheers for you!! My daughter was a great young Catholic who attended Catholic School though high school . She was engaged to a christian man that did not have good feelings about the Catholic Church. The priest at that time made it so difficult for them in their marriage preparations. They were married in the Catholic Church but have been active members of Church of the Resurrection since.


  7. So true. A great opportunity to welcome a couple to the church as home. I also think that a couple should be honest with the priest helping them Thank Don. Jerry waris


  8. Father Don,
    Some time has passed since I experienced exactly what you wrote about. Your words ring in my ears like the day a parish priest from St. Francis of Assisi in Frisco, Texas explained even though my wife of 18 years, the mother of my two sons chose to be with another man and divorced me, I could not receive the sacrament. I could come and sit in his church and listen but I was not an allowed to come forward and eat the body or drink the blood of Christ.
    I relocated to KC and settled at 51 Main,
    the apartments across from Visitation. I would sit outside that church by the fountain and pray and pray but never went in. Billy Hodes told me about you and suggested I subscribe to your newsletter.
    I’ve talked at length with Michael
    McGlinn about his walk and mine. I
    enjoy your words and I read daily but do not attend the brick and mortar.
    This latest blog struck a chord. Your thoughts and words are spot on. Where do the lost ones go? It seems with all the Church faces these days with declining numbers, that the best thing they could do is reach out to those they have discouraged.
    I’m no expert writer, just a sheep separated from the herd but not the Shepard.
    Keep up the awesome work you do. I don’t live in KC any longer as I have relocated back to Texas. If you find yourself coming this way ear Dallas some day I’d like to shake your hand. For now I will just keep reading
    Scott Bardreau


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