Ask Richard: Snags in Planning an Atheist-Catholic Wedding January 6, 2011

Ask Richard: Snags in Planning an Atheist-Catholic Wedding

Hey Richard,

I’m a 24 year old Graduate Student who is engaged to a wonderful and beautiful woman. We love each other very much but we are having a difficult time organizing our wedding. I am an Atheist and she is a catholic. I was raised in the Catholic church (which is why I am allowed to be married in a catholic church after stating I don’t believe), but after college and life events I decided to come out as an Atheist a year ago. After getting engaged we had basic talks about where we would like to get married. She was very excited about having the wedding in the church where she grew up, while I felt that getting married in a more scenic would be more romantic, I felt it was a compromise I should make, and not fight it as I did not have a comparable space to offer.

Now we are in the planning phases of what the wedding will consist of and I stated that I did not want a mass during our wedding (and a minimum of religious language), and that I never really enjoyed mass when I went as a kid, why would I enjoy it now? Especially on one of the happiest days of my life? After making my position understood, it has been made clear to me that my family and my fiancee’s family would very much like a mass.

What would be a good way to handle this with both families? I feel that I am being fair in that I am getting married within the catholic church, by a catholic priest, with religious language. I feel that it is not outlandish to request that the eucharist not be involved.

Any and all words are appreciated.

Noble Defector

Dear Noble,

A wedding is not a marriage, and the specific content of a wedding does not necessarily indicate what the marriage will be like. However, how the couple works together and how they work with their families to plan the wedding can sometimes but not always be an indicator of what the marriage will be like in some ways.

A wedding is a brief ceremony. A marriage is an ongoing, daily exchange of negotiations, often involving compromises, and sometimes involving sticking to firm demands. Over time, those negotiations become patterns of habit.

In most cases when you marry someone, in important ways you also marry their family. So the negotiations can get very complicated, with push and pull in many directions rather than just between two people. The families can disagree with each other, or they can unite in disagreement against the couple, or because most people feel some loyalties to both their spouse and their family, the families can drive a wedge between the couple.

A couple must determine how autonomous, how sovereign their marriage will be, how independent of the pressures and preferences of their families they as a couple will be. Marriages run the spectrum from being completely disengaged from their families of origin, to being completely enmeshed. Most are somewhere in the broad middle, shifting one way or the other over time.

Since both your and her families are Catholic, you as an atheist are a minority of one when it comes to religious views, but you need to find out if on other issues, you and your future wife can be a majority of two.

You conceded to your fiancée on the venue, her childhood church instead of a scenic place, because she wanted that. Then you asked for a compromise on the content of the ceremony to not include a mass. In your letter, you said that both of your families really want a mass, but what about her opinion on that?

So if you don’t already, you need to find out if your fiancée herself is willing to have a ceremony in the church but without the mass, and if so, if she’s willing to take a stand with you against both of your families. As a couple, this will be your marriage. It should begin with your wedding, just as the two of you want it.

This is where that question comes up about how autonomous from your families your partnership will be. To endure the stresses of those multidirectional pushes and pulls, your bond as a couple must be stronger than your bonds to your original families. Otherwise you’ll be pulled apart. Both of you should be more invested in the happiness of the two of you than invested in the happiness of your families.

A “mixed marriage” like yours faces extra challenges to find your way through the many other disagreements you’ll face, especially when children arrive. As a couple you should try to not be vulnerable to outside pressures and manipulations from your respective families on such things as baptizing children, taking them to church, early religious education, schooling, confirmation, the kids’ own developing views about religion as they begin to grow up, and even, years later, what kind of weddings they will have.

Those issues will be difficult enough for the two of you to work out by yourselves. Allowing your families to meddle in them will probably make them much more divisive. The two of you can listen to their input, but your decisions should be agreements made strictly between the two of you.

You both knew that you had this difference in your beliefs. Since you’re together at all, that shows that you are both capable of making allowances for your differences. By getting engaged, both of you knowingly decided to take a chance that the unavoidable conflicts would not be too much for you to resolve. To do that, you must talk, talk, talk together, gently and honestly, especially about your feelings.

There is no set formula that can be applied to all marriages that says a couple must always compromise 50/50 on everything, or that they must take equal turns getting all that they want, or that neither person must ever give in more than 77.32% of the time, or that it can never work if one person always gives in. Marriages are even more unique and varied than individual personalities, since they are a unique combination of two often very different personalities and sets of views.

