Catholics who have married outside of the Catholic Church are encouraged to have their civil marriage recognized by the Church. We call this a convalidation. These couples, who were no doubt well intentioned and sincere in professing their vows outside of the Catholic Church, are not considered validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church. This is because the form for the Sacrament of Marriage has not been observed.
For Catholics, the form for the Sacrament of Marriage is that vows be exchanged in a church before a Catholic Deacon, or Priest, and two witnesses. Just as, for instance, a Justice of the Peace does not bless bread and wine for the Sacrament of Eucharist, neither do they administer the Sacrament of Marriage.
If a couple finds themselves in the situation that they are married civilly, but considered unmarried by the Church since they never requested the Sacrament of Marriage, then they should contact a priest in order to begin the process of convalidating their union. This process is usually not very difficult and opens the way for the couple to live their faith more fully. Below is an outline of the usual procedure.
WHEN BEGINNING THE PROCESS OF CONVALIDATION, THE COUPLE SHOULD:
- Make an Appointment: Contact their local parish and make an appointment to speak with the priest or deacon in charge of marriage preparation so as to discuss their particular situation.
- Obtain Necessary Documents: Catholics need a recent copy of their baptismal record, including all notations. This easily obtained by calling the parish of baptism, and requesting that a copy be mailed directly to the priest or deacon assisting you. Other needed documents include: a copy of the civil marriage license, and any Declarations of Nullity if appropriate.
- Pursue Possible Annulment: If the marriage you wish to convalidate is not the first marriage for one or both of you, it may be necessary to first pursue an annulment of a prior marriage. If this is your situation, it may be necessary to petition for a Declaration of Nullity for the previous marriage. The priest or deacon assisting you with marriage preparation will be able to give you more information on this.
- Complete Paperwork: A Premarital Questionnaire, as well as other necessary paperwork, will be filled out with the priest or deacon assisting you with marriage preparation.
- Determine Date and Time for the Ceremony: At the appropriate time during the process, the priest or deacon will help you determine the date, time of the ceremony, as well as the appropriate type of ceremony to have. These are usually very simple, minimally requiring the bride, groom, two witnesses, and the deacon or priest. Often a few close family members are also invited.
- Make a good Confession: The Catholic spouse(s) should celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before the convalidation ceremony. It is very common for the people who were not married in the Church to have not been to Confession for a long time. If one doesn’t remember how to make a good Confession, one needs only to ask the priest for help. Confession is customary for Catholics about to begin a new life with each other and the Lord in the Holy Sacrament of marriage. Confession powerfully brings about forgiveness and full healing by the grace of God’s mercy. It opens one to fully experience the grace of the new sacrament about to be received, Marriage, by which God offers Himself in a special and intimate way to be the third Partner in a couple’s life