(Editor’s note: Following is the next installment of the Herald’s monthly series on the 15th anniversary of the Diocese of Colorado Springs’ Office of Marriage and Family Life.)
COLORADO SPRINGS. When Catholic couples discover years or decades after being married civilly that their marriage is not considered to be valid by the Church, it can come as a surprise and leave them wondering what steps to take. Fortunately, the Diocese of Colorado Springs is equipped to help such couples enter into a valid Catholic marriage so that they can live a complete sacramental life.
“It’s obvious that most couples don’t know that they can get married in the Catholic Church or how to start and who to contact,” said Christian Meert, who along with his wife Christine directs the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. “The Church has to inform these couples and let them know how to contact a priest or deacon who will listen to their situation and guide them in the right direction.”
Convalidation is sometimes described as having a civil marriage “blessed,” but that is not an accurate description, Meert said.
“Convalidation is not a blessing of an existing situation; it’s marriage in the Catholic Church,” Meert said. “One of the main reasons why couples want to get married in the Catholic Church when they have been in an ‘irregular’ situation is that they can practice the sacraments again, especially the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.
There are a variety of factors that can lead a couple to get married civilly instead of in the Catholic Church. One of the most common reasons is that one of them is not Catholic. Dave and Val were one such couple.
“At the time, Dave was not Catholic,” Val said. “We did discuss my desire to be married in the Catholic Church, however he had solid reservations about becoming Catholic solely for us to be married in the Church, so we got married civilly. We didn’t know then that Dave didn’t have to be Catholic to get married in the Church.”
Another such couple was Don and Janice.
“It didn’t even cross our mind to get married in the Catholic Church; Don wasn’t Catholic then,” Janice recalled. “Several years after our marriage by an Episcopalian priest, Don went through RCIA and entered the Catholic Church. We realized that we had to get married in the Church, and deep in our hearts that’s what we wanted.”
Military deployments that create a time crunch are another common factor in the decision to forego a Catholic wedding. That was the case for Richard and Steph.
“I received my deployment order and we didn’t have enough time to do the full marriage prepartion on base, so we got married as soon as possible by a justice of the peace,” said Richard.
It was when they were preparing for the baptism of their first child that the couple’s pastor explained that their marriage was not valid in the eyes of the Church. So Richard and Steph went through the Diocese of Colorado Springs’ marriage preparation program.
“I felt this marriage preparation was really helpful and informative,” Richard said. “I look forward to our Catholic marriage. The class motivated me to want to learn more, to strengthen my relationship with Christ, and make more time for prayer.”
Stephanie Rapp, Director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, said that the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly impact the number of convalidations taking place in the future.
“We anticipate more convalidations in the near future due to the delaying of wedding ceremonies during the pandemic,” she said. “We have been discussing how to best support parishes through this as well as reach out to couples to ensure it’s a priority.”
Meert said that it’s important for the Catholic Church to disseminate information and resources on the sacrament of matrimony and convalidation.
“In 2019, Holy Apostles Parish in Colorado Springs launched an awareness campaign for marriage and convalidations that bore beautiful fruit,” Meert said. “Unfortunately, it had to stop because of the pandemic, but we hope to expand this campaign to the whole diocese as soon as possible.”
The following article, which appeared in the Oct. 4, 2019, issue of the Herald, contains more information about convalidation: https://www.diocs.org/Herald/Article/ArticleID/1072. Or contact Meert at firstname.lastname@example.org.