Overarching this whole scene is the question of which battles are worth fighting. There are no formulaic answers for that either. Often people can shrug off making a concession that only affects themselves, but it might reappear later in a more critical way when for instance it involves their kids. Do you draw a line in the sand now, or later, or never? Which will be easier, which harder, and what unforeseen costs will there be to any of these options? I have no means to predict these things. Yours will be the best guess, but it will still be a guess.

But I can say this about the many marriages I’ve had the privilege to work with closely: The most successful ones in terms of happiness, health and longevity are those where there is a constant flow of good communication, where nothing is forbidden to discuss, where both people work to make it safe for the other to speak their mind, where for both people “we” is more important than “me,” but “me” is not completely discounted, and where they are a couple first, and members of their original families second.

I hope our Friendly Atheist resident Atheist-Christian couple Kate and Erik may check in to give us some pointers about both their wedding ceremony and their relationship.

Noble, I wish you both great happiness. If this has been helpful to you, consider having your wonderful and beautiful fiancée read it too.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Schmeer

    I don’t think the Catholic Church will allow a wedding without a Mass. They aren’t very big on compromise. They think that their leader has a hotline to an omniscient authority.

  • Beck

    Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the ins and outs of Catholic law regarding marriage (other than the one-man-one-woman-life-no-birth-control bits), but from the fact that there is dissent over this from the Catholic families seems to imply that there is in fact a choice of mass/no mass.

    Personally, my fiancé and myself (both atheists) have chosen to keep our marriage completely independent of our families (both Christian). While we will consider their feelings and desires while planning the wedding, it is ultimately a celebration of our marriage and relationship, not anyone else’s. I would echo Richard’s advice to see what your future wife thinks about this — does she want the mass? If so, how important is it to her? Is she willing to go against her family’s wishes?

    Finally, while it’s not at all an unreasonable desire to not have the Eucharist & religious service, how strongly do you feel about it? Is it important enough to you to make a big deal out of with your fiancé? Decide what’s important in the situation — it may be that you feel you need to take a stand for your right to believe as you choose, or you may find that you care more about having your families there and happy for you than about the details of the ceremony.

  • Caba

    You can get married in a Catholic church without a mass … it’s an option, but not one you must do.

    I think since you compromised on venue, she should compromise on something for you. It’s also indicative of bigger things to come … will she want you to baptise your children? CCD? Communion? Confirmation? Big questions … and they need honest discussion … But my sister and her DH are both Catholic … and they still didn’t want a mass during the wedding … it’s takes SO friggin’ long … and for guests that aren’t Catholic … its a bit of overkill, IMO.

    Either way, best of luck!

  • phira

    Two things, pretty much applicable to all weddings:

    1) Families will always be, as a whole, annoyed with the wedding decisions. My brother is getting married soon, and while it sounds like the whole event will be awesome, several family members are threatening not to come because of very specific things they don’t like. But my sister-in-law is awesome, and she’s helping my brother stay strong on what they both want for this wedding. While I do think compromising for your family is often good for some things (my friend is getting married on a Sunday, not a Saturday, because of her father’s religion; he cannot attend if it’s on Saturday), there comes a time where you and your partner need to stand up and say, “This is our wedding, not yours, and these are the decisions we’re making as a couple.”

    2) I’m a fan of compromise, but REAL compromise. If you have to keep giving up what you want for your wedding day, and your fiancee does not, that’s a problem, and as Richard points out, could mean you’re going to have problems in the relationship in general.

    I suggest each of you sitting down privately and writing up the story of your perfect dream wedding. Write it more like a story, less like a list. Then, still alone, write down some lists. Have a list of the things that you absolutely must have, that you absolutely cannot have, the things that are important to you but you could give up, the things that you really don’t want but could manage, and things that you’re ambivalent about.

    For example, it might be much more important for her to get married in a church than her own childhood church. It might be much more important for you to not have mass than not to have the word god mentioned. Only you two know what you have to have and can’t have.

    Then you sit down with each other and share your perfect weddings. What I love about this is that you’re both sharing something that you envision being happy and loving and fun. Then you sit down with your lists and figure out what you can both compromise on or not. If she must get married in a church, and you must get married without a mass, is there a way to reconcile this issue? Etc.

    But it really sounds like you two need to figure out what you both need and what you both really don’t want, and then after you figure out how you can compromise, THEN you can see if you can also please your families. You first, then them.

  • Phoebe

    All I can say is: good luck! I hope your future bride is able to compromise, as you are.

