There are three basic requirements for a valid Catholic wedding:
- The couple must be capable of being married—that is, they must be a woman and a man who are free of any impediment that would prevent marriage.
- The couple must give their consent to be married—that is, by an act of their will they irrevocably give and accept one another in order to establish marriage.
- They must be married according to the laws of the Church so that the Church and the wider community will be certain about the validity of their marriage.
Impediments to marriage
- Age: Both persons need to be old enough to contract marriage according to the local civil laws.
- Previous marriage: You cannot marry someone else if you are already married. This most common impediment to marriage.
- Relatives: You cannot marry someone who is already your relative.
- Inability to Reason: Anyone who is incapable of understanding what marriage is and the responsibilities that come with it (because of mental impairment, for instance) cannot enter marriage.
- Fear: No one can be forced into marriage, either directly or because of some “grave fear”.
Freely given consent
In order to enter a valid marriage, each person must freely choose to give his or her entire self to the other and to accept the gift of the other, irrevocably (forever).
The question about accepting children (which may be omitted for couples beyond the child-bearing years) may not seem to have anything to do with freely given consent. But the Church teaches that marriage is naturally ordered not only to “the good of the spouses,” but also the “procreation and education of offspring”
In order to ensure that couples fully understand what it means to give oneself in marriage, the Church requires a period of preparation before marriage. For instance – Marriage Preparation Course (MPC).
The form of the marriage
The Church has certain rules about how the marriage takes place. These rules are meant to ensure with certainty that a valid marriage actually took place. Basically, a valid marriage must be witnessed by an authorized representative of the Church (usually a priest or deacon) and two other witnesses. It also must follow the Rite of Marriage, the book containing the words and actions that make up the wedding liturgy.
Other Catholic Marriage requirements
The requirements listed above are only a partial rundown of the laws governing marriage in the Catholic Church; additional rules deal with special circumstances and administrative details. However, each Diocese also has its own rules regarding marriage. Moreover, individual parishes may have policies regarding marriage preparation and the wedding ceremony. You will need to check with your Parish Priest for details about any of these additional requirements.
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