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FAQ (Marriage Prep)

FAQ (Marriage Prep)

Today, there is an increasing number of questions concerning marriage and marriage preparation. For questions on marriage preparation, choose from the frequently asked questions below. If your question is not listed, you may contact us at (646) 794-3185 or at FLRLEvents@nyfamilylife.org.

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 has all couples go through marriage preparation. The goal is to help you to grow in love and be open to