The Definition of Marriage
“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized…. The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility.” (Code of Canon Law, Canons 1055 and 1056).
Marriage is much more than two people going through a ceremony, committing themselves to one another and taking up residence. Marriage involves a whole new way of relating between the man and woman and also between the couple and the Christian community. The gift of self is not just to one’s spouse, but also to the Kingdom of God as it manifests itself in the Church.
The matrimonial covenant between a man and a woman establishes a partnership for life. The partnership of the whole of life allows the couple to “grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one in heart and soul and together attain their human perfection.” (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, July 25, 1968) As husband and wife the married couple recognizes in their relationship the love that God has for them. They mutually seek to share that love with others by living and working actively to contribute to the building of God’s Kingdom.
Marriage is not just celebrated once on the day it is entered; rather it is celebrated anew each day for the rest of one’s life. The “I do” promised on the first day is meant to grow deeper, richer and more meaningful as the days become years. “For better or worse, … in sickness and in health …” cannot exist merely in the abstract, for in their very realization they reflect Christ’s presence among us, His Church, and affirm our belief in His love.
Christ loves us even though we are great sinners. He died for us in order that our sins may be forgiven. Husband and wife love one another and recognizing the weaknesses and failings of their spouse die to self to help save the other. Because the relationship between husband and wife mirrors the relationship between God and His Church, Jesus taught the indissolubility of marriage - “therefore, let no one separate what God has joined.” (Matthew 19:6) We believe that it is impossible for any human being or civil government to break the God-made sacramental bond, or covenant, between husband and wife. Marriage is meant to be forever - “till death do us part.”
Love is forever seeking ways to express itself and to create something. The l
ve between husband and wife ever seeks to communicate, extend itself, to create new life. (This is why there is in reality no such thing as a “secret love,” except narcissism.) The physical and spiritual consummation of marriage mirrors the Incarnation, the fact that “the Word became flesh.” “By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children and find in them their ultimate crown.” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, December 7, 1965).
For the marriage bond between husband and wife to be established by God, the couple must base their love on knowledge. If not, it remains mere infatuation and fantasy. The man and woman must have a basic understanding of who their intended spouse is in order to commit to this lifelong journey of discovery together. They must also have a number of intentions at the time of their marriage. The couple must know what marriage is and they must intend the marriage to be lifelong and open to children. They must intend fidelity and their mutual good. They must also have the physical and psychological ability as well as the personal maturity to follow through on what they have intended.
1. Contact your Parish
Preparation for the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony takes place in your local parish. The parish office will put you in contact with the individual in charge of marriage preparation or directly with the priest/deacon you desire to preside at your wedding. Contact your parish as soon as you have made the decision to marry but no less than eight (8) months prior to the anticipated wedding date. Be aware that some parishes within the Diocese of Saint Augustine have much longer lead times due to the number of wedding requests and lack of staffing.
2. Length of Preparation
The minimal length of marital preparation is eight (8) months. This allows sufficient time for you as a couple to carry out the various parts of the marriage preparation process without becoming over burdened.
3. Documents Required
Baptismal Certificates for Catholics – Catholics are to provide a new copy of their baptismal certificate with full notations. The certificate must be dated within the past six (6) months. When contacting the parish for the certificate be sure you ask that the certificate contain all the notations in their records. If you know the name of your baptismal church and the city within which it is located your local parish will be able to provide you with its address and phone number.
Baptismal Certificates for non-Catholics – Baptized Christians who are not Catholic are to provide a copy of any record their church of baptism may have provided them. If your baptismal church did not provide you with a certificate and does not keep records you will be asked to provide a notarized letter from an individual who witnessed your baptism attesting to that fact.
If you have never been married the parish will provide you with a form to be signed by your parents or two other older relatives who have known you your entire life. These individuals will swear, via a notarized statement, that you have never been married before and have no impediments to marriage. In addition, your parish may publish in the bulletin the bans of your marriage.
If you have been married before and your spouse has died you will need to provide a copy of the individual’s death certificate.
