What needs to be done to get married in a church?
June 22, 2006 9:58 AM   Subscribe

My fiancee and I are not particularly religious, but my mother is and she's pissed! What are my options?

I was raised Catholic. My fiancee was raised some other Christian faith. Neither of us are religious. We're not atheists, but we don't attend church or anything like that. My mother is very religious. The idea of her only son getting married and not having it recognized by the church is very upsetting to her. I know this because she insists on telling me this just about every day.

So anyway, I'm okay with not having the ceremony in the church, but I'm not against the idea. My fiancee would probably be okay with it, as long as there was no mass. Would we still have to go to classes? Is that a requirement for Catholics or does it depend on the church?

Is there a way I can make my mother happy without having to do a lot of church-going on my part?

P.S. I know I should stand up for myself and tell my mother how it is, but man does she hand out the guilt like a champ. If I could easily make her happy I'd like to...
posted by bDiddy to Religion & Philosophy (69 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don't cling to the notion that you are dealing with a person who responds to reason. Believe me; I know of what I speak.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:59 AM on June 22, 2006

tell your mother your future wife is divorced, hence it's impossible for you guys to get married in church
posted by matteo at 10:00 AM on June 22, 2006

I think you'll need to swear to have your future children raised as Catholics before you can marry in the church. There's no way that your promise can be enforce, but it is your word that you'll be giving. Is that a step you're willing to take?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:06 AM on June 22, 2006

Oy, don't lie about it! No one needs those recriminations.

Maybe ask a priest - a friend of your family, perhaps - to bless the marriage with a prayer or something, but keep it nonreligious/nondenominational overall.

You could tell your mom you want to do the wedding outdoors - so as to dodge the church issue entirely without it seeming like you're pissing on her faith, plus outdoor weddings are awesome! - and involve a clergyman acquaintance or something, to apply a patina of religiosity...

If you don't feel like you want to have a Catholic wedding, don't do it. No point starting a marriage under false pretenses. One thing you could do is talk directly to your mom about what kind of compromises she'd find appropriate - maybe involve her directly in the planning in a limited way at the outset?
posted by waxbanks at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't cling to the notion that you are dealing with a person who responds to reason.

posted by JekPorkins at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2006

It sounds like the specific thing that will make your mother happy is, precisely, a lot of church-going on your part. I'd strongly recommend you do whatever makes the most sense to you and your fiance, and let your mother grow up a bit. It's not her wedding.
posted by cortex at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2006

Can there be any sort of compromise? Like having a minister do the ceremony? Is it specifically the "recognized by the church" part that she has a problem with?
Does it have to be her church, or can it be "a" church?

You have my sympathies, these are tough waters to navigate.
posted by agregoli at 10:10 AM on June 22, 2006

I have a very similar situation. I come from a Protestant family and my fiance comes from a Catholic family. Neither of us are particularly attached to our religious heritage. We're getting married in a Unitarian Universalist church. My fiance's Catholic sister was married in a Protestant church and continues to attend Catholic Mass. It sounds like your mom will be unhappy with anything short of a Catholic service, and it also sounds like you won't be happy with a Catholic service, so one of you will be unhappy. It's your wedding, so that one shouldn't be you.
posted by scottreynen at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2006

Second what cortex said. This is your day, not hers -- more, it's your life, not hers. Let the guilt go, friend -- it's doing you no good, and it's not warranted. If she's disappointed by her grown son's religious choices, that's something she needs to deal with, not you.
posted by shallowcenter at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2006

My mum was in much the same position as you. My parents got married in church to make her parents happy, I was baptized for the same reason. Didn't do anyone any harm (I wasn't aware there was any church-going involved apart from the actual wedding - but I'm from Luxembourg, maybe it's different in the US. Lux is catholic).

But what I also know is that my grand-parents eventually accepted that their kids (they have 4, all of them divorced ironically) wouldn't live up to their religious expectations. Took them years of course. But they came round.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2006

A church wedding to placate mom is a small enough sacrifice. But are you planning on children? Because if you let mom make you have a church wedding, imagine the demands she will make on you about raising the little ones Catholic. You need to draw the line somewhere.

