What Marriages Does the Church Consider Valid?: On the Road with a Canonist

A Look at Marriage Validity

A Look at Marriage Validity

This past weekend, my husband, three children, my mother-in-law and I were traveling home after a weekend away where we had attended a friend’s wedding.  My saintly petite mother-in-law had willing folded herself into the back of the car with the children between boxes, garment bags, and luggage, happily chatting, brokering peace, and watching movies with them, which freed my husband and I to enjoy a five-hour conversation in the front seat.

With the length of Lake Michigan’s coast ahead of us and plenty of time to reflect on the weekend, my thoughts naturally turned to the Church and weddings.  This happens to be an area of expertise for my canonist husband, so I hoped that he wouldn’t mind if I asked him some canonical questions about the Church’s view of different types of marriages.  He was more than happy to oblige—in fact, I think I might have caught a twinkle of excitement in his eye when I mentioned the code—so I quickly took out my laptop to record his answer on the following question:  What types of marriages does the Church view as valid?  Because, like my husband always tells me, just like you can’t baptize with Pepsi, you need certain aspects of the ceremony to be present for the sacrament to take place, depending on who’s getting married.  My husband, with great enthusiasm, laid out the following marriage scenarios and the Church’s take on them.

Two Catholics with canonical form

To satisfy canonical form, a priest or deacon must ask for and receive the marrying parties’ consent in the name of the Church in the presence of at least two witnesses.  In most cases, this will be done in a church or oratory, however it’s not required to satisfy canonical form.  For example, John and Suzie, both baptized Catholics, are married during a wedding Mass.  The Church considers this marriage to be valid and sacramental, due to the baptisms of both spouses.

A note on canonical form: when two Catholics marry, canonical form is required, though in very rare cases the Holy See can dispense the parties from the requirement of form.

-One Catholic marrying one baptized non-Catholic Christian with canonical form

Only Catholics are bound by canonical form.  Therefore, even if only one marrying party is Catholic, canonical form is still required.  (However, in this situation it would be possible to receive a dispensation from canonical form from the local ordinary.)  Also, in this instance, the Catholic party must make the additional promise to do all in his or her power to baptise and raise the children Catholic, and the non-Catholic party must informed of this promise, which is usually done during the pre-nuptial investigation by the priest.  An example of this would be if Catholic Mary married Protestant Calvin in the Catholic church.  This would be a valid—and therefore sacramental, due to the parties’ baptisms—marriage.

One Catholic and one non-baptized person with canonical form

The Church would recognize as valid this type of marriage only if the Catholic party had received a dispensation for disparity of worship from the local ordinary (the bishop of that diocese, vicar general, or episcopal vicar) and had made the promise to raise the children Catholic.  This would not be a sacramental marriage, however, because both parties are not baptised.  An example of this would be if Catholic Elizabeth received a dispensation to marry unbaptized Stan in the Catholic church.  Also, as in the above situation, it would be possible to receive a dispensation from canonical form from the local ordinary.

Two Protestants before their minister or justice of the peace

The Church would recognize this marriage as valid because as they are not Catholic, the marrying parties are not bound by canonical form.  Any time there are two baptized people who have a valid marriage, it is ipso facto a sacrament.  An example of this would be if baptized Methodist Jane married baptized but now agnostic Zack before the justice of the peace.  This would be both valid and sacramental, due to the baptisms of the marrying parties.

-One Protestant and one unbaptized person before a minister or justice of the peace

The Church would consider this to be a valid marriage but not a sacrament because both parties are not baptized.  An example: Baptized Lutheran Luke married unbaptized Holly on the beach before a minister.

Two unbaptized people before a minister or justice of the peace

This again would be considered a valid marriage but not a sacrament.  An example of this type of marriage would be if two Muslims were married in a traditional Muslim wedding ceremony.

Finally, a quick note on semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus (once Catholic, always Catholic):

My husband would like to note that currently if you were baptized (or received into the Catholic Church) you are bound by canonical form, even if you have since fallen away from the practice of the faith.  Between 1983 and April 2009, one could make an act of formal defection from the Catholic Church, but it could only be done in writing and necessarily was an act of heresy, apostasy, or schism.  After defecting, a Catholic was no longer bound to canonical form.  This type of formal defection, though, was rare and is no longer possible.  Benedict XVI changed this to reflect the principle of semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus. Therefore, currently, even if a baptized Catholic were to fall away from the faith, he would still be bound by canon law and would need to marry within the Church for his marriage to be valid.

If you have any questions, please feel free to write!

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer


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  1. deltaflute on

    What about baptized as infants but raised in a different faith? Are they still bound by canon law even though they were never brought up as Catholics but baptized as such?


    • Hi! Thanks for your question. Here’s what my husband said:

      Yes, anyone baptized or received into the Catholic Church is bound by canon law, even if he wasn’t raised in the faith. And this isn’t just about marriage law. It also includes holy days, fasting and abstinence, etc. These things are all laws. Semel catholicus, semper catholicus. Now, that’s the juridic side, but you might wonder morally what’s the person’s culpability. If he didn’t know he was Catholic, obviously he wouldn’t be culpable for breaking the laws that he didn’t know he was bound to.

      A note: Even someone who’s been excommunicated is still Catholic, but just under a penalty, and would still be required to follow the laws (like attending Mass on Sunday) but under the penalty of not being able to receive the Eucharist.

      • Absurd. The Church is going to have to make some sense out of these rules. From my youth, when people could civilly marry and divorce five previous wives and join the Church and marry again without even examining the unions, to the many years where the Church respected the conscience and considered unions of fallen Catholics to be as valid as Protestant ones (which caused problems for some who wanted to return to Catholicism), to now, where the flick of a pen binds countless children of former Catholics. Absurd. Baptism is baptism, no matter where. Marriage should be marriage, and sacramental marriage sacramental marriage, and canonical form shouldn’t be the main determinant of validity. It’s all a big tangled mess.

        • What’s absurd? Is it absurd that the successor of Peter can issue laws for valid marriage? Or do you mean to say that the current laws in force are absurd?

          I will now respond to the scenarios you mention. Regarding the situation in which (I presume) a Catholic civilly marries five times then comes to the Church to marry in canonical form, it should be clear from the article above, that all of his previous civil marriages were never really marriages at all. Therefore, he’s still free to marry canonically, though we can say that a man who knowingly and deliberately does this is committing fornication. Or, are you referring to the Pauline privilege?

          Regarding your second scenario, I presume that you are referring to the period of time from 1983-April 9 2010 during which a Catholic could make a formal act of defection and be no longer bound by canonical form. This was so rare, that it almost never happened because it required a written letter to competent ecclesiastical authority.

          Regarding the third scenario where you speak of the “flick of the pen”, it isn’t so much the pen as the sacramental reality that a child has been washed free of original sin and enters Christ’s body in the visible confines of the Catholic Church. Yes, this is a very serious act with ever-lasting ramifications, and it is one that ought not to be taken lightly. Perhaps those engaged in baptismal preparation could be more clear about the beautiful, salvific, and juridic consequences of that act.

          Regarding your concluding thoughts, it might be helpful to recall that the laws of the Church exist for the salvation of souls. This isn’t only true for marriage law, but includes the laws on fasting, the laws on Mass attendance, and even the laws on excommunication. There was an explicit decision made some five hundred years ago that Catholics must marry with canonical form in order to safeguard the sacrament and prevent invalid and secret marriages. Otherwise, a man could throw a woman on his horse, ride into the woods, pledge his love to her, exchange vows in private, consummate, then ride back into town the next morning claiming he never married her.

          Yes, to be Catholic means to obey these laws. Sometimes this is difficult and sometimes this may seem to be a “tangled mess”; however, if Catholics just followed laws on marriage, things would be a lot simpler.

          • I could tell! 🙂 (that it was from your husband),

            No, it is not absurd that the Church has laws about marriage validity. But the nature of something should stem from it, not from some changeable factor. The validity of a Catholic marriage should stem from the nature of marriage and from the nature of a Catholic sacrament).

            As to the other points, a bit of historical info is in order. It is not true that the situation of someone formally leaving the faith was rare. As a matter of fact, the question of what was necessary to do that has been much debated among theologians and canonists. And most marriages undertaken by fallen-away or never-raised-but-batpized-Catholics were treated as valid marriages (which was sometimes convenient and often very inconvenient to the person returning to the faith).

            In the distant past, in practice, previous unions of divorced people who converted were often ignored (sort of a streamlined automatic Pauline privilege), and Fallen away Catholics who came back had all their marriages ignored also….with no human respect or awareness shown their families. For instance, a fallen away Catholic could marry and have a family, then have an affair with a Catholic and revert to marry her and voila, his other marriage didn’t exist. Not exactly justice, even if technically canonical. (Similar things happend when people wanted to convert). It was to rectify this injustice that the previous ordinance to the current one was put in place, which treated the consciences of “former” (in their consciences) Catholics with respect.

            It is absurd to say that an unknowingly Catholic child raised Protestant does not have a valid marriage if he or she does not marry according to Catholic form. This papal ordinance is a discipline. He was trying to correct one injustice and ends up creating a whole new one.

        • I’m so confused!
          Let me provide a scenario(s). I have a friend that was first married by a JP. both baptized. You are saying the church does not recognize this as a sacrament but does as a marriage. Does he need to go through a process still to get it annulled??

