Q: Given paragraph 100 in the “Instruction: The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church” – Congregation for the Clergy 20 July 2020, might it be possible for a Catholic member of the community, one who is already a civil marriage celebrant, to witness the Sacrament of Matrimony a couple confers upon each other?
The relevant paragraph is:
“Moreover, where there is a lack of priests and deacons, the diocesan Bishop can delegate lay persons to assist at marriages, with the previous favorable vote of the episcopal conference and after obtaining the permission of the Holy See”.
A: The Vatican has long had a provision for lay people to witness marriages because some parts of the world have even fewer priests than Australia and the U.S. You’ll notice in the 2016 Order of Celebrating Matrimony that there’s a chapter that covers this situation.
A Catholic layperson may only witness marriages under the circumstances listed in 100. He or she needs appointment from the bishop, but HE needs a favorable vote from the entire conference of bishops, and THEY need the approval of the Vatican.