The Vatican granted permission to allow a nun to officiate at a wedding in Canada due to a shortage of priests at a diocese in Quebec.
On July 22, Sister Pierrette Thiffault of the Sisters of Providence conducted the wedding of a couple identified only as David and Cindy at a Catholic parish in Lorrainville, Quebec, Catholic News Service (CNS) reported.
"It was a new experience for me," Thiffault said, adding that the experience was "precious" for her as well as for the couple and for the people in the parish.
"It was good for the diocese. It was also an experiment for the Catholic Church," she went on to say.
The Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments gave permission to Bishop Dorylas Moreau of the Quebec Diocese of Rouyn-Noranda in May to allow the nun to conduct the wedding.
While the story has been seen as a sign that the role of women is changing in the Catholic church, Moreau maintains that the wedding was carried out according to a long-established provision of canon law.
The provision carries an exception for a lay person — either a man or a woman — to be permitted to officiate at a wedding when a bishop, priest or deacon is unavailable.
"It is an exceptional situation, not something habitual," Moreau said in French, according to CNS.
The bishop was prompted to make the request due to the priest shortage, which was especially acute in the summer.
Moreau noted that he has only 16 priests for 35 parishes in a diocese that covers nearly 9,300 miles of rugged territory. There are more than 75 nuns in the diocese, but there are no deacons, although three are currently in formation.
Madeleine Dumas, the chancellor for Rouyn-Noranda diocese, stated that "the authorization was valid only for this marriage."
She further noted that Thiffault took time to prepare the couple and "to check well their free consent."
"And it is wise that such a law applies throughout the world because it shows the importance of the sacrament of marriage that should not be celebrated anyhow or by anyone," Dumas said.
Thiffault, who serves as a pastoral worker at a parish in Moffett, called her involvement a "work of evangelization" because she met with the couple several times to help them prepare for marriage.
She said that she would be happy to officiate at another wedding if the need arises. "I imagine the authorization will not be given only for one marriage. If I can help, I will accept," she said.