If you have been married before and your spouse is living you will need to discuss with your priest/deacon the situation of the prior marriage. If you have received a declaration of invalidity of the marriage from a Catholic Tribunal he will ask you to provide a copy of the decree. If the marriage has not been declared invalid you are still married in the eyes of God and therefore not free to enter into a new marriage. Your priest/deacon will discuss with you the possibilities for resolving your dilemma through the Tribunal. Please be aware that the parish will be unable to schedule a wedding date as long as you are bound to the prior marriage.
Parental Permission – If you or your intended spouse is under eighteen years of age you will be required to obtain written permission from your parents for the wedding to take place
Civil Marriage License – Priests and deacons when presiding at weddings in the State of Florida also act as civil officials. Therefore, you will need to provide him with a copy of your civil marriage license as soon as possible. At the latest you should give it to the priest/deacon at the wedding rehearsal. If the priest/deacon is not going to act in the capacity of a civil official you will need to provide him with a copy of your marriage certificate to ensure that your marriage is recognized by the government of the United States of America.
True love is based upon knowledge of yourself and your intended spouse, if it is not, it remains mere infatuation and fantasy. You should understand their concrete expression, that is to say, you should understand your personality and the personality of your intended spouse. When you enter into marriage you and your intended spouse are bringing everything of who you are into the relationship. Nothing is left behind no matter how much you wish that it could be. It is helpful to take some time as you begin a new journey in life to assess who you and your intended spouse are, how you became the people you are, and what you are both bringing into this new partnership.
There is something very definite and final about putting things in writing. It forces us to deliberate, to choose words carefully, to say what we really mean. Writing one’s autobiography can be difficult, perhaps even painful at times, and takes a great deal of effort. It will be its own reward, however, because it will force you to discover your real self. It will help you to begin the discovery of your loved one. It will give you a glimpse through the doors to your future.
We suggest the following outline for your autobiography. Write the autobiography yourself and once complete share it with your intended spouse. When you have completed your life history, may we ask that you mark it “Confidential” and bring it to your parish priest/deacon who is preparing you for your marriage.
YOUR PARENTS: Describe the personalities of your parents; how they got along with each other as you grew up; how they treated you; showed affection; emotions; encouragement; allowed you to mature; exercised discipline. Describe your feelings toward each parent in childhood and now; your reaction to your schooling, education and upbringing.
YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS: Older, younger? Describe how you influenced one another and interacted with your parents, both growing up and now.
YOUR TEACHERS, EMPLOYERS, AND OTHER AUTHORITY FIGURES: Describe how they influenced you, helped or possibly even hindered in your formation and your reaction to their advice or criticism.
YOUR PEERS, FRIENDS AND CO-WORKERS: Describe your long lasting relationships; how you got along with others; your involvement in organizations or causes; your prejudices; your sensitivities; your ability to communicate; to express your feelings; your ability to trust.
YOURSELF: Describe your self-image (strengths, weaknesses); self-assertiveness; self-control; major interests; goals in life; health history; sense of responsibility; dependability; dependency; punctuality; neatness; use of money; use of your free time; manner of handling anger; rejection; failure; depression; fears; need for affection; emotional breakdowns; problems with alcohol; drug use; gambling; sex; legal problems. Describe your schooling, religious education and work record.
YOUR RELIGION: Briefly describe your beliefs, thoughts, feelings about God, Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Matrimony, prayer, your involvement in Church. Describe your understanding about what marriage is.
YOUR FIANCÉ’S PARENTS: Describe the personalities of his/her parents; how they got along with each other as he/she grew up; how they treated him/her; showed affection; emotions; encouragement; allowed him/her to mature; exercised discipline. Describe his/her feelings toward each parent in childhood and now; his/her reaction to their schooling, education and upbringing.
YOUR FIANCÉ’S BROTHERS AND SISTERS: Older, younger? Describe how they influenced one another and interacted with his/her parents, both growing up and now.
YOUR FIANCÉ’S TEACHERS, EMPLOYERS, AND OTHER AUTHORITY FIGURES: Describe how they influenced him/her, helped or possibly even hindered in their formation and his/her reaction to their advice or criticism.
