Welcome to the Catholic Marriage FAQ page!
For specific questions or information on Marriage in the Catholic Church, contact us here:
Why does the church teach that marriage is a sacrament?
The sacraments make Christ present in our midst. Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but for the community as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The Old Testament prophets saw the marriage of a man and woman as a symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people. The permanent and exclusive union between husband and wife mirrors the mutual commitment between God and his people. The Letter to the Ephesians says that this union is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church.
What is the difference between a valid and an invalid Catholic marriage?
The Catholic Church has certain requirements before Catholics can be considered validly married in the eyes of the Church. A valid Catholic marriage results from four elements: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they freely exchange their consent; (3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; and (4) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by church authority.
My fiancé(e) is not Catholic. Can we still get married in the Catholic Church?
Yes! If the non-Catholic is a baptized Christian, the marriage is valid as long as the Catholic party obtains official permission from the diocese to enter into the marriage and follows all the stipulations for a Catholic wedding (the priest or pastoral worker takes care of these details). A marriage between a Catholic and another Christian is also considered a sacrament. In fact, the church regards all marriages between baptized Christians as sacramental, as long as there are no impediments. Because Catholics regard marriage as a sacred event, the church prefers that interfaith couples marry in a Catholic church, preferably the Catholic party’s parish church.
Marriages between Catholics and non-Christians, while they may still be valid in the eyes of the Church, are non-sacramental. With permission, a priest or deacon may witness such marriages.
Why does a Catholic wedding have to take place in a church?
For Catholics, marriage is not just a social or family event, but a church event. For this reason, the Church prefers that marriages between Catholics, or between Catholics and other Christians, be celebrated in the parish church of one of the spouses. Only the local bishop can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.
If a Catholic wishes to marry in a place outside the Catholic church, how can he or she be sure that the marriage is recognized by the Catholic Church as valid?
The local bishop can permit a wedding in another church, or in another suitable place, for a sufficient reason. For example, a Catholic seeks to marry a Baptist whose father is the pastor of the local Baptist church. The father wants to officiate at the wedding. In these circumstances, the bishop could permit the couple to marry in the Baptist church. The permission in these instances is called a “dispensation from canonical form.”
If two Catholics or a Catholic and non-Catholic are married invalidly in the eyes of the church, what should they do about it?
They should approach their pastor to try to resolve the situation.
When a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, must the non-Catholic promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith?
The non-Catholic spouse does not have to promise to have the children raised Catholic. The Catholic spouse must promise to do all that he or she can to have the children baptized and raised in the Catholic faith.
What should a couple do when they decide that they want to marry in the Catholic Church?
They should contact their parish as soon as possible and make an appointment to talk with the priest, deacon or staff person who is responsible for preparing couples for marriage. This person will explain the process of marriage preparation and the various programs that are offered.
Why does the church require engaged couples to participate in a marriage preparation program?
Marriage preparation offers couples the opportunity to develop a better understanding of Christian marriage; to evaluate and deepen their readiness to live married life; and to gain insights into themselves as individuals and as a couple. It is especially effective in helping couples to deal with the challenges of the early years of marriage.
If one of us was previously married, do we need an annulment before getting married?
The Church requires a divorced Catholic to obtain a declaration of nullity before re-marrying in the Church. The Church presumes that marriages are valid and lifelong; therefore, unless the ex-spouse has died, the Church requires the divorced Catholic to obtain a declaration of nullity before re-marrying. The tribunal process seeks to determine if something essential was missing from the couple’s relationship from the moment of consent, that is, the time of the wedding. If so, then the Church can declare that a valid marriage was never actually brought about on the wedding day.
The Catholic Church also requires an intended spouse, who is divorced but not Catholic, to obtain an annulment before marrying in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church respects all marriages and presumes that they are valid. Thus, for example, it considers the marriages of two Protestant, Jewish, or even nonbelieving persons to be binding for life. The Church requires a declaration of nullity to establish that an essential element was missing in that previous union preventing it from being a valid marriage.
This is often a difficult and emotional issue. If the intended spouse comes from a faith tradition that accepts divorce and remarriage, it may be hard for them to understand why they must go through the Catholic tribunal process. Couples in this situation may find it helpful to talk with a priest or deacon. To go through the process can be a sign of great love of the non-Catholic for their intended spouse.
Questions and Answers sourced from foryourmarriage.org