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Guidelines For The Sacrament Of Matrimony 2017-05-03T15:22:36+00:00

Sacrament Celebration

Guidelines For The Sacrament Of Matrimony

Revised September 1996

Table of Contents:

  1. Marriage Preparation

  2. Special Circumstances

  3. Form of the Celebration of Marriage

  4. The Wedding Liturgy

  5. Non-Christian Catholic Marriages

  6. Conditions Required for a Mixed Marriage in a Non-Catholic Church or Synagogue or Other Appropriate Place

  7. Inter-Ritual Marriage

  8. Texas Civil Law Requirements


Married Christians, in virtue of the Sacrament of Matrimony, signify and share in the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his Church; they help each other in attaining holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children; and they have their own special gift among the people of God. Priests, deacons, and all those involved in marriage preparation should first of all strengthen and nourish the faith of those about to be married, for the sacrament of matrimony presupposes and demands faith (Rite of Marriage, nn. 1-7, hereinafter “RM”).

  1. Marriage Preparation

    The goal of the initial contact is to communicate an attitude of openness toward couples seeking to marry, whatever their religious background or level of faith and to direct the couple to an initial face-to-face interview with the proper pastor or his representative (United States Catholic Conference Manual, pp. 58-59, hereinafter “USC”). Couples are to be treated with respect, openness, and warmth, regardless of their faith development, registration status in the parish or financial contributions. It is important to remind those who are responsible for establishing policies that the current Code of Canon Law establishes very specific impediments to marriage in the Church. The same Code of Canon Law forbids any parish, pastor, or bishop to add additional impediments. For example, the requirement that a couple be registered with the parish prior to marriage is a violation of their canonical right to marry. (Texas Catholic Conference, 1994 Marriage Guidelines, p. 9, hereinafter “TCC MG”).

