1. What’s the purpose of marriage preparation?

In a sense, you have been preparing for marriage for your entire life, because you have been learning how to love and be loved as long as you have been alive, and certainly as long as you have known your future spouse. In reality, you are the only people who can prepare yourselves for marriage, because your relationship is unique to the two of you.

Because marriage is so significant (see Why does the Church have so many rules about marriage?), the Archdiocese insists that all couples go through the marriage preparation process. There are several goals of this process:

  • To determine whether you have the basic elements of a psychological, intellectual, moral and legal capability for marriage and family life;
  • To foster a clear awareness of the essential characteristics of Catholic marriage: unity, fidelity, indissolubility, and fruitfulness;
  • To offer an opportunity for deepening your personal faith and to help you discover of the value of the sacraments and the experience of prayer;
  • To offer you practical advice and assistance to preserve and cultivate your married love, including such topics as marital communication, and how to overcome the inevitable challenges and difficulties of married life; and
  • To provide education and support in the values concerning the defense of human life and the nature and importance of married sexuality, in keeping with the authentic teachings of the Church.

To sum this up, the goals of marriage preparation are to help you to grow in love, and to be open to God’s grace, so that you can have a happy and fulfilling sacramental marriage.

2. What are the requirements for marriage under the Church’s law?

According to the Canon Law (the law of the Church), in order for a marriage to be valid, there are certain requirements:

  • At least one of the spouses must be a baptized Catholic;
  • The wedding must be celebrated in Catholic church in the presence of a Catholic priest/deacon/bishop and in the presence of two other witnesses;
  • The two spouses must be free to be married (e.g., no prior valid marriages); and
  • They must be psychologically mature and capable of consenting to the marriage; and they must understand the nature of Catholic marriage (i.e., exclusive, permanent, and open to having children).

Under the regulations of the Archdiocese, the spouses must also meet several times with the priest/deacon who will be witnessing their marriage, and they must attend a marriage preparation program.

These requirements are important to ensure the validity of your marriage. A marriage that doesn’t follow the Canon Law requirements (e.g., a civil marriage) is not valid in the eyes of the Church. A Catholic should not enter into such a union.

These rules are not just technical mumbo-jumbo. They are designed to help you have a good, solid foundation for a happy marriage. For more information, see the question below, “Why does the Church have so many rules about marriage?”

The priest/deacon who is witnessing your marriage will meet with you (this meeting is called the “Pre-Marital Interview”, or “PMI”), to ensure all of the Canon Law requirements for marriage have been met.

3. Why does the Church have so many rules about marriage?

The Church takes marriage very seriously. Marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and woman and God. It is a tremendous gift from God, and it is a visible sign of His love and commitment to His people (see, e.g., Eph 5:31-32).

Marriage is the foundation of the family and of society, and it is central to the life of the Church. It is also a public act that is celebrated as part of the Church’s liturgy, and introduces the couple into a special state of life in the Church. It creates a permanent and faithful bond between husband and wife, and it establishes significant rights and responsibilities between the married couple and, eventually, their children. It is also the most important relationship in the life of a married couple, and is vital to their happiness and to the happiness of their children.

Because it is so significant, the Church wants to make sure that a couple is properly prepared for marriage, and that they enter into it freely, without reservation, and with full understanding of what is involved. The Church also has an obligation to make sure that the marriage is celebrated in the right way, according to the right forms. All of this stems from the Church’s a special obligation to take care of the spiritual health of all of God’s people.

As a result, the marriage preparation process is governed by rules and regulations that are part of the Church’s Canon Law (her universal law), regulations of the Archdiocese, liturgical rules, and particular pastoral requirements of individual parishes and priests. While these rules may seem complicated to those who are unfamiliar with them, most people find them no more difficult than the civil law requirements governing marriage.

In addition, a couple who goes through this process with an open heart and open mind will find that they will address issues of critical importance to their marriage. In having discussions between themselves and with a priest/deacon about these issues, they can avoid problems in the future and have a firmer sense of confidence in their love and in the love of God.

