My name is Father Byrd, and I understand that you are seeking to regularize your marriage within the Catholic Church, and this is the letter I normally send as an initial contact for couples like you. Normally when a couple contacts us in these situations, they are seeking what is called a convalidation. This generally means that one or both of the individuals have grown more deeply in their own Catholic faith, and that whereas their initial wedding ceremony was not performed according to Catholic ecclesial law and therefore not proper for them as Catholics, they now appreciate that they were under the authority of the Church, and they now ask the Church to bless their marriage and to recognize it as legitimate, so that they may fully live out their Catholic faith. Some situations that would fit this case would be as follows:
- Either one or both of the parties failed to seek an annulment for some previous marriages, and chose to marry anyway outside of the Church, but after further discernment, they have decided to seek (and have subsequently procured and obtained) their annulment(s), and they are now seeking to be married within the Church
- Catholics failed to seek a dispensation from the Church to marry a non-Catholic (and/or to be married by a non-Catholic minister). Perhaps the Catholic party believed that the non-Catholic party was unwilling to concede to the authority of the Church, or uncomfortable with Catholicism in general, but now the non-Catholic has become more open to Catholicism, and the Catholic party has become more determined to live his or her faith in greater earnest.
- Catholics may have failed to be married within the Church, and may have chosen instead to enter into a civil marriage out of convenience or for expedience, or because the faith had ceased to be a big part of their lives at the time. According to civil law, they are married, but according to Church law, they are not married. Now the couple has grown stronger in their Christian faith, and are choosing to be reconciled back into the fullness of the Church
These are just some of the possible scenarios where seeking a convalidation would be appropriate. To seek a convalidation is to acknowledge that the civil marriage one is in is not valid in the eyes of the Church, and it is to ask the Church to permit one to perform a simple vow ceremony before a proper minister of the Church, and to ask for the Church’s blessing upon the union, so that the union you are living may be seen with validity (convalidly) by the Church as a marriage sacrament (presuming both parties are baptized). Please keep in mind that just because the Church may not recognize a civil marriage as valid when it involves Catholics, this does not mean that the Church is declaring children conceived prior to a convalidation as illegitimate. To ask for a convalidation is to seek to conform one’s life to the life of the Church, and to the will of God as a Catholic, and it is to ask the Catholic Church to recognize you as a properly-married couple. And so, let me just say, we are very grateful for your own deepening faith, and for your desire to live that faith more completely, and we are here to help you through this process.
Each couple that comes to us in this process has their own story or stories, and so it is difficult to write a letter that is broad enough to anticipate every need. Couples who have been together for a short time would likely be asked to go through the marriage prep program in total, but couples who have been together for years would not. We can talk about your particular needs when we meet, but there are some things which are generally needed in every case. When one approaches these individual pieces of paperwork, keep in mind that the Church does not recognize you as married within the Church, and so these forms are the forms we normally give to engaged couples, though clearly we will have to adapt them in your case.
- Convalidations are relatively easy to procure, provided that neither of the parties has been married previously, and that there are no divorces. If there have been previous marriages/divorces, then first we must work through the process of seeking a decree of annulment for the first marriage(s) before we seek a convalidation. If there have been previous marriages, we need to have the official paperwork for the annulment brought in for our files. We will make official copies and then return them to you.
- The Premarital Interrogatories (or Bride and Groom Questionnaire) should be completed together at our first meeting, but there may be some initial fill-in-the-blank questions that you can begin prior to your arrival, and we can complete the forms together when we meet.
- We will need an official Baptismal Certificate (recently issued) and ideally sent directly to me from the parish where you were baptized. All Catholic Baptismal Certificates should be filled out on the back to the best of the parish’s knowledge (regarding any other sacraments, for example first holy communion, confirmation, and any previous marriages if necessary). Photocopies of a Baptismal Certificate issued years ago will not work
- We will also need affidavits ascertaining an individual’s freedom to marry (there should be two, ideally filled out by one’s parents, or by close loved ones who have known you for a long time). These should be notarized, and may be sent directly to me here at Our Lady of the Mountains.
- Please bring an official copy of your wedding license or marriage certificate from the state. We will make an official copy of this for our files, and return to you the original.
There is also great value in going through the preparation for marriage within the Catholic Church, because it helps a person prepare for a life-long commitment. Often, someone seeking a convalidation was not well-prepared for their marriage. Thus, if a couple is only recently married, we may also require them to take a FOCCUS evaluation, and even to go through a Pre-Cana Program, but this will be left up to my discretion based on the particulars of each couple. By and large, couples who have been married for years will not be asked to go through this material, unless I believe it may be helpful based on the couple. Certainly, you may also expect some catechesis on marriage in general, so that you can fully embrace the Church’s teachings on Holy Matrimony.
And to all of this, permit me to add a warning. Convalidations should not be looked at as a magical solution to a troubled marriage. Couples need to work on their marriages every day of their lives, and this requires forgiveness, communication, understanding, prayer, self-sacrifice and great effort on the part of both parties. Being married in the Catholic Church will not lesson any of these responsibilities.
I hope that this letter has helped in explaining what the Church calls convalidations, and that you are more comfortable with proceeding. This is the paperwork side of our preparation, and this letter is just a courtesy I send to my couples to help them get a jumpstart on this one side of our work together. If you have any questions about this, please don’t hesitate to contact me on it, or we can talk about it further at our first meeting. Let me know if I can help you with anything, and know that I always keep my couples in prayer. I look forward to meeting with you in person soon!
- Convalidation Form
- Bride Questionnaire
- Bride Affidavit (you’ll need two)
- Groom Questionnaire
- Groom Affidavit (you’ll need two)
PS: This is just to let you know that there are two online sources that may be of use to you as we work towards this convaldation. One is a website established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: www.ForYourMarriage.org. While this website includes information about preparing for marriage, it is also helpful for couples who may have been married for years. Another online source that may be of interest is www.archatl.com/offices/familylife. This site is operated by the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and while it can be useful for planning for marriage, it is also designed to be useful throughout the stages of your married life. I just wanted to point out these websites to my couples, in hopes that they may be useful in the living out of your lives together as man and wife, and as a Catholic family.