Good luck, and congratulations on getting married.
posted by LarryC at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2006

posted by Faint of Butt at 10:13 AM on June 22, 2006

There's a big difference between your mother wanting you to get married in a church, and wanting you to get married in a Catholic church. Find out which it is.

I say this because most all Catholic churches (excepting some very liberal congregations) will require some degree of counseling before the wedding. And if you have a Catholic wedding, there will be mass. Period.

If she'll be happy with any ol' church, there are plenty of more liberal groups. The Unitarians, for example, will marry pretty much anyone, without counseling or mandatory church attendance.
posted by miagaille at 10:13 AM on June 22, 2006

I say this because most all Catholic churches (excepting some very liberal congregations) will require some degree of counseling before the wedding. And if you have a Catholic wedding, there will be mass. Period.

And if your fiance wasn't raised Catholic, I believe she'd have to convert to be married in the Catholic church. Definitely too far to go if you aren't interested.
posted by agregoli at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2006

I have a Catholic friend that married her non-Catholic husband in a catholic ceremony. They were required to take pre-marital classes. From what I can remember they lasted for six weeks. You may want to get married in a non-denominational Christian church that doesn't require such intense counseling. My friend's husband has since converted to Catholicism.

I like the outdoor wedding idea the best though. Hire a clergyperson to preside over your wedding. Maybe with enough references to God and the bible, your mother will be satisfied. I have been to many beautiful weddings outdoors, and inside recreation halls, hotels, etc. that were presided by very eloquent ministers that put just a little bit of the bible into the ceremony.

I wouldn't go too much out of your way to please your mother's wishes though. I know how difficult a controlling parent can be, but we all have to live our lives the way we see fit. Next thing you know, she will be seriously concerned that you aren't raising your children in religion.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2006

waxbanks: Tried the outdoors thing already. There is a priest who she wants to do the ceremony and he can't actually marry us unless it's in a church. We want to have it outdoors and have actually found a place with a great outdoor garden area for weddings. The priest even agreed to be a part of the civil ceremony and bless the marriage.

cortex: I think you're right.

agregoli: I tried the compromise with having the priest bless the marriage. She seemed okay at first, but I think it's bothering her.

I think her problem is that she wasn't able to have a big wedding as she was pregnant and my dad is Jewish. So, she wants this to be the wedding she couldn't have. If it comes down to it I have no problem not having the wedding in the church and hoping she gets over it. But if it's easy to make her happy, I think it will make things better going forward.
posted by bDiddy at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2006

I had a similar issue when I got married with my inlaws feeling that the wedding HAD to be in a church.

We rented the chapel in a local castle and had the ceremony there. The officiant we picked from the phonebook (some sort of Reverand) and he showed up in the robes with a bible, and looked mighty godly.

He married us, we paid him cash, he left.

My inlaws still talk about the lovely "church" wedding we had and what a good job "our" pastor did.
posted by Sheppagus at 10:32 AM on June 22, 2006

My mom is devout Catholic. My in-laws are fundamental Christian. Both were just happy we decided to get married in a church, any church.

My maternal grandmother publicly declared her disapproval of my decision to not marry in a Catholic church and never spoke to me again.

From my experience, despite what happened with Grandma, I vote for having the ceremony be what you and your fiancee want; not what anyone's relative wants. This is a celebration of your love.

If Mom continues with the guilt and recriminations, gently remind her that the decision is not about her and that she does not have to attend if she doesn't want to or if she can not be civil.
posted by onhazier at 10:33 AM on June 22, 2006

I was raised by devout Catholics (I was an altar boy and later communion offerer) and my wife was raised by a non-practicing Catholic. None of that mattered, however, because at the time of our marriage, she was pregnant and we were 20 years old, so the Church wouldn't marry us. My mother was devastated but I wasn't bothered, as I harbor ill will toward the Church (for its doctrines and hypocricy, not from an altar boy experience, IYKWIM). We were married by a judge in the backyard. It was bloody hot, but otherwise perfect.