          Second… he married again, a woman that was catholic, who has been married twice before. She did not get her marriages annulled and he agreed to marry in a lutheran church, with the stipulation of getting them annulled and having their married blessed in the catholic church. That did not happen and they are now divorced. He tried seeking it on his own while they were married because he desperately wanted to go back to the church. He had conversations with a few priest and they told him, no, his marriage will never be annulled. What do you do with that? He was devastated. He has been single for 4 years and I’m trying to encourage him to try. Do all he can so he knows he has done his best. What can you share with me? Thank you!

          • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

            Hi, Char. Thank you for your comment.

            In the first scenario, if one of the parties was Catholic, then they did not marry at all when they exchanged consent before a justice of the peace because in order for Catholics to marry, they must exchange consent in canonical form (unless for some reason it has been dispensed by the local Ordinary). If one of those parties wants to marry someone else in the Catholic Church, he/she would only need to produce the marriage license and the Catholic baptismal certificate to show that this marriage lacked canonical form.

            In the first scenario, if both of the parties were baptized non-Catholics (e.g., Protestants), then they validly married when they exchanged consent before a justice of the peace because Protestants are not bound by canonical form. Thus, their marriage is valid and sacramental because they are both baptized. If one of those parties then wanted to marry someone else in the Catholic Church, he/she would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the marriage was invalid (i.e. “get an annulment” in common parlance).

            In the latter half of your question, you describe a scenario in which a man attempted marriage in a Lutheran church with a Catholic woman who has been married twice before with the hope of later having their marriage “blessed.” As an aside, having your marriage “blessed” is a complete misnomer because you’re actually just getting married in canonical form; it’s not a blessing at all. But now that marriage didn’t last and they’re now divorced. So what now?

            First things first. If this man is living chastely, he can receive Holy Communion TODAY if he goes to confession. One is only prohibited from receiving Holy Communion if one is living in an ongoing and manifest state of grave sin, such as would be the case for one who is divorced and remarried. But, if he is living as though he were single, he is not prevented from going to confession, making a good confession, and receiving Holy Communion.

            If and only if this man then wanted to marry someone else, he would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he has never been married before. If I’m understanding your fact-pattern correctly, it sounds like marriage #2 to the Catholic woman who has been married twice before is obviously invalid because she was Catholic and they did not marry in canonical form (priest/deacon + 2 witnesses). Marriage #1 may be easily proven to be invalid if his first wife was Catholic or if he was Catholic at the time of consent and they did not exchange consent in canonical form. On the other hand, if neither were Catholic at the time of consent, then the Church would presume the validity of the marriage, and if he wanted to marry someone else, then he’d need to prove the nullity of that first marriage by means of a marriage nullity trial (i.e., “annulment process”).

            But, if he’s not currently in an ongoing and manifest state of adultery, that is, if he’s not cohabiting with someone who is not his spouse, then he can make a good confession and receive Holy Communion today!

  2. What does it mean to be a Catholic with a non-Sacramental marriage? My husband and I were married in the Church and he is not baptized. How does our marriage in the eyes of the Church differ from others? It has been many years since we did our pre-cana classes & were married, but I can’t remember this being discussed with us by the Deacon or priest. Thanks.

    • Hi, Lisa! Thanks for your question. Here’s what my husband said:

      This would be a valid marriage, but not a sacramental one. It still is a true marriage, the only difference is that you would not receive sacramental grace. However, it is safe to say that you would still receive the actual grace to be a good spouse. (Actual grace is the grace given at the moment of making a moral action.)

      I hope that helps–please write if you have any additional questions!

      • If I am not mistaken, there has been a theological dispute about this kind of case. I have heard that some theologians hold that the Catholic party receives the grace of the sacrament in a marriage with a non-baptized person. I might be wrong but I think this is the case. It is not, however, an issue yet decided by the Church.

        • Hi, Sky! Thanks for your question. Here’s what my husband said:

          Whether there are some who say that, I don’t know. But I’ve never heard any canonist say that. The reason that a Catholic marrying a non-baptized does not receive sacramental grace is because in order for a sacrament to take place, both parties must be baptized. It’s important to distinguish here what is the sacrament. The sacrament is not the parties involved. Rather, the sacrament is the union between them. There is only one sacrament, not two. It is not a question still left open to debate. That’s the law of the Church.

      • What if one spouse wasn’t baptized at the time of the Wedding Ceromony, which was done in the Catholic Church, but later on chose to come into the Church, and through this process made aware that he had never been baptized, and thus recv’s all the Sacraments.

        Would the marriage automatically become Sacramental, or does something need to be done to make it so?

        • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

          The marriage would become sacramental at the moment when the non baptized spouse is baptized. Nothing “extra” needs to happen, and in fact, the parties may not even know that their marriage has become sacramental.

      • Melissa T Sweetser on

        Hi my name is Melissa. I have a question my father is legally married to a woman through the justice of the peace. He ha s separated and is in the process of divorce. He would like to marry another in a Catholic church and they are both Catholic. Is there a way that they can have a religious ceremony in the church while he his still married to another by the state? Thank you

        • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

          Melissa, thanks for the question. The short answer is probably not, at least not in the United States. I’m not a civil lawyer, so I can’t claim any special expertise in state laws. However, I believe that in most states Catholic priests are able to act as representatives of the state when they marry–this is why they will require you to present a marriage license prior to your marriage–so that when you exchange consent in their presence, it is both valid and also legal. Consequently, there is often a serious penalty for marrying someone but not sending to the county the signed marriage license in a timely fashion (e.g., $10k, 5 years prison). So, Catholic priests are hopefully going to be very careful about this.

          On the other hand, there are places in the world where Catholic priests cannot act as reps of the state and thus the two ceremonies are entirely separate. The Code of Canon Law does make provision for those rare cases in which consent can be given in the presence of witnesses only (c. 1116), or for a marriage to be celebrated secretly (c. 1130 ff.).

          But, it would be highly unlikely that your father could marry someone else in canonical form if he is still civilly bound to his first wife.

    • Thanks, Rhonda! I’ve learned so much about the Church through my husband’s studies, and I am continually in awe of the wisdom and truth and beauty and mercy of her laws.

  3. Everyone should know that if one is divorced and wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church, one will need a declaration of nullity from their first marriage. That includes non-Catholics.
    Although, divorced persons should be aware that without a declaration of nullity, they are still married in the eyes of God and should not be entering into any relationship that is inappropriate to a married person. No dating.

  4. So I have a question: I’m an Anglican with strong Catholic tendencies and I love the Catholic Church. I respect her canon law and moral code immensely. And i want to make sure I’m doing the right thing: I met my girlfriend, who I intend to marry next year, back in 2010. She has two kids, but I thought she was just single. It wasn’t until about 2 months after I met her that I learned she was divorced. By that time, I was kind of hooked to her and have obviously only grown more in love with her.
    My girlfriend was not baptized when she was married by a justice of the peace to a Catholic (in the loosest sense of the word) man (again in the loosest sense of the word.) This man in the course of their marriage, raped her twice.
    In my tradition, such an act invalidates the marriage and the offended party is free to marry again.
    My question than is two part, was her marriage valid? It seems that it probably was based on your article. But is it alright for her to remarry in the eyes of the Church? Please don’t sugar coat your answer…I want to know the truth.

    • The marriage is invalid but needs to be declared so. In other words, these facts need to be taken to you local priest, and he knows what to do. The Catholic spouse did not marry according to form, so that marriage would be invalid.

  5. Also, my GF was baptized last Summer. I know we’re Anglicans and not Catholics, so you might see her baptism differently, but we believe as the Scriptures teach, that all of her sins actual and original, were wiped out at that moment. Does that affect the marriage question?

    • Hi, Billy! Thanks for your question (and your patience–I had to wait to respond until my husband got back from work today :). Regarding your girlfriend and her previous marriage to the Catholic man, here’s the bottom line: in the eyes of the Catholic Church, presuming that the parties did not receive a dispensation from canonical form or disparity of worship, She would presume it to be invalid because a Catholic must marry in canonical form.

      God bless!

    • The Baptism was a valid Baptism, of course, but it does not change the status of her prior union, which was invalid by virtue of the fact that the other party was a Catholic marrying “outside the Church” (to use an expression). The Catholic pastor, as I said, can help you and will know the simple steps to take. And, of course, she committed no sin in marrying, because she was unaware of the Catholic party’s obligations.

  6. In the eyes of the Church, and God, your girlfriend is still married. As she married a Catholic outside of the Church, it would be considered “Lack of Form.” I would recommend contacting a Catholic Priest or the Chancellors Office in your local Diocese and requesting a declaration of nullity due to Lack of Form. If she had been married in the Church, her request would have had to go to the Pope due to her not being baptized at the time. A determination on a declaration of nullity is mostly looking at the circumstances surrounding the time of the marriage, not so much on what happens during the marriage. Marriage is considered a valid Sacrament unless there is a reason why it could not have been a Sacrament. In your girlfriends case, a Lack of Form decision usually takes about two weeks and costs nothing. Neither of you are Catholic so you need to look at your own consciences to determine what you believe about her first marriage. If you ever chose to become Catholic (and I highly recommend it ) you would need to resolve this situation. Bottom line is that your girlfriend is married.

    • Lack of canonical form for a Catholic invalidates a marriage. His girlfriend married a Catholic without canonical form. She is NOT still married, but this needs to be taken to the Church for a declaration because we are not the ones who decide.