YOUR FIANCÉ’S PEERS, FRIENDS AND CO-WORKERS: Describe his/her long lasting relationships; how they got along with others; their involvement in
organizations or causes; their prejudices; their sensitivities; their ability to communicate; to express their feelings; their ability to trust.
YOUR FIANCÉ: Describe his/her self-image (strengths, weaknesses); self-assertiveness; self-control; major interests; goals in life; health history; sense of responsibility; dependability; dependency; punctuality; neatness; use of money; use of his/her free time; manner of handling anger; rejection; failure; depression; fears; need for affection; emotional breakdowns; problems with alcohol; drug use; gambling; sex; legal problems. Describe his/her schooling, religious education and work record.
YOUR FIANCÉ’S RELIGION: Briefly describe his/her beliefs, thoughts, feelings about God, Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Matrimony, prayer, their involvement in Church. Describe his/her understanding about what marriage means to you.
YOUR COURTSHIP: Describe how you met; what attracted you to the other; when and how the subject of marriage came up; any pressures to marry; what you look for in marriage; the reaction of your parents and friends to your marriage. Any doubts; any separations or breakups; any signs of breakdown in communication? What you feel you have in common. How you compliment one another.
YOUR FUTURE LIFE TOGETHER: Describe your awareness of and acceptance of each other’s shortcomings relative to your marital obligations. How do you intend to resolve your differences? Describe each other’s intentions concerning children. Do you plan to work, have a large family, etc.? Describe your intentions concerning your family’s religious and secular education. Do either of you plan to pursue a career? Describe your awareness of any problems which might arise concerning your work and your relationship to your spouse and intended family. Any in-law problems? Briefly describe what you expect from marriage.
5. Natural Family Planning
Couples seeking to be married within the Diocese of St. Augustine are required to be instructed in a method of natural family planning approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman's cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy. NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife. NFP is not the Rhythm Method. More information is available at www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/index.shtml
Registration for NFP classes is available through the Diocesan Family Life Office www.dcfl.org
6. Marriage Instruction
Take FOCCUS or another inventory tool: FOCCUS is an acronym for "Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding, and Study." It is an inventory of questions that an engaged couple takes to help identify and address issues that may need to be worked through prior to marriage. It is not a compatibility test or a predictor of marital success. It is simply a tool designed to strengthen your relationship by promoting discussion about important aspects of married life. You may register for FOCCUS at www.dcfl.org
Attend a Marriage Preparation Course: There are two primary marriage preparation courses in the Diocese of Saint Augustine: Pre Cana and Engaged Encounter. These courses differ in format, but each is designed to help engaged couples grow in their understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage by covering such topics as sexuality, family, and their role in the Church. More information on these programs is available at www.dcfl.org
Sponsor Couple: Your parish may ask that instead of or in addition to a marriage preparation course that have some meetings with a married couple. This couple will share their experiences with you and help you develop your own relationship
Individual Sessions with your Priest/Deacon: The number of these sessions and their content are determined by the priest/deacon who is preparing you for your marriage. At one of these sessions the actual wedding ceremony will be discussed.
1. Cohabitation/Living Together Before Marriage
“Cohabitation” is commonly referred to as “living together.” It describes the relationship of a man and woman who are sexually active and share a household, though they are not married.
The Church is particularly concerned about cohabitation because the practice is so common today and because, in the long run, it is causing great unhappiness for families in the Church. This is true, above all, because – even though society may approve of the practice – cohabitation simply cannot be squared with God’s plan for marriage. This may be why most couples who live together before marriage find married life difficult to sustain.
The Church does not invent laws. It passes on and interprets what God has revealed through the ages. No one in the Church has the right to change what Jesus has taught. To do so would be to deprive people of saving truths that were meant for all time. Our Christian faith teaches that a sexual relationship belongs only in marriage. Sex outside of marriage shows disrespect for the sacrament of marriage, the sacredness of sex, and human dignity.
Your engagement is meant to be a time of grace and growth in preparing for your marriage. We urge all engaged couples who are living together to separate. All Catholics should seek to be reconciled with God and the Church by going to confession and by going to Mass and Holy Communion regularly.