Now that we have school-age children, sending them to public school has caused a little turbulence with her. My mom never knew (or heard me declare) my dislike of Catholocism; I suppose she just thought I was a lazy Catholic. When she forced the issue of public vs. private school, I finally told her just what I thought of the Church, and how I intended to raise my children outside of its influence. I just about gave her a heart attack, but now everyone knows where everyone else stands and we're all the better for it.

Is there a way I can make my mother happy without having to do a lot of church-going on my part?

No. You need to do what makes you happy and let her worry about herself. Believe me, I understand your situation perfectly, and you will have a far less stressful life if you do what is best for you and your wife, not your mother.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 10:39 AM on June 22, 2006

Guilt is about the worst reason to select a place to get married. Enlist someone she trusts to try and explain to her that it isn't about her, the wedding is about you and your fiance.

And get married outside. I got married on a beach and wouldn't have changed anything. But I also have a religiously low key family, my mom's a Quaker.

The real fundamental thing is to not let your mother or anyone else take over your wedding. Sometimes you have to be very firm to get this through but it is imperative. You will be happier about it in the end. And your mom will likely get over it.
posted by fenriq at 10:40 AM on June 22, 2006

This is your day, not your mother's. Stand up to her.
posted by chiababe at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2006

Personally, (and I really love my parents) I'd tell her to get over it and get married however you want. You're going to be facing down this issue in all sorts of places with her (gonna have your kids baptized?), draw the line in the sand now. She's going to have to learn it sometime.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:43 AM on June 22, 2006

Your mother isn't the one getting married.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:45 AM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sounds like your current plan is your best bet. Have it outside, have the priest involved as much as he can be. I don't think there's an easy way to give your mother her way here. You're not going to start being really religious for someone else's benefit, even if it is your mom. It wouldn't be right to fake it--unfair to all involved, including your mom and even god if he exists. It sounds like a nice compromise, and in the end, she'll probably enjoy the ceremony anyway, assuming there aren't other, bigger problems like she hates your fiancee or something.
posted by lampoil at 10:46 AM on June 22, 2006

And if your fiance wasn't raised Catholic, I believe she'd have to convert to be married in the Catholic church.

Nope, but you will have to agree to have any children raised Catholic.

My husband went through this with his first wife. Their son was raised Catholic (the son is married now with a wife who converted to Catholicism and they're raising their kids as Catholics). Anyway, the first wife now wants to get remarried (I'm my husband's third, and last, wife) and is trying to get an annulment. She had to send my husband a couple documents he had to sign and get notarized. It's all been rather amusing.
posted by deborah at 10:50 AM on June 22, 2006

However it turns out, no matter how much you want to make it up to Mom after you end up getting married in a bowling alley...do not invite Mom to the honeymoon. Even as a consolation prize.

I've seen it go wrong too many times.
posted by waxbanks at 10:51 AM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

FYI - someone above said that your spouse would have to convert to Catholicism. That's not true. I'm not Catholic, but my husband is and we got married with the whole mass and classes and everything and I'm still not Catholic.
posted by stefnet at 10:52 AM on June 22, 2006

She wants this to be the wedding she couldn't have.

This is extremely common for all mothers regardless of religious background.

My mom was not able to have her dad walk her down the aisle, so now she's havings fits about the possibility that my dad won't walk us down the aisle. My fiance's mom has a hurried outdoor wedding with cheap gold bands, and thinks we're really going to regret our outdoor wedding with cheap gold bands. We hear about each of these decisions several times a week.

For a while, we were arguing with the mothers, trying to compromise with them, engaging them on every thing they disagreed with us about.

Our new strategy is this:
1 -- When they make an unwanted suggestion, say, "Thanks, mom, that's a good idea. I'll consider it. But the final decisions are up to us."
2 -- Find other time-consuming wedding planning tasks to keep them busy, so they don't spend too much time obsessing over the stuff they don't like and so they do have control over some aspect of the wedding.