    • Hi, a note on this from my husband:

      One’s freedom to marry in a lack of form case is not technically dependent on a declaration from a Catholic tribunal. Rather, any Catholic priest/deacon preparing someone for marriage can himself make this determination. However, in a great many dioceses, it is a diocesan policy that lack of form cases go through the tribunal.

  7. I appreciate your comments. But while you’re correct in pointing to the lack of form, there was no promise to raise the children Catholic and nothing of a dispensation from any ministerial authority. The article says that the marriage is valid “only’ if that was done.

    On the question of nullification, which I would certainly seek in any event, I’ve been told that things hidden from one party in the marriage that reveal themselves in the course of the marriage, are cause for nullification. That is why I mentioned he raped her twice. That doesn’t just happen…that’s a part of a lifestyle of sexual deviancy.

  8. Thank you for the post, I find canon law fascinating. I do have a question for your husband. I was baptized as an infant in the Russian Orthodox tradition. My parents left the Orthodox church for a Protestant church when I was about 12 years old . My husband was baptized in a Baptist church as an adult. We married in a Protestant church, and four years later we both became Catholic. I learned afterwards that I had a valid baptism, and confirmation in the Orthodox church and that I really only needed to make a profession of faith and confession to enter the Catholic church (although I did go through RCIA and was given a Catholic confirmation at the Easter vigil). Would the same Catholic lack of form rules would apply to one in my situation? Even though I belonged to a schismatic (Eastern Orthodox) church they do have valid sacraments, and I was baptized, confirmed, and receiving Holy Communion for years. If so, would we need to have our marriage blessed by a priest? Anyway, I know it is an odd ball question, but I would appreciate any help you could give me.
    God bless.

    • Hi, Rachel! Thank you for your question. Here’s what my husband said: because the Orthodox Church does have valid sacraments and a valid episcopacy, it’s very possible that it might have its own laws regarding necessary form for the validity of the marriage sacrament. My husband is less familiar with the laws of the Orthodox Church, so he recommends bringing your case to your local tribunal so that they can look into it for you. And if it is in fact the case that you did not satisfy the form needed for a valid marriage, your marriage would be considered invalid. However, as you’re both Catholic now, you would simply need to exchange consent (to marriage) before a priest to validate your marriage. Hope this helps! God bless!

  9. On another site a man had a question which has perplexed me: The man and his wife are/were Catholic, married in a Catholic church. Now living in the Middle East, the wife has decided to convert to Islam. Under the rules of Islam, a muslim woman cannot be married to a non-muslim man (though a muslim man is permitted to marry outside his faith). Since the wife will convert, the Catholic husband was informed that after a certain grace period, his marriage to his wife will no longer be valid unless he converts as well. The husband will not convert but is unsure if his marriage will be valid.

    • Hi, DB,

      Thanks for your question. Since my husband’s away for a few days, I’ll have to take this one 🙂

      To answer your question, I’ll refer you to my husband’s response to the first comment raised by deltaflute in which he describes the phrase semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus (or once Catholic, always Catholic).

      Regarding the woman in your question, if she and her husband were both baptized Catholics and they married in the Church, their marriage is presumed valid until death due them part, of course 🙂 The woman’s later conversion to Islam has no bearing on their marriage, and it should be remembered that due to her baptism in the faith, she is still bound by canon law (for instance, she is still bound to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days, etc.). I will also direct you to my husband’s reply to Mary on the gravity of baptism.

      Hope this helps! God bless!

  10. I’ve been invited to a convalidation ceremony and I’m just looking for some help to understand how all this works. I feel uneasy about going.

    Two baptized Catholics met and fell in love. The woman was divorced and awaiting an annulment. The process took longer than either of them liked so they decided to just go ahead and get married (not sure if it was a civil ceremony or a different faith) with the hopes of one day being able to have their marriage blessed in a Catholic church. They lived together as husband and wife. Fast forward one year and the annulment was granted. They continued to live together as husband and wife. Now fast-forward six months and they’re planning a convalidation ceremony.

    Am I being judgmental here or am I right to be concerned about attending?

    Thank you for this article! I’ve learned so much.

    • Dianna, thank you for your question. My wife, Meg, asked me to respond directly. As you can tell from above, unless there has been a dispensation from canonical form, the civil union you describe above is invalid due to “lack of form.” And, you can be about 99% sure that they did not receive the necessary dispensation because the dispensation from canonical form for two Catholics is reserved to the Holy See. So, to summarize, there was no marriage whatsoever.

      Now that a declaration of nullity has been given, both parties are free to marry. What people often refer to as a “convalidation” or a “blessing” of the marriage is actually the marriage ritual itself. The parties (who may have been living together and who may have been civilly married) are now marrying for the first time. They are exchanging consent for the first time in proper form, entering into the sacrament of marriage. It is like you are attending any other wedding, and actually should be a very joyous celebration. Yes, they should not have been living together, but now they are correcting that error and doing the right thing.

      On a pastoral note, sometimes it is hard for us to be happy for people in this situation. Didn’t they scorn the Church and her laws by getting civilly married before the declaration of nullity was granted? Haven’t they been living in manifest grave sin (c. 915) all these years? But, now that they have freely chosen to marry in the Church, they are like the prodigal son, whose Father rejoices at their return and wishes to hold a feast. And now you, get to actually play the part of the older brother and make the decision whether or not to rejoice at their return and to enter the house to join in the celebration.

      • Thank you so much for your response. I really appreciate your explanation and your guidance. It was what I needed to hear. Blessings.

  11. I would add that we should let the Church handle these things. She has decided that they are able to be married, and is offering a convalidation (which can make their marriage actually valid back to the root, when they first exchanged consent). It is the Church who is judge of the sacraments, not us.

    • Mary Ann, you are right. I clearly needed to have a better, more loving perspective and I appreciate your help in that.

  12. I have been following this post since it’s inception 6 months ago, and I have to tell you, this is one of the few posts I have ever read that makes me upset.

    My un-baptized husband and I married 18 yrs. ago. We never had to go to the bishop to ask for anything and we had a Catholic MASS for our wedding.

    Fast forward 18 yrs. We have 3 beautiful children being raised Catholic, we go to Church as a family every Sunday. Though my husband cannot receive the Eucharist, he participates in every other part of Mass. I am a Catechist, and my husband helps out every Sunday with the setting up and breaking down of the CCD classrooms.

    Yet, according to your blog, I’ve been living a LIE. Even though we are living as any other Catholic family, we are not allowed the same grace a “Christmas and Easter” couple with kids who come “once in a while” to CCD is? They are favored more in God’s eyes, though we try just as hard if not harder?

    I’m not trying to make this into a “who gets more grace” contest, but it seems as if this original post does.

    • Canonically Speaking on

      Dear Cathleen,

      I am sorry to hear that this post is upsetting to you. My inkling is that there is some misunderstanding, which I hope I can clear up. I’ll try to do so here, but if I have misinterpreted your question, or if you have any follow-up questions, please do not hesitate to let me know.

      I think I can discern three separate questions/issues here. 1) the dispensation from the impediment of disparity of worship, 2) the question of whether you are living a lie, and 3) the question of graces received. If I’ve got it wrong or if there are other questions, let me know.

      Regarding the impediment of disparity of worship. As Meg correctly mentions above, in order for a Catholic to validly marry a non-baptized person, the Catholic party requires a dispensation from canon 1086. Even though you state that you never had to go ask the bishop for anything, if you were married by a priest or deacon, I am 99% sure that this dispensation was obtained on your behalf by the priest or deacon who prepared you for marriage. Very rarely would a couple know that this dispensation has been granted, since it is taken care of on their behalf. Yet, it was almost certainly granted nonetheless. So, I wouldn’t worry about that.

      Regarding the question of whether or not you are living a lie, I guess (though I may be wrong) that you think that since you never went to the bishop, then your marriage is not valid and therefore you are living a lie. But, as I point out above, this isn’t true. So, almost certainly you ARE in a valid marriage and therefore, the love that you and your husband mutually give and receive is a sign of God’s love for all mankind. You are evangelizing the world simply by living out the truth of your marriage vows. And that’s BEAUTIFUL.

      Finally, I admit I do not completely understand your third question. Are you saying that you feel you are less favored in God’s eyes or getting less grace because of your marital situation? As I point out above, you are almost certainly in a valid marriage, and so your marriage is as valid and true as any other.

      But, I would be very happy to continue this conversation and answer any other questions you have. Or maybe I’ve completely missed what you were saying, in which case, please do correct me. Working in a marriage tribunal, I find that lots of people get upset because no one has ever done a good job of explaining things to them. And, as a teacher at heart, I will always go the extra mile to clear up any confusion.

      Blessings in Christ,
      Paul M. Matenaer, MTS, JCL

      • Thank you for the reply. It does clear up the “dispensation” concern (since I had never really heard of this issue before).

        I know that in God’s eyes I have a “valid” marriage, but what I’m getting stuck on is the whole Sacrament of Matrimony.

        When we were married, we had a full Catholic Mass (not just a ceremony). Doesn’t this mean that I received the Sacrament of Matrimony, and therefore sacramental grace? Isn’t sacramental grace more favorable in God’s eyes than actual grace?

        Every year as I teach CCD and we go over the chapters on Sacraments, I’ve been telling the kids that I received 5 sacraments so far (Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, and Matrimony). I even wrote it down in my Bible. Is this wrong? Have I been lying to others (and myself, unknowingly) thinking that I’ve had the Sacrament of Matrimony, when really all we did was celebrate a Catholic Mass?