In short, the Church is concerned about your well-being, and wants you to have a great marriage. That’s what marriage preparation is all about.

4. Do we have to give the priest or deacon any documents?

If you’re a Catholic, you’ll need to have the following documents:

  • A certificate of Baptism, dated within six months of your wedding date.
  • Evidence of your First Holy Communion and Confirmation (if you’ve been confirmed).
  • If you’re not getting married in your home parish, your freedom to be married must be established, by either a statement of “no notations” on your baptismal certificate (e.g., that there are no prior valid marriages, no religious vows, etc.) or a letter from your pastor.

If you’re a non-Catholic Christian, you need to have some evidence that you were baptized (e.g., a recent baptismal certificate from your church). Some priests/deacons will also ask you for a letter from a parent or other adult stating that you are free to be married (e.g., there were no prior marriages).

You will usually be asked to have these documents at the time of the “Pre-Marital Interview” (also called the “PMI”), a meeting at which the priest/deacon will ensure all of the Canon Law requirements for marriage have been met (see below for more information about the “PMI”).

5. What if only one of us is a Catholic and the other is non-Catholic Christian?

A marriage between a Catholic and a baptized Christian (even if they’re a non-Catholic) can still be a valid sacrament, according to the Canon Law of the Church, provided that the couple is free to be married (i.e., no prior valid marriages), they understand the nature of Catholic marriage, and the Catholic spouse obtains from his/her bishop a formal “permission” for the marriage.

If you wish to have your wedding celebrated at a non-Catholic church, the Catholic spouse must also obtain a “dispensation from canonical form” (i.e., a waiver of the formal requirements that the wedding occur in a Catholic Church, witnessed by a Catholic priest, deacon or bishop) from his/her bishop. See below for more information about this.

If you’re from the Archdiocese, the priest or deacon who is overseeing your marriage preparation will help you to obtain these documents from the Chancery Office. If you’re from outside the Archdiocese, you should contact a priest in your home parish to obtain these documents. Obtaining these documents can take time, so you should start the process early. Please note that permission will not be granted to have a wedding outdoors, or in a non-religious location like a catering hall or restaurant.

You should also be aware that there can only be one marriage ceremony. If the wedding is celebrated in the Catholic church, the priest presides, and a non-Catholic minister can offer prayers and ask a blessing on the couple. If the wedding takes place in a non-Catholic church, the minister presides, and a priest/deacon may be present to offer a prayer and blessing.

The Catholic spouse is also under a serious obligation to ensure that their children are raised within the Catholic faith — indeed, during one of your interviews with the priest/deacon who is overseeing your marriage preparation, the Catholic spouse must make a formal promise to that effect, and the other spouse must be made aware of that promise.

Keep in mind that differences in religious faith can be a significant source of stress and strain in a marriage – especially when the issue of children comes around (as it will, at some point), or if there are problems with relatives or friends over this issue. The most important thing to do is to discuss this issue now – don’t put it off and deal with it later. You should have hope — there are many, many wonderful and strong interfaith relationships in which the couples, based on their love and mutual respect, grow closer to God and each other. Holiness is always the goal, and a married couple with religious differences can still get there — and be joyfully married as well — by helping and supporting each other.

6. What if only one of us is a Catholic and the other is a non-Christian?

According to the Canon Law of the Church, a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian can be a valid bond if the couple obtains from the Catholic spouse’s bishop a “dispensation” due to the “disparity of cult”.

If you wish for your wedding to take place at a religious building other than a Catholic church (for instance, at a synagogue), a “dispensation from canonical form” (i.e., a waiver of the formal requirements that the wedding occur in a Catholic Church, witnessed by a Catholic priest, deacon or bishop) must also be obtained from the Catholic spouse’s bishop. See below for more information about this.

