Getting Married in the Catholic Church: FAQs

So you’ve decided to get married in a Catholic church. Congratulations on the sacramental journey you are about to begin. Indeed, the ceremony you will be planning is more than just an event, it is a sacrament, a sign of your union together founded upon the love of Christ. It is not a sign like a stop sign that says one thing plainly and simply. Rather it is a sign to the world of the covenantal (sacred and permanent) relationship into which God has called the two of you. Because your marriage is that kind of sign, it will have an effect on everything about you. Likewise, it will have varying effects on everyone you know. In short, you do not marry in private.

Sometimes, when a couple contacts a Catholic church about setting up a wedding ceremony, they get questions about their backgrounds and things like parish membership from the parish secretary, priest, or other staff member. The couple is often surprised by these questions and might even feel unwelcome because of them. Use the responses to each of these questions below as guiding principles, but be sure to contact your local parish to understand their policies and procedures.

Getting Married in the Catholic Church

Can we get married in a Catholic church if we’re not members of the parish?

Catholic weddings are ideally supposed to take place in the parish of either the bride or groom. In fact, the Code of Canon Law (Cn 1115) states that “marriages are to be celebrated at a parish where either of the contracting parties” has at least a “month long residence.” However, it also states that the parish pastor or local bishop can give permission for a wedding to take place in another parish.

This is why it is very common for couples to be married in their hometowns where they grew up but no longer reside. Very often, in fact, couples are married in their parents’ current parish even if it isn’t the parish they grew up in themselves.

One of the main reasons Catholic churches are so focused on membership, is that since Matrimony is a sacrament, it is done within the context of a faith community. This is the same reason that Catholics are asked to get married in an actual church building. It is symbolic of the sacramental nature of the event and the need to be a part of Christ’s Church while undergoing this sacrament.

Can we get married in the Catholic Church if one of us is a baptized Christian but not a Catholic?

Yes, a Catholic can marry another baptized Christian. In fact, this has become quite common. When you meet with the parish priest, he will explain any special arrangements that will need to be made, including the possible participation of a minister from the non-Catholic partner’s church.

When two baptized persons marry, they vow to live a sacramental marriage within the Church. This is why the Church asks you to promise to baptize your children and raise them within the Catholic faith community.

If your fiancé is not a baptized Christian, then the parish may invite him or her to explore joining the Church. If there is interest, they will ask that he or she begin the RCIA process in order to enter into communion with Christ and the Church. Since Matrimony is a sacrament of the Church, baptism is a prerequisite requirement. Without baptism and entrance into the Church, you cannot receive the other sacraments. Since the Church recognizes baptism from other Christian denominations as valid, it also recognizes the marriages between any two baptized individuals whether they were Catholic at the time they were married or not.

For more information about marriages between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, read Appendix A from Together for Life, “Marriage Between a Catholic and a Non-Catholic.”

Can we get married in the Catholic Church if one of us is divorced?

Yes, you may, as long as the previous marriage has been declared null or invalid by the Catholic Church or the former spouse has died. A statement of legal divorce is not enough for a couple to enter into another sacramental bond of marriage.

Couples who were previously married can go through a process of annulment so that they can enter into a sacramental marriage through the Church. An annulment does not undo a marriage. It is a declaration that the previous marriage was not sacramental because there was something standing in the way of the couples entering freely into the covenant relationship in the first place.

The first step is to speak with the pastor of your parish. A parish minister will help you through the process and make sure that the necessary steps are taken and documents are provided so that the diocesan marriage tribunal can consider your request for an annulment.

Read more: Catholic Annulment Frequently Asked Questions

 

Can we get married in the Catholic Church if we haven’t been confirmed?

For a Catholic to participate in the sacrament of matrimony, he or she must have received the sacrament of confirmation, the completion of the sacrament of baptism. According to Canon Law (Cn 1063), “Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before they are admitted to marriage if it can be done without grave inconvenience.” So you can say that it is possible, but highly improbable, that you will be able to get married without receiving the sacrament of confirmation first. Although canon law does not absolutely require that a Catholic be confirmed in order to get married, it is very likely that most pastors and dioceses do.

Can we get married in the Catholic Church if we’re living together (cohabitation)?

It depends. First a little background:

The sacramental sign of marriage is sexual union between spouses. The purpose of marriage is for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. When a couple is living together prior to marriage, the assumption is that the couple is engaging in sexual intercourse without a relationship based on a marital covenant.

Cohabitation in itself is not an impediment to marriage. Neither is premarital sex, though it is a sin and participating in the sacrament of reconciliation is strongly encouraged leading up to the celebration of Matrimony. However, some pastors will ask that you move out in preparation for your marriage if you want to be married in their parish. Some will just strongly suggest this and others will not ask at all. In any case, the important thing is for you and all couples to come to a deeper understanding of the purpose of marriage and the role sex plays within it.

What are the requirements for getting married in a Catholic church?

