Marriage is a public statement of a deeply personal relationship, a relationship of shared love and commitment to each other. It is a sharing not only of present experience, but one that anticipates sharing the future together. The promise of lifelong faithfulness is fundamental to this commitment.
There are three key differences between getting married in a purely civil wedding and holding your ceremony in church. Essentially they are to do with the fact that you are making your promises before God; within the Community of the Church; and that you are taking God with you.
Before God. Christians believe that God gives the fullest meaning to their lives. It is natural for them to make their commitment to each other in the presence of God. It demonstrates how important their partner is to them and how seriously they take their promises. Christians
believe that God is always present with us in the most everyday actions of our lives. As well as this, there are special times in a person’s life when they want to celebrate God’s active presence and love particularly clearly. These celebrations are called ‘sacraments’. For Catholics, Christian marriage is one of these sacraments.
The Community of the Church. For Christians, the Church exists primarily, not as a set of buildings or as an institution, but as a living and caring body of people all trying to follow the path that Jesus has shown us. This Community of the Church is there to offer hospitality, encouragement, help and advice. Like your own family, and your network of friends, the family of the Church is there for you as your mutual relationship grows and deepens.
Taking God with You. Christians believe that God is alive, real and active in the love of a husband and wife both when the marriage ceremony takes place and throughout their lives together. Living together, growing together and building a deep and rewarding relationship will have its difficult moments as well as its wonderful times. Christians believe that God cares about us throughout our everyday lives, in our loving, our triumphs, our problems and in our sorrows. We sincerely believe that being open to God at all times will help us to grow in love for each other as a couple and for our family and the world about us.
These are the three aims which couples should have in their marriage.
• To sustain each other
Married partners work to give each other food, clothing, shelter, mutual help and service in the material needs of life.They also give each other emotional and spiritual support and comfort.
• To heal each other
Everybody comes to a marriage bearing some wounds from their past life – disappointment, hurt, a sense of failure or loss of self-esteem. These and many other sorrows can be soothed and transformed by this new and lasting relationship.
• To help each other grow
Married partners can help to develop each other’s potential abilities and talents.
• Practising Catholics and also those who have not been to church for a while.
• Catholics marrying Christians of another denomination or someone who belongs to a non-Christian faith or religion.
• Catholics whose partner does not belong to any particular faith or group.
All these couples can marry within the Catholic Church.
NOTIFICATION. It is now a general rule across the country that at least six months notice of the date on which you hope to marry must be given to the priest of the parish. The reason for this is to allow sufficient time for all the formalities and preparations that are required. It is highly advisable to delay setting the date for any other arrangements until you have agreed the date for the ceremony in the church where you hope to marry.
CATHOLIC BAPTISM. One partner at least must be a baptised member of the Roman Catholic Church.
DOCUMENTATION. The priest who will be involved in your marriage will also advise you about exactly which papers will be required by the Church and Civil registrars. In general, you will be asked to produce:
• Written evidence that you are free to marry: this means, first and foremost, that neither partner has been married previously. If either or both partners have been married before, it is of primary importance that the couple raise the matter with the priest at the first meeting with him. He will be able to advise you in relation to your own particular situation. If there is difficulty in providing the information about freedom to marry, you can go to a Solicitor or Commissioner for Oaths and swear an affidavit to that effect and this will be acceptable.
• Baptism certificate: for the Catholic partner, a recently issued copy (i.e. within the previous six months) from the church where you were baptised; for Christians of other Churches, the original or copy of the original.
• Confirmation certificate: normally it is expected that the Catholic will have been confirmed or is prepared to be confirmed, though this is not an absolute requirement.
MARRIAGE PREPARATION. All Christian Churches now invite couples to take part in some form of preparation for married life, in addition to planning the wedding ceremony. Marriage & Family Life Team on behalf of the Archdiocese of Southwark runs regularly Marriage Preparation Courses, as well as Marriage Care in England and Wales, or even some parishes. Ask your priest for help in choosing and booking the best option for you.
There are a number of practical issues that need dealing with, especially if one of the partners is not a Catholic. Catholics are required to get married according to the Catholic Rite of Marriage and witnessed by a Catholic priest or deacon. Catholics can get permission to marry in the Church of a partner who is not a Catholic if there are good reasons for doing so, for example, where a partner is an active member of his or her church community. In such a case, the Catholic partner will require a ‘Dispensation’ which the priest will apply for. It is not usual to marry in other venues, such as hotels, since the local bishop only licenses so many venues, most usually Churches and some chapels. If your plans are not covered by this, you should refer to a priest for guidance.
It is usual to get married in the church of the parish where the Catholic – or, by custom, the bride, if both are Catholics – is resident. Sometimes, one of you will have a lot of personal contact with the parish to which you belong. ‘Belonging’ can be by residence in the parish or by attending worship regularly.
If you are marrying overseas, it is probable that you will need to prepare documentation in the UK for it to be sent on in advance. Even if one of you is resident abroad where you intend to marry, it is important to allow sufficient time for the papers to be completed.
Your marriage must be recorded according to civil law, and this is done by giving prior notice of the wedding at the register office of the district where each partner is resident. This ensures that you will have a Registrar’s certificate which is necessary for a wedding in a Catholic church.
The priest’s role essentially is to support, help and guide you through the process of preparation, and to discuss with you any particular questions you may have about the Church and marriage. The priest therefore:
• Welcomes you and discusses your plans with you.
• Will set out what needs to be prepared, including:
1. The documentation
2. Personal preparation for married life
3. The wedding ceremony
These three items are the main tasks involved in getting ready for marriage. There is a lot to be done and to be organised for your wedding, and even more to be appreciated about a life together. The local priest is your resource to be called on when you need some explanation, help or guidance, even if the wedding is to take place elsewhere.
Q. If one of us is not a Catholic, do we need permission?
A. Yes: it is called a ‘dispensation’ or ‘permission’ and is arranged for you by the Priest.
Q. What if we are living together and maybe have children?
A Many couples today are in this situation.The fact that one of you at least is a member of
the Catholic Church by baptism means that you are able to marry within the Catholic Church. The Church welcomes all couples who feel ready to make a public commitment to each other.
Q. Are those who are not Roman Catholics required to become Roman Catholics?
A. No: the Church believes that becoming a member of a Church is a separate commitment, to be chosen freely.The decision to become a Catholic can be made at any time.
Q. Do we have to make any promises?
A. If one partner is not a Catholic, the the Catholic partner is asked to make the following declaration as part of the preparation: “I declare that I am ready to uphold my Catholic faith and to avoid all dangers of falling away from it. Moreover, I sincerely undertake that I will do all I can, within the unity of our partnership, to have all children of our marriage baptised and brought up in the Catholic Church. The priest will ask the Catholic either to sign the declaration or make it verbally, after discussing with his or her partner that statement and its meaning. As can be seen from the wording above, the Church accepts that this commitment should not threaten the unity of the marriage. Rather, it is to emphasise the supporting role of a living faith in a couple’s life together.
Q. Why do Catholics believe that marriage is for life?
A. Ask any couple about to get married what they want most out of life and almost all of them will tell you that it is, ‘to be happy together for always’, which implies an unconditional commitment to life-long faithfulness to each other. Christians believe that we should have the courage to say and to promise what we feel in our hearts, and to resolve to work to keep that love and support alive “till death do us part”.