FAQ for Marriage


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 also for the community as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between to baptized persons is a sacrament. The Old Testament prophets saw that marriage of a man and a woman as a symbol of the covenant relations 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.

Do Catholics ever validly enter into non-sacramental marriages?

Yes.  Marriages between Catholics and non-Christians, while they may still be valid in the eyes of the Church, are non-sacramental.  With permission, a priest or deacon may witness such marriages.

What are the differences between a valid and invalid Catholic marriage?

Just as individual states have certain 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:

  • The spouses are free to marry;
  • They freely exchange their consent;
  • In consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; and
  • Their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.

Church authority must approve exceptions to the last requirement.

If a Catholic wants to marry a non-Catholic, how can they assure that the Church recognizes their marriage?

In addition to meeting the criteria for a valid Catholic marriage, the Catholic must seek permission from the local Bishop to marry a non-Catholic.  If the person is a non-Catholic Christian, this permission is called a “permission to enter into a mixed marriage.”  If the person is a non-Christian, the permission is called a “dispensation from disparity of cult.”  Those helping to prepare the couple for marriage can assist with the permission process.

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

For Catholics, marriage is more than 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 the Catholic Church, how can he/she be sure that the Catholic Church recognizes the marriage as valid?

The local Bishop can permit a wedding in another church, or in another suitable place, for a sufficient reason.  For example, a Catholic seeks to marry a Baptist whose father is the pastor of the local 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.”

If two Catholics or a Catholic and a non-Catholic are married invalidly in the eyes of the Church, what should they do about it?

They should approach their pastor to try to resolve the situation.

When a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, must the non-Catholic promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith?

The non-Catholic spouse does not have to promise to have the children raised Catholic.  The Catholic spouse must promise to do all that he or she can to have the children baptized and raised in the Catholic faith.

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

A Nuptial Mass is a Mass with 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 since the general law of the church does not allow it.  In such instances, it is better to use the appropriate ritual for marriage outside Mass.  This is always the case in a marriage between a baptized Catholic and a non-baptized person.

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 assisting couples to deal with the challenges of the early years of marriage.  For more information, and for the current year's dates, please click here to go to the Diocese of Toledo's Marriage Preparation page.

What key issues are covered in marriage preparation?

Marriage preparation programs help couples to understand the Christian and the human aspects of marriage.  Typical topics include: the meaning of marriage as a sacrament; faith, prayer and the church; roles in marriage; communication and conflict resolution; children, parenthood and Natural Family Planning; and finances.