There are a few things that need to take place before getting married in a Catholic parish:

1. Approval from the Pastor 

If you are not members of the parish, then you will need to get the pastor’s approval for the wedding to take place there. This might require a meeting or a phone call. Ultimately, you will need to get in touch with the pastor for this decision to be made.

2. The Interview

First, couples will usually need to schedule a meeting with the pastor of the parish and sometimes a deacon as the first step in preparing for the sacrament of matrimony. This interview is meant to introduce the couple to some of the steps they will need to take in the weeks leading up to their wedding. The meeting is also meant to make sure the couple understands the sacrament they are about to take part in and ensure that there are no impediments to entering freely into the sacrament (a previous marriage, mental illness, coercion, etc.).

3. Marriage Preparation Program

Couples usually need to enroll in a marriage preparation program required by the parish or diocese. Often there will be different options available to you such as a day-long or weekend-long retreat with other engaged couples, meetings with other engaged couples over a period of several weeks, or a series of meetings between the two of you and a married couple who become sponsors or mentors during the time of your engagement. Most of these preparation programs are led by married couples who are eager to help you get off to a good start. The programs focus on developing a sacramental marriage that will last a lifetime.

Couples usually spend time meeting with the pastor of the parish that they will be married in or the priest or deacon who will preside at the wedding. Couples can also meet with another priest in their geographic location if they are unable to physically meet with the priest who will be at their wedding.

4. Forms and Paperwork

Church records need to be sent to the parish in which you will get married. Baptismal records, and certificates of First Holy Communion and Confirmation, need to be sent to the parish so that the date of your marriage can be added to the form.

If one or both of you have been married before, you will need to supply a Decree of Nullity, indicating an annulment of the previous marriage. There are likely to be other forms to complete as well as fees to pay for the amount of time it takes to process the paperwork and prepare the church for your wedding ceremony.

5. Wedding Planning

You will need to meet with the parish wedding planner to plan the wedding. They are likely to give you a copy of Together for Life to select your readings and prayers for the Rite of Marriage and to reflect on your marriage together as a couple. The time you take to reflect on your choices of readings and prayers will be important leading up to your actual wedding day.

The Catholic Wedding Planning Checklist 

Wedding planning can become overwhelming. There are a lot of things to plan in a short amount of time. Sign up for the Together for Life Online newsletter and we will send you a free copy of the The Catholic Wedding Planning Checklist. Find more more.

Should I join a parish after the wedding?

The much bigger question at hand is: where will you go to church after your wedding is over?

If you are not getting married in the city you live in today, then seek out a parish near your home to join with your new spouse. Remember that in marriage you enter into a sacramental relationship that can only be fed by Christ and his Body, the Church.

Tap into this support system and meet other married couples who can help you live a joyful marriage that lasts a lifetime.

*For a list of many more questions and answers about getting married in the Catholic Church, check out Paul Turner’s book, The Catholic Wedding Answer Book

Note about comments:

You are free to add additional questions about getting married in a Catholic church as long as they are honest questions that others would benefit from reading. Any slanderous or improper questions or complaints will not be approved. 

(photo credit: tim caynes, creative commons)

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About Together for Life Online Team

The Together for Life Online Team is a division of the Catholic publishing company, Ave Maria Press

Comments

  1. lawrence helfant says:

    If I have a Baptism Cert. from 1946, is it valid for a con validation marriage? We have a civil marriage from 1965. 1 is Catholic & other is Prot. It was 1st & only marriage for both of us. We want a Catholic Wedding. Thank You.

  2. Chesna says:

    Can you get married in a Catholic church by a Justice of the Peace. We just want to use the building.

  3. marylisa says:

    Hello I want to get marry with my boyfriend We have been together for 5 years and we’re expecting a babyI would love to get married in a Catholic Church but my concern is I am baptized aS a catholic but the problem is I never did my first commu none of the above is it possible for us to still get married ????

    • Hi Marylisa, please contact the pastor at your local Catholic parish to meet with you and your boyfriend. You will need to participate in the sacrament of Confirmation as well as your first communion. He will also walk you and your boyfriend through a series of questions to make sure you are both ready to enter into the sacrament of matrimony.

      Here is the quote from the question about Confirmation:

      For a Catholic to participate in the sacrament of matrimony, he or she must have received the sacrament of confirmation, the completion of the sacrament of baptism. According to Canon Law (Cn 1063), “Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before they are admitted to marriage if it can be done without grave inconvenience.”

  4. AJ Fortune says:

    Can a couple, both divorced, but never married in a church (civil ceremonies) be now married to each other in a Catholic Church? Both Roman Catholics.

    • Hi AJ, very good question. You can find a number of answers for questions about annulment here: http://togetherforlifeonline.com/catholic-annulment/

      To specifically answer your questions, we will pull from Fr. Paul Turner’s book, The Catholic Wedding Answer Book (page 14):

      You will need an annulment before you can be married in the Catholic Church, “but it will probably be a simple matter. . . if a Catholic marries without the proper form [marriage in a parish church], we do not recognize the validity of the marriage. If persons in that marriage divorce, an annulment can be granted on the grounds of ‘lack of form.’”

