A Guide To Catholic Marriage Requirements

February 1, 2022

A Catholic wedding ceremony differs in many ways from a typical wedding. For couples embarking on this beautiful, sacred journey together, it is imperative to be well-versed in the traditions and rules specific to a religious ceremony of this kind.

Unlike most other weddings, Catholic weddings may require a long period of pre-marriage counseling with a priest, particular documents to be made, and even attendance in certain church events.

You may think a month or even a few months is enough for standard Catholic marriage preparations, but many churches have a considerable waiting period of up to several months!

Therefore, inform the church of your impending nuptials at least 9 months in advance, so the priest has time to book pre-marriage counseling sessions with you and your fiancé. Know that these steps apply even if your to-be spouse does not belong to the Catholic faith.

Here below we'll show you what Catholic marriage requirements do you need for your church wedding.

catholic marriage requirement church view inside
Photographer: @davidbastianoni

The Wedding Takes Place In Church

A Catholic marriage ceremony has to occur indoors in the church in most cases. The ceremony is unique and sacred, and the couple must feel close to God, so it is not preferred for the ceremony to be held anywhere else, like by the beach or in a vineyard.

If you love outdoor venues for weddings, you’ll have to skip that in favor of a quiet albeit blessed church wedding. Also, remember that Catholic ceremonies do not have custom vows written by the bride and groom, but the priest will recite vows, and the couple repeats them.

The Interview & Investigation

An initial interview can clear up many logistical aspects of your wedding, such as listing the documents needed, how to book counseling, how to book the church for the wedding date, and so forth.

The priest who will act as an officiant at your wedding needs to be near you location-wise; otherwise, you may find booking problems. In many cases, the priest carrying out the pre-marriage counseling may not officiate and may appoint another officiant due to unavailability.

An investigation on the part of the church may accompany or come immediately after the canonical interview. This investigation is vital in the church's eyes because its purpose is to ascertain how ready you and your spouse are for marriage. Divorce is still frowned upon!

The couple must understand the four main pillars of a Catholic union, namely the marriage’s permanence, exclusivity, openness to offspring, and both parties entering the union without reservations or objections.

Bear in mind that particular churches have reservations about remarriages or conducting a ceremony for an individual who has been married before and their previous spouse is still living. Affidavits will be signed, so the church's process is quite formal and documented to ensure complete transparency.

catholic marriage requirements benches inside the church
Photographer: @davidbastianoni

What are the documents and requirements for a valid Catholic wedding?

Documents can vary slightly across churches, so make a point of inquiring about the exact documents you will need to submit and, in some cases, acquire to book your ceremony at your parish.

⮚   Baptismal and confirmation certificates.

Submit certificates from the church where your baptism occurred (this will not apply to a non-Catholic spouse, and there is no pressure to convert). Confirmation certificates confirm the baptism and need to be dated within the last 6 months. Some churches may require submission right away when you interview, and some may wait until a couple of months before the ceremony, but it is better to have them prepared and ready to go from the offset.

⮚   A marriage license

A civil marriage license obtained from your municipality is typically needed. The license needs to be valid for at least 4 months.

⮚   The affidavit of being free to marry is both a legal and a catholic marriage requirement.

It serves as evidence of your marriage and proof you or your spouse are not secretly married to another individual. It is usually referred to as a replacement marriage certificate as it proves a wedding took place in the legal world.

⮚   Marriage preparation course completion.

The bride and groom need to attend marriage preparation courses (also known as Pre-Cana). A certificate of attendance and completion is a vital document you need to present. This may even be done online in some cases if the couple is based abroad but want to return and be married from their local parish.

⮚   Marriage Banns Forms.

Every church does not require this, but ‘banns’ are declarations carried out on 3 successive Sundays in the church in the presence of a congregation to announce the impending nuptials. Traditionally it provides ample opportunity for new information to come forward or raise objections if there are any.

catholic marriage book in a bookrest and flowers
Photographer: @davidbastianoni

Related: The 7 Best Catholic Italian Destinations for your Wedding

A Guide To Pre-Cana

Pre-Cana is a meaningful and crucial part of Catholic marriage and is always required. It can take the form of classes or a course, but it can also be a series of consultations.

The term Cana comes from the Bible regarding the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus changed water to wine. Most pre-Cana courses have some core topics and discussions that your priest may choose. The format of Pre-Cana can also vary according to your priest. Still, the primary purpose is to encourage conversations that are considered vital to the spirit of marriage and provide valuable Catholic teachings the couple may or may not know.

The Pre-Cana may be the first time a couple is getting training in having a shared perspective or reaching an agreement on issues such as the faith or upbringing of any children in the future. If your spouse is not Catholic, the pre-Cana attendance can also be a kind of primer course for them to learn some of the beliefs you hold dear. Even topics like intimacy or financial management may be discussed in this course because marriage is made up of many practical decisions and not just romance and love.

Visit your church to know the format they prefer for Pre-Cana. It can even be a weekend retreat you share with several other couples, a series of weekly consultations your priest schedules, or even an online course you are tested on. Know that pre-Cana is the name given to the accumulated knowledge you acquire from a priest or deacon to prepare you for your upcoming marriage.

The pre-Cana may also bring to light psychological issues that you or your spouse may be repressing or suffering from, so the course may include sessions with a psychologist, but that doesn’t happen in every case. If you are a younger couple, you may have the opportunity to be taken under the tutelage of what is known as a mentor couple, just to help you make the most of the course.

bride and groom in the church garden
Photographer: @evalindouglass

Is a Catholic Marriage Certificate a Legal Document?

While laws vary from country to country, generally, it is a sacramental document that needs to be attested and verified by the relevant civil authorities. However, it does offer proof of marriage. Therefore, in some countries, it is common for a civil official to be present at the ceremony so that the couple can sign those legal documents first and then proceed.

What You Can Wear

You are better off straying from a strapless number towards a more modest cut in your wedding gown for a church wedding. You can also wear a shawl or wedding cape to cover your shoulders as that is fashionable, especially if the fabric complements your wedding dress design. Generally, gowns that are deep V-necks or deep back cuts are frowned upon, so opt for a more classic and chic style that is both modest and stylish.

catholic wedding requirements ceremony in the church
Photographer: @davidbastianoni

Music, Pictures, And Cheer

Everyone has to be quite solemn in the church so even though it’s your wedding you probably won’t be able to play loud music or shout a lot. Leave the ‘shouting from the rooftops’ part for when the ceremony is over! There may be a choir in the church to add melody to the proceedings or an organist, but you definitely cannot have a DJ there or your favorite playlist of show tunes.

Remember, if you wish to sing a song yourself or a family member wants to sing one for the congregation, you need to have the express permission of the priest who is officiating (even for religious songs or hymns).

If you’ve hired a photographer you may have to ask them to take a bit of a backseat as a Catholic marriage ceremony must not resemble a photoshoot, and everyone must observe the sanctity of the proceedings. Your photographer can take pictures silently from the side or wait for the right moment, so there is no disturbance.

Many priests prefer to brief professionals like photographers on the etiquette of the church, so expect a no flash photography rule. Photographers may also only be allowed to a specific area in the church.

Falling in love and finding your soulmate is definitely one of the most joyous times in our lives. And when the time comes to make it official and join your two souls together as one in holy matrimony, it’s a celebration. Yes! There may be more hoops to jump through for a Catholic marriage, but it’s your faith, what you stand on, and it should be cherished, respected and celebrated as well.

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