One mother is in charge of the rehearsal dinner, and from what I hear it's going to be bigger and more ostentatious than the wedding and reception themselves. The other is in charge of the flowers and photographer selection, with some feedback from us.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:55 AM on June 22, 2006

Someone above mentioned that if you had the wedding in a catholic church there had to be a mass, but i've been two catholic weddings, both in catholic churches, neither with mass. Also, bDiddy, it's SO interesting that your mom was pregnant when she got married and your dad is Jewish, so she's obviously not very traditional (unless of course your parents are divorced now and she's gone all hardcore catholic lately). Regardless, it sounds like your mom needs you to "do it the right way" to make up for her "mistake", which is totally unfair. I'm sorry about your situation, good luck
posted by echo0720 at 10:56 AM on June 22, 2006

If you need a reason not to do it in a Church, you could try to get a one day Justice of the Peace for a friend and have him/her do the ceremony. I've been there, and done that and it really meant much more to the marrying couple than to have some unknown priest or rabbi do the ceremony.
posted by Gungho at 11:12 AM on June 22, 2006

And if you have a Catholic wedding, there will be mass. Period.

This is just plain wrong.
This talks about it as well as about the position of the Catholic Church on mixed marriages.
posted by biffa at 11:14 AM on June 22, 2006

You can get married in the vestry of the church instead of the main bit - that's what my Catholic mother-in-law and Anglican father-in-law did. It was a Catholic ceremony - call some local churches and discuss the options. Ultimately, it's your decision not your mum's.
posted by goo at 11:16 AM on June 22, 2006

Two friends of mine (Episcopalian & Roman Catholic) did a Roman Catholic marriage a while back in the Bay Area. For them it was a nightmare. Most of the local parishes have strict rules about not poaching "business" from each other, so "parish shopping" is difficult. And even if you find one that suits, the amount of counselling and interference from the priest assigned can vary tremendously.

In their case, the guy assigned was obnoxious and came burdened with some obvious major sexual neuroses that rendered the counselling classes increasingly unbearable. Luckily they had some Church connections and managed to find a non-parish missionary priest who was both eligible to sanctify and probably more important was willing to jump into the parish against the wishes of the incumbent and perform the ceremony. And he was sane as well, which was a great relief.

The takeaway message is that if you get assigned a terrible priest that makes you uncomfortable or is basically a prick then it is difficult but not impossible to replace him. Most of the local Roman clergy have the omerta thing going and will not step on any toes but you can look further afield. Also, remember that any of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches (Coptic, Maronite, Syrian, Hungarian, Rumanian, Ukranian, etc) or the Ethiopic Catholic Church are in "full communion" with the Roman Catholic Church so any of their clergy can also sanctify a marriage within a Roman church. Because their hierachy is separate from the Roman one many of them will have less reservations about intervening. Also, some of them have married non-celibate clergy so that can help with the sanity thing.
posted by meehawl at 11:16 AM on June 22, 2006

Pardon me for saying so, but doing what you mom wants now is really good practice for doing whatever she decides she wants later... grandkids, or perhaps grandsons, or perhaps moving in with you when she becomes a widow, or maybe rebuilding her porch.

Is that the kind of life you want?

At some point, you are going to have to set limits. By the time you get married, this is usually something that has already happened and if it hasn't, it's time to make it so.

Chiming in with many above... it's YOUR life, not your mom's. It's YOUR wedding, not your mom's.

( BTW, church and religion have no predictive value in the success of your marriage. The odds are 50/50 that it'll be your first of several. )
posted by FauxScot at 11:19 AM on June 22, 2006

It's very, very, very wrong to say that a Catholic wedding in a church requires a Mass. Many, many, many, many Catholics get married in a church with a simple wedding ceremony - no Mass (and no Eucharist) involved. In fact, the only time that Mass CAN be said in a Catholic wedding is when both bride and groom are Catholic.

Conversion to Catholicism is not at all required, either. Nor is it required that you pledge to raise your children Catholic. Instead, the Catholic party simply pledges to do all they can to raise their child Catholic - it's not a requirement.