If you’re from the Archdiocese, the priest or deacon who is overseeing your marriage preparation will help you to obtain these documents from the Chancery Office. If you’re from outside the Archdiocese, you should contact a priest in your home parish to obtain these documents. Obtaining these documents can take time, so you should start the process early. Please note that permission will not be granted to have a wedding outdoors. Permission may be granted for a wedding in a non-religious building like a catering hall or restaurant, only if the circumstances merit special permission, reserved to the judgment of the Chancery.

You should also be aware that there can only be one marriage ceremony. If the wedding is celebrated in the Catholic church, the priest presides, and the non-Catholic minister (e.g., a rabbi) can offer prayers and ask a blessing on the couple. If the wedding takes place in another religious location, such as a synagogue, the non-Catholic minister presides, and a priest/deacon may be present to offer a prayer and blessing.

In addition, the Catholic spouse is also under a serious obligation to ensure that their children are raised within the Catholic faith — indeed, during one of your interviews with the priest/deacon who is overseeing your marriage preparation, the Catholic spouse must make a formal promise to that effect, and the other spouse must be made aware of that promise.

Keep in mind that differences in religious faith can be a significant source of stress and strain in a marriage – especially when the issue of children comes around (as it will, at some point), or if there are problems with relatives or friends over this issue. The most important thing to do is to discuss this issue now – don’t put it off and deal with it later. You should have hope — there are many, many wonderful and strong interfaith relationships in which the couples, based on their love and mutual respect, grow closer to God and each other. Holiness is always the goal, and a married couple with religious differences can still get there — and be joyfully married as well — by helping and supporting each other.

7. Do I (we) have to be Confirmed before we get married?

While you do not need to be confirmed in order to be married in the Catholic Church, it is something that we strongly encourage. Confirmation is your passage into an adult life of faith, through the sacrament of anointing with the Spirit, and as you make an adult commitment to your spouse, that commitment will only be strengthened by an adult commitment to your faith as well. Confirmation completes and strengthens the graces that were given at Baptism.

There are thousands of adults confirmed every year, and the way to do it is to participate in an RCIA class (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Almost every parish offers them – they typically begin in September or October, and run until Easter. The class participants are brought into full communion with the church, via baptism, first communion, and/or confirmation, at the most solemn Mass of the whole year – the Easter Vigil. Imagine how great it would be to receive two important sacraments in the same year – Confirmation and Matrimony! Check with your local parish about their RCIA schedule for the fall.

8. What if one of us was married previously?

Obviously, you can only be validly married to one person at a time, and to enter into a purported marriage with a person who was previously validly married would be the grave sin of adultery (see Mt. 19:3-9). If either of you ever went through a wedding ceremony of any kind (even if it was a civil marriage that was later dissolved), please speak to your priest or deacon as soon as possible, in order to satisfy the requirements of the Canon Law and to ensure that your marriage will be valid.

9. What if we’re getting married outside the Archdiocese?

If you’re getting married outside of the Archdiocese, you should speak to the priest or deacon who will be witnessing your marriage about your marriage preparation. Most priests in other dioceses will be satisfied if you attend a marriage preparation program here in the Archdiocese, but they may ask you to work with a priest or deacon here regarding your marriage preparation (e.g., he may ask that a priest in your local parish do the “Pre-Marital Interview” or “PMI” — see FAQ #17 for more information about this).

The spouse who is a native of the Archdiocese will have to make sure that certain documents are sent to the priest or deacon who will be witnessing the marriage. You will need to have proof of your baptism (usually a newly-issued baptismal certificate). If the bride is a native of the Archdiocese, she will also have to obtain from her home parish a letter certifying that there are no barriers to the marriage (e.g., no prior marriage, no religious vows). Your local priest will send the necessary documents to the other diocese, after having the Chancery Office endorse them with the Archdiocesan seal.

You should be aware that any dispensations or permissions that are required by the Canon Law must be granted by the bishop of your home diocese. Obtaining these documents can take time, especially if you have to get them from a diocese outside of the country, so you should start the process early.

