COLORADO SPRINGS. In the Catholic Church, marriage is much more than a legal document — it is a sacrament that is the image of Christ’s loving union with his Church. The grace of the sacrament strengthens the indissoluble unity of the marriage and helps the couple attain holiness.
Baptized Catholics who marry outside the Church often find out that their marriage is not considered to be valid, meaning that they must refrain from receiving the Eucharist. However, a new initiative taking shape in the Metro North Deanery aims to help those in invalid, or “irregular” marriages, receive the sacrament of matrimony and resume reception of the other sacraments through a process called convalidation.
“Couples are sometimes misled into thinking that convalidation means that their civil marriage will be made valid through a mere blessing or liturgical rite,” said Father Sean McCann, JCL, who serves as Defender of the Bond for the Diocese of Colorado Springs’ Tribunal. “This is not accurate. A merely civil attempt at marriage for a Catholic couple is not a valid marriage before God or the Church.”
“When two baptized Catholics, who have previously attempted a merely civil marriage, exchange marital consent again in a Catholic ceremony before their pastor or another duly appointed priest or deacon, they enter then and there into true marriage,” Father McCann said. “It is important to realize that a convalidation is not merely a renewal of consent made previously but is a new act of consent by each spouse.”
“This is why two Catholics who have civilly attempted marriage and lived together for 10, 15, maybe even 20 years as husband and wife are required to go through the marriage preparation process,” he said.
“These Catholic couples who find themselves in such a situation might well have knowledge about what it means to be a married couple, especially on the happenings of day-to-day life. However, such couples still need to take time to learn about what the Church teaches regarding the nature of marriage as willed by the Creator and in its being a sacrament between two baptized persons,” Father McCann said.
An information session on convalidation will take place Oct. 18 from 6-8 p.m. at Holy Apostles Church. For those who might require a declaration of nullity, staff from the diocesan tribunal will be on hand to answer questions and offer assistance. Free child care will be offered. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many reasons why a couple might not get married in the Catholic Church, said Christian Meert, who directs the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life along with his wife Christine. The Meerts have also developed their own marriage preparation program, CatholicMarriagePrep.com, and have worked with thousands of engaged couples.
If one party is not Catholic or has no faith, that will often be viewed by couples as an obstacle to getting married in the Catholic Church, and this is not true, he said. Couples where one person is in the military and facing a deployment may also decide to get married civilly and plan a Catholic wedding at a later date, Meert said.
Immigration-related issues can also lead a couple to opt for a civil wedding, he said, because it may allow one of the parties to enter the country.
There are also couples who anticipate that a diocesan tribunal will issue a declaration of nullity relating to a previous marriage and decide to have a civil wedding first.
Often times, it is the desire to have their child baptized that causes a couple to realize that their marriage is not valid, Meert said. Or a spouse that was not Catholic at the time of the wedding decides to enter the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA), and convalidation is necessary for the person to receive the sacraments.
Following the information session in October, couples who are ready to begin the convalidation process will be guided through a marriage preparation session, either live or online; a class in natural family planning; completion of paperwork and other steps.
The goal is to offer the Rite of Matrimony for couples in Spring of 2020, before Easter.
“A part of being Catholic is always challenging oneself to learn more about our faith,” Father McCann said. “As Catholics, we also must be active in the sacramental life of the Church, ever imploring God for the graces we need to be happy, healthy, and holy in this life and the next. Catholics who have attempted to marry civilly need to see this as an opportunity to learn everything they can about the sacrament of matrimony which they are about to enter. God is ready to walk with them and given them the graces they need.”
“Many Catholics have not been well-educated on this, and the Church understands that it may be confusing,” said Father Jim Baron, pastor of Holy Apostles Parish. “That is why pastors are dedicated to helping couples in these situations.”