Whether you’re a dedicated follower of Catholicism, a lapsed Catholic who wants to get married in the church, or a member of another religion (or no religion at all) who just happens to be marrying a Catholic, the ins and outs of a Catholic wedding can be confusing—and even a bit surprising. There’s no rule that says you have to get married in the Catholic church. Indeed, even the Church itself will now recognize weddings that happened under the auspices of another faith. If you want to remain faithful to the letter of Catholic dogma, though, it’s time to brush up on the basics of Catholic marriages.
What is marriage anyway?
To the uninitiated, the Catholic fixation on weddings that follow a very specific order can seem bizarre. It all makes better sense, though, when you realize that marriage is one of only seven holy sacraments within the church. Matrimony, as marriage is called, is a sacred moment that can bring followers closer to God and the church, so it’s no wonder that Catholics take weddings so seriously.
You’ll need to follow church dogma
Getting married in the Catholic Church is a privilege, not a right. Unlike with a secular wedding, you’ll need to follow the church’s rules for your wedding. This usually involves a mass that incorporates Holy Communion. In most cases, you won’t be able to do anything that directly undermines Catholic theology, such as making a statement in favor of gay marriage at your wedding. Many Catholic newlyweds, though, are surprised by how much latitude they have. Your wedding can be relatively nontraditional and still comport with basic Catholic teachings.
Requirements for a Catholic marriage
To enter into a holy matrimony, the church has specified a couple of prerequisites that a couple must adhere to, to have a valid Catholic marriage.
- The couple should be willing to get married
- They must exchange consent while they are getting married
- They should have the intention to stay married to each other. A Catholic marriage is a lifelong commitment
- At least two witnesses should be present at the time of marriage
You’ll attend premarital counseling
Research consistently shows that people who attend premarital counseling, even when they think they have no reason to, are less likely to end up divorced. In Catholicism, marriage is a foundational institution, and the church wants to minimize divorce as much as possible. Premarital counseling is a quintessential step for Catholic Marriage Preparation. Couples who intend to marry within the church typically have to attend some form of premarital counseling. There are a variety of options, ranging from brief sessions with a priest to weekend-long retreats, but it’s not sufficient to just sign up for a class. The class must be one approved by the church, and you’ll need to provide proof you attended.
You may have to discuss birth control and child rearing
The Catholic church believes that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation and raising a family, so don’t be surprised if you have to discuss child rearing before you’re allowed to get married. Though having children is no longer seen as the best reason for getting married, and rightfully so, child-rearing discussion is an important part of Catholic marriage preparation. The priest who officiates at your wedding, as well as the counselors who oversee your premarital counseling, will encourage you to discuss your plans to have children. Don’t shy away from these discussions, as heading off conflict now can help you avoid it when you’re ready to become a parent. Some of the issues you may discuss include:
- The use of natural family planning; official church doctrine prohibits the use of barrier methods and most chemical birth control.
- The role of sex in a marriage; church doctrine prohibits sex outside of marriage and argues that sex should always be procreative in nature. Thus non-procreative forms of sex are officially banned.
The diversity of Catholics
More than half of all Catholics don’t regularly attend church, and a significant majority disagree with some portion of church doctrine. You don’t have to agree with everything the church teaches during your Catholic marriage preparation. You don’t have to agree with everything the church teaches to get married within its walls. Indeed, millions of Catholics each year marry within the church, even in spite of their conflicts with the institution. The Catholic church is an increasingly diverse body, and you may be surprised by its ability to accommodate your beliefs.