10. What if one of us is from outside of the Archdiocese, or from another country?

Since you need some documents before you get married (e.g., a certificate of baptism), you should contact the parish in which you were baptized. That parish will have to send the documents to its diocesan offices, which will then forward them here to the Archdiocese. As you can imagine, this will take some time, so you should start this process as soon as possible.

11. Can we get married in a place other than a church? (e.g. a synagogue, beach, etc.)

Before we can answer this question, an explanation is in order about why the location of your wedding matters so much.

The Sacrament of Marriage is a sacred event for both the couple and for the Church as a whole. The Sacrament is a sign not only of the love of the couple for each other, but of the love of God for the couple and the love of God for his people. Indeed, one of the parties to every Christian marriage is God Himself.

With rare exceptions, all of the sacred events in the life of the Catholic people (Mass, baptisms, funerals, weddings, ordinations, confessions, confirmations, etc.) are celebrated at a Church — at the sacred place that is the center of our life as a faith community, the place where Jesus Himself is really present in the Eucharist in the tabernacle. The church is also the place where past and future generations (our ancestors and descendants) have and will worship — so when we gather there we act in solidarity with all of God’s people, present, past and future.

That is also why weddings are supposed to be celebrated at the home parish of one of the future spouses (by custom, it is usually the bride’s parish) — so that your own part of the universal Christian community can come (at least symbolically) to be witness to and supporters of your Sacrament, in their own special holy place.

Essentially, location has meaning, just as the words of the marriage vows have meaning. Sacred events belong in sacred places, and secular events belong in secular locations. The requirement of Canon Law reminds us of the sacred nature of marriage, the special participation of God and His Church, and the place of every marriage in the life of the Church. A catering hall, a park, the beach, or city hall, are not sacred places, however nice they may be — they are certainly not places where the Catholic people ordinarily come together to worship God in the presence of Jesus and each other.

So, by all means have a wonderful wedding reception at an appropriate secular location. But the right place for your sacred exchange of wedding vows is a sacred place — in a church.

Having said that, the answer to the question depends on whether a marriage is between two Catholics, between a Catholic and another Christian, or between a Catholic and a non-Christian. Take a look at the following situations to see which applies to you.

Marriage Outside of a Church — Marriage Between Two Catholics

  • Under the Canon Law a marriage between two Catholics must be celebrated in a parish church. Under the regulations of the Archdiocese of New York, permission is never granted for a marriage between two Catholics to be celebrated in such places as parks, restaurants, catering halls, hotels, cruise ships, or the beach.
  • The only exception is for a marriage in a Catholic chapel if one of the spouses is a student, graduate, faculty member, or has some other significant connection to the institution. Permission must be requested from the local pastor. Your priest/deacon will help you obtain this permission.

Marriage Outside of a Church — Marriage Between a Catholic and a Non-Catholic Christian

  • Out of respect for other Christian communities, permission can be obtained for a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian to celebrated at a non-Catholic church. The Catholic spouse must obtain a “dispensation from canonical form” (i.e., a release from the formal requirements that the wedding occur in a Catholic Church, witnessed by a Catholic priest, deacon or bishop) from his/her bishop.
  • Your priest/deacon will help you to obtain this dispensation from the Chancery Office. Obtaining the dispensation can take time, so you should start the process early.
  • You should note, however, that under the regulations of the Archdiocese, permission will be granted to have a wedding between a Catholic and another Christian outdoors, or in a non-religious location like a catering hall or restaurant only if the circumstances merit special permission, reserved to the judgment of the Chancery.

Marriage Outside of a Church — Marriage between a Catholic and a non-Christian

  • Out of respect for other faiths, permission can be obtained for a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian to take place at a religious building other than a Catholic church (for instance, at a synagogue). To do this, the Catholic spouse must obtain a “dispensation from canonical form” (i.e., a release from the formal requirements that the wedding occur in a Catholic Church, witnessed by a Catholic priest, deacon or bishop) from his/her bishop.
  • The priest or deacon who is overseeing your marriage preparation will help you to obtain this dispensation from the Chancery Office. This can take time, so you should start the process early.
  • Please note that permission will not be granted to have a wedding outdoors. However, permission may be given for a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian in a non-religious building like a catering hall or restaurant if there are truly extraordinary circumstances.

