A Look at Marriage Validity A Look at Marriage Validity

This past weekend, my husband, three children, my mother-in-law and I were traveling home after a weekend away where we had attended a friend’s wedding.  My saintly petite mother-in-law had willing folded herself into the back of the car with the children between boxes, garment bags, and luggage, happily chatting, brokering peace, and watching movies with them, which freed my husband and I to enjoy a five-hour conversation in the front seat.

With the length of Lake Michigan’s coast ahead of us and plenty of time to reflect on the weekend, my thoughts naturally turned to the Church and weddings.  This happens to be an area of expertise for my canonist husband, so I hoped that he wouldn’t mind if I asked him some canonical questions about the Church’s view of different types of marriages.  He was more than happy to oblige—in fact, I think I might have caught a twinkle of excitement in his eye when I mentioned the code—so I quickly took out my laptop to record his answer on the following question:  What types of marriages does the Church view as valid?  Because, like my husband always tells me, just like you can’t baptize with Pepsi, you need certain aspects of the ceremony to be present for the sacrament to take place, depending on who’s getting married.  My husband, with great enthusiasm, laid out the following marriage scenarios and the Church’s take on them.

-Two Catholics with canonical form

To satisfy canonical form, a priest or deacon must ask for and receive the marrying parties’ consent in the name of the Church in the presence of at least two witnesses.  In most cases, this will be done in a church or oratory, however it’s not required to satisfy canonical form.  For example, John and Suzie, both baptized Catholics, are married during a wedding Mass.  The Church considers this marriage to be valid and sacramental, due to the baptisms of both spouses.

A note on canonical form: when two Catholics marry, canonical form is required, though in very rare cases the Holy See can dispense the parties from the requirement of form.

-One Catholic marrying one baptized non-Catholic Christian with canonical form

Only Catholics are bound by canonical form.  Therefore, even if only one marrying party is Catholic, canonical form is still required.  (However, in this situation it would be possible to receive a dispensation from canonical form from the local ordinary.)  Also, in this instance, the Catholic party must make the additional promise to do all in his or her power to baptise and raise the children Catholic, and the non-Catholic party must informed of this promise, which is usually done during the pre-nuptial investigation by the priest.  An example of this would be if Catholic Mary married Protestant Calvin in the Catholic church.  This would be a valid—and therefore sacramental, due to the parties’ baptisms—marriage.

-One Catholic and one non-baptized person with canonical form

The Church would recognize as valid this type of marriage only if the Catholic party had received a dispensation for disparity of worship from the local ordinary (the bishop of that diocese, vicar general, or episcopal vicar) and had made the promise to raise the children Catholic.  This would not be a sacramental marriage, however, because both parties are not baptised.  An example of this would be if Catholic Elizabeth received a dispensation to marry unbaptized Stan in the Catholic church.  Also, as in the above situation, it would be possible to receive a dispensation from canonical form from the local ordinary.

-Two Protestants before their minister or justice of the peace

The Church would recognize this marriage as valid because as they are not Catholic, the marrying parties are not bound by canonical form.  Any time there are two baptized people who have a valid marriage, it is ipso facto a sacrament.  An example of this would be if baptized Methodist Jane married baptized but now agnostic Zack before the justice of the peace.  This would be both valid and sacramental, due to the baptisms of the marrying parties.

-One Protestant and one unbaptized person before a minister or justice of the peace

The Church would consider this to be a valid marriage but not a sacrament because both parties are not baptized.  An example: Baptized Lutheran Luke married unbaptized Holly on the beach before a minister.

-Two unbaptized people before a minister or justice of the peace

This again would be considered a valid marriage but not a sacrament.  An example of this type of marriage would be if two Muslims were married in a traditional Muslim wedding ceremony.

Finally, a quick note on semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus (once Catholic, always Catholic):

My husband would like to note that currently if you were baptized (or received into the Catholic Church) you are bound by canonical form, even if you have since fallen away from the practice of the faith.  Between 1983 and April 2009, one could make an act of formal defection from the Catholic Church, but it could only be done in writing and necessarily was an act of heresy, apostasy, or schism.  After defecting, a Catholic was no longer bound to canonical form.  This type of formal defection, though, was rare and is no longer possible.  Benedict XVI changed this to reflect the principle of semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus. Therefore, currently, even if a baptized Catholic were to fall away from the faith, he would still be bound by canon law and would need to marry within the Church for his marriage to be valid.

If you have any questions, please feel free to write!

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer