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.
- Can we get married in a Catholic church if we’re not members of the parish?
- Can we get married in the Catholic Church if one of us is not Catholic?
- Can we get married in the Catholic Church if one of us is divorced?
- Can we get married in the Catholic Church if we haven’t been confirmed?
- Can we get married in the Catholic Church if we’re living together?
- What are the requirements for getting married in a 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.
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.
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.
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(photo credit: tim caynes, creative commons)