    1. Marriages are to take place in the parish of either party or in another Catholic Church with permission of the proper pastor. Interfaith marriages are ordinarily to take place in the Roman Catholic Church. When both parties are Catholic, the initial interview generally takes place in the parish of the woman. (Diocese of Beaumont Marriage Guidelines, 1982, Sec. I, hereinafter “DB MG”).
    2. It is necessary for couples to contact their parish as soon as the formal engagement is made and at least six months prior to their anticipated wedding (DB MG, Sec. I). Extra time must be allowed if either party had a previous marriage that ended by divorce or if there is any question about readiness for marriage.
    3. It is the pastor’s responsibility to see to it that his parishioners are adequately prepared for marriage. Normally, the priest/deacon who will witness the vows prepares the couple for marriage and completes the paperwork. In cases in which a couple is being prepared for marriage in another place, the preparing minister should coordinate his/her efforts with the priest/deacon who will be witnessing the vows, and the couple should also stay in frequent contact with that priest/deacon. The priest/deacon should also obtain a written statement from those who are preparing the couple that the requirements for marriage preparation in this diocese have been fulfilled.
    4. The records of the marriage are ordinarily kept in the Catholic parish in which the marriage took place. If a dispensation from canonical form is granted, the marriage records are to be retained at the parish of the Catholic party whose pastor made the investigation concerning their free state and who requested the dispensation. The dispensation and the subsequent celebration are to be inscribed in the marriage register of the parish of the Catholic party noted above. (Canon 1121.3
      [hereinafter “C.”]). A cross-reference inscription may be made in the marriage register of the territorial parish in which the celebration took place. The contracted marriage is also to be noted in the baptismal register in which the baptism of the Catholic spouse(s) has been inscribed. (C. 1122.1).
    5. Discernment: The primary task of the church, the clergy, and others in marriage preparation is to assist the couple in making a judgment about their relational readiness and personal faith, not to make those judgments for or about them (USC, p. 63).
      1. The initial interview is usually done by the preparing minister and never by the parish secretary or over the phone (USC, p. 59). The purpose is to establish rapport, explain the process and determine freedom to marry. The Prenuptial Investigation Form is to be completed at this time and special attention given to any previous marriage of either party.
      2. Larger parishes may opt for a group introductory session prior to individual initial interviews.
      3. Marriage preparation is to identify and deepen the couple’s faith. Couples may be refused only when they explicitly and formally reject what the Church intends to do in the marriage of baptized persons. (Familiaris consortio; USC, p. 61)
      4. It is recommended that the preparing minister give each couple a premarital inventory as an aid to discussion (Bess PMI, FOCCUS are recommended. USC pp. 68-71). An inventory should always be used in the case of couples with special problems.
      5. A decision to delay is made by the preparing minister, the couple and, on occasion, the parents after consultation with an outside party: e.g. A member of the parish staff, a professional counselor, the director of marriage preparation for the Diocese, or the chancellor. The couple may appeal any decision for delay.
    6. Instructional Program: This is to present the essential human and Christian aspects of marriage so that the couple becomes aware of the total dimensions of the marriage covenant and is introduced to persons and resources available so that they might turn to the Church in times of personal need.
      1. This should include:
        1. context of marriage today
        2. communication and conflict resolution
        3. meaning of permanence and forgiveness
        4. requirements of a sacramental marriage
        5. role of faith, prayer, and Church
        6. roles, expectations, and responsibilities
        7. self-awareness, personal healing, individual growth in marriage
        8. sex and sexuality
        9. value of children, parenthood, natural family planning
      2. Resistance to any form of program is a strong negative indicator of readiness for marriage.
      3. Instructional programs available:
        1. Sponsor Couple (training available in English, and materials available in Spanish)
        2. Engaged Encounter (available in English)
        3. Parish group processes
        4. Un Matrimonio en El Senor
      4. Married couples should be used as a part of the marriage preparation process in each parish. (TCC MG, p. 11).
      5. The priest/deacon or the person in charge of marriage preparation should meet with the couple to see that the catechesis for the sacrament has been completed and to discuss the results of their instructional program. All documentary requirements should be completed by this time.
      6. The priest/deacon should, at this time, discuss the liturgical preparations for the marriage and encourage Catholics to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation prior to the wedding.
      7. The rehearsal is conducted by the priest/deacon or his representative and offers the opportunity for group prayer by the wedding party.
  2. Special Circumstances

    Special circumstances provide the preparing minister the opportunity to show care, concern, and respect for the couple’s unique situation, to speak about the teachings of the Church pastorally and, as needed, to refer the couple to appropriate persons for help and counseling.