    I’m so glad my husband and I just went to the county clerk’s office and got married. Weddings are so overrated and a huge waste of time and money, IMO. I’ve known people who were still trying to pay for that wedding when they got divorced! Planning for a wedding can take months and months and the focus becomes the wedding and not the marriage. (I’ve been married 22 years!)

  • Craig

    There can certainly be a Catholic wedding without a mass, but you won’t be able to do much in the way of minimizing religious language. There’s a very specific marriage rite that will be followed in a Catholic wedding, with prayers and references to God. You’ll also have to answer in the affirmative when asked, “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” If you do not answer “I Will,” the priest can not marry you. You will also be prompted to say “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” as you place the ring on her finger. Omitting the references to God may be difficult or awkward, but I don’t imagine the priest would call off the wedding if you leave it out.

    Just some stuff to chew on from an ex-Catholic. I’m nowhere near marriage, no even dating anyone at the moment, but I’ve pretty much decided there is no way I could have a religious wedding where I make pledges I don’t intend to keep and lie about my beliefs and intentions. If I’m saying to someone that I want to be with them for the rest of our lies, I couldn’t juxtapose lies with true pledges.

  • Paris was worth a mass. So is the right spouse.

    If you’re going to marry someone who adheres to a religion, you’re going to have to make some compromises in some places. The ceremony may well be one of them.

    Also bear in mind that you are not just marrying her — you are being brought in to her family. The ceremony isn’t just for you two; it’s for your friends and family who will be there. Again, this means you need to compromise because you’ve chosen to become a part of this group of people.

    They have to compromise to you, too, and their compromising should be for things that really count, like your decisions about whether to have children, and if so, how you will raise them.

  • The Other Tom

    Noble Defector,

    There are things you can change and things you can not change. When you agreed to allow the wedding to take place in a church, you implicitly (whether you intended to or not) agreed to religious language in the ceremony, because the two go together. So, I recommend you give up on the “minimum of religious language in the ceremony” part, because you’re not going to win that one and you’ll just make yourself look silly trying.

    The mass is another story. It’s optional, and you didn’t apparently ever say “yes I will have a mass in my wedding.” So, there are four parties you have to deal with about this: your family, your fiance, her family, and the priest. Let’s tackle each of them separately.

    Your family: This is the easy one. Tell them politely but firmly that you don’t want a mass at your wedding, and it’s your wedding not theirs. You’re their family whether or not you have a mass at your wedding, so they’ll learn to cope. If they push you about it too hard tell them they’re offending you by not respecting that you’re an adult and can make your own choices. If they get really obnoxious, don’t invite them.

    Your fiance: This is the important one. First, you have to decide how important it is to you not to have a mass at your wedding. It sounds pretty important to you, but I can’t really tell if what I’m hearing is “it’d be very annoying to me to have a mass at my wedding” or “if the priest starts to say mass at my wedding I would walk out”. So, you need to be very clear in your mind how much it matters to you, and then you need to communicate that in a clear and blunt but loving and gentle way to your fiance. Example language: “Honey, I want to discuss the wedding with you. I know your family and mine both want a mass, but I really don’t. It’s not my religion, and I always disliked mass anyway. I’m concerned that it would ruin my wedding day for me, and that for the rest of our lives I’d have bad memories of the day we got married. Will you please choose with me not to have a mass at our ceremony?” And then if she is indecisive, “I don’t really want a church wedding, and I don’t really want any religious language in the wedding, but I’m going along with those things and having a wedding ceremony that’s really not what I wanted because I want you to be happy. This is the one thing I’m asking for in my own wedding, and I hope you’ll see from that how important it is to me.” And then I sincerely hope she’ll support your choice on the mass. If she doesn’t, you should be having fearful considerations of what it bodes for the future of the marriage. I’m going to politely assume that she loves you more than she loves the idea of a highly religious ceremony and will consequently choose to support you and agree on no mass.

    Her family: She should be prepared to deal with them and present to them her decision with you to not have a mass at the ceremony. She should be prepared to stand up to her family in the same way you should be standing up to yours: by telling them it’s her wedding, not theirs, and she chooses not to have a mass at her wedding, and if they give her too much of a hard time of it, she should be prepared to tell them that they’re being offensive, or to disinvite them. She should be taking care of this rather than you because it’s her family and she should not want you to have to confront them and risk your future relationship with them before the marriage.

