For those seeking this sacrament in the Catholic Church, there are a few things to know.
Holy Matrimony is a sacred covenant, a beautiful bond of love that unites a man and a woman until death. For such a holy event, the Church, in her wisdom, has a lengthy process of marriage preparation to ensure that this sacrament is celebrated with all due respect and reverence.
The process of preparation can vary somewhat from one place to another, and is constantly evolving to better suit the needs of the Church’s sons and daughters preparing for this sacrament.
It is a duty of all Catholics to get married in the Church, a basic requirement that acknowledges the importance of sacramental marriage and its divine institution.
For Catholics preparing for this beautiful day in their lives, here are the basic steps a couple will need undergo in order to pledge their love before God and his Church.
Baptized Christian (with one person being Catholic)
Christian Baptism is the basic requirement for engaging in the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church. This means that a non-Catholic Christian can get married to a Catholic in a Catholic Church, but only with permission from the local diocese. Additionally, with a special dispensation, it is possible for a Catholic to get married to a non-Christian, though this is considered a “natural” marriage, and not a sacramental one.
“In Good Standing”
As with all sacraments of the Catholic Church, the sacrament of marriage requires the person receiving the sacrament to be properly disposed and “in good standing.” This generally means that the Catholic regularly attends Mass, frequents the sacraments, and lives a life that is not in opposition to the Church. In practice, many parishes require that the Catholic party is a registered member of the parish and shows some sort of engagement in parish life. The parish priest will be able to walk you through any questions regarding this requirement and will help you discern if there is an issue that needs to be resolved before going further (such as a prior marriage).
Each diocese and parish around the world has their own requirements for marriage preparation. This varies considerably, but in general six months is considered the minimum amount of preparation time before a couple can get married. Marriage preparation may include any (or all) of the following: meetings with the parish priest or deacon, a marriage retreat, a pre-marriage inventory, personality tests, meetings with a married couple, and a course on Natural Family Planning. Everything depends on the requirements of the parish, diocese and the particular situation of the engaged couple.
Besides being prepared for life as a married couple, the parish will guide you through the many options for the celebration of a wedding in the Catholic Church. The couple is encouraged to choose such things as the readings and music of the liturgy.
Additionally, the actual wedding ceremony can occur within the celebration of Mass, or outside of it. This will depend on the religious situation of the couple and the families attending it. In rare cases, the wedding may take place at a different venue, or even outside, but this requires permission of the bishop and a valid reason for it.
Those are the basics of what to expect when planning a Catholic wedding. For further information, contact your local parish priest.