    1. If either party will be under 19 years of age at the time of the wedding, then at least a full 6 months preparation must be given after the completion of the P.M.P. Parental consultation and completion of the canonical “free-state” form are to be done by the preparing minister. (DB MG, IV)
    2. In cases in which the couple had not planned to marry, pregnancy is not sufficient reason to enter marriage or shorten the preparation process. In cases in which the couple had intended to marry, discernment and some instruction by married couples is still essential. In every case of pregnancy, a premarital inventory should be given, and professional counseling is recommended.
    3. Diocesan Policy for Cohabiting Couples Seeking a Church Wedding: Cohabiting couples seeking marriage in the Church have increased dramatically in the past decade. These “trial marriages”, as they are often called, present a serious pastoral concern to clergy and lay ministers whose responsibility it is to convey the Church’s teachings and tradition to couples seeking the Sacrament of Matrimony. This policy, with the corresponding materials, are guidelines for ministering to such couples.
      1. During the initial interview with the couple preparing for marriage, the preparing minister should collect the couple’s biographical information. If it is found that the couple is in a cohabitational relationship, the preparing minister is to inform the couple that, at their next meeting together, they will discuss this situation. No wedding date is to be set until this discussion is completed.
      2. During the second session, the preparing minister is to deal with the issue of the couple’s cohabitation. (A pastoral approach can be found in the 1989 NCCB Handbook for marriage preparation, Faithful to Each Other Forever, pp. 71-77.)
      3. The preparing minister must also administer to the couple a Premarital inventory.
      4. After these discussions have taken place, the preparing minister should ask the couple how the information gained from the preparation process has raised their level of consciousness regarding their cohabitation and what positive response will be made in light of this new knowledge (the ceasing of cohabitation until marriage, the refraining from sexual intimacy until marriage, etc.). Once the couple has made their informed response, the preparing minister is to ascertain morally the couple’s readiness and ability to enter into a sacramental marriage.
      5. If the couple’s decision is to continue cohabiting throughout the marriage preparation period, then it should be conveyed to them that, from a societal perspective, they are already choosing to “appear” as husband and wife to the community. Therefore, their wedding ceremony should reflect this choice and be small and simple, more like a convalidation in setting.
    4. When one or both parties has been previously married, the preparing minister should be sensitive to and address issues of grief over the previous union, step-parenting, and the adjustment to single life following the previous union. The preparing minister should also discuss the freedom of that person to enter into a new marriage in the Church and assist the couple accordingly. No date should be set for the wedding until the previous bond(s) have been annulled or dissolved, and no promise be should made to the couple regarding the outcome of the process. The preparing minister should also allow sufficient time for the healing process following a divorce. Special attention should be given to those seeking remarriage less than two years after divorce or the death of a spouse.
    5. In interfaith and ecumenical marriages, the cooperation and involvement of clergy from both faith communities in the instruction and celebration phases is highly encouraged. When possible, a Sponsor Couple who has been/is in an interfaith or ecumenical marriage should be involved. The preparing minister should submit the necessary petitions for dispensations and permissions.
    6. Couples married outside the Church who wish to convalidate their unions should be adequately prepared for the sacrament of marriage. It is important for the preparing minister to inquire into the motivation of such couples and particularly to deal with issues arising out of troubled marriages; referral to a counselor may be necessary. All couples validating their marriages should be helped to understand the sacramentality of the covenant relationship and should participate in some type of marriage preparation or enrichment program. Formal marriage preparation is important for couples married civilly for less than five (5) years. Except in the case of a stable, long-standing union, the normal assessment and preparation process should not be waived. In no case should the validation occur until at least six (6) months after the date of the marriage outside the Church. (DB MG, 1982, VII)
    7. If there is suspicion of chemical abuse or dependency, the couple should be referred to appropriate resources and a professional evaluation made to determine sufficient discretion and capability of assuming the obligations of marriage. The same applies in cases of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
    8. If one or both parties suffer from physical or mental disability, consultation should be made with family members and professionals to assess the individual’s level of independence and ability to make a permanent commitment. The Tribunal is to be consulted if there is concern about canonical impediments.
  3. Form of the Celebration of Marriage

    1. In accord with C. 1108, only those marriages are valid which are contracted in the presence of the local ordinary or the pastor or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and in the presence of two witnesses, according to the rules expressed in the following canons, with due regard for the exceptions mentioned in Cns. 144, 1112.1, 1116, and 1127.2 and .3.
    2. The one assisting at a marriage is understood to be only that person who, present at the ceremony, asks for the contractant’s manifestation of consent and receives it in the name of the Church. In a mixed religion marriage, it is forbidden to have the Catholic minister receive the vows of the Catholic party and another minister receive the vows of the non-Catholic. This would render the marriage invalid. (C. 1127)
    3. If the non-Catholic party wishes to have his/her minister present, the Catholic pastor (or his delegate) should issue an invitation, give a cordial reception, advise the guest minister to wear whatever is deemed appropriate and reserve a place of honor in the sanctuary or the body of the church. The presider should introduce the guest minister and extend a warm welcome during the ceremony. The presider may also invite the minister to give a blessing to the couple and address to them words of good wishes and exhortation at the end of the celebration. If there is no Mass, the guest minister may take part in the service by preaching, reading, or leading the prayer of the faithful. To be a valid witness, the Catholic priest or deacon must ask for and receive the consent of the couple. It is not permitted for the rites of the respective churches to be celebrated successively. (C. 1127.3)
    4. The Bishop or local Ordinary of the Catholic party may, for a just pastoral cause, dispense from canonical form in individual cases, after consulting with the Ordinary of the place in which the marriage will take place and with due regard for validity and some public form of celebration. (C. 1127.2) Types of reasons for requesting this dispensation include:
      1. to achieve family harmony or avoid family alienation;
      2. to obtain parental agreement to the marriage;
      3. to recognize significant claims of relationship or special friendship with a minister of another communion;
      4. to permit the marriage in a church that has particular importance to the other party.
    5. A cleric witnessing a marriage within a parish other than his own must have delegation from the proper pastor for the marriage to be valid.
  4. The Wedding Liturgy