    The priest: It’s important that you have buy-in from the priest and clear understanding of exactly what the ceremony will consist of. I have been to a wedding at which the officiant went off the deep end with the religion stuff and managed to deeply offend all the guests and make the couple feel he’d ruined their wedding ceremony. So, you and your fiance should have a friendly meeting with the priest to discuss what will happen, that you do not want a mass, and to ask to please see the script he’ll be using for the wedding. (Most denominations have a script, which the officiant usually uses even if they’re not actually reading it.) This is a perfectly normal request, as you’ll want to read it and be prepared to do your parts correctly even before you get to a rehearsal. This is also your opportunity to ensure that it won’t contain any deeply offensively over the top religious stuff (I mean beyond the bounds of a normal religious wedding ceremony) that you’d want to discuss with your fiance and jointly ask to please have removed from the script. In general, I suggest you approach the priest with the belief that he’ll probably be pretty reasonable about little stuff and probably be okay about the lack of mass.

  • Matt

    Not sure I could marry someone that is religious. I just avoid this whole snafu. Good luck to you though.

  • Claudia

    I have nothing helpful to add, given my total ignorance on the subject, but I would like to add that religious compromises of course don’t end at the ceremony. Have you discussed future children? Are you willing to have them brought up Catholic? Is she willing to keep them indoctrination free until they are old enough to decide for themselves? I hope you have had this discussion and if not I most certainly hope you do, since this is way more important than the wedding ceremony itself.

  • flawedprefect

    Was in the same boat. We opted for a church wedding cos it was pretty. Family was happy; wife was happy; I lied to the priest (he seemed happy to be lied to, but that’s apparently what being Catholics all about – go figure). I’m now happily married with fond memories of an awesome day, cos the Church was just one hour, and my marriage has been three fantastic years which have (like apple products) just gotten better and better. Wife is conceding on the baptism of our first child (ie: we don’t need it), as long as I have it out with her folks about it. I’m game.

  • Silent Service

    Noble Defector,

    I’ve got to agree with everybody on the most important question. What does your fiancé want? If she wants Mass, you’re having Mass (get used to the idea because she has her whole family and yours behind her). If she is indifferent to Mass, you and her work out a message you both will stick too with both families. Marriage is between those getting married. Their families had damned well better learn to sit down and shut up. It isn’t their wedding day; it belongs to the two of you. If you can’t get them out of this business, you will never get them out of any of your business.

    Sit down and talk to your fiancé and start figuring out now what the two of you want from this wedding, and from this marriage. Don’t believe for one moment that you can put off any of those religious discussions till a better time. There is no better time than now. This issue over Mass shows that.

  • David H

    My feeling is the wedding is just a day, and that the marriage is the much bigger deal. (I would want to keep the mass out too, though).
    I am actually very impressed with a set of questions I saw that the Catholic Church uses when counseling couples before they get married. It was a survey of a number of topics that each person filled out individually, and then they got a report on where they conflicted. I’m told that more than a few couples decided not to marry when they find out how their future spouse really feels about certain things they never thought to ask.

    The questions cover a lot of ground that I think most couples never talk about before they get married. So my advice is, don’t worry too much about the wedding, get clear on what you both want if you have kids. We all know how the church loves to mess with the minds of the young, and I would never let my kids go to church and Sunday school at a young, impressionable age. You might want to check this one with your bride to be. It has serious potential to be a poison pill later on. And even if she would be OK with the kids not going to church, you know there will be lots of pressure from the families. Will she support you then? This is where making your stand could have the most important consequences.

  • J.

    Had my wife’s mother lived, she might have been upset we weren’t married in a Catholic Church, as it worked out I had only met her twice, before she passed. — However we had a ceremony which included elements of Catholicism, Judaism, and secularism for us. — Very much of the format of our wedding came from a ‘Catholic Design’ since that’s what my wife had to work with

    That said I find I very much married into a Catholic family, as far as my new nieces, are concerned. My new Brother in Law’s family is Catholic and I in no way interfere in that upbringing.

    My Sister in Law was brought up Catholic, but as with my wife is perhaps ‘more lapsed’ and again I leave the religious upbringing to her and her family.

    It is perhaps fortunate that both my wife and I agreed we are in no shape to raise children of our own, in that it saves at least one religious fight. Also fortunately I was brought up ‘secular Jew’ not ‘Orthodox’ or any which might insist on marrying within the Faith.

