When Beth, a Protestant, accepted a marriage proposal from John, a divorced Catholic, he was unwilling to go through the long annulment process, so they married in her church. Without a decree of nullity from his first marriage, John felt uneasy attending mass. Beth noticed her husband’s spiritual battle but was uncertain how to support him in his faith.
Although “cradle Catholics,” Paul and Susan had not attended mass since starting college. When Susan tearfully announced she was pregnant, they made quick plans to be married in the college’s non-denominational chapel, not taking the time to find a priest or get dispensation. After the baby was born, they realized the importance of their faith and wanted to have their son baptized. Even though they wished to return to the Church in order to raise their son in the Catholic faith, they were anxious about approaching a priest.
Can these marriages be officially recognized by the Catholic Church so the Catholics who once waved aside their obedience to the Church could return to the sacraments? The simple answer is yes, through a ceremony called “convalidation.”
The Code of Canon Law, the official rulebook of the Church, sets forth the approved form of the wedding ceremony. Baptized Catholics are to marry in a proper church building or at a shrine or sacred grotto with a priest or deacon officiating, unless they request dispensation from this required canonical form.
Without dispensation, Catholics who are married by non-Catholic ministers (or officials such as a justice of the peace or a ship’s captain) are not considered by the Church as validly joined in a sacramental union. The same holds true for divorced Catholics who remarry without first obtaining a decree of nullity from their first marriage.
Catholics are bound by canon law to marry only under certain conditions. Thus, for a Catholic, marrying outside the Church is considered grave sin. The Catholic who chooses to disobey the dictates of the Church is no longer considered to be in a state of grace and cannot receive holy communion. This can be a serious hindrance to the Catholic’s spiritual growth.