Living chastely during your remaining months of engagement will teach you many things about one another. It will help you to grow in the virtues of generous love, sacrificial giving, self-restraint and good communication – virtues which are essential for a good and lasting marriage.
We are sure that you have questions regarding this teaching and more information is available at: http://www.pacatholic.org/bishops-statements/living-together
2. Pre-Marital Pregnancy
In and of itself, a pregnancy will not determine whether to proceed or delay a proposed marriage. However, a pregnancy can curtail the freedom on an individual to choose marriage. Are you choosing to marry because you want to form a partnership of the whole of life till death do you part with your intended spouse or are you wanting to give your child a name and avoid questions being asked by the community? You should marry for the former not the latter. To marry someone who you do not love and do not want to be with for your entire life in the Church is to lie before God and will strain your marital relationship.
If your decision to marry was made prior to your pregnancy your marital plans may continue without interruption.
If your decision to marry had not been made prior to the pregnancy the priest/deacon of your parish will encourage you to delay your wedding until after the birth of the child in order that you will not make a rash decision. We want to ensure that you are freely choosing to marry your intended spouse and not being pressured by circumstances into a marriage you are not sure you are ready for.
If either person is under the age of 20, a church marriage in the Diocese of St. Augustine may not take place until after the birth of the child. Permission to marry in this situation must be obtained from the bishop or his delegate. A letter which fully explains the circumstances for the request must accompany the request from the priest/deacon responsible for the couple’s preparation.
Even if you are pregnant you will be required to complete the entire marital preparation process like everyone else who is seeking to marry.
3. Pre-Nuptial Agreements
A pre-nuptial agreement can be defined as an agreement made before marriage to resolve issues surrounding the division of property and support if the marriage ends in death or divorce.
One of the essential properties of marriage is indissolubility. Marriage is “till death do us part.” In order to have a valid marriage the bride and groom must intend by a positive act of their will a marriage that lasts untill the end of life. Having a pre-nuptial agreement can call this intention into question and invalidate the marriage.
When marrying each spouse is to completely trust the other and give everything to the other. Entering into a marriage by stating certain things are mine and certain things are yours already demonstrates a lack of trust in one another. This lack of trust is already sowing the seeds for a troubled marriage and eventual divorce.
If you are planning on signing a pre-nuptial agreement inform the priest/deacon preparing you for the sacrament. Let him have a copy of the agreement and explain your reasons for having it. He will discuss the situation with you and do what he can to help ensure that you will enter a valid and life long marriage.
It is common in Florida for intended spouses to be widowed with children and grandchildren. You each have a sizeable estate that you want to leave to them once you die. Therefore, you decide you do not want to combine these assets when you marry. You sign a pre-nuptial agreement that states in the event of the death of one of the spouses (without mentioning divorce) their prior assets will be passed to your children instead of to your spouse. This decision does not call into question your intention regarding a marriage for the whole of life and therefore is acceptable. However, the same results can be accomplished through estate planning.
4. Mixed Marriages/Marriages between a Catholic and non-Catholic
Like most religious traditions, the Catholic Church encourages Catholics to marry another Catholic. This is because the family is the Domestic Church. It is the first school of Christian life. In the bosom of the family parents are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. The family is the first school of Christian life.
Differences about faith, the notion of marriage, and other religious sensibilities, especially worship and the education of children can become sources of tension between husband and wife bringing disunity into the Domestic Church. This disunity has the ability to tear at the heart of the union between the spouses or lead to religious indifference.
For this reason the Catholic Church discourages the contracting of mixed marriages. The Church desires that Catholics “be able to in matrimony attain to perfect union of mind and full communion of life.” (Matrimonia Mixta, 1970)
However, since people have the natural right to marry the person of the opposite sex whom they choose, the Catholic Church allows Catholics to request “permission” to marry a baptized person who is not Catholic or a “dispensation” to marry an un-baptized person.
This request is made through the priest/deacon who is preparing you for marriage.
