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Some answers to frequently asked questions about Catholic marriage

October 13th, 2011 Posted in Marriage and Family

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From the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Why does the church teach that marriage is a sacrament?

The sacraments make Christ present in our midst. Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but for the community as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The Old Testament prophets saw the marriage of a man and woman as a symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people. The permanent and exclusive union between husband and wife mirrors the mutual commitment between God and his people. The Letter to the Ephesians says that this union is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the church.

What is the difference between a valid and an invalid Catholic marriage?

Just as individual states have requirements for civil marriage (e.g., a marriage license, blood tests), the Catholic Church also has requirements before Catholics can be considered validly married in the eyes of the church. A valid Catholic marriage results from four elements: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they freely exchange their consent; (3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; and (4) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by church authority.

Why does a Catholic wedding have to take place in a church?

For Catholics, marriage is not just a social or family event, but a church event. For this reason, the church prefers that marriages between Catholics, or between Catholics and other Christians, be celebrated in the parish church of one of the spouses. Only the local bishop can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.

If a Catholic wishes to marry in a place outside a Catholic church, how can he or she be sure that the marriage is recognized by the Catholic Church as valid?

The local bishop can permit a wedding in another church, or in another suitable place. For example, a Catholic seeks to marry a Baptist whose father is the pastor of a Baptist church. The father wants to officiate at the wedding. In these circumstances, the bishop could permit the couple to marry in the Baptist church. The permission in these instances is called a “dispensation from canonical form.”

Is it required that a wedding celebration have expensive flowers, clothes and other accompaniments?

The Rite of Marriage makes no reference to any of these cultural elements. The focus of the couple should be on the celebration of the sacrament. Pastors repeatedly point out that a couple do not have to postpone the celebration of the sacrament of marriage because they cannot afford such things.

What is a Nuptial Mass and when can a couple have one?

A Nuptial Mass is a Mass which includes the celebration of the sacrament of marriage. It has special readings and prayers suitable to the sacrament of marriage. The sacrament of marriage between two baptized Catholics should normally be celebrated within Mass.

If the situation warrants it and the local bishop gives permission, a Nuptial Mass may be celebrated for a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized person who is not a Catholic, except that Communion is not given to the non-Catholic. In such instances, it is better to use the appropriate ritual for marriage outside Mass.

What should a couple do when they decide that they want to marry in the Catholic Church?

They should contact their parish as soon as possible and make an appointment to talk with the priest, deacon or staff person who is responsible for preparing couples for marriage. This person will explain the process of marriage preparation and the various programs offered.

Why does the church require engaged couples to participate in a marriage preparation program?

Marriage preparation offers couples the opportunity to develop a better understanding of Christian marriage; to evaluate and deepen their readiness to live married life; and to gain insights into themselves as individuals and as a couple. It is especially effective in helping couples to deal with the challenges of the early years of marriage.

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