    The wedding liturgy should encourage the participation of the assembly in worship, express the faith and commitment of the couple and of the assembly, and call the faith community to prayer for the couple as a promise of support in their married life.

    1. The wedding should take place in a church.
    2. The general norms for liturgical celebration are to be followed, including those which call for the participation of the assembly.
    3. The various ministries are to be filled by those skilled in them and chosen by the couple or provided by the community. The presider should not assume the various ministries.
    4. The Church provides three different rites for the celebration of marriage:
      1. sacramental, during the Eucharist when both parties are Catholic;
      2. sacramental, with a Liturgy of the Word when one party is a baptized non-Catholic (preferable, but if specifically requested, Eucharist may be celebrated with permission of the Ordinary); and
      3. a non-sacramental rite with a Liturgy of the Word when one party is unbaptized (Eucharist is not permitted to be celebrated in this case.).
    5. Music must be appropriate to the liturgy and assist the community to pray. Music is integral to sacramental celebrations and cantor/music ministers should help the assembly to participate in the singing. Music helps to bind the worshipers together and facilitates their expression of joy and of support for the couple. It must allow the assembly to express and share the faith of the Church.
      1. Text: Unless a song can be identifiable as prayer, at least implicitly, it is out of place in a liturgical context. A song which highlights the Christian dimension of love always takes priority. A song which has only a tenuous or faintly implied connection with the Christian/religious dimensions of love or which contains only “inspiring” or “consoling” sentiments (e.g., “Climb Every Mountain” by Rodgers and Hammerstein) is unsuitable. Individual pastoral judgments must seek to balance liturgical considerations against the possibility of misunderstanding or alienation. The person working with the couple in planning their wedding celebration should guide them in making their marriage a true celebration of faith.
      2. Judgements: Judgments will have to be made as to the value and appropriateness of a given piece of music, whatever the style of that music may be. This evaluation should be guided by the principles outlined in Music in Catholic Worship (Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, 1972. This document can be obtained from the Diocesan Office of Worship.). The judgment outlined in this document is three-fold: musical, liturgical, and pastoral.
    6. A hymnal or prepared worship aid should be available to the assembly. All copyrighted materials, including texts without music, must have proper permission and acknowledgment. The Office of Worship can assist in the procedures for obtaining copyright permission, as well as in setting up the format appropriate to the liturgy. This needs to be addressed several weeks before the celebration.
    7. Parish policies should reflect these guidelines and should discourage weddings during Lent, though this may not be prohibited.
    8. The environment should take into consideration the liturgical season and should reflect both quality and appropriateness for the liturgy, not obstructing the view of the assembly or the liturgical movements of the ministers in the sanctuary. The environment is affected by the movements, etc., of photographers. Reasonable expectations of the couple should enable providing for the use of sensitive film and cameras with proper lenses which make photographing unobtrusive as to the positions of the photographer and to using only the lighting in the church, without additional spot or floodlighting. Photographic personnel should be properly dressed.
    9. In mixed marriages, clergy from both traditions may be present, but only one is the presider.
    10. Cultural adaptations are allowed, but should not overpower the liturgy. Such adaptations are to be examined in light of origin and content. (Cf USC, pp. 118-120)
    11. The Office of Worship is available for consultation on all liturgical issues.
    12. Marriage, including validations, are forbidden on Holy Saturday. (Congregation for Divine Worship, 1-16-88, n. 61 and 75)
  5. Non-Christian Catholic Marriages
    1. Marriages should take place in the parish church of the Catholic party or in the place of worship of the non-Christian (Synagogue, Mosque).
    2. If difficulties arise because the persons are reluctant to have the ceremony in a Catholic Church or a synagogue:
      1. The priest or deacon should first suggest that the celebration take place in another religious building.
