Roman Catholics - CONVALIDATION

Please note that in Ontario, a Roman Catholic priest is not normally permitted to perform a wedding ceremony anywhere but in a Roman Catholic church. This is not a matter of personal preference but of Diocesan rules.

What is convalidation and how do couples plan a convalidation ceremony?

The Roman Catholic Church believes that marriages entered into by non-Catholics are valid. Indeed, in the eyes of the RC Church, even two atheists or agnostics who are married in a civil ceremony before a judge or magistrate enter into a valid marriage.

For Roman Catholics, however, different rules apply. A wedding between one or two Roman Catholics somewhere other than a Roman Catholic church is legal, but it will not normally be recognized by the RC Church as valid.  

Convalidation Requirements:

The Roman Catholic Church requires Roman Catholics to observe a certain form of marriage ritual in order that their marriage be considered valid in the eyes of the RC Church itself. Canon law—the law of the Church—requires that Roman Catholics enter into marriage in a ceremony that is performed in a Roman Catholic church by a Roman Catholic bishop, priest, or deacon and involving at least two other witnesses, in addition to any other wedding ceremony the couple may have had at home, or wherever.

Marriages in which one or both parties are Roman Catholic, and which are not performed by a Roman Catholic priest in a Roman Catholic church, are considered invalid in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, even if they are legal in the eyes of the government. The Church considers that these people are objectively living in a state of mortal sin and may not receive Holy Communion. 

It may be that the Catholic who entered into marriage outside the Roman Catholic church did not realize that these requirements exist (in which case the sin is venial but not mortal) but, more often, it is because one or both of the spouses was not free to marry in the Roman Catholic Church due to a previous marriage.

Or because the marriage (even if between Catholics) was held somewhere other than Roman Catholic church property and hence a Roman Catholic priest could not normally perform the ceremony.

Or it simply may be that the Roman Catholic partner(s) may not have been active in the Church and did not even consider having a Catholic wedding at the time they were married.

Later in life, perhaps in order to bring their children up as Roman Catholics, (or to make their parents happy), they may wish for their marriage to be recognized by the Church. Hence, the Rite of Convalidation.

Convalidation Wedding Ceremony

The Roman Catholic Church very much wants to assist these couples who later want to enter into a marriage recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and it offers them pastoral and spiritual support as they need it.

When these couples are ready and free to do so, they celebrate what is called a convalidation, from the Latin word meaning “to firm up” or “to strengthen.” This is sometimes referred to as the blessing of a marriage. although the actual convalidation ceremony follows the normal Order of Matrimony as practiced by the Catholic Church.

It is important to realize that a convalidation is not merely a renewal of vows made previously but is a new act of consent by each spouse. This new act of consent is essential to marriage, and the words that the couple expresses are the outward sign of the gift of self that they exchange.

This convalidation of marriage may be celebrated with or without Mass, again depending on the particular situation of the couple. If both are Catholic, it is fitting that the convalidation be celebrated within Mass.

If one spouse is not Catholic, they are not entitled to take communion, so it is likely preferable that the Convalidation ceremony be celebrated without a Mass. Customarily, since the couple’s married life is a known and public fact and may have been so for many years, a simple celebration with an invitation to close family and friends may seem more appropriate than a large celebration.

It is important to note that it is entirely up to the parish priest to decide whether or not to perform this Convalidation ceremony, so couples need at times to tread gently. And the rules that apply to a wedding in an RC Church (ie no previous divorce) also apply to the Rite of Convalidation. In addition, the priest may require additional conditions such as marriage preparation and no cohabitation before the ceremony.

Here is a link to a Youtube video of a Convalidation ceremony.

Note: The following text is intended to give a basic overview of the convalidation process. Because every couple’s situation is unique and because practices related to the implementation of the process may vary from diocese to diocese, persons interested in pursuing a convalidation and/or a declaration of nullity should speak with their parish priest or a professional at the local Tribunal.

Like other couples in your parish or family, you may be wondering if your marriage is fully recognized by the Catholic Church. Catholic Church law ordinarily requires baptized Roman Catholics to marry before a priest or deacon. Unless they received a “dispensation from canonical form,” Catholics who exchange vows in the presence of ministers from other religious traditions or civil officials are not considered validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

Regardless of what happened in the past, the Catholic Church invites you to bring new meaning to your lives by embracing the vocation of marriage and dedicating your family’s mission to sharing God’s love.