  • Freemage

    One possible compromise you might want to suggest, especially if your bride is, herself, indifferent or undecided on the issue of the Mass–ask the priest if it would be possible for the Mass to be held prior to the actual marriage ceremony, and print both start-times on the invitations. Catholic family members could arrive early and participate in the Mass; non-Catholics, including yourself and (I assume) at least some of your friends could then arrive after the actual Mass.

    As others have said, the liturgy of a Catholic Mass is pretty much set in stone, so you probably won’t be able to do much about ‘religious language’.

  • Kevin

    I’m an atheist who has been happily married to my Lutheran wife for 10 years. The stance that worked for me, my then-fiancee, the pastor, both families, and all friends was simple: My wife could have any ceremony, location, and pastor she wanted. My only conditions were that
    1) I would stand through, but not participate in any religious acts and that
    2) I would not speak any statements I didn’t believe (so any god references had to be scrubbed from my vows if I was to utter them).

    Now, that’s what worked for me, and everyone is going to be different… but, frankly, I’m a bit puzzled that “no mass” would be such a sticking point for Noble. I mean, you’re looking at 50+ years of living with this person, and you’re getting hung up on standing idly through an hour of cross-waving latin-speaking mumbo-jumbo? For perspective, if I was told that the only way I could marry my wife was by wading through a mile-long waist-deep trough of cow manure; I’d have clamped a clothes-pin on my nose and asked where to start. Besides, I only know that my approach worked out based on the review of the video. At the time of the ceremony, my only coherent thoughts were “don’t do something dumb, don’t do something dumb, don’t do something dumb…”. For all I knew, I could’ve been vowing to worship the entrails of goats. Furthermore, most of what my wife and I (and friedns and family) *do* recall about the day was the reception (this holds for my recollections of every single wedding I’ve ever been to: people suffer the boring service, distract themselves with the pretty decor, and race out of the pews to be first in line for the real party).

    A long-winded way of saying, don’t cave on what’s important to you, but make sure you’re not making mountains out of molehills, either.

  • minus

    It’s all about the children. My son married a Catholic woman. He had to convert and be baptized first. We had not problem with that, he’s a grownup. But we cringed at the wedding when it came to the part about raising the kids to be Catholic. Now, ten years later, our hearts break when we see those sweet kids kneeling beside their beds to pray and when they talk to us about the baby Jesus. To me, what that church has done to our grandchildren is a sin.

  • Noble_Defector

    Thanks for all of your thoughts everyone! You have all given me a lot to think about and discuss with my fiancee’.

    Thanks again!

  • Kris

    I was pretty sure that you can only have a wedding in a Catholic church if you’re both Catholic. You could lie to go forward with it, but in all ways a Catholic wedding is a completely Catholic affair.

  • ABH

    Firstly I want to agree with Kevin; for me the most important thing on my wedding day would be to not pretend to be someone I wasn’t. If she were being all religious and I was being all atheist, that would seem like a pretty good representation of the marriage to come (fortunately for me my fiance is an atheist 😉

    What I do want to take issue with however is the sentiment that keeps appearing of “she’s worth whatever you have to go through to marry her.” The problem with this is that it isn’t some cosmic rule that you have to go through something unpleasant to marry someone you love. In fact it’s the person you love asking you to go through the unpleasant thing in the first place. If she doesn’t respect your atheism enough to compromise on such an important event and defend your beliefs to her family, thats a problem with the relationship.

    It’s up to you to decide which beliefs are important enough that she needs to defend them; but once you do decide she should be ready to take up your banner without hesitation. Just as you should be ready to take up hers.

    Personal anecdote: Two sets of my atheist friends got married in the catholic church to keep family happy and it sucked. The priest yammered on about a bunch of stuff that didn’t mean anything to either of them and sitting through a mass that none of us cared about really detracted from the importance of the day to the couple. The one friend who is much more strongly atheist said that its one of her biggest regrets.

  • VS

    In my experience phira’s #1 is spot on (the rest of the advice is good to). No matter what you do around your wedding there will always be someone upset. For instance, I didn’t have a bridal shower. I didn’t want one and figured most people would be happy to get out of giving two gifts (shower + wedding) and attending an inane party. Some were fine with it while others acted as if I had kicked a puppy when I told them. We essentially did everything my mom wanted for the actual day and she still wasn’t happy.

    I was agnostic and pretty naive in regards to the Catholic church’s wedding requirements when we got married Catholic (to please both our families). I didn’t realize they pushed the breed for us angle that hard. Pre cana really fomented my burgeoning atheism. If you haven’t already done it, be prepared to roll your eyes a lot.