12. What if we don’t fulfill all the Church’s rules?

A marriage that does not comply with the Canon Law requirements (e.g., a civil marriage or a marriage celebrated outside of a church), is not valid in the eyes of the Church, and a Catholic should not enter into it. If you have entered into such a marriage, you should speak to your parish priest, to explore ways to have your marriage made valid (the technical term for this is “convalidation”).

13. What should we do if we’re living together?

The “conventional wisdom” is that living together is a good way to prepare for marriage. As with so many other popular myths, this one is absolutely wrong. Studies show very clearly that living together is not good marriage preparation, but instead hurts a relationship:

  • The divorce rate for couples who have lived together is much higher than for other couples (some studies report that couples who lived together before marriage are twice as likely to divorce within the first ten years of marriage);
  • In the case of men who have lived with a series of women, the divorce rate is even higher;
  • The longer the couple lives together, the higher the divorce rate;
  • Couples who cohabit typically have worse communication and conflict resolution skills than those who do not, and a reduced sense of commitment.

So what should you do if you’re living together?

  • Because of the moral and spiritual problems, speak honestly and openly to your priest about the situation. Go to Confession, and seek God’s forgiveness and healing.
  • Take a serious look at your motivations and expectations about marriage and your relationship. Ask yourself: Am I really ready for a life-long, exclusive commitment? Am I feeling pressured to get married?
  • The best thing is to move into separate living quarters and be chaste until your wedding night. If that’s not possible because of financial concerns, you can still agree to be chaste until marriage.

14. Does the Church have a position on pre-nuptial agreements?

The question of “prenuptial agreements” frequently arises in this day and age. These agreements are basically a contract between the prospective spouses about how their property and other rights will be handled within their marriage, and how they will be handled in the event of a divorce.

The Catholic Church does not have a blanket prohibition against prenuptial agreements. There may be some cases where they are perfectly legitimate. For example, if a widow with adult children marries a widower who also has adult children, a prenuptial agreement can be a legitimate way to preserve the inheritance rights of each spouse’s children to the property of the prior marriage.

In most cases, however, prenuptial agreements are a very bad idea, and may even call into doubt the validity of the marriage itself.

Remember, one of the basic elements of a Catholic marriage is indissolubility — that marriage is permanent, and cannot be dissolved. Jesus himself stated about marriage, “what God has joined, let no man separate” (Mt. 19:6). This teaching is very strongly reflected in the Canon Law, the law of the Church. For a marriage to be valid, the couple must both fully understand what indissolubility means and they must fully consent to it. There cannot be any conditions or reservations about the permanency of their marriage.

When a couple enters into a prenuptial agreement that foresees the break-up of their marriage, it strongly implies that they do not intend their marriage to be permanent. Instead, it suggests that their consent is only to be married until it doesn’t “work out”, and that they are more committed to their possessions than to the marriage. This is not compatible with Catholic marriage.

A prenuptial agreement also suggests that there are fundamental questions about the strength of the couple’s relationship. It implies a lack of trust and commitment, and maybe some doubts about whether they are really ready to get married. It also suggests that the couple is not truly dedicated to working through any difficulties that arise, but are instead already contemplating the “escape hatch” of divorce. After all, no sports team goes into a game expecting to lose. What does it say to my spouse that I’m already thinking ahead to a divorce, or that my stuff is more important to me than spending the rest of my life with her, no matter what?

Our advice is that couples should avoid pre-nuptial agreements. We would also recommend that the couple talk seriously about why they would contemplate a pre-nuptial agreement, and whether they are truly ready to make the commitment to a full, permanent marriage.