      So, you should gather your marriage license and divorce decrees and contact your parish to begin the annulment process.

  5. MH Adams says:

    I learned in an RCIA class that a person unable to engage in sexual intercourse because of physical disability is not permitted to marry in the Catholic Church, because the marriage vow is consummated by the marital embrace. If the person is a man, neither is he permitted to become a priest, because a priest, though he takes a vow of celibacy, must be physically able to father a child, to be a valid spiritual Father to the flock.

    Can you tell me a little more about this?

    • Hi MH, very good question. What you heard in your RCIA class comes from Code of Canon Law:

      Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

      §2. If the impediment of impotence is doubtful, whether by a doubt about the law or a doubt about a fact, a marriage must not be impeded nor, while the doubt remains, declared null.

      If there is any doubt whatsoever now or in the future, then no a sacramental marriage would not be possible since the consummation of the marriage is essential. However, since there are such rare cases that “antecedent and perpetual impotence” is absolutely now and forever true, it is unlikely that a priest or diocese would prevent a couple from making their marital vows.

  6. Kay says:

    Hello. I am a Catholic who has had First Communion and Confirmation. My boyfriend is a baptized Christian. Can we get married in the church or does he need to talk with a priest about communion and confirmation?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Good question, Kay. Yes, you can be married in the Church if one of you is a baptized Christian but not yet Catholic. While it is not required, prayerfully consider encouraging your boyfriend to meet with a priest about the joys of fully entering into the Catholic Church.

  7. Marisa says:

    I divorced and later remarried.
    Recently my ex husband passed away.
    Can I receive communion now?

  8. mike says:

    If my fiancé is Catholic and I don’t believe in god but she does and wants to be married through the church what should we do??

    • Mike, this is a very tough question. Getting married in the Catholic Church is about more than just being married in a church building. The vows you will make include God as an essential part of the marital union. Would you be open to meeting with a priest about your beliefs as you prepare to marry?

  9. Angela says:

    Hello. I am a baptized Catholic. My fiancé is a non-baptized member of the Church of England. I would ideally like to be married in a Catholic Church. But if not, I at least want our marriage recognized by the Catholic Church. Is this possible?

    • Hi Angela, please contact the priest in your parish and meet with him about getting married in the Catholic Church. If this is your wish, then prayerfully consider it with your future spouse and make sure both of you are ready to make that decision.

  10. Sarah says:

    Hello,
    I’m a Catholic girl from Lebanon, and my fiancé is American and living in America, but he is a Baptised non Catholic, and we want to marry in a Catholic church in the States, but we have to wait for the fiancé visa and all that and when we will get it, we will only have 90 days to get married after I get the fiancé visa, which is less than the 6 months that all churches talk about for preparation. What should we do? I can’t go to the States before I get the fiancé visa.
    What should/can we do? I am really confused and stressed about this.

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your questions. There are many legal issues here that we won’t be able to answer regarding your visa. Ask your fiance to talk to the pastor of his parish about these questions. He will be able to guide you through the process if you are willing and able to get sacramentally married in the Church.

  11. Andrea says:

    My question is I am Catholic, baptized, communion, confirmation, same with my fiance.
    He has never been married, no children.
    I was married in a Greek Orthodox Church.
    Married for 15 years, divorced due to alcoholism, not on my part. Waited 5 years
    for him to turn around and kids were getting older and being affected.
    I have 3 children baptized greek orthodox.

    We would like to get married in a Catholic Church.
    Since I was not married in a Catholic Church, does the Catholic Church
    even recognize my previous marriage and do I still need an annulment.

  12. Hollie says:

    Neither me or my partner have been baptised, we would like to be married by a Catholic priest, I have had a child from a previous relationship before as well.

    Would it be possible to be married by a Catholic priest, and would it have to be in a church?

    • Hi Hollie, thanks for your question. In order to be married in the Catholic Church, you and your fiance will need to go through the RCIA process to enter the Church. This is an exciting journey that you both can take together. Contact the priest of the parish community that you would like to join and he will explain the steps you can take together. May God bless your discernment and give you confidence as you begin this journey toward baptism and marriage.

  13. Veronica says:

    Im getting married in January 2015, I havent completed my First Communion or my Confirmation, none of the catholic churches will agree/proceed with the marriage sacrament without having them. I cannot do the RCIA because that begans in September & ends before Easter therefore its to late for me to join cause its February. I asked if thetes something else I can do another possible program, classes, online something & they said no that I shouldnt have set a wedding date if I didnt have all my sacraments. All the chuches require 6 months anticipation & Im going with 11 months anticipation! Therfore Now I cannot get married in a catholic church

    • Veronica, thank you for sharing your story. Hopefully other couples can learn from your experience and take these important steps before setting the date for their weddings. Catholic marriage is a beautiful sacrament that can be an incredible source of grace for couples. Please consider entering into the RCIA process in the Fall regardless of your decisions regarding your wedding. You will find that the experience of others who have gone through the process has brought many gifts into their lives.

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