By: Claire Bergin
A religious sister presided over a wedding ceremony in Canada recently - with full permission from the Vatican. Sister Pierrette Thiffault, a member of the Sisters of Providence, married Cindy and David on 22 July, in the Catholic parish of Lorainville, a small town more than 650 kilometres from Montreal.
There is a shortage of priests in this remote area with some priests looking after seven or eight parishes. Sr Pierrette has been in charge of pastoral ministry in the parish for many years - she was David's catechist when he was a child - so when the couple decided to marry, her local bishop asked her to preside over the ceremony.
As Sr Pierrette pointed out to local press, in a marriage ceremony, the minister celebrating the sacrament is not the priest. The ministers preforming the wedding are in fact the bride and groom themselves. Within the matrimonial liturgy, the priest’s duty is that of being a qualified witness. And under Canon Law 1113, promulgated in 1983 by St John Paul II: “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.”
The next paragraph adds: “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.”
A request was sent to Rome, and on 23 May 2017 a letter came from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, presided over by Cardinal Robert Sarah authorising Sr Pierrette to conduct the wedding.
Sr Pierrette said: "When I got the answer, I felt a responsibility and a great dignity... It is a great service to the Church, but to me too. It is an opening for women in our milieu, but also in the diocese."