      2. The priest or deacon may seek permission from the local Ordinary to celebrate the marriage in another appropriate place after reviewing the reasons offered by the couple and investigating the place suggested for the wedding to ensure that it is appropriate for a dignified and prayerful ceremony. If possible, the ceremony should be celebrated in a chapel-like arrangement or in a room apart from the place where the meal or reception will take place.
      3. Under no circumstances is marriage permitted out-of-doors.
    3. If a Catholic marries a non-Christian who professes no religious affiliation or is not practicing his/her faith, it is normative that the marriage be witnessed in a Catholic Church.
  6. Conditions Required for a Mixed Marriage in a Non-Catholic Church or Synagogue or Other Appropriate Place (cf. C. 1118, 1120)
    1. When witnessed by a priest or deacon:
      1. Permission should be sought from the Chancery in all cases. In the event that a couple wishes to have their marriage witnessed outside of a sacred place, such a permission will not be granted except in rare circumstances, such as the inability of parents (or bride/groom) to attend a church wedding due to illness, or a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian for whom a church wedding would pose a serious difficulty.
      2. The parish responsible for preparing documentation is that in which the marriage would ordinarily take place (eg. the parish of the Catholic party).
      3. The usual pre-matrimonial investigation must be completed to ensure the adequate preparation, instruction, and freedom of the couple.
      4. The priest or deacon must be the sole witness to the marriage.
      5. Just as in the case where the marriage would take place in the Catholic Church, a non-Catholic clergyperson may be present and may offer prayers and ask a blessing on the couple.
      6. In view of this restriction of participation by the non-Catholic clergyperson, this must be discussed with and be agreeable to him/her and his/her ecclesiastical superiors, if necessary.
      7. The priest/deacon witnessing the marriage requires canonical delegation from the pastor of the territorial parish in which the celebration of the marriage will take place, if the place is outside his own parish. Obtaining this delegation in writing for inclusion in the marriage records is recommended.
      8. While a notation is made in the marriage register of the parish of the preparing priest/deacon who requested the dispensation, it is recommended that a cross reference notation of the marriage be made in the register of the territorial parish within which the marriage actually took place.
      9. It is the obligation of the priest/deacon witness to ensure that the usual notation is made in the proper Baptismal register.
    2. When witnessed by a non-Catholic clergyperson with dispensation from canonical form:
      1. The parish priest/deacon of the Catholic party is to prepare the couple and procure the customary documentation (including pre-matrimonial investigation, etc.).
      2. The application for a dispensation from form is to be directed to the Ordinary of the Catholic party.
      3. There can be only one ceremony. The priest/deacon may be present to offer a prayer and blessing.
      4. All records of the marriage are to be placed in the parish files of the parish of the Catholic party where the couple was prepared. The preparing minister is responsible for making sure this is done and for notifying the Church where the Catholic was baptized.
    3. Related Considerations:
      1. Members of other churches, as well as non-Christians, may be the official witnesses (best man and maid/matron of honor) in the celebration of marriage in the Catholic Church. A Catholic, too, may be best man or maid/matron of honor at a marriage properly celebrated among non-Catholics.
      2. When a Catholic with permission (mixed marriage) or proper dispensation (with an unbaptized person) enters into marriage with a person who is not a member of the Church, the celebration may be celebrated at the altar.
      3. The banns for an ecumenical marriage may be announced, but should be omitted if it violates the norms of the other religious community involved. A dispensation from banns is no longer necessary; however, for every proposed marriage, the freedom of the parties must be proved by sworn declaration of witnesses.
      4. It is recommended that priests or deacons meet with the clergy of other churches in their community to explain the theological and pastoral reasons for the Catholic Church’s law on marriage and, at the same time, to become thoroughly acquainted with the marriage regulations of other churches and communities.
      5. In counseling a couple about to enter into a mixed marriage, the preparing minister should help them to realize that their different religious traditions in no way lessen the holiness of their marriage, which is a sacrament whenever two baptized persons are involved; emphasis is to be made about their common duty to grow in faith and in charity toward each other.
  7. Inter-Ritual Marriage

