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Marriage Involves the Whole Church
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Where Can Weddings Be Celebrated?
Is the Story About Noah and the Ark True?
Regarding People Who Are Often Angry
Must a Baptismal Sponsor Be Confirmed?

Q: Your March issue included Michael Daley’s fine article “Going to the Mall for Confession” about a Catholic chapel in the Millcreek Mall in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Although I think this option is marvelous, I am a bit confused because a few years ago my son and his fiancée wanted to be married by a priest in a beautiful lodge in Colorado. Her father has a nice home nearby. Two bishops and an archbishop told us that they had to be married in a parish church, not in a chapel or some other place.

It seems to me that the Sacrament of Matrimony is much more important than the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If so, why is it necessary to receive the former in a church but not the latter? Is this a local bishop’s decision?

A: The marriage of a Catholic couple is a statement of their faith and of the Church’s faith as well. The Catholic Church indicates that the local bishop must give permission for a Catholic couple to marry in a place other than the parish of either spouse or a parish where they have lived for at least a month (Canon 1115 of the Code of Canon Law). The 1917 Code specified the parish of the bride.

Although weddings reflect the personal preferences and cultural backgrounds of the couple, they are not, strictly speaking, private celebrations because marriages have major consequences for the Church and society.

Thus, the state has regulations about minimum age, blood relationship of the spouses, legal records of marriages, who can be its witness at a wedding and similar matters. The Church universal has additional regulations—for example, man and woman as spouses, adequate preparation for the sacrament, “faculties” for the priest or deacon (permission to celebrate this sacrament in this place) and other directives.

At a wedding, a Catholic priest or deacon is the Church’s representative. He is not employed by the couple in the same way that florists, musicians, photographers, caterers or others are.

Because a Catholic couple is preparing to enter a marriage in the Lord, the ceremony needs to reflect the Church’s understanding of this sacrament.

There are countless beautiful places in this world, and many of them would make good spots for wedding receptions or pre-wedding celebrations. It does not seem unreasonable that the Church asks couples to marry in the context of a local faith community.

In the course of their marriage, they may change parishes several times, but the Church proposes the local parish as the usual place for weddings because some local parish will presumably be part of their marriage in the Lord.

The Church has different requirements if a Catholic marries a Christian from another denomination or marries an unbaptized person.

No matter where the Sacrament of Reconciliation is celebrated, the priest’s words of absolution show its connection to the whole faith community.

Q: Because this story is in the Bible (Genesis 5:1—9:28), some of my non-Catholic friends say that the flood actually happened and that the whole human race is descended from the eight people on the ark (Noah, his wife, their three sons and one wife for each son). Those same friends, however, wonder why people of different races do not look the same. Is the story about Noah true?

A: Is it true in the sense that, with the proper equipment, someone could have recorded it on videotape or by some other means? Not necessarily. Is it true in the sense that God uses this story in the Book of Genesis to tell us something important about God, ourselves and one another? Definitely!

According to Genesis 5:5, Adam lived 930 years. Noah died at the age of 950, says Genesis 9:29. Chapter Six of Genesis begins with an account of the sons of heaven (Nephilim) who had had children with human women (6:1-4).

These two details (the great life spans of the patriarchs and the Nephilim) suggest that we are not dealing with a historical account such as Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate. The biblical account about Noah interweaves elements from much later writing, perhaps up to the sixth century B.C.

Several other cultures in the Near East had flood stories, but the Genesis account differs from those in affirming the providence of God.

Noah’s son Ham is later cursed for failing to cover his father’s nakedness; Shem and Japheth cover Noah (9:18-27).

Some people have interpreted the story of Ham and his descendants in a racist way. The Bible, which does not support that interpretation, is best understood within the faith communities that recognize these writings as inspired by God.

Q: An item in the March “Ask a Franciscan” concerned someone who was walking his puppy and cursed a woman jogger who said he needed to control his dog.

You asked why he became so angry, why he allowed himself to become “hooked” by her remark, why his anger was so frequently near the boiling point.

For over 30 years my mother has pushed my buttons, trying to control me. Nothing I do is ever good enough for her. When I challenge her and tell her how that makes me feel, she responds, “That is not how you feel.” That kind of stress is not good for my epilepsy.

A: Thanks for writing. Few expressions in any language are more futile than “You don’t feel that way” or “You shouldn’t feel that way.” People do not need anyone else’s permission to feel what they feel. For good reason, we do not act on all our feelings, but denying that those feelings even exist cannot be what God expects of us.

Jesus called people to conversion, but the Gospels never indicate that he called them to deny what they feel or to encourage others to lie about their feelings. Admiring a nice car does not justify stealing it. My feelings do not wipe out your rights.

It is unlikely that you can change your mother on this subject now. You can, however, remove those “buttons” of yours that she constantly pushes. If you cannot change her, you can still change yourself.

For example, if she compares you unfavorably with some relative or acquaintance, you can say, “I’m proud of myself and what I’ve done,” because deep down you are honestly proud—without inflating your accomplishments or denying what others may have contributed to them.

This attitude does not mean that you have no further goals, but it does mean that you are driven not by shame but by an inner sense of your dignity as someone created in God’s image.

This new way of responding will, of course, leave your mother confused, but that is her problem—not yours. Your polite but firm responses might help her to be more honest about her feelings and act differently.

Even if she does not change her behavior, you have still won because you have asserted your dignity and independence.

Q: At my nephew’s wedding last year, his younger brother was the best man. That nephew and his wife are expecting a baby in a few months, but the older brother’s parish priest says that the younger brother needs to be confirmed in order to be the child’s godfather. The younger brother missed Confirmation classes because his parents were going through a divorce. Can he be a baptismal sponsor now?

A: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist were originally celebrated together, as they are in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. For historical reasons, these sacraments came to be celebrated separately in the Western Church—with a bishop as the ordinary minister of Confirmation.

Baptismal sponsors should themselves already have been confirmed and have made their First Communion. Sponsors for infants can help them prepare for these other sacraments.

Canon 874 of the Code of Canon Law (for the Western Church) indicates five conditions for a baptismal sponsor: intention of fulfilling this responsibility, at least 16 years old unless the local bishop indicates otherwise, is confirmed and has made his or her First Communion and lives a life of faith, is not under some canonical penalty and is neither the father nor mother of the person being baptized.

Your younger nephew can approach his parish priest to make arrangements to be confirmed. The local bishop can do the confirming or can delegate a priest to do it.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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