Please read St. Francis of Assisi's Marriage Policy for more information. Marriage preparation must begin at least six months prior to the anticipated date of marriage.
Please contact the Director of Faith Formation to arrange your initial meeting.
Students: Marriage preparation may begin here even though the marriage may be held elsewhere.
About the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
"Giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father: Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ. Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ: so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: That he might present it to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: Because we are members of him, body, of his flesh and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother: and shall cleave to his wife. And they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament: but I speak in Christ and in the church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular love for his wife as himself: And let the wife fear her husband." - Ephesians 5:20-33
First, what is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony? What does this Sacrament do?
Marriage was instituted by God Himself in the Garden of Eden and restored to such -- raised to the dignity of a Sacrament -- by Jesus Christ in the New Covenant. The Sacrament's external sign is the freely entered into contract made between a validly baptized man and validly baptized woman who intend to form a marriage and who have no impediments to marriage (or who have any required dispensations if an impediment exists). Like Holy Orders, once the Sacrament is received, it cannot be set aside; a valid sacramental marriage lasts until the death of one of the spouses.
The matter of the Sacrament is the mutual, freely-given consent of the man and woman before a priest and two witnesses. The man and woman are the actual ministers of the Sacrament, and the fruits of the Sacrament are the graces needed to raise a family and live up to the marital vows.
This must be made clear: the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, most especially educating them to know, love, and serve God; its secondary purposes are unitive, "mutual society and help, and a lawful remedy for concupiscence" (Catholic Encyclopedia). Marriage grants to each partner the right to the spouse's body; the obligation this creates on the part of each is called the "marital debt." I Corinthians 7:1-4:
Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife: and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render the debt to his wife: and the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body: but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body: but the wife.
If both spouses mutually agree to not exercise their marital rights, theirs is said to be a "Josephite marriage" akin to the marriage of Mary and Joseph, but if the marital rights are exercised, the marital act must be open to life. Artificial birth control and contraception are strictly forbidden, though birth control through the use of "Natural Family Planning" (often abbreviated as "N.F.P.") or other similar methods that take advantage of natural periods of sterility may be used in certain circumstances. For a fuller view of Christian marriage, see Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii and Pope Leo XIII's Arcanum. For more explicit teachings on N.F.P., see Pope Pius XII's Address to Midwives, especially the sub-section "Birth Control."
Impediments to a sacramental marriage are of two types: diriment impediments, which render an alleged marriage null and void or make a potential marriage impossible, and prohibitory impediments, which don't affect validity but liceity (i.e., its strict accordance with Canon Law) and require a dispensation first.
Diriment impediments include: the inability to freely consent; blood relationship to the fourth degree collaterally, or in any degree in the direct line; relationship by adoption if the relationship is to the second degree collaterally, or in any degree in the direct line; spiritual relationship, such as that between godparents and godchildren; a solemn vow of chastity; impotence (not sterility) that is known and not revealed; having been a party in a marriage contract that was not ended by death or found to be invalid with a declaration of nullity (an "annulment") or dissolved by the Petrine or Pauline Privileges (see below); having received Holy Orders; not having reached the age of 14 (women) or 16 (men); if either of the couple is not baptized. If one of these impediments exist, a marriage can almost never take place (only in very, very rare cases are dispensations given to a couple who have affinity in the first degree of the direct line).
Prohibitory impediments include: betrothal to another (i.e., pledge of marriage to another); a simple vow of chastity; if one party is baptized but belongs to a schismatic or heretical sect; lack of parental consent in the case of minors. If one of these impediments exist, a marriage would still be valid, but a dispensation must be gotten in order for the marriage to be licit.
If any of these impediments exist, the couple is bound to declare them.