  • Richard Wade

    Wow you guys are terrific! Thank you for such good suggestions and encouragement to Noble.

  • Cat

    My husband (raised Catholic) and I (agnostic, turning atheist) were married in a Catholic ceremony back in the early ’80s. We didn’t have a mass, thank FSM, since I was neither Catholic nor baptised. (And as such I was treated as barely better than pond scum by the Church.) What I find almost hysterically funny now is that with all the bullsh*t, apparently no one bothered to get a dispensation from the local bishop for my non-baptism, so we aren’t actually married in the eyes of the Church after all! Ha!

    My advice to the couple would be to think VERY CAREFULLY about what you are doing, and how far you are willing to compromise your own beliefs. You need to make arrangements that will suit the two of you, and to h*ll with what other people think – it’s YOUR wedding, after all, not theirs! And if you are dissatisfied with it, it could be a sore point for years and years and years….

  • Demonhype


    What I do want to take issue with however is the sentiment that keeps appearing of “she’s worth whatever you have to go through to marry her.” The problem with this is that it isn’t some cosmic rule that you have to go through something unpleasant to marry someone you love. In fact it’s the person you love asking you to go through the unpleasant thing in the first place. If she doesn’t respect your atheism enough to compromise on such an important event and defend your beliefs to her family, thats a problem with the relationship.


    I think the compromise and “mountains out of molehills” goes two ways if you’re going to be fair, but for some reason all the requirement for compromising falls on the atheist side in these debates. The religioso gets his/her way and the unbeliever always has to fold. “Just sit through it, it’s meaningless, it won’t kill you!” Well, he’s already compromised big-time for her, having the ceremony in a catholic church of her choice even though he doesn’t want it, and now it’s her turn. He loves her enough to put up with the church thing, she should love him enough to give up something that isn’t even a requirement for them to be married–something that is essentially nothing more than hyper-Catholic window dressing which has the primary effect of rubbing her supposed True Love’s nose in it.

    BTW, it’s not meaningless. Supposedly getting married is full of important meaning for both parties. So he doesn’t want to have her religiosity and the families’ religiosity rubbed in his face at maximum capacity on his special day. That is not a petulant request, especially since he’s already conceded some of that ground for her happiness. On top of that, as I stated before, having a mass is optional anyway even within the church. So one could also say that if they (fiance and families) cannot bend on this one rather unimportant issue, what makes you think they’re going to bend on the important things, like indoctrinating the children? The fact is, all that can be turned around against the religious family. If you give them an inch, they’ll try to take a mile. If you sit back blandly while they control the wedding, they will feel galvanized and also feel completely justified in taking control of other aspects of the marriage. They may take it as evidence that the atheist is weakening toward the faith and use that to justify pressure to be a “good” catholic.

    Of course, I don’t know if this is what Noble’s families or fiance will do. But that is my experience. Even my own mother tried to do that when I briefly fell in love with a young Christian minister years ago, and she started putting pressure on me to love Jesus again. I think she was hoping it would work out and then he would take her side and help lead me back to faith–and to this day, she harbors this secret belief that the fact that it didn’t work out was the reason I’m an atheist today (the usual “you’re just angry at God/Christians/one particular Christian” apologetic). “You wouldn’t convert to Christianity for him? But why not? You LOVE him! You say he’s a sweet wonderful guy? Don’t you think it’s Jesus that makes him so sweet? Why can’t you just believe?” When I turned it around and asked if he should be willing to deconvert for me she said,”No, of course not, how could you expect him to give up his precious faith?” She didn’t much care for it when I pointed out that she had a huge double standard regarding religion. And we never got anywhere near the whole wedding thing!

    This is precisely why I, like several of the above commenters, would never get into a relationship with a religious person. Maybe some people find a way to make it work and that’s great for them, but I’m always going to be skeptical. Because whenever this sort of thing comes up, the majority of pressure to “change” or “compromise” or just plain give in is placed squarely on the atheist in the couple–apparently by both sides, not just the religious side, though it is made a lot worse by having one or both sets of in-laws thoroughly indoctrinated. I am not interested in starting a relationship in which I will have to fight for every inch of ground, or be accused of “making mountains out of molehills” if I take a stand against anything that is not deemed sufficiently earth-shattering while my believing partner can make all manner of demands, both petty and important, that I will be expected to concede to out-of-hand when they use the magic word “faith”. And no matter how sweet he might seem now, I can never trust anybody to not use that unfair social advantage to try and twist my arm to get their way or try to coerce my cooperation in all matters religious.