15. Do we need to get a marriage license?

Yes. You have to present a valid marriage license to the priest or deacon who is presiding at your wedding, before the marriage ceremony may be performed. For more information about the current requirements for a marriage license, check out the website of the New York State Department of Health.

16. What is Catholic Couple Checkup premarital inventory?

The Catholic Couple Checkup (CCC) premarital inventory helps couples discover their relationship strengths.  CCC is an online assessment tool designed to identify the unique relationship strengths and growth areas of dating, engaged, or married couples.  Couples receive a 15-20 page report on their relationship and can download a free Discussion Guide, designed to help them learn proven relationship skills.  Research has shown this process improves relationships by stimulating honest dialogue, increasing understanding, and empowering couples It does not require facilitation, but you have the option to share it with your priest or deacon.

17. What are Prepare-Enrich and FOCCUS premarital inventories?

Premarital Couples Inventories

PREPARE-ENRICH AND FOCCUS are customized couple assessments that can be easily completed online or in person.  They identify the unique areas of strength in a couple along with opportunities for growth and development. You will meet with a facilitator trained to provide feedback by helping you understand your results and learn important relationship skills.

PREPARE-ENRICH and FOCCUS couple assessments will help you:

  • Indentify your strength and growth areas
  • Explore each of your personality traits.
  • Help deepen your understanding of each other.
  • Strengthen communication skills.
  • Resolve conflicts and reduce stress.
  • Compare family backgrounds.
  • Comfortably discuss financial issues.
  • Establish personal, couple, and family goals.

18. What is the “Premarital Interview” or “PMI”?

This is a fancy name for the meeting at which the priest/deacon will make sure that all the Canon Law requirements have been met. For instance, he will ask you for proof of Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation, he’ll ensure that any dispensations or other required documents have been obtained. He’ll also ask you a number of questions about your background and your understanding of the nature of Catholic marriage. The whole process is not very lengthy, and offers an excellent opportunity to speak to the priest/deacon about any issue you would like to discuss.

19. Where can we get a Papal blessing for our wedding?

Many people desire a blessing from the Holy Father for their wedding and marriage. For information on how to obtain this blessing, download these instructions. (DOC, PDF)

20. Where can we find support for living this married lifestyle?

There are many resources that will support married couples to live their radical, counter-cultural life of self-giving permanent commitment.

First of all, you have to realize that marriage preparation doesn’t end when you walk out the door from your classes. It continues throughout your marriage – after all, we should never stop learning how to love each other better. So, you should make sure that you keep working on your marriage. You should make sure to regularly attend some kind of marriage enrichment program, like the one-day Celebrate Marriage Day sponsored by our Office, or a Marriage Encounter Weekend.

Don’t forget that there is no doubt that the family that prays together, stays together. There are lots of ways to grow together spiritually, such as praying together as a couple, or celebrating the liturgy together. One great activity is to go on spiritual retreats, some of which are designed for married couples. Contact any local retreat house for more information, or check out some of these websites.

Another great way to grow as a couple is to do volunteer work together. There are so many opportunities, beginning in your own parish, which always needs help in the school or religious education program, CYO/youth groups, etc. Or, you could contact groups that run soup kitchens, crisis pregnancy centers, homes for unwed mothers, or Habitat for Humanity. Local pro-life organizations always need support, and offer a great opportunity to make a difference. For information about volunteer opportunities around the United States and the world, contact the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service.

There are also many groups and movements that support a pro-marriage lifestyle. Check out these links for some ideas.

Getting involved in marriage preparation will also help you grow closer by sharing your lives with engaged couples. After you have been married for a while, call us at 646-794-3185 or email us at marriage.prep@archny.org, and find out how you can help.

Marriage Team


Marga Regina
Marriage Prep. Coordinator
646.794.3182
marga.regina@archny.org

Lisa Dunleavy-Jennings
Assistant Coordinator


Nati Perez
Registration Questions
646.794.3188
naturaleza.perez@archny.org

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