If a Catholic gets a dispensation to marry someone who is baptized but belongs to a schismatic or heretical sect, they are said to enter into a "mixed marriage." Despite the fact that mixed marriages are not, in themselves, true vocations and are inherently flawed, the Church sometimes does grant a dispensation to such a couple for
the same reason that a prudent mother would prefer to see a wayward daughter do a bad thing than a worse thing. What parent would not prefer to see a child sick than dead? There is some hope for the life of a man hanging over a precipice and clinging even to a handful of grass, but there is no hope when his brains are dashed out on the rocks beneath. When persons have fully made up their minds to enter mixed marriage, they are so blinded by their passions and preferences that, if the Church should not tolerate their step, many of them would marry out of the Church, and thus commit mortal sin, and in most cases incur excommunication. The only difference, then, is this: There is at least a possible hope of salvation when mixed marriages are tolerated by the Church; whereas, if these persons should die in their rebellion against the Church, their damnation would be certain. The Church, like a prudent mother, would prefer the less of these two evils. ("Vocations Explained: Matrimony, Virginity, The Religious State, and the Priesthood," Benziger Brothers, 1897).
Traditionally the Church requires three conditions for the issuing of a dispensation for a mixed marriage:
The 1983 Code of Canon Law, though, gives the three conditions as: the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church; the other party is to be informed in good time of these promises to be made by the Catholic party, so that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and of the obligation of the Catholic party; both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either contractant.
In any case, mixed marriages are frowned upon very harshly (or should be, anyway) and pose extreme dangers to the peace and very purpose of family life. Catholics should "marry Catholic"! This cannot be stressed enough! If a man and woman are not together on the very fundamentals of life -- the nature of God and Church, the very purpose of life, the things they are duty-bound to teach their children -- they will struggle and their children will suffer from that struggle and from the religious indifference which would undoubtedly ensue. The family culture will be in shambles, and that which should be most deeply shared won't be shared at all. Paragraphs 81-83 of Casti Connubii read:
81. This religious character of marriage, its sublime signification of grace and the union between Christ and the Church, evidently requires that those about to marry should show a holy reverence towards it, and zealously endeavor to make their marriage approach as nearly as possible to the archetype of Christ and the Church.
82. They, therefore, who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriages, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuades her children for very sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation. This attitude of the Church to mixed marriages appears in many of her documents, all of which are summed up in the Code of Canon Law: "Everywhere and with the greatest strictness the Church forbids marriages between baptized persons, one of whom is a Catholic and the other a member of a schismatical or heretical sect; and if there is, add to this, the danger of the falling away of the Catholic party and the perversion of the children, such a marriage is forbidden also by the divine law." If the Church occasionally on account of circumstances does not refuse to grant a dispensation from these strict laws (provided that the divine law remains intact and the dangers above mentioned are provided against by suitable safeguards), it is unlikely that the Catholic party will not suffer some detriment from such a marriage.
83. Whence it comes about not unfrequently, as experience shows, that deplorable defections from religion occur among the offspring, or at least a headlong descent into that religious indifference which is closely allied to impiety. There is this also to be considered that in these mixed marriages it becomes much more difficult to imitate by a lively conformity of spirit the mystery of which We have spoken, namely that close union between Christ and His Church.
For another Encyclical that deals explicitly with mixed marriages, see Pope Gregory XVI's "Summo Iugiter Studio," published in 1832. If you are a Catholic woman toying with the idea of marrying a non-Catholic man, please read this extremely important article that shows the astonishing results of a study to determine the influence of fathers on children's religiosity: The Truth About Men and Church.
Marriages that take place between two unbaptized people or between a baptized and an unbaptized person are said to be non-sacramental "natural marriages" which do not bring forth sanctifying grace. Once one issacramentally married, it is for life, but merely natural marriages, which are in and of themselves good, can sometimes be dissolved with what is known as the "Pauline Privilege" or the "Petrine Privilege."
The Pauline Privilege
The Pauline Privilege is exercised when: both parties are unbaptized at the time of marriage, one of the parties becomes baptized, and the unbaptized party leaves. This sort of case, which is handled by the local Bishop, is outlined in I Corinthians 7:10-15:
But to them that are married [i.e., those who are sacramentally married], not I, but the Lord, commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife.