    And I absolutely refuse to speak vows I do not mean–such as “I promise to indoctrinate my kids early and raise them to be proper drones of the Catholic mafia”. I won’t do it, and so I will not promise it. Perhaps some people can utter promises they do not intend to keep, and can somehow justify it by saying “well, I’m respecting his/her faith, it’s unimportant anyway, it’s just meaningless words”, but I consider my integrity to be as important as his faith, and I do not consider promises, especially this sort of promise on this sort of day, to be just meaningless words. And I do not consider it a sign of respect of his faith or to him to lie to his face in his precious church–even if it is to placate him. And I could never truly love or respect a man who requires such placation.

    I guess I’m really fired up about this because my brother is marrying some girl who clearly gives him no respect, and he has been the one to concede EVERYTHING throughout their relationship, while she seems to have the definition of “compromise” as “I get my way and you shut up and like it”. And he has yet to figure out that “respect for women” does not mean “always give in over everything”. Let me tell you, when even a “shrill” feminist (one who is known to go on tirades about our sexist male-centric society) acknowledges that you’re whipped, you are whipped!

    He’s going through something a little similar, though he has no nuts at all. First it’s “I don’t want anything in a church, I don’t want a religious ceremony or a minister!” She arranges just that, in his face, and he’s all “yes, dear.” Now he’s saying he doesn’t want the guy to drone on too much about God–we’ll see how that goes. 😉

  • Richard P.

    Dear Noble Defector,
    Get out now. Get out before it’s to late.

  • cass_m

    It’s generous that you agreed to have the wedding in her childhood church. Consider that this may be the only part of her “dream wedding” that is coming true. You should talk together then talk with the priest. You have the option of skipping the mass and selecting innocuous readings.

    You can never tell what people really want for their wedding because parents can be amazingly manipulative for this event. My dad pushed very hard for a RCC wedding (I had never seen him in a church prior to this) and we went along because it wasn’t that important to us. We jumped the hoops we had to to keep the peace. It’s just the wedding, you have a marriage to build.

  • Lots of good advice above. The key thing is to reach agreement with your fiancée.

    One option if she really does want the mass is to insist that all the language of the mass be in Latin. Then (assuming you don’t speak Latin) at least you won’t have to understand all the God talk. It will just be a mystical ceremony with music and “chanting”. You won’t have it quite so much “in your face” and the families can at least enjoy a mass as “they used to be”.

  • Stephanie

    You can’t do a whole lot about the language used in the marriage part, but you absolutely CAN have a Catholic wedding without a mass!

    When my husband and I married, my mother was furious at me for not including mass in the wedding. She was raised Catholic and had a mass as part of her wedding to my father, despite his being another religion. He later converted to Catholicism, but at the time of their wedding, he didn’t count and so could not receive communion. I was also raised Catholic and was marrying a (then) lapsed Methodist / agnostic man and refused to do the same thing. Why would I want to stand up in front of a room of family and friends and say “Yes, I want to share my life and everything in it with you” and then turn around and say “But not this. This is something for me and my family, you can’t do this.”

    Technically, Noble Defector probably still counts as a Catholic (since the only way to quit the Catholic Church anymore is to switch teams; they don’t accept that you just don’t want to play the game) so he probably could take communion if he wanted to lie to the priest about it, but do you really want that to be the first thing you do as a married couple? Perhaps if someone pointed out to his fiance (and the families) that this optional part of the wedding would be deliberately excluding the groom, she might have second thoughts.

  • MV


    It is entirely possible to be both atheist and Catholic. For instance, I do not believe in gods, making me an atheist. I was also baptised in the Catholic church and confirmed making me Catholic in the eyes of the church. Being Catholic is primarily a bureaucratic endeavor; belief is tertiary. As the writer was raised in the church, I imagine he experienced something similar.

    In any case, a church wedding is always somewhat flexible. How flexible will ultimately depend upon the parish.

  • Dan W

    If I eventually get married, I don’t think I’d want the wedding ceremony in a church. I wouldn’t want a religious wedding at all. Which means I probably won’t end up marrying a really religious woman.

    Anyway, I hope you can work out a compromise over this aspect of your wedding, Noble Defector. My advice is this: remember, this isn’t your family’s and her family’s wedding; it’s between you and her. What you and your future wife decide to have at your wedding trumps what both of your families want.