Here is a good discussion of a Catholic marriage and all that is involved.
posted by MeetMegan at 11:20 AM on June 22, 2006

Getting married in a Catholic church has a whole set of minimum prerequisites - counseling classes, promises to raise children as Catholics, and promises to not use birth control being the most onerous IMHO. Those are requirements from On High, so you aren't getting around them. (You can have the marriage ceremony without Mass, so that isn't a deal-breaker.)

If you, or your fiancee, don't like these promises, don't make them.

If you want a Catholic-like marriage and ceremony, without the attendant promises, check out the Episcopal (Anglican) Church. They are like Catholicism-lite. Most of the trappings will be familiar to you as you were raised Catholic, and they will also be familiar to your mother, which may well placate her. They are considerably more liberal than the Catholics, which you and your fiancee may find much more suitable. I'd suggest you contact your local Episcopal Church and just ask them some questions.
posted by jellicle at 11:23 AM on June 22, 2006

Just some factual points:

1) If you get married in a Catholic church you do NOT have to have a full mass. The church I was married in explicitly recommends a non-communion service for mixed-faith marriages so no one feels excluded.

2) It's fairly easy to get married in a Catholic church if one party is Catholic and the other is baptized Christian, but not Catholic. Much harder if the non-Catholic party is not baptized.

3) You probably have to go to classes, but for the most part our classes focused on general pre-marriage counseling issues and were not unhelpful.

4) The Christian-not-Catholic party does not have to convert, sign anything, etc. The Catholic party may have to, depending.

As general advice: a lot of the implentation does depend on the church involved, it can't hurt to ask around.
posted by true at 11:31 AM on June 22, 2006

"a lot of the implementation", rather.
posted by true at 11:31 AM on June 22, 2006

It should be noted that the counseling classes are not meant to be cult-like or indoctrination classes - the vast majority of the time in pre-Cana is spent really getting to know your fiance, asking questions that may not have occurred to you, and generally helping you make sure that you are ready for marriage. It's run by married couples that volunteer their time and often their home to host the sessions. Sometimes you can get a really crappy lead couple, and sometimes you can get an AWESOME couple.
posted by MeetMegan at 11:36 AM on June 22, 2006

We got married in a Catholic church with no mass. We carefully shopped around parishes until we found a "hippy guitar mass" liberal church with an old-timey radical priest. As we had both attended CCD through High School the priest agreed to waive the counseling. As for signing anything, we weren't asked to. The priest simply went through a form verbally: "Are you AWARE of what the church teaches about contraception? OK, then."
posted by Malla at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2006

I just have to add that, given the hugely varying accounts about what is or is not required as part of a Catholic marriage (which you've doubtless noticed), your options will be very dependent on the priest or parish that you choose.

If he's already willing to bless the marriage outside of the church, he's probably a pretty cool guy, and might be willing to work with you to put together a Catholic ceremony you can deal with.
posted by miagaille at 11:50 AM on June 22, 2006

Oh, and one other thing - absolutely nothing is guaranteed to make your mom happy.

If you don't have your wedding in the church, she'll gripe.
If you do but don't have mass, she'll gripe.
If you have mass but don't baptise your kids, she'll gripe.

Or not. It sounds like you have a good relationship and she loves you, so quite possibly she'll be happy no matter what you do. Wedding planning is stressful, and people make stupid claims that they don't mean, and freak out over what are, at the end of the day, details.
posted by miagaille at 11:59 AM on June 22, 2006

btw, thanks biffa, meetmegan & true - I didn't know that mass was not required. I speak from having been told that by a priest, so no malice intended there
posted by miagaille at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2006

Thanks everyone. I am going to try to convince her that our (my fiancee and I) original idea to have the ceremony outside is the right decision. We'll use a minister to marry us and have the priest she wants to bless the marriage. It will still be great and I hope she can be happy with that decision.

echo0720: She is very religious and comes from a very religious family. Her family gave her an EXTREMELY hard time about the way she had her wedding, apparently. I'm sure that her anxiety about my wedding is stemming from her regrets about her own.

At this point, the idea of capitulating is not only hurting because I am very stubborn about changing my mind, but I also know that I'd feel like I was a liar to everyone who came to the wedding.
posted by bDiddy at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2006

I think her problem is that she wasn't able to have a big wedding as she was pregnant and my dad is Jewish.

And she wants you to get the traditional Catholic wedding? Laugh and tell her you hope she enjoys the mountaintop ceremony involving goats, feathers, dancing poodles, men wearing antlers, women setting fire to kitchen appliances, and a troupe of horrible children screaming "We are your last warning!"
posted by pracowity at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

posted by miagaille at 12:18 PM on June 22, 2006

If you are not a religious person, and neither is your fiancée, can you explain to your mother that having the ceremony in a church, officiated by a priest, would be only for her benefit and would otherwise be akin to lying and making a mockery out of the sacrament of a Catholic marriage?

I was raised Catholic as well, but am no longer religious, and my parents would be upset in some ways to see me get married outside of a church, but if it is ever an issue, that's the course of action I'm taking.

Explain that going through the motions of a religious wedding just for show is a far worse thing for everyone involved than having a non-religious ceremony.
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:30 PM on June 22, 2006

P.S. I know I should stand up for myself and tell my mother how it is, but man does she hand out the guilt like a champ.

Well, remember, she only hands out half of the guilt. You have to provide the second half. :)

I myself am curious as to why Catholic parents in particular seem to be much more concerned about their children living in sin, not having religoius wedding, etc.

My VERY religious, Southern Baptist grandparents made zero mention to me about the fact that our wedding wasn't in a church or even remotely religious, but there were there and simply happy for us and there's never been any mention of it not being religious.
posted by smallerdemon at 12:38 PM on June 22, 2006

I was raised Catholic, my fiance was raised Methodist, but neither one of us goes to church. My mom really wanted a Catholic wedding, so we're pretty much in your shoes.

We are having a Catholic ceremony, without the full mass. The ceremony will be performed outside, at least in part, but that's a whole other story. If you want to know the details on that, just ask.

We did have to attend classes, and as far as I know it is a requirement for all Catholic ceremonies because in the Catholic church marriage is a sacrement. However, the classes weren't bad at all. We went two Saturdays in a row and discussed things like communication in groups with other couples. Not overly churchy, and while boring, not terribly painful to sit through.

We've also had a few meetings with the Deacon that is marrying us. We had to do a "pre-nuptual investigation", which is where you declare that you have not been previously married, are not in a nunnery, are not being forced into marriage, etc. This is where it came up that I haven't been to church since last Christmas, and the Deacon didn't seem to care. Being the Catholic party, I was also required to reaffirm my faith and declare that we will raise our children in the Catholic faith. I also had to get written proof of my baptism, communion, and confirmation, and my non-Catholic fiance had to get written proof of his baptism. There was some other paperwork required as well.

As far as actually attending church during the process, I think that varies by church. I lucked out in that the church my family belongs to is two hours away from where I currently live, the deacon that is marrying us is from a completely different Catholic church, and the ceremony is not being performed in a church. YMMV.

I can't give you advice on whether or not to have a Catholic ceremony. I feel like that is up to you and your fiance. Personally, I don't regret to agreeing to it, even if it is only to make my mother happy. Her happiness is worth it to me.

Oh, and of course, congratulations and best wishes! :)
posted by geeky at 12:48 PM on June 22, 2006

Oh, a bit more info:

While I did have to state that we intend to raise our children in the Catholic faith, that does not exclude raising them in other faiths as well. At least that's how the Deacon explained it to us.
posted by geeky at 12:52 PM on June 22, 2006

geeky: How did you get the deacon to agree to a catholic wedding outside the church? It was explained to me that a catholic ceremony had to be done inside the church or in a church-recognized chapel (like at a university). You can respond to me via the e-mail in my profile if you'd like.
posted by bDiddy at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2006

Getting married in a Catholic church has a whole set of minimum prerequisites - counseling classes, promises to raise children as Catholics, and promises to not use birth control being the most onerous IMHO.