For to the rest [i.e., those who are in merely natural marriages] I speak, not the Lord. If any brother hath a wife that believeth not and she consent to dwell with him: let him not put her away. And if any woman hath a husband that believeth not and he consent to dwell with her: let her not put away her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife: and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband. Otherwise your children should be unclean: but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases. But God hath called us in peace.
The Petrine Privilege
The Petrine Privilege is exercised when: one of the parties was unbaptized at the time of the marriage, they separate without the baptized party being at fault (or plan to separate and the unbaptized party refuses Baptism and will not live peaceably with the baptized party), and the baptized party now wants to marry a Catholic (see I Esdras 10-14). Unlike the Pauline Privilege which is handled by the local Bishop, this sort of case is sent to Rome to be adjudicated by the Pope himself.
Note that the exercise of the Petrine or Pauline Privileges is not a declaration of nullity (an "annulment"). A declaration of nullity is the finding that a marriage was merely putative and never existed at all; the Petrine and Pauline Privileges dissolve non-sacramental natural marriages. Truly sacramental marriages -- marriages joined together by God Himself -- that are ratified and consummated can be dissolved by no one. Matthew 19:3-9:
And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication [Greek: porneia], and shall marry another, committeth adultery [Greek: moicheia]: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery [Greek: moicheia].
In any case, if you are entering the Church now and are already married, talk with your priest as to the nature of your marriage. If both you and your spouse are baptized and have never been married before, there should be no problem in having your marriage blessed. Refrain from the Sacraments until you are sure about the status of your marriage.
If the couple are both baptized and in a state of grace (couples should make a general confession and receive Communion as soon before marriage as possible), and none of the impediments listed above exist (or a dispensation has been gotten), the first thing to do is to announce your betrothal to your priest, who will then publish the "banns of marriage." The banns are a public announcement of the upcoming marriage so that any impediments can be discovered. This "publication" is usually made on three consecutive Holy Days (including Sundays), during the Mass itself (before or after the sermon) and/or in the parish bulletin (for good reason, sometimes the banns may be dispensed with). Then you will obey the civil laws of the State in which you live by getting the proper blood tests, licenses, etc.
As far as wonderfully girly wedding plans go, I will note here that the bride's dress (and bridesmaids' dresses) must conform to the same rules of modesty and decorum that apply any time a woman enters a church, i.e., her head must be covered, the dress must cover the knees when standing or sitting, the neckline should be modest, etc. No spaghetti strap, totally sleeveless, backless, side-split, mini-length, plunging neckline, sassy little Vera Wang numbers allowed. Of all the days of her life, the last day a woman should want to present herself to the world as sex object is the day she gives herself totally to her husband in marriage. (Note that for a second marriage, or for the marriage of a couple that has lived together in sin and repented, the wedding festivities should be a tad subdued; allusions to virginity, such as the bride wearing white, should be avoided.)
Music is handled differently at Catholic weddings, too. No "Sunrise, Sunset," no Celine Dion tunes -- quite possibly, not even Wagner's or Mendelssohn's Wedding Marches. Save "Unchained Melody" for your first dance at the reception and "At Last" for the cake-cutting; music during the wedding itself must be sacred.
As to the Rite of Marriage itself, it can be offered with or without a Mass and Nuptial Blessing (traditionally, the Nuptial Mass and Blessing are only offered when the bride and groom are both Catholic, not in the case of mixed marriages). If the couple wants a Mass and Nuptial Blessing, the form of the Mass will depend on the day of the wedding. The default Mass offered is the Nuptial Mass (color white) -- but this Mass may not be said on: Sundays; on Holy Days of Obligation; on Feasts of the 1st or 2nd Class; on Ash Wednesday; during Holy Week; on All Souls Day; on the Vigils of Christmas or Epiphany or Pentecost; or within the within the octaves of the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi. If a wedding takes place on any of the above days and a Mass is desired, that day's Mass is said (and the color will be of the Mass of that day) instead of the Nuptial Mass, but the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion prayers from the Nuptial Mass are added to it along with a prayer for the couple after the Pater Noster, and a blessing for the couple.