  13. I hope you can help. I am catholic married one time and now divorced. My ex husband is Episopal. He was married and divorced prior to our marriage. We were married in the Episcopal church not the catholic church. Is my previous marriage recognized? I hope to remarry some day and in my own faith. He never had his first marriage annulled. We didn’t get married in my church because my priest wouldn’t marry us because he was Episcopal and married before.

    • Hi, Jamie! Thanks for writing. Meg here, as my husband is out of town for the day.

      I encourage you to get in touch with your local tribunal by contacting your diocesan center and bring your case to them. I think you will find that it’s a pretty straight forward process and they would find that since you are a baptized Catholic and you were married without canonical form and without a dispensation to do so (I’m assuming) that your marriage is null. They would be happy to help you with any questions you might have.

      God bless you as you continue your walk with Him-

  14. I am catholic who married to a non catholic man more an 7 years ago. He was previously married to a woman who was married before and divorced. They are both non catholic also, but baptized in other churches. Was the marriage of my husband valid then? (We met with the priest at my church in that time, and we told him everything about our situation), I never was told anything about this and the church allowed me to Mary my now husband. He has been taking the RCIA classes for a long period now, and now they arenquestioning if our marriage is valid or not. I’m completely confused and sad, because I have been very happy ever since I marry my husband, and now that he wants to become a catholic we are finding these questions.
    Thanks for your help.

    • Hi, Carola! Thanks for writing, and I`m sorry to only be getting back to you now. I`m still trying to catch up about this with my husband during a slow spell at work, so I`ll be getting back to you soon! Thanks for your patience!

      • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

        Hi Carola,

        I am Meg’s husband, the canonist mentioned in her blog above, and I would be happy to answer any and all of your questions. From the information you provided, I will give my best guess, but without seeing all of the paperwork itself, I cannot tell you conclusively. If you had a priest or deacon officiate your marriage to your husband 7 years ago, it is very probable that it was a valid marriage and you have no need to worry about it. So, my first piece of advice is not to feel confused or sad. Now, let’s see if we can unravel this puzzle.

        If I understand the situation, you (a Catholic) married a non-Catholic 7 years ago. Let’s call your husband, Mario. Mario, however, was married before that to a woman, who we will call Princess. but Princess was married before that to a man who we will call Bowser.

        Canon law presumes that marriages are valid (c. 1060). Therefore, we would presume that Bowser’s marriage to Princess is valid. This means, then, that Princess’ marriage to Mario would be presumed to be invalid on the ground of “ligamen” or prior bond. Consequently, then, Mario is not married to princess, which meant that he was free to marry you 7 years ago. This is the thought process that the priest/deacon who witnessed your marriage 7 years ago would have gone through.

        Therefore, if I understand it all correctly, there is a legal presumption that you and your husband (Mario) are validly married.

        And, if I can go a step further and be a bit more bombastic, you can tell the person in charge of RCIA at your parish that your marriage to Mario has the favor of the law (c. 1060) and that only the parties themselves or the Promoter of Justice can impugn that marriage. Since neither you nor your husband want to impugn that marriage and since there is no notorious reason why the Promoter of Justice would do so, the RCIA director can back off.

        If you have any further questions, or if I haven’t quite gotten it right, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m happy to help.

        • Thank you very much for your kind and honest answer. My husband and I were married by a Monsignor in fact, and we already put all the paperwork together for the deacon in charge of the RCIA, and with the all information you just gave us makes everything easier to understand and explain.
          Thanks again

  15. Now I’m wondering… was my marriage valid?
    I married at the age of 20 and divorced 22 years later. I married a non practicing Catholic who really was an Agnostic long before I met him. I on the other hand was an evangelical Baptist who also had strayed away. We were married by the Justice of the peace and that was it.
    As i read this blog, I wonder if my marriage was ever valid?

    • Meg Matenaer on

      Hi, Maggie! Thanks for writing. Yes, so if your husband is a baptized Catholic and was married by a justice of the peace, unless he received a dispensation from the bishop from canonical form (which would be unlikely in this circumstance), it would be a simple lack of form case and your marriage would be invalid. If you want to make sure, though, you could always get in contact with your diocesan tribunal. Hope this helps! Peace, Meg

  16. Hi! I came across this page while searching for an answer to my question. My husband and I were both raised Catholic and received all our sacraments. When it came time to marry, we chose to have the ceremony done in a little chapel and used their officiant. We currently belong to a Catholic Church but thinking about joining a different one. On the new member form itasks if we were married in the Catholic Church. Can we be denied members because we weren’t so the church won’t recognize it? Our children go to their school and we would love to be members of their church community also. Thank you!

    • Hi, Suzy,

      I’m sorry to only be getting back to you now–it took a few days for my husband and me to catch up on this. So, regarding your situation: first, you mention that you and your husband were married in a chapel using their officiant. Was it a Catholic church with a priest present? If not, your ceremony did not fulfill the requirements for the sacrament as outlined in the code of canon law and therefore was not valid. What you could do is ask your pastor to validate your existing civil union through a ceremony in which the two of you exchange consent in his presence, and he can help you with other questions of parish membership, as well. I hope this helps! God bless, Meg

  17. I just began taking RCIA classes and I have a meeting with my local priest next week about this matter, but I’m nervous and I would appreciate your/your husband’s insight. What about this scenario: Two non-baptized people marry in a court house. Neither person plans on having children in the marriage. They divorce. Was their marriage valid?

    Thank you in advance for your help! God bless you!

  18. Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

    Hi Jessica,

    This is Paul, Meg’s husband, replying here. First of all, congratulations on making the first step into the Catholic Church by joining the RCIA program! And welcome. As I’m sure you have been learning, Jesus Christ asks us to take up our crosses and follow Him. Sometimes Christ’s teachings are hard, sometimes they are shocking, and many times they are both. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, he says, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not kill; and whomever kills shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Mt 5:21-22). Even though this is a very difficult teaching of Christ–because people make us angry all the time!–we know that ultimately this teaching will lead to our happiness because Jesus is God and as St. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in You.” So, event though this is difficult to do, we follow it because Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”.

    Another one of Jesus’ difficult teachings concerns marriage, which comes to us in the 19th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Here, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus and ask whether it would be okay to divorce one’s wife for any reason whatsoever. Jesus, answers by going back to the beginning of creation and states that the two become one flesh as God intended. He says, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Jesus goes on to say that the Mosaic law allowed for divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts” and then Jesus gives a new law–much like he did on the Sermon on the Mount–and says “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity [Gk. porneia] and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (Mt 19:3-9). So, Jesus is saying that if you are married, you are married forever except for “porneia” which although translated here as unchastity, means something more like an unlawful marriage, such as marrying one’s brother. This is a very difficult teaching especially in today’s world.

    Now, what does this mean for you? I do not know what your exact situation is, but I can give a general answer. The Church presumes that two non-baptized persons who marry before a justice of the peace do have a valid marriage, which lasts until one of the parties dies. So, even if you have gotten civilly divorced and even civilly remarried to another person, the Church still presumes that you are married to the first.

    It is not uncommon for someone in the RCIA program to discover this teaching of the Church as they are in the program. So now what? Well, they essentially have two options. They can choose to no longer cohabit with their 2nd spouse and live a life of chastity as if they were single, or they can seek to have their 1st marriage declared invalid in order that they can then validly marry the person with whom they are cohabiting. Many people choose the latter option. So, they must challenge the validity of their first marriage at the Catholic Church’s local diocesan tribunal. There is a great deal I would like to say about this process, but I will content myself with just one. To “get an annulment” as some people say is NOT a request for a favor. Rather, it is a judicial trial in which you must accuse your marriage of invalidity and prove that fact before the tribunal judges. And, the burden of proof is on you to prove it. Some tribunal’s have good websites explaining all this, others are a bit lacking. The website for the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin is pretty good.


    Now, if we are talking about two unbaptized persons, there is another possibility. In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7, he speaks about a situation in which one spouse converts to the faith and the other spouse refuses to live peacefully with him/her. In this case, St. Paul says, “But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound.” (1 Cor 7:15). In other words, the converting spouse is able to marry a baptized person. This is called in common parlance the Pauline Privilege, in which the newly baptized (after having gone through RCIA) is able to marry a baptized person, and this new marriage actually dissolves the first marriage between the two unbaptized persons. In order to use this Pauline Privilege, a number of facts need to be verified first, and your former spouse would need to be contacted to see if he does refuse to live peacefully with you. So, you will want to talk to your pastor about this option as well.

    • Well, obviously option #2 will be my route. I’m nervous and scared. Honestly, I was highly ignorant about the Bible and the Church prior to my second marriage. I do hope I an vale to prove my first marriage invalid and have it annulled. It is a great wish to join the Catholic Church and begin living a more Christian life with my husband and children.

      Thank you so much for your help Paul! I really appreciate your insight and honestly. God bless!

  19. Hi i just want to ask, im a devoted Catholic in fact one of the reasons I married my husband because he goes to church every First Friday and Sunday but when my husband went to Qatar he converted to Muslim.Everything has changed every now and then my husband will tell me that he can easily divorce me because it is allowed in Muslims. Can this make our marriage null because at the first place the reason i married him because he’s a Catholic.