Our relationship with God is at the core of who we are. We do not want anything to endanger our relationship with Him. Therefore, when asking permission to marry a non-Catholic the Catholic party will be reminded of the importance of their faith. They will be asked to reaffirm their Catholic faith and promise God that they will do everything to preserve and live it. Furthermore, the Catholic must also promise God that they will, as far as possible, do all in their power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic faith in order that they may receive all the aids to eternal salvation which the Catholic Church provides for her children.
The non-Catholic party must be informed of these promises which the Catholic party has to make, so that it is clear that he/she is cognizant of the promise and obligation on the part of the Catholic. The non-Catholic does not have to agree with the promise nor does the non-Catholic have to convert or promise anything. However, if the non-Catholic has serious difficulties with the Catholic making this promise there is already a major disunity in the relationship and extra marital preparation will be necessary.
Catholics are expected to have their marriage in a Catholic Church with a Catholic priest/deacon asking for and receiving the exchange of consent. As your future spouse cannot receive the Eucharist, Holy Communion, it is customary to have the wedding outside the celebration of the Mass.
For a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic it is possible to request permission to be married within the church of your intended spouse by their pastor. You will still need to complete the Catholic preparation program. It is also possible to have your minister be a part of your wedding within the Catholic Church. The priest/deacon preparing you for the marriage can provide more information in this regard. As sacraments take place in churches it is rare for permission to be granted in order to have the wedding take place at the beach, hotel, etc.
By definition a sacrament is for the baptized. Therefore, to receive the “sacrament” of matrimony you must have two baptized individuals. A marriage between a baptized individual and an un-baptized individual is a natural law marriage but not a sacrament. Therefore, if you are Catholic and marrying an un-baptized individual you may ask permission to have the marriage take place in any location.
5. Place of Marriage
Your marriage is a very significant emotional and spiritual event. It is also an event of great importance to the entire Christian community. Through the exchange of vows between the groom and bride Christ acts and provides a sign and means to express and strengthen the faith of all present, sanctifies humanity, strengthens ecclesiastical communion and renders worship to the Father. It is a very sacred action. As such the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony is to take place in a sacred worship space.
For a marriage between two Catholics the marriage is to take place in a Catholic Church or chapel. Within the Diocese of Saint Augustine outdoor weddings are not permitted between Catholics unless they take place on the sacred grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine.
For a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic it is possible to request permission to be married within the church of your intended spouse by their pastor. You will still need to complete our marriage preparation program. Even though your baptized fiancé is not Catholic they are a member of the body of Christ and you will be receiving the sacrament of matrimony together. As sacraments take place in sacred spaces set aside for worship it is rare for permission to be granted in order to have the wedding take place at the beach, hotel, etc.
By definition a sacrament is for the baptized. Therefore, to receive the “sacrament” of matrimony you must have two baptized individuals. A marriage between a baptized individual and an un-baptized individual is a natural law marriage but not a sacrament. Therefore, if you are Catholic and marrying an un-baptized individual you may ask permission to have the marriage take place in a non-sacred space.
6. I am Catholic but did not get married in the Church, what do I do?
As you are now aware, Catholics are required to be married in front of a Catholic priest/deacon or have permission to marry in some other way. If a Catholic individual should get married outside the visible structure of the Church without permission the marriage is invalid. The Catholic is living with a person who is in fact not their spouse and is presumed to be in sin making them unable to receive the Eucharist, Holy Communion.
We are glad that you want to remove this sin and come back to the sacraments. In order for this to happen please contact your local priest/deacon.
As you are in fact not married you will ordinarily be required to complete the marriage preparation process required for all couples and marry within the Catholic Church. If you have been civilly married for a significant period of time the priest/deacon has the discretion to adjust the marriage preparation process to suit your particular situation.
As this ceremony will be your actual wedding consider long and hard what you are doing. This wedding ceremony will not miraculously fix any difficulties in your relationship. If you are having any marital problems these should be addressed and resolved before you move forward with the wedding.
Normally a wedding of this type takes place after the Catholic parties have been provided with the opportunity to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The wedding takes place with no pomp and pageantry and is small usually consisting of the priest/deacon, couple, two witnesses and a very small handful of people.
For the Holy Family marriage check list, please click here.