FWIW, we did not have to make any promises not to use birth control, before or after marriage.
posted by geeky at 12:58 PM on June 22, 2006

bDiddy: I'll send you email, it's kind of a long story. For everyone else, Catholic weddings outside are very dependant on the rules of your diocese.
posted by geeky at 12:59 PM on June 22, 2006

Sorry to piggyback on the question, but I would love to hear specific details about the ceremonies of anyone who had a strictly non-religious wedding.
posted by GeekAnimator at 1:04 PM on June 22, 2006

Disclosure: I am an athiest, I was raised Catholic. I do not support religion. I have many Catholic friends - several have children. Some married in the church for exactly the reasons you mention.

On Catholic weddings: My mother is Catholic, my father is not. No conversions were required, nor was my father required to vow to raise me Catholic. There was a mass, but it wasn't required.

I am not sure what your local parish will say if neither of you are confirmed Catholics.

You will probably have to attend some sort of "counselling" where the only guy in the room who has sworn never to get married and never to have sex tells you what a marriage should be, and you nod your head and make affirmative noises. Every Catholic friend I have who has been married in the church (mixed marriage or not) has had to do this.

Some Catholic priests won't marry you if you don't plan to have children, or if you are sterile (by nature, accident, or choice). The Catholic Church supports them in this decision, since Catholic marriage is supposed to include "being fruitful," and since contraception (other than abstinence) is a no-no. This happened to one Catholic paraplegic I know, and one older (post-menopause) woman.

Keep in mind - If you agree to get married in the church, expect your mother to beat you with the guilt bat until you baptize your kids, too. Then more guilt around the time they're supposed to receive first communion, Reconciliation, Confirmation, etc. And think about what that'll do to your kid - saddling them with a whole religious upbringing you really don't buy into isn't doing them any favours when they have their (inevitable) crisis of faith.

Don't convert. Don't raise your kids Catholic. Don't lie to make your mother happy. Don't impose religion on your children just because you can't deal with your mother's guilt-rays.
posted by Crosius at 1:06 PM on June 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Unitarians, for example, will marry pretty much anyone - miagaille

Yes, Unitarians are generally quite liberal. But no, they won't marry "anyone".

My Dad is/was a Unitarian Universalist chaplin. He's did a bunch of weddings. But he's also refused to marry people. Like when a couple approached him saying "We want to surprize our friends from out of town. When they're in town next month, we want to have a wedding there all ready for them. But no you can't meet them first. It'll be a surprize!"
posted by raedyn at 1:32 PM on June 22, 2006

I agree with those who say it's nobody's business but your own, and I know it's not easy to get family members to accept that. You and your fiance are going to undergo a major attitude shift. Your partnership will be your new family, and your primary allegiance will be to one another. It's hugely important. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, but often the couple has to consciously nurture it. And very often, the in-laws are the last to accept it.

It could help enormously for the two of you to talk with your mother. Say "we" a lot, as in, "We have decided." It's nice to preface it with "We understand, we care." But "We have decided" has a lot of power, as it should.
posted by wryly at 1:41 PM on June 22, 2006

As an aside... most churches will require some form of pre-marriage counseling, but don't let that deter you in anyway. We had to go through it in order to be married at a specific church and I was dreading it because I thought it was going to be very lame in a touchy-feely way. I couldn't have been more surprised with how much I ended up enjoying it and how much we learned about each other.

Doing something like this might go a long way towards satisfying your mother without doing the whole church thing, and it could possibly be really beneficial for your upcoming marriage.
posted by Burritos Inc. at 2:11 PM on June 22, 2006

I know I should stand up for myself and tell my mother how it is, but man does she hand out the guilt like a champ. If I could easily make her happy I'd like to...

Speaking as the child of a Catholic who was in your same shoes not all that long ago, you can have one or the other. You can stand up for yourself and risk hurting her feelings, as well as risking ongoing bad blood, or you can make her happy.

If I can address realities for a moment: Is she paying for the wedding or any part of it? If you are planning on children, will you need to rely on her for day care or anything else regarding her grandchild? Will you need money from her to set up your new life as married people? (It's hard to tell how old you are, and what stage of life you are in.) Does she have any other children or grandchildren to share some of the guilt load?

