Nun officiates at a Catholic marriage

A nun has officiated at a Catholic marriage at a church at Lorrainville, 650 km west of Montreal in Canada.

Sister Pierrette Thiffault’s authority to celebrate the marriage came from Rome after the Congregation of Divine Worship and for the Discipline of Sacraments agreed she would be suitable to carry out this ministry.

In a Catholic marriage ceremony, the minister celebrating the sacrament is not the priest. The ministers performing the wedding are in fact the bride and groom themselves

According to Canon Law (Canon 1112) “Where there is a lack of priests and deacons, the diocesan bishop can delegate lay persons to assist at marriages, with the previous favourable vote of the conference of bishops and after he has obtained the permission of the Holy See”.

It goes on to say that “A suitable lay person is to be selected, who is capable of giving instruction to those preparing to be married and able to perform the matrimonial liturgy properly.”

In the Code of Canon Law, the word “lay” has no gender connotation. This means “every time Canon Law attributes something to a layperson, it applies to both men and women”.

It goes on to explain that “Within the matrimonial liturgy, the priest’s duty is that of being a qualified witness. For this reason, the canonical rules provide, exceptionally and in cases of proven need, the possibility of a layperson to preside over the liturgy, after obtaining permission from the Holy See.”.

Pierrette is a pastoral worker in the parish of Moffett, which neighbors Lorrainville, where the wedding took place on 22 July.

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In the present situation, where Anglican Churches around the world are busily discussing the Christian doctrine of Marriage; it is interesting to note that, in July 2017, a nun of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada was authorised by the Vatican to conduct a Marriage Ceremony in the Church.

In explaining the circumstances, the Vatican was at pains to point out that Canon Law allows for a layperson – whether male or female – to conduct a marriage service in a Roman Catholic church, provided they have the Vatican’s express permission. This reflects the official Roman Catholic understanding that the ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage are the couple themselves. The Officiant – whether clergy or lay – is merely a witness to the Marriage.

In view of the Roman Catholic understanding of Christian Marriage as the sacramental commitment of two people to lifelong fidelity in a relationship; not expressly requiring the ordained ministry of the Church to perform; one might well wonder how that might affect the situation of the emergence of  S/S ‘Equal Marriage’.  Could that possibly be considered a valid sacramental relationship, performed – as in binary marriage – by the couple themselves but confirmed by the legal sanction of the State?

This does raise another question. Does the Roman Catholic Church consider a marriage invalid – in those countries where the state requires a legal contract to be enacted in order to consider a marriage ‘valid’ – until it is witnessed in Church?

If the Church DOES accept civil marriage as being a ‘valid marriage’ – because of its recognition that the ‘minister of a marriage are the couple themselves’ – is the Church then not accepting that marriage outside of the Church is still a ‘valid marriage – even though the couple may have no connection with the Church?

This then does involve a semantic problem – especially in the situation of ‘Equal Marriage’. Are all Civil Weddings – whether ‘straight’ or ‘same-sex’ marriages – ‘valid’ marriages in the eyes of the Church? 

I suppose the real question, for all Church bodies, is whether, or not, a state-conducted marriage is really a ‘valid’ marriage in the eyes of God and the Church?

If this question could be answered in the affirmative, then the simple ‘Blessing of Same-Sex Unions’ -such as is proposed in our Motion 29 to be debated at our ACANZP’s General Synod in May of this year should not prove insurmountable.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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