Convalidation & Getting Your Marriage Blessed
Regularizing your Marriage
What’s Wrong with my Civil Marriage?
Marriage is a natural institution, brought about by the exchange of consent between a man and woman who are able to do so. The Church recognizes natural marriage. The consent between two non-Catholics “counts,” in whatever setting this took place, according to the customs and civil laws of various cultures and places. But, whenever a Catholic is involved, a marriage must follow “canonical form,” or the requirements that the Church puts forward for marriages involving her members. Just like when a couple wants to get married in a certain county, they must follow the rules of that county (paperwork, social security cards, etc.) or the state will not recognize that marriage, Catholics must follow the requirements of the Church if they wish the Church to recognize their marriage. This is an exercise of the “keys of the kingdom” which Christ gave to His Church, binding Catholics to canonical form for the good ordering of the society of the Church.
So, if a baptized Catholic did not get married according to canonical form (“in the Church”), they need to seek to regularize their situation in order to be in good standing in the Church. There are varieties of reasons that Catholics get married outside the Church. Perhaps someone had fallen away from the Church and has since come back. Perhaps someone’s spouse had a strong aversion to the Church. Perhaps someone was married previously. These are situations that have remedies. Do not let your marriage outside the Church hang around your neck like a weight. Don’t be embarrassed. The priests of St. John Cantius are ready to guide you through the proper processes to seek a resolution and bring you back to the Sacraments.
How do I have my Civil Marriage Blessed by the Church?
The first step is to contact your parish priest and say you are interested in regularizing your marriage or seeking a “convalidation.” He’ll meet with you and try to understand the situation more fully. After that, the process will involve many of the same steps as getting married in the Church for the first time: obtaining new copies of your baptismal certificates and civil marriage certificate, having an interview with a priest or deacon to help determine your “freedom to marry,” along with having a couple of other people who know your situation well talk to the priest. The priest may recommend some classes or a marriage retreat to help you prepare. The final step is a ceremony where you exchange vows before the priest and witnesses, much like any other wedding ceremony. Once this ceremony takes place, your marriage is thus recognized by the Church and you may approach the Sacraments freely.
What If I’ve Been Married Before?
The Catholic Church recognizes the permanent character of a valid ratified and consummated sacramental marriage. At the same time, since it is the consent of the parties which makes a marriage, if someone did not truly consent to the marriage, even though their outward words said, “I do,” then something may have prevented a marriage from taking place. In such a case, an individual who believes that their marriage was invalid due to some defect of consent or other impediment may seek a declaration of nullity, popularly known as an “annulment,” which is an official declaration from the Church, after a thorough investigation and judgment, that a marriage was null, or in fact did not come about at the time of the wedding. If someone is married outside the Church because their first marriage ended in divorce and they subsequently married civilly, it may be possible to seek a declaration of nullity for their first marriage. This could then allow them to have their current union recognized by the Church. The first step in this process is to meet with a priest or deacon and fill out the initial application and understand what led to this situation.