Catholic Marriage is unique among other marital relationships because it is a sacrament that makes Christ present in our world. The relationship between husband and wife mirrors the relationship of Jesus Christ for his people. In the Catholic tradition, the husband and wife accept a role in God’s plan for humanity. They are ambassadors of God’s love, and they collaborate with God to keep humanity alive. The vows exchanged by the couple are a sacred pact through which the spouses embrace each other, and, together, embrace Jesus as their partner. Through their union with Christ, they participate in the unbreakable pact between God and humanity: the covenant that was sealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Benefits of Catholic Marriage

One of the many benefits of a sacramental marriage is the power of God’s grace, which helps couples keep their commitment and find happiness together. Social scientists are finding that couples who recognize God’s presence in their relationship experience more satisfaction and are more likely to achieve lifelong marriage. All in all, couples who choose to bring their marriage into the Church receive many gifts – peace of heart, oneness with the Church, the fullness of the sacraments, and God’s special blessing upon their marriage.

What if there is a Prior Marriage?

In the simplest terms, if a Catholic wishes to marry in the Church when there has been a previous marriage for either party, the partner in the earlier union must have died or the Church must have issued a declaration of nullity (frequently called an annulment) of the previous marriage. The Catholic Church views all true marriages with respect. It presumes that they are valid. Thus, it considers the marriage of two Protestant, Jewish or even non-believing persons, any of whom marry according to their own tradition, to be binding in the eyes of God. Consequently, a tribunal process is required to establish that an essential ingredient in the relationship was missing from the start of the previous marriage. For Catholics with a prior marriage outside the Church, the declaration of nullity is based on what is called a “lack of canonical form.” For Catholics with a prior “valid” marriage, the tribunal process is termed a “formal case.” Catholics should consult with their pastor if a declaration of nullity is needed.

Three Things that Make Marriage Valid in the Church

Three things need to be in place for a true (valid) marriage: capacity, consent, and canonical form. A valid Catholic marriage comes into existence when a man and woman who are capable, give consent to a true marriage, including all the essential properties of marriage, and exchange this consent in the proper form for Catholic weddings. Convalidation is not simply a “blessing” of an existing union. It requires that a new, free act of consent be made.

  • Capacity: Psychological capacity (emotional maturity and stability) Physical capacity Freedom from impediments (e.g. a prior marriage, vows in a religious order, etc.)
  • Consent: To a lifelong marriage To an exclusive marriage To a marriage that is open to children
  • Canonical Form: To be married in the presence of a Catholic bishop, or a priest or deacon delegated by either the pastor or bishop, and two witnesses according to the Order of Celebrating Matrimony. NOTE: Special permission is required for Catholics to marry in a place other than their parish church.

Ten Steps toward Convalidation:

  1. Contact your local parish for an appointment with your pastor or his delegate to discuss the situation and determine what must be done.
  2. Obtain a new copy of the baptismal certificate for the Catholic party (or parties). Make that request to the parish where the person was baptized. If the parish no longer exists or baptismal records are unavailable, contact the Chancery office of that Catholic diocese for assistance.
  3. Begin collecting the necessary paperwork for the Pre-Nuptial Investigation, which is your interview conducted by a priest under oath, to establish your understanding of four basic tenets about marriage: you enter into it freely, it’s permanent, it’s exclusive, and it’s open to children.
  4. Participate in formational sessions with a mentor couple, priest, or deacon in the parish to prepare you for sacramental marriage; take a Natural Family Planning Class.
  5. If there is a prior marriage for either party, seek a Church declaration of nullity.
  6. As part of your formational sessions, you may be asked to complete a premarital inventory to identify strengths and areas for growth in the relationship.
  7. If married civilly two years or less, attend a parish or diocesan marriage preparation program; if previously married, discuss with the priest or his delegate options for specialized preparation. If married more than two years it is highly recommended that you attend a marriage enrichment weekend or event.
  8. Determine the date and most suitable type of ceremony. For two Catholics, a nuptial Mass is suggested so that the first meal shared by the couple is the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith.
  9. Plan a joyful get-together that will follow the liturgical service to celebrate the Church’s recognition of your marriage.
  10. Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and become actively involved together in your parish community.