    1. Eastern Rite and Latin Rite Catholics: The marriage may take place in either the rite of the man or woman, provided that, at least one party to the marriage is a member of the Latin Rite.
    2. Latin Rite Catholic and Orthodox: Ordinarily marriage takes place in the Latin Rite. The local Ordinary may grant a dispensation from canonical form so that the marriage may take place in an Orthodox Church witnessed and blessed by an Orthodox priest. (This is necessary for the marriage to be recognized as valid by the Orthodox Church.) In this case, canonical form is required for liceity, but lack of it does not invalidate the marriage. (C. 1127.1)
    3. Eastern Rite Catholics and Non-Catholics: The marriages must be witnessed by the Eastern Rite priest. In rare cases, permission for a Latin Rite priest to witness the marriage must be obtained from the Eastern Rite Ordinary through the Chancery. Further-more, the Latin Rite priest must seek the permission of the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, besides the appropriate delegation from the proper Eastern Rite Ordinary, if the Latin Rite priest wishes to assist at the marriage of two people, neither of whom is a member of his Rite.
    4. In all of the above cases, the Latin Ordinary has jurisdiction in cases where there is no Eastern Rite Bishop with jurisdiction. Priests should consult the Chancery when there is doubt.
  8. Texas Civil Law Requirements

    1. It is a violation of civil law for a priest or deacon to witness a marriage without an unexpired civil marriage license. The minister must wait 72 hours after the license is issued before celebrating the marriage rite. The 72-hour waiting period can be waived if an applicant is on active duty in the armed forces or if an order is issued by a district court. A marriage license is valid for 30 days. Failure to observe the requirements of civil law or to delay or neglect to return the civil license after the ceremony can cause serious legal problems for the couple and the priest or deacon. In the case of a convalidation, the couple is to provide a copy of their original marriage license; they are NOT to obtain a new license.
    2. If the convalidation is of a common law union (for which the couple does not have a marriage license), the couple is to obtain a civil marriage license prior to the religious ceremony.
    3. In all marriages, whoever receives the vows must sign the license. Priests, deacons, or ministers of other religions who are present should not sign the license, nor should they “co-officiate” by sharing the exchange of consent.
    4. A blood test is no longer needed in order to obtain a license.
    5. Parental consent can be given for a marriage if the person to be married is 14 years of age or older, but under the age of 18 years. The parental consent must be written on a form supplied by the county clerk. A person under the age of 18 can petition a district court for an order granting permission to marry. After a hearing, the order may be granted if the judge believes marriage to be in the best interest of the petitioning child. Except for the above, the county clerk will not issue a marriage license if either applicant is under 18 years of age (legally still a minor).
    6. An applicant who was previously married may be denied a marriage license if he/she is behind on child support payments.
    7. Texas recognizes common law marriages as legally binding. There is no longer a required time period to establish a common law marriage. All that is required is that a couple agree to live together as husband and wife, and after this agreement, they do live together in this state as husband and wife, and they represent to others that they are husband and wife. A common law marriage may only be dissolved by a divorce, which has the same implications for property rights and children born to the common law marriage as a marriage by ceremony does.
    8. A priest or deacon is not to witness a marriage of two non-Catholics, nor should he witness any marriage in a merely civil capacity for the civil effects alone.