  20. Can this be applied to this law – Error About a Quality of a Person (Canon 1097 §2) to consider our marriage null.Because at the first place the reason I married my husband is because he is a Catholic.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Mary, thank you for the question, and please accept my apologies for not answering it sooner. This post is actually a few years old, but it keeps getting comments! To answer your question, we must keep in mind the principle that nothing that occurs after marriage can ever make a marriage invalid. In other words, if your husband underwent a serious change after your marriage, it could not make your marriage invalid. Now, if your husband was a Muslim all along and was hiding it from you, then, it might be the ground of Fraud (c. 1098). The ground you mention about error of a quality is extremely rare, unless you were in an arranged marriage. The ground of error of quality only occurs when you are choosing to marry solely for that specific quality (e.g., a man who is a doctor) and you would marry any doctor, but he is the first one that came along.

  21. Hi, I had a question I was hoping you could answer up for me. I am a lapsed, baptized Catholic who married and divorced a Christian (unsure about baptismal or denomination) outside of the Catholic Church via a Justice of the Peace. Our marriage was never convalidated and I did not receive dispensation to marry outside of the Church. Following my divorce, I married a Baptist three years ago (she was baptized in that church) without first annulling my previous marriage. The ceremony was performed by a non-Catholic minister on a beach (again without dispensation). I would like to convalidate my marriage so that I can receive Eucharist and become “in union” with the Church again, but I am unsure if I will have to first annul my previous marriage. Can you please help me clear up some of this confusion?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Dave, thanks for the question. When a Catholic attempts marriage outside of canonical form (no priest or deacon present) and there was no dispensation given, then the Church does not even consider this to have the “semblance of marriage.” For example, if a Catholic attempted marriage before a justice of the peace, he would not even need to receive a declaration of nullity to prove that he is free to marry, since it is already abundantly evident. In some dioceses, he would merely need to answer a few questions at the tribunal, but in other dioceses, his own pastor could determine this simply through the typical pre-nuptial investigation during marriage prep.

      In your case, it sounds like neither attempt at marriage has the “semblance of marriage,” and so you could walk in to your pastor’s office and request to marry ‘coram Ecclesiae’ as we say, which means “in the presence of the Church,” or as some call it, a validation of an existing civil union. Since neither attempted marriage was in canonical form, you would not need a declaration of nullity, but would only need the intention to now give your consent to marriage in canonical form. So, go talk to your pastor.

  22. Hi Paul,
    My husband & I had received our Sacremental Marriage in Catholic church 8yrs ago. This year he had divorced me in Court and remarried. He and his new wife had converted to Islam. He has no intention to reconcile with me. Can I ask for annulment based on this ground as I hope to remarry with a Catholic man in future. Thank you.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Thanks for the question. There are two absolutely essential things one must understand when speaking about marriage nullity. First, nothing that occurs after a valid marriage between baptized persons can ever “make invalid” or “undo” or “nullify” that marriage. The bond is permanent and lasts until the death of one of the spouses. Secondly, even though most people speak of “asking for” or “getting” an “annulment”, we must understand that a declaration of nullity is NOT a favor which can be granted by the Church. A declaration of nullity is a judicial decision reached at the end of a trial that the marriage was invalid at the time of consent for some serious reason. The Church presumes that all marriages are valid until proven otherwise. Thus, if you think your marriage is invalid, then the burden of proof rests on you to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt (called moral certitude in ecclesiastical trials) that your marriage was not valid.

      There are only a finite number of factors that may render a marriage invalid. The Diocese of Madison website has a very good explanation of these grounds here:


      If you would like the assistance of a canon lawyer in proving your marriage invalid, I would be happy to help if you so desire.

  23. Please I would appreciate some solid advice.
    I’m a Catholic trying to marry my fiance who has been married twice.
    First marriage was civil marriage only and he is not baptised.
    Second marriage still he is not baptised but she was non practising baptised Anglican. Civil marriage again.
    Neither have been a annulled.
    For us to marry in the Catholic church what can we do. Im so upset and my finace is wishing to become a Catholic.
    To add his first marriage she fell pregnant to another man and left my fiance and the second marriage there was also infidelity.
    I appreciate your time in our cause.
    He is a wonderful man taking most of the care for his young boys and is not receiving much support from his ex as one of the boys has lower functioning autism.
    Thank you and God bless.

  24. Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

    Nicole, thank you for your inquiry. This seems like a pretty complicated case with lots of possible options depending on some of the other details. I would also be happy to speak with you on the phone and give you some advice specific to your situation. My contact info and other information about marriage nullity and the marriage nullity process can be found here:


  25. Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

    John, thank you for your question. In order for a Catholic to validly marry a non-baptized person, the local Ordinary (e.g., bishop, vicar general) must give a dispensation from the impediment of disparity of worship (c. 1086). However, even when this dispensation is given, the rite of marriage is NOT celebrated within the Eucharistic liturgy. The praenotanda–norms before the ritual– of the 1991 Rite of Marriage does allow for a mixed marriage, that is when a Catholic marries someone who is baptized, to be celebrated within the Eucharistic liturgy with the permission of the local Ordinary. But, this is not possible for a non-sacramental marriage, such as when a Catholic marries someone who is not baptized.

  26. Found this post while searching for an answer to my situation. When we married, my husband had been baptized Protestant and I was unbaptized. I was baptized several years afterwards in a Protestant church. He does not want to become Catholic. If I do convert to Catholicism, how would the church view my marriage?

  27. Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

    Anna, thank you for your question. When you and your husband were married, you were truly married. Since you were unbaptized at the time, your marriage was a non-sacramental marriage, though. Several years later, when you got baptized, your marriage became a sacramental marriage. If you convert to Catholicism, your marriage will still be viewed as a sacramental marriage, even if your husband does not become Catholic. Does that answer your question?

  28. Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

    Another good question, but let’s first start with what they have in common, because I think that sometimes we exaggerate the difference. Both sacramental and non-sacramental marriages are marriages! A marriage is a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. This union is brought about through the legitimate consent of capable parties, which is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage. The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility. When this covenant takes place between two baptized persons, it is a sacrament.

    A sacramental marriage is a marriage that signifies and makes present the love of Christ for his Church. A non-sacramental marriage is a marriage that signifies the love of God for humanity. A sacramental marriage that has been consummated can only be dissolved by the death of one of the parties. A non-sacramental marriage (even if it has been consummated) can, in some circumstances, be dissolved*. Such a dissolution can occur through what canonists call the “Pauline Privilege” or through a dissolution by the Roman Pontiff.

    *Note here that we are talking about the actual dissolution of a valid marriage bond, as opposed to a declaration of the nullity of a marriage, which merely states that the bond never came into being in the first place.

  29. Jedidiah Nix on


    Do you have an email i may ask a private inquiry? My “marriage scenario” doesnt seem to fit a mould, and i am asking myself constantly if i have a valid marriage or a sacramental marriage.

  30. Jedidiah Nix on

    Reading these it make my inquiry a little easier…and thank you.

    I am a brand new convert to catholicism at the age of 36. Raised Presbyterian …Fundamental Baptist…Pentacostal. I’ve spent a good amount of time in each setting. I married 7 yrs ago in my Pentacostal days (clearly outside of canonical form) to my wife who…i did not know when we married…she is a fallen away catholic. Yes strange i did not know this fact. It only came up with my interest in catholicism. Now, my wife is fairly anti-catholic and will have absolutely no free-will decision in “convalidating” our marriage. Yes: I am a convert from an anti-catholic background and family…and as far as i know the only convert in my family.

    Anyway she has had children with others in the past But this is the first time we both have been married. We’ve tested eachother with the “out” over the last three years and bottom line is each of us refuse to leave the other.

    So is this valid or sacramental? Do I need to convalidate? How can i go about convalidating? And most importantly I need to know how my present situation affects my relationship with the Eucharist. With my wife being fairly anti-catholic and “fallen away” but willing to live at peace with me?

  31. Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

    If at the time of marriage, your civil spouse was Catholic, and if you did not marry in canonical form, then–assuming she was not dispensed from canonical form by her local Ordinary (e.g., bishop, vicar general), then it does NOT sound as though your marriage was valid. In other words, you are not considered to be married at all.

    If neither of you have been married before and assuming that you are each free to marry, then you can go about rectifying your situation by asking your pastor to marry according to canonical form (priest/deacon + 2 witnesses). Sometimes people refer to this as “getting their marriage blessed” or “convalidating”, but really it is simply marrying for the first time. You could call it a validation of an existing civil union, though. Basically, you will simply state the vows in canonical form.

    If your current civil spouse is anti-Catholic, then it might take some explaining. You will be in my prayers.

  32. Your marriage does need to be convalidated. Are you a confirmed Catholic? If so, your marriage should have been convalidated at the time you became confirmed. You should talk to your pastor regarding receiving the Sacraments until such time as your marriage is considered valid.

    • Jedidiah Nix on

      Yes. Thank you. I tried to do this. Can i convalidate without her approval? Does ahe need to “show up” to a priest and give wilful consent?

      • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

        It is possible that you could seek a radical sanation (cc. 1161-1165), which entails a dispensation from canonical form, assuming that consent perdures. Canon 1164 states that a radical sanation can be validly granted even if either or both parties are unaware of it. Ask your pastor and/or bishop about the possibility of a radical sanation.

  33. Jedidiah Nix on

    Thank you again! Thankful to seek you out. I did meet with my bishop briefly yesterday. And i recieved some solace that i am striving lawfully to repair what’s been broken by disobedience and disbelief. There is always more i can do for her, for us: like listen to her…and stay Catholic. And dig deeper into the Catholic Faith. I will press my case further with both my pastor and bishop.

