Married civilly? Consider Convalidation!
For various reasons, you may have chosen to marry civilly instead of getting married in the Catholic Church. Whether there were complicating factors, or you simply did not understand the value of marrying in the Church, or you did not have a connection with Christ and the Church, we eagerly invite you to bring your marriage into the Catholic Church! The process to do this is called convalidation.
Your family life may be going just fine, and your marriage may be satisfying and content, but there is a tremendous beauty and strength in a Catholic and sacramental marriage that we encourage you to explore. As spouses, you can enter into a deeper and more grace-filled relationship with each other and with God by having your marriage validated by the Church. “The benefits of convalidation are enormous: peace of heart, oneness with the Church, reception of the Sacrament of Matrimony and God’s special blessing upon the marriage.” [“Bringing Your Marriage Into the Church,” Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin, Catholic Update, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2004.]
If you and/or your spouse were baptized in (or received into) the Catholic Church, and you were married in a civil ceremony or under another religious denomination, your marriage is not valid in the eyes of the Church (unless you received a dispensation). That said, you may want to look into the possibility of validating your marriage.
Convalidation is a relatively simple process if neither spouse was married before. If one of the spouses had any kind of prior marriage, and the prior spouse is still living, that marriage must have received a declaration of nullity (commonly called an annulment) from a Catholic tribunal before the convalidation of the present marriage can take place. In either case, the first step is to contact your parish (or, if you are not currently enrolled at a parish, then the one where you or your spouse currently reside) and make an appointment to thoroughly discuss your situation with the pastor or his delegate. The priest or deacon assisting you will advise you about any documents needed.
Convalidation is not simply a blessing of an existing union, but the true exchange of consent of the spouses. As such, there will be a period of preparation and formation prior to your ceremony to exchange vows in the Church. Your priest or deacon will guide you in the preparation and/or program he recommends.