I won't tell you how I answered (or didn't think of) those questions for myself, since everyone's situation is different. I wish I would have put a little more thought into the future, instead of getting caught up in Wedding Fever and making everything perfect for My Special Day.

Because in the end, it's just one day. Your friends will understand your choices, no matter which ones you make.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:18 PM on June 22, 2006

raedyn: I certainly didn't mean that literally, but did mean it with a great deal of affection for their inclusiveness. Anyway, that's a great story - I can only imagine the weird stuff pastors are asked sometimes. I mean, wtf?
posted by miagaille at 2:24 PM on June 22, 2006

I would suggest giving her an option. You can have the wedding where you want with a Catholic priest blessing the union...or you can have no Catholic priest at all.
posted by Megafly at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2006

You mention that both you and your partner are not religious.

Getting married implies a promise for both you and your partner to be true to each other and to your relationship. How can that be if you start with a lie? You are marrying each other, not your mother nor a church.
posted by aroberge at 2:52 PM on June 22, 2006

I agree with aroberge, be true to yourself and the woman you intend to marry.
posted by Tixylix at 6:21 PM on June 22, 2006

smallerdemon, Protestants tend to have fewer problems with non-church weddings because most denominations don't see marriage as a sacrament, which the Catholic church does (I'm Presbyterian, and we only regard communion and baptism as sacraments).

For all the others, pre-marital counseling is a good thing. The best ministers use it not to push religion (plenty of non-believers get married in churches) but to get the couple communicating on important subjects such as finances, child-rearing, etc. Priests and ministers are interested in seeing marriages last, after all.
posted by lhauser at 8:01 PM on June 22, 2006

Tell you mother you are dumping the girl because she won't get married in a church and you're now thinking of marrying a gay friend in a liberal church.. Tell her that the guy fits perfectly in the wedding dress and looks fabulous.
Then let your mother talk you into going with the girl in a non church wedding
posted by zackdog at 1:57 AM on June 23, 2006

Another option for you may be to find a priest from a religious order (rather than a diocesan priest). We were married by a Jesuit who had been my husband's academic advisor in college. To satisfy the Church, we did have to check in with our parish priest from time to time during the planning process - but if you're not regular churchgoers anyway, that might not be an issue.
posted by candyland at 5:44 AM on June 23, 2006

SuperSquirrel: I am 32 years old. My fiancee is 23. We're both fully employed and neither of our parents will be paying for much if any of the wedding. (Oh how I wish it were otherwise, but that's another issue.) We won't need to rely on her for daycare I don't think, but I also doubt she'd turn us down if we asked. I have two sisters, neither of whom are married nor having children any time soon. She's already told them both that when they get married, church is a necessity.
posted by bDiddy at 7:10 AM on June 23, 2006

Friends here in St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, recently got married in a Catholic Church. They had to go to a weekly sessions for a little bit, but it was much less elaborate and demanding than what's usually required for a Catholic wedding, from what I understand.

I don't know if it's an option, but getting married Catholic in some weird out-of-the-way place with fewer rules might make things easier.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:24 AM on June 23, 2006

OK, you say your mom is good with guilt. Is she a relentless dispenser of guilt, who will never ever let you or your future wife forget anything you ever do that crosses her, or is she one of those hit-and-run guilt-givers who brings it up every once in a while, and while you might feel a guilty, you can deal with it occasionally?

If she's the relentless type, my advice is to take the easy way out and just do whatever she wants. IT'S JUST ONE DAY. The wedding itself counts for nothing compared to the marriage.

If she's the hit-and-run type, do it your way, and let mom deal.

I speak as someone who honestly just HATES dealing with my own mother's attempts at guilt-tripping me.

And now I realize that I have become a giver of unsolicited advice JUST LIKE MY MOTHER. AGH! I will tell my own daughter to elope and call me when it's over.

Good luck to you, and much happiness in your marriage. In the end, the marriage is what matters, not that one day.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:45 AM on June 23, 2006

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