  34. Jedidiah Nix on

    The concurrent issue i have regards baptizing my two young boys. (Ages 4 and 5). One of whom is nonverbal with autism. Do the same “restrictions” apply that in essence all i can do is pray…and teach my child about baptism…praying he will desire it for himself at the age of reason? I have heard i can lawfully baptize my children in grave danger of death, yet i have heard that i cannot again freely bring them to the priest to be baptized because of mom’s refusals apply to exposing them to the Faith (which i do anyway) bringing them to Mass and to the Tabernacle for the Lord’s Presence. Then i have heard the Church can refuse to baptize if there is no guarantee my children will be raised in the Faith. All this is stressful because i fully consent to the Church’s understanding of Scripture over these matters…and the possibility i may place them under judgement for my failure in these matters.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Your child can be baptized as long as there is a founded hope that he will be raised in the faith. A “guarantee” is not required, only a founded hope. If you are committed to bringing them up in the faith, then it seems there is a founded hope, even if your spouse does not intend to raise them in the faith. It does not seem to me–given the info you’ve provided–that your children can be denied baptism.

  35. Jedidiah Nix on

    Thank you again for your help. God bless you and your family. By “restriction” i meant my wife’s consent. That both of us consent to baptize our children because God has given them to both of us? Like convalidation, i just cant go to the priest “all by myself”?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Both the radical sanation of your marriage, as well as the baptism of your child, would be possible (valid and licit) without your spouse’s consent or even knowledge.

  36. I was baptized non-Catholic and my husband was raised a Catholic. We were married in an Anglican Church. I have since converted to Catholicism and we are raising our daughter in the Catholic faith. Is our marriage valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Christina, thank you for your question. As noted above, in order for Catholics to validly marry, they must give their consent in the presence of a priest or deacon and two witnesses. If your husband was a baptized Catholic (regardless of whether he was practicing his faith or not) at the time you were married in the Anglican church, and if there was no dispensation from canonical form given, it is likely that your marriage was not valid. I would recommend you speak with your parish priest, give him all the details, and then if necessary request to “validate your existing civil union”, that is to now exchange consent according to canonical form.

  37. My husband and I have been married more than 45 years. While I was a baptized as a Baptist, my husband does not believe in organized religion and will not be baptised. We were married in a Catholic Church by a Baptist minister. I converted to Catholicism (RCIA) about 5 years ago and have been faithful in that belief since that time. What is the status of our marriage, sacramental non-sacramental?

    • Debra M Brunsberg on

      You do not have a Sacramental marriage, you have a civil marriage. You were married when neither one of you were Catholic and your marriage would be considered valid, but not sacramental. I would recommend talking to your pastor about convalidating your marriage.

      • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

        Sorry, Debra, I think you’re not totally correct here, and I think you’re using terms incorrectly. First of all, a marriage is sacramental if and only if both parties are baptized. This means that two Protestants would have a sacramental marriage. You do not need to be Catholic to have a sacramental marriage.

        Secondly, there is no need to “convalidate” the marriage, because her marriage is already valid. Based on what she has said, Leah is validly married. The only way to make her non-sacramental marriage into a sacramental marriage is for her husband to be baptized. Convalidation only can occur when the first attempt at marriage was invalid.

        Third, keep in mind that a non-sacramental marriage is entirely different from an invalid marriage. A non-sacramental marriage is a marriage in which at least one party is not baptized. An invalid marriage is a marriage that never occurred due to the presence of some impediment, defect of consent, or defect of form. An invalid marriage is no marriage at all.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Leah, thank you for your question. If your husband has never been baptized, then it sounds like your marriage is a VALID one, though a non-sacramental one. Keep in mind that a non-sacramental marriage is fully and truly and marriage, even if it is not a sacrament. If you have any other questions, let me know.

  38. Hi, and my fiance was a baptized Catholic who was raised a Jehovah witness by her grandmother. She married civilly a non-practicing baptized Catholic (no marriage prep/classes), and divorced 15 years ago. She become a full Catholic after they were civil marriage, but he did not practice the Faith. She has been told by others she is free to marry in the Church since the civil marriage was invalid & did not meet Catholic guidelines, and I just wanted to get another opinion, thanks.

    • Hi Jason, thanks for asking your question here. Your best recourse would be to discuss this with your parish priest when you approach him about beginning the marriage-preparation process. God bless you and your fiance!

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Thanks for your question. If I understand you correctly, your fiancee (a Jehovah’s witness at the time of consent) married a baptized Catholic at the time of consent outside of canonical form–meaning that there was no priest or deacon who received the vows. Assuming that no dispensation was granted and assuming that there was no radical sanation of this marriage, then it is true that the merely civil union lacked the requisite canonical form and thus is not valid.

      In some dioceses, it would be necessary to demonstrate that this merely civil marriage lacked form. To do so, you will most likely need a copy of your civil marriage license, as well as the baptismal certificate of the Catholic party, which in this case would be the groom. So, you’ll need to track that down, probably.

      In any event, when you meet with your pastor to discuss plans to marry, he will no doubt tell you what needs to be done to prove that your fiancee is free to marry.

  39. Hello – It’s my understanding that in order for a Catholic to marry a divorced non-Catholic, it would need to be determined if the non-Catholic’s other marriage was valid. In the Catholic church’s view, what constitutes a valid marriage in another faith? And if the marriage was deemed invalid, is an annulment still required?

    • The Catholic Church looks upon almost all marriages as valid, just not Sacramental. A marriage at the Justice of the Peace is as valid as a marriage in a Lutheran Church. Unless one or both parties were unbaptized (this involves a different process) the non-Catholic will need to have a declaration of nullity in order to marry again. There is no difference in the process of all forms for non-Catholics. Marriage is marriage. When a non-Catholic divorces and remarries, even if to another non-Catholic, they are living in a state of adultery. The emphasis here is on how God views the marriage, not just the Church. In the eyes of God, those who divorce and remarry without an annulment, are living in adultery, regardless of the faith they practice.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Laurel, thanks for the question. As an aside, it’s amazing to me that this initial article still gets questions a full 5 years after it was first published. But, I’m happy to help.

      For marriages between non-Catholics, it must respect divine law, civil law, and also any corresponding marriage law. Ecclesial communities born of the Reformation possess no proper marriage law. So, provided that these Christians respect divine law and civil law, we would typically presume the validity of those marriages. Non-Catholic Eastern Churches (e.g., Orthodox) do possess their own marriage law. So, the validity of those marriages would require also following their own proper law. In general though, Catholics presume the validity of most marriages between non-Catholics. So, if two Lutherans went and got married at the courthouse, we would presume that was a valid marriage.

      So, if a Catholic wanted to marry a non-Catholic who was divorced, a Catholic tribunal would have to find for the nullity of the marriage first. Even if, for example, an Orthodox tribunal already ruled that a given marriage was invalid, it would nonetheless still have to be adjudicated by a Catholic tribunal.

      As for Deb’s comment, she is correct to make the distinction between valid marriages and sacramental marriages, but she makes a common mistake. Anytime two baptized persons are validly married, that marriage is sacramental. So, if two baptized Lutherans get married at the courthouse, it is a valid marriage and also a sacramental marriage.

  40. Sorry about the confusion on my comments about Sacramental and valid marriages. Most non-Catholics do not consider marriage a Sacrament. Catholics do. However, if a Catholic marries outside the Church without a dispensation, their marriage is invalid and would not be Sacramental because of that. Most non-Catholics do not see the need for nor understand a declaration of nullity.

  41. Please help. My husband and I were both baptized and raised Catholic. We were both married before. He by a priest in the Catholic church to a young woman who was never baptized I was married in a Protestant ceremony to a non-baptized person. We have just received declarations of nullity from the Diocese. We were 41 years ago in a church by an Episcopalian priest. Must we continue to live as brother and sister, which we have been doing since we started this process nearly a year ago, until our convalidation ceremony six months from now? We have received two different answers.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Becky, thank you for your question. To get right to the point, it is immoral to as Pope St. John Paul II put it, “engage in those acts proper to married couples” if you are not married. If I understand correctly, you and your husband are both Catholic, but you are only in a merely civil marriage, since you exchanged consent in the presence of an Episcopalian priest 41 years ago. In order to validly marry, Catholics must exchange consent in the presence of a priest or deacon, unless you have been dispensed from the requirement of canonical form. Therefore, the “convalidation ceremony” is actually your wedding. So, until you actually marry, you should not be engaging in those acts proper to married couples.

      As an aside, I am curious why you are waiting six months to validate your existing civil union. Did the priest tell you that you had to wait six months? Because, despite what many parish bulletins say, that is not a requirement in the law, especially in a situation like yours. Secondly, besides a validation ceremony (in which you would exchange consent in the presence of a priest or deacon, and 2 witnesses), another possibility might be a ‘sanatio in radice’ (radical sanation) which would allow your perduring consent to have its juridic effect without a new exchange of consent. Perhaps you should speak with your pastor about 1) whether you really have to wait 6 months, or 2) the possibility of a ‘sanatio in radice’. Let me know if that was unclear or if you have any other questions.

