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Policies and Practices

POLICY AND PRACTICE OF MARRIAGE

INTRODUCTION

The Church believes that a marriage between two baptised Christians is a sacramental marriage, provided it is entered into in accord with the teachings of the Church. Such a marriage has supernatural as well as natural dimensions. By celebrating marriage sacramentally, you are uniting yourselves not only with one another, but with Christ. You are enlivening your marriage with God’s love, which never runs out (CCC 1641-1642). When you actively invite Christ into your marriage, he will always be there to renew and deepen the love between you and your spouse and to give you both the strength to confront the inevitable difficulties that life will bring. So the best reason to get married in the Catholic Church is because you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s love revealed in human flesh; and that today, Christ is embodied in the gathering of his friends—what we call the Church.

Some couples view marriage in the Church as unnecessary because they believe that God will be present at their wedding whether it is witnessed by the Church or not. It is true that wherever there is love, God is present. But just as you want those friends and family who love you to come to your wedding, God wants all those who love him to worship him together, united by their love for him—not as individuals separated from one another (CCC 781). Catholics believe that Christ gathered his friends together for this purpose; this gathering, or assembly, is the Church (CCC 764). Christ promised that he would be present in this gathering of believers (Matthew 18:20, 28:20). It is through the Church that God has chosen to love us in tangible ways. In the Church, we hear the words of Christ spoken through the proclamation of the Scriptures; we encounter Christ in one another through the common worship of the assembly; we even enter into communion with Christ through the Eucharist (CCC 1088).

Whilst a marriage between a Catholic and a non-baptised person is not sacramental, the Church still considers that such a marriage can be valid and good. St Paul wrote: “The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband.” (1 Cor 7:14)

BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR MARRIAGE IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

Marriage is governed by both civil and Church law. Just because a marriage is valid in the eyes of the State does not make it valid in the eyes of the Church. Because the Church understands marriage to be such an important reality, it identifies various requirements in its canon law, the law of the Catholic Church, which must be met for a valid Catholic marriage (a marriage between two Catholics, between a Catholic and a baptised Christian of another denomination or between a Catholic and an unbaptised person).

  • A Catholic marrying a baptized non-Catholic needs Church permission (Can. 1124). A Catholic marrying a non-baptized person needs a dispensation for the marriage to be valid (Can. 1086).
  • Both parties must be free to be married, that is neither person has a prior valid marriage (Can. 1085 §1)
  • Both parties must understand and accept the nature of Catholic marriage, namely that it is a lifelong, faithful partnership which is open to the gift of children (Can. 1101 §2).
  • Both parties must be emotionally and psychologically mature and capable of consenting to the marriage and they must freely express their consent to give and accept one another irrevocably in order to establish a Catholic marriage (Can. 1095-6).

Both must be capable of sexual intercourse, that is, neither is incurably impotent (Can. 1084 §1).

These requirements are important to ensure the validity of your marriage in the eyes of the Church. A marriage that doesn’t follow the canon law requirements (for example, a civil marriage) is not a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church. In addition, local Church rules will normally recommend that the partners meet several times with the priest who will be witnessing their marriage and that they attend a marriage education program.

INITIAL STEPS TO GETTING MARRIED IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH    

THE FIRST STEP IS TO CONTACT YOUR LOCAL PARISH PRIEST

You should contact the priest who is to celebrate the marriage, ideally about 12 months prior to the wedding. He will start a file that he will send to the parish where you will be married.

During this period you spend some time with the priest clarifying your understanding of marriage in the eyes of the Church; undertaking a marriage education program; booking the church where you wish to marry; planning the marriage ceremony and completing the ‘Pre-Nuptial Inquiry’.

WHAT IS A ‘PRE-NUPTIAL INQUIRY’?

As with most important things in life you need to get your paperwork in order before you can get married. Some of this information is required by Civil Law, the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961, and some by the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, to determine your legal and Church status to get married.

The Pre-Nuptial Inquiry Forms require the following:

  • Proof of identity (similar to what you need to open a bank account). If you have changed your name by Deed Poll, Change of Name Deed or by Statutory Declaration these documents will need to be produced.
  • Baptism Certificate: A recent copy of a Baptismal Certificate is to be provided by the Catholic party. This needs to be less than six months old (The reason for this is that Catholic marriages are recorded on the Baptismal register. A recent Baptismal Certificate, as well as demonstrating one’s initiation into the Church, is a partial check regarding previous marriages.) and can be obtained upon request by contacting the parish office where you were baptised. Members of other denominations are encouraged to provide a Certificate of Baptism, or at least the name of the Church and the date of the baptism.
  • Proof of freedom to marry: If the Catholic party is not a resident in the parish where you are getting married (and hence presumably known to the priest), you will need to obtain a ‘Freedom to Marry’ letter or form from your local parish. This involves contacting the parish in which you live, explaining your intention to marry at a different church.
  • If either partner is under the legal age of consent, the agreement of your parents or guardians is required. If the parents are divorced, you may need to produce the court order that gives custody to one of them.
  • Marriage education certification.
  • Permissions and dispensations where applicable.
  • If either party has been previously married, it is essential that freedom to marry in the Catholic Church be established before any marriage arrangements are confirmed. Evidence of death of spouse or the record of Church annulment and civil divorce papers will be required.

In Australia, the Catholic priest or deacon acts not only as a minister of the Church but also as a registered marriage celebrant for the state. He will help you fill out both the civil and church papers before the wedding. The civil (Australian Government) Notice of Intended Marriage must be signed at least one month before the wedding.

Reference

AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE, 2011, Getting Married in the Catholic Church: Frequently Asked Questions, Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life, Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council.