  • Deepak Shetty

    I dont think it is necessary for you to be a Catholic in order to get married in church – You don’t get the sacrament of marriage though but you can get married in church.
    So I did get married in a Catholic Church (born a Hindu) and there was mass , and my wife and her relatives ate the crackers but I didn’t have to – Is that an option for you?
    Obviously it is something that you and your wife to be have to agree on –
    My question to you would be – why is it a big deal to you if you have the mass/eucharist? You don’t believe it so it neither hurts nor harms you , nor are you attempting to con anyone since everyone close knows that you don’t share their beliefs anymore. So why does it matter to you?
    from what little my wife has told me it did matter to her that she didn’t get the sacrament of marriage.
    Usually in mixed marriages in India you have two ceremonies(one per the rituals on one religion, one per the other). If there aren’t any financial constraints you can have another ceremony in the way you want!
    I think it would be more useful to let your wife have her way but make sure she knows she owes you one (Trust me it will be worth it!).

  • Michael

    Don’t let the bride recruit either family to pressure you just because they’re on her side of the mass disagreement.

    You and your wife won’t be able to have as fair of a discussion while she has family members “making it known” to you what they expect.

  • AxeGrrl

    No matter how many times I hear such stories, I’m continually blown away by the nerve of family members who presumptuously expect that their preferences regarding the ceremony should be given ANY weight whatsoever.

    And I don’t mean in such believer/atheist situations, I mean with ANY wedding!

    When my best friend got married, in her mum’s backyard, with her and her husband walking down the aisle together *gasp*, her family ‘made their (disapproving) feelings known’ and I thought ‘who the hell are you to say anything about the choices this couple is making for THEIR wedding’?

    Anyone who would want another person’s wedding to be anything other than what they want it to be is being incredibly selfish….not to mention passive aggressively manipulative.

    Seriously, how and why is such behaviour ever tolerated?

  • I’ve never really understood the point of marriage or a wedding. Love is between two (or more) people. It doesn’t need a ritual or a legal confirmation. Of course a couple might want these things or feel more secure by having them and that is their choice. Not one damn thing about their choice should be up to anyone else. It is their wedding and their marriage and they should have it how they want.

    Presumably Noble and soon to be Mrs Defector aren’t planning on making sure they get the wedding right next time round so make it a day that they want it to be. By all means listen to suggestions from interested parties but they don’t have to act on any of them.

  • Silent Service

    I am so glad my wife and I were married overseas while in the military. The only relative that was in attendance was her brother (also a service member) who happened to be stationed in the same country as us. That spared us any family manipulations.

    I’ve changed my mind, Noble. Elope. Spend all that wedding money to fly to some romantic vacations spot and get married there.

  • Noble_Defector


    Haha my future father-in-law has said he would write us a check if we eloped but I know my mother would be livid haha. That’s alright though, I’ll stick it out and do the good ol’ debate and conversation haha.

    Thanks again for everyone’s thoughts. It’s helpful during such a stressful time.

  • Mary

    My Agnostic father married my Catholic mother in 1975 with a full Mass. He felt that since he didn’t care about religion and it was important to my mother he’d go along with the Catholic Ceremony. In all honesty, his fundamentalist father was more horrified with the Catholic Mass and serving of alchohol.
    Mom did her best to raise my brother and I as Catholics, but we are Agnostics. My parents shared VERY liberal political beliefs and many other things in common. The location of your wedding ceremony doesn’t have to dictate how you’ll be as a couple. If your fiance is truly happy with a Catholic wedding, isn’t it worth it? Again, I’m saying this as an Agnostic.

  • This was an incredibly thoughtful response from Richard… Kudos, sir!

    What your fiance wants and is willing to compromise on is most important. A mass is not required and plenty of Catholic weddings don’t have them. You could always cite the number of non-Catholic friends that you have and that you don’t want to make a mass/Eucharist awkward or uncomfortable for them.

    My guess is that your families are contributing a fair amount of money to this wedding? Otherwise, I’m sure you wouldn’t give their opinion so much weight. Reason #529 why we’re paying for our wedding by ourselves.

  • Married in Maryland

    Consider this wedding as the way her family is celebrating your union (I assume they are paying for it). If they want to have wine and stale bread at the ceremony, why not let them. As an atheist, it doesn’t hold any meaning to you, just be respectful and don’t participate.

    If it is your money, do what you and your future wife want. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune.

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