  42. This is my dilemma. My sister was a Catholic, married a Lutheran in the Lutheran church. Best as I remember, they received some special dispensation or something at the time that their marriage was recognized in the Catholic Church. She later formally became a Lutheran. They have divorced. According to what she believes she reads in canon law 1117, her first marriage is no longer valid because she believes her formally becoming a Lutheran was a defection from the Catholic Church, and no longer binds her to canon law. Is being bound by canon law synonymous with a valid marriage in terms of divorce and remarriage? She has no intentions of rejoining the Catholic faith or getting married to the man she currently lives with. She knows I consider her first marriage (yes, there was also a second one which also ended in divorce) valid until she gets an annulment, which she will not do since she is no longer a Catholic; I think her motive here is to prove me wrong, .. am I?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      As I understand it, you are correct in presuming that your sister’s first marriage was valid. She was a Catholic at the time of her marriage, and thus she was bound by the requirement of canonical form (a priest/deacon + 2 witnesses). Ordinarily, if she had attempted marriage in the Lutheran church, it probably would not have been valid, however, if she did indeed receive a dispensation from canonical form, then she did validly marry in the Lutheran church.

      The fact that she no longer believes that she is a Catholic has no effect on whether she is still a Catholic and is still bound to canon law. ‘Semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus’; once Catholic always Catholic. Canon 1117, which you mentioned above, was modified on 9 April 2010 and the phrase “and has not defected from it by a formal act” was removed. Did she defect before that date? And even if she did start attending Lutheran services–and cease attending Catholic Mass–before that day, it is highly unlikely that she would have actually formally defected according to the definition of such an act by the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts in 2006.

      The problem, it seems, is that she no longer agrees with the infallible doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage. She seems to believe that a civil divorce ends her marriage, when in fact, it does not. The teaching of Jesus Christ is quite clear on this point (cf. Mt 19).

  43. Please help. My fiancé and I would very much like to be married in the Catholic Church. He was raised from age 4 on in Catholic schools in this country. His family is from egypt and are Coptic Christians. I was married before in the Episcopal Church to my ex husband who was a baptized Presbyterian. I did not ask for or receive a dispensation from the Catholic Church. I have 1 daughter from my previous marriage. My question is will I be allowed to marry in the Catholic Church?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Laura, thank you for your comment. I have some additional questions to ask in order to give you the best answer I am able. Prior to your marriage in the Episcopal church, were you baptized or received into the Catholic Church? Or, at the time of your first marriage were you a Protestant? And to be clear, I’m not asking here about what you considered yourself at the time of your first marriage or where you were most frequently attending services at the time of your first marriage. Rather, I am simply asking whether you were ever baptized into the Catholic Church or (if baptized in a Protestant denomination) whether you were ever received into the Catholic Church prior to your first marriage?

        • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

          If you were a baptized Catholic at the time of your first marriage, which apparently occurred outside of canonical form (no priest or deacon present) and there was no dispensation, then you did not validly marry.

          Assuming your fiancé is also free to marry, then you should not have any trouble marrying in the Catholic Church. It is likely that you will need to prove that your first marriage was outside of canonical form, which typically requires presenting your baptismal certificate, marriage license, and divorce decree. Other than that, I would imagine the typical marriage prep would be all that is required. So, go speak with your local pastor and explain to him that you were married outside of canonical form.

          • Ok. Thank you for your response. However, there was an Episcopal priest and we WERE married in the Episcopal Church. Does that qualifly as Canonical form? I’m sorry, I guess I’m not clear on what Canonical form is.
            Thank you,

  44. Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

    Sorry for the confusion, Laura. Canon 1108 § 1 states that in order for a Catholic to validly marry, the marriage must be contracted before a Catholic priest or deacon (who has the faculty to witness the marriage) and two witnesses. Thus, when you, a Catholic, attempted marriage in the presence of an Episcopal priest, you did not validly marry.

  45. Does the Catholic Church recognize civil marriages between non-religious people who were never baptized as valid? Would sexual relations between them count as fornication?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Yes. Only Catholics are required to exchange consent in canonical form (i.e., priest/deacon + 2 witnesses) for validity. We would presume the validity of other exchanges of consent provided that there is at least some recognizable public form, such as a civil marriage.

  46. I was civilly married to an unbaptized person while I was a baptized but no longer practicing/believing Christian. We divorced, then I reverted back into Christianity. Then I married a former baptized catholic in a non-catholic church.

    Now I am beginning RCIA. How should I consider my status, and what do I need to do? I’ve been getting a lot of conflicting information on this, from ‘I need to live as brother and sister with my current husband until the prior marriage is annulled and the current is validated’ to ‘I can assume that my prior marriage is invalid because it was unequally yoked and that my current marriage is valid until told otherwise because the church always favors the bond’.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Kristy, thank you for your question. The Church presumes that your first marriage (to an unbaptized person) is valid and that the current union you are in (with a former baptized Catholic in a non-Catholic church) is invalid. This current union is invalid for two reasons: 1) the impediment of prior bond because you had been married before, and 2) the absence of canonical form, since you married a baptized Catholic without a priest or deacon present to witness consent.

      You should live as brother and sister until you have proven that your prior union is invalid and can then marry him in canonical form. You definitely can NOT simply assume that your prior union is invalid, and the idea that you can because you were “unequally yoked” betrays a surprising ignorance of canon law. The Church does favor the bond (i.e., presumes its validity), but it favors the first bond.

      So, start living as brother and sister. In the meantime, you can either prove your first union was invalid, or you actually have the option of requesting a dissolution in favor of the faith (a.k.a. Petrine Privilege) for your first union, since the man you married was unbaptized. You could not seek a Pauline Privilege, though, since you were baptized, even if no longer practicing.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      • Hi, I wanted to thank you for your helpful response and also give you an update. I had moved into an apartment (by myself) the same day that you responded. (What I didn’t mention in my OP is that at the time I was living separate from the current legal husband in an Extended Stay.) The apartment was right next to the parish, so I thought of it as like a dorm room for the RCIA process. : )

        Even though I still had the first annulment outstanding, since I was not living with the current legal husband, I was able to be confirmed in the church at Easter Vigil, as Kristina Catherine (of Genoa). I prayed a 54 day novena ending on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary for my annulment and current legal marriage, and on that day I met the “new”/returned deacon of our parish. He has been giving me counsel and spiritual direction and helped me come to the decision to file for divorce and annul my current invalid marriage (the “husband” had remained anti-catholic throughout this whole time, unfortunately).

        I am now discerning my vocation (and appreciate any prayers that anyone is inclined to say for me).

  47. Hi,
    What about a non-Catholic marrying a Hindu before a JP, is this valid? Same couple before a minister, is this valid? If these are valid in the eyes of the Catholic church, doe the non-Catholic have to get a certificate of nullity before marrying a Catholic? What is the non-Catholic decides to convert to Catholicism, what happens to the previous marriage? Does the non-Catholic still have to get a certificate of nullity? How difficult is it for this person to get the certificate of nullity?
    Thank you

    • Paul Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Denise. Thank you for your question. We would presume the validity of a marriage between a non-Catholic and a Hindu before a justice of the peace or between a minister. It is important to remember that ONLY Catholics have to marry in the presence of a priest or deacon for validity. So, if the non-Catholic wanted to marry a Catholic, he/she would have to first either prove the invalidity of the marriage or could perhaps petition for a dissolution in favor of the faith (a.k.a. Petrine Privilege).

      When speaking of the nullity of the marriage, it is important to recall that it is not a favor that can be asked for and received, even though people often speak of “asking for an annulment” and “getting an annulment”. Rather, a marriage is declared null only when it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that there was some impediment (e.g., consanguinity, etc.) or there was some defect of consent (e.g., grave psychic anomaly, simulation of consent, fraudulently imposed error, etc.). A declaration of nullity does not put an end to a valid marriage, but is a judicial determination after a trial that the parties never married.

      On the other hand, a Petrine Privilege actually is a favor that is granted by the pope which dissolves a marriage. This can only be granted if at least one of the parties to a marriage is unbaptized at the time of marriage.

  48. Hello. I am Catholic and was married to a non Catholic baptized man outside the Church and then divorced after many years. I remarried outside he Church but have recently had my 1st marriage annulled on grounds of improper form. My new non Catholic husband was baptized as an infant in the Methodist church. He married a woman and they divorced after a little over a year. She was Hispanic but he has no idea if she was baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant or not. She did not practice any faith. My husband then remarried to a Greek Orthodox woman. He was required to be rebaptized in the Greek Orthodox church and they were married in a Greek Orthodox ceremony. The Greek Orthodox church did not require him to get an annullment. While he was married to his 2nd wife, his first wife died. His 2nd wife divorced him and then we married 5 years later. At the time I was not practicing my Catholic faith but last spring I began my journey home. I cannot receive communion or comfirmation until my marriage is validated or blessed. Some have told me that my new husbands 2nd marriage was not valid and the Catholic church considers him a widower. What are your thoughts and would he need to go through an anullment process before our marriage can be blessed? He has no intention of becoming Catholic but said he would do whatever I needed him to do so I could receive the Eucharist. I have not said anything to him about anullments because he thinks they are silly. Any help would be appreciated. I so long for the Eucharist. It breaks my heart to see it but know I cannot receive it. Thank you. Melissa

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Melissa. Thank you for your question. Your situation is straightforward. You (a Catholic) attempted marriage outside of canonical form, so it is as if you never married. Your civil spouse, though, has a more complicated situation. Since he was not Catholic at the time of his marriages, he was not bound to canonical form. So, if the Hispanic woman he married was not Catholic, then we would presume the validity of that first marriage. If she was Catholic, then we would not. In either case, death dissolves the bond, so he is obviously no longer married to her. And, at the moment she died, he became free to marry.

      However (and this is where things get complicated), we respect the requirement of form that the Orthodox Churches have in their own ecclesiastical law. So, the question becomes somewhat dependent on whether the Greek Orthodox have in their own law anything akin to an automatic “convalidation” in the event that an impediment that prohibited the validity of a marriage celebrated according to form later ceases. Would that Greek Orthodox person have to go back to the church and speak the vows again? Or, would the Greek Orthodox presume the consent previously given now becomes effective and valid? In short, I believe we would defer to their own laws in this regard.

      In any event, I very highly recommend hiring a canon lawyer to help you sort this out. The Judicial Vicar of the Toronto Tribunal is a Ukrainian Catholic priest, one of the best canon lawyers in North America, and would be able to help you better than just about anyone else. His name is Fr. Alex Laschuk and you can reach him at: alaschuk@archtoronto.org. Tell him I sent you.

      Lastly, I want to clear up what seems to be a common misunderstanding. Many times, pastors will tell their parishioners that they cannot receive the Eucharist until they get an annulment, or that they “have to” get an annulment. Neither of these are true. Anyone can receive the sacraments today, if they are willing to do what is necessary to be in right relationship with God. For someone who is in an “irregular marriage,” that is, a civil union with someone who is not their spouse, they have two other options: 1) separate from this manifestly invalid union, or 2) live as brother and sister, not engaging in sexual acts. What is separating you from the ability to receive Holy Communion is your intention to continue committing adultery. But, if you were to cease committing adultery (either by separating or by living as brother and sister), then you would be able to go to confession and receive Holy Communion today! Unfortunately, many pastors do not talk to their parishioners about these options, and people sometimes feel like the tribunal is keeping them from the Eucharist, but this isn’t the case at all.

  49. Thomas M. Powers on

    Since the marriage of Lutheran Luke who married non baptized Holly on the beach is non sacramental, and CCC sections 1601, 1625, 1640 by their terms apply only to marriage between baptized persons (plural), does Luke have to obtain a catholic church declaration of nullity of that marriage before he can marry Catholic Connie?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Thanks for the question, Thomas. Only Catholics are bound by canonical form, that is a priest/deacon and two witnesses. For others, any publicly recognized form would suffice. Therefore, the Church would recognize and assume the validity of the marriage between Luke and Holly. So, if Luke now wanted to marry Connie, he must first prove that he’s never been married before, which he may be able to do by means of the marriage nullity process.

      • Hi! I am a baptized catholic and so is my husband. He was once married only civilly in the courts and is now divorced. He never was married in the church or in front of a priest or deacon. We got married civilly in the courts in August but are now planning a Catholic Church wedding this coming November. We have a son together who is also baptized catholic. Will we be able to marry in the Catholic Church in five months from now even though my husbands civil marriage was never annulled by the Catholic Church?

        • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

          Hi Jennifer. Thanks for the question.

          In order to validly marry, Catholics must give consent in canonical form (i.e., priest/deacon and two witnesses). When your current civil husband exchanged consent in front of a justice of the peace, he did not validly marry. We would say he “attempted marriage outside of canonical form.” When he then exchanged consent with you in August before a justice of the peace, he also did not validly marry for the same reason. In other words, it looks to the Church like he has never been married before.

          Therefore, when you exchange consent in November, you and he will marry for the first time.

          Because he married outside of canonical form, he need not prove the nullity of his first marriage through the marriage nullity process (i.e., get an annulment). Rather, depending on the praxis of your diocese, either the priest preparing you for marriage would ascertain the basic facts or your current civil spouse would need to submit certain documents to the tribunal to show that his prior civil marriage was outside canonical form.

          While the marriage nullity process is a full trial and can take upwards of 12 months, proving marriage outside of canonical form is very easy and is done simply by producing the requisite documents (e.g., baptismal certificate, civil marriage license, etc.).

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Another option open to Luke would be to ask the Holy Father to dissolve his presumptively valid, but non-sacramental marriage with Holly in order that he could enter into a sacramental marriage with Connie. This is technically called a “dissolution in favor of the faith” but commonly called a Petrine Privilege.

  50. Thomas M. Powers on

    Since canons 1086 and 1086 provide that a prior marriage is considered valid until the contrary is proven, and it is viewed as putative until the contrary is proven, what proof is necessary to show that the prior marriage is invalid when one of the former spouses is baptized and the other is not? The comments go on to say that a second marriage can take place if the first marriage is invalid because the union never existed in the first place.
    This is not a case of the two prior spouses arbitrarily deciding that their marriage was invalid, but that canon law says it is. Since this is the case, can the local parish priest recognize it’s invalidity as he can where there is a lack of canonical form?

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Thomas, thank you for your question.

      If I understand you correctly, you are looking at canon 1085 regarding the impediment of a prior bond, and you are looking at canon 1086 regarding the impediment of disparity of cult (a.k.a. disparity of worship).

      Canon 1085 states an impediment of the natural law, which applies to all persons. It also cannot be dispensed. Because marriage lasts until death, a person cannot validly marry anyone if his/her first spouse is still living. This applies to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. However, if my first marriage is proven with moral certitude (i.e. beyond a reasonable doubt) to have been invalid from the very beginning, then this means that I have never been married, I am still single, and therefore I can marry someone else.

      Canon 1086 provides an impediment of merely ecclesiastical law, which applies only to Catholics. A Catholic cannot validly marry someone who is not baptized, unless this impediment has been dispensed by the local Ordinary (i.e., diocesan bishop or vicar general). For example, let’s say Catholic Cathy wants to marry Jewish Jacob, so they go to Cathy’s pastor for marriage prep. What typically happens is that, sometimes even without the couple knowing it, Cathy’s pastor will request on behalf of the couple a dispensation from this impediment in order that they can validly marry.

      Question: what proof is necessary to show that the prior marriage is invalid when one of the former spouses is baptized and the other is not? Can the local parish priest recognize it’s invalidity as he can where there is a lack of canonical form?

      First, notice that canon 1086 only applies to Catholics wanting to marry non-baptized persons; this impediment does not affect Protestants. So, consider the only two ways in which this occurs: (1) Catholic Cathy exchanges consent with Jewish Jacob in canonical form, or (2) Catholic Cathy exchanges consent with Jewish Jacob not in canonical form. In the case of the former, the pastor will almost certainly have requested the necessary dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult and the marriage is invalid. In the case of the latter, the marriage occurred outside of canonical form and is invalid due to a lack of canonical form (assuming that no dispensation from canonical form was given), as well as being invalid due to the impediment of disparity of cult.

      In the first scenario, if you are trying to prove that although you married according to canonical form you were never dispensed from the impediment of disparity of cult, you would have to prove it in a marriage nullity trial. Perhaps it could be proven through the documentary process before the tribunal, but it would still require a trial. As you can see, though, this would be very rare. The parish priest cannot make this determination on his own.

      In the second scenario, because it is invalid due to a lack of form, according to the universal law of the Church, the priest preparing you for your second marriage could ascertain this fact during marriage prep. However, it is common in many dioceses that inquiries into invalidity due to a lack of canonical form still be handled by the Tribunal.

  51. i am married in catholic chuch but unfornately , our marriage didn’t work, so we got seperated, now i converted into islam ,is my marriage in catholic still valid even though im not Christian anymore?

  52. Hello,
    My fiancé and I are planning our wedding in October, but we’ve come across a few dilemmas. First my fiancé lost his job and is going to start training for a new job and will be traveling over the road and won’t be home much at all for the foreseeable future. Second his great grandfather, who raised him and whom he sees as a father figure, his health is declining and my fiancé really wants him to be there to see us get married. My question is what can we do to get married now or sooner? We haven’t yet started classes because of recent events and my fiancé is not yet baptized, we planned on doing that as well.
    My fiancé wants to make sure that our child and I will be taken care of if anything were to happen to him while he’s gone.

    • Paul M. Matenaer, JCL on

      Hi Rachael, thank you for your question.

      Before you are allowed to marry, “it must be evident that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration” (c. 1066). Typically, there are two broad categories of marriage prep that are utilized in the Church. First, the many marriage classes are meant to help you have a happy and pleasant marriage. They will teach you how to communicate in a healthy way and will likely include some instruction on the Church’s doctrine regarding sexual morality. Second, either the priest who will be witnessing your marriage or another priest/deacon will conduct the pre-nuptial investigation or pre-nuptial questionnaire. The purpose of this investigation is to make sure that the marriage will be valid, and he will ask you questions to make sure there are no impediments to your marriage (e.g., you are not cousins, you have not made vows in a religious order, etc.), as well as questions regarding your consent (e.g., do you intend to be faithful?, etc.).

      Strictly speaking, only the pre-nuptial investigation is required to marry. The marriage classes are great and certainly should be encouraged. But, it would be possible to marry without having taken those classes. So, even if you haven’t started the classes yet, you can get married.

      You can also get married even though your fiancé is not yet baptized. This means that at the time of consent, your marriage would be a valid, natural marriage and not yet a sacramental marriage. The difference between a natural marriage and a sacramental marriage is fairly minimal (each is a partnership of the whole of life ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, whose essential properties are unity and indissolubility), so don’t let that trip you up. When your fiancé then gets baptized, your valid, natural marriage would turn into a valid, sacramental marriage.

      Talk to the priest who is preparing you for marriage, let him know your concerns and ask if you can move up the marriage for the reasons you’ve listed above. Hopefully, he will understand. If he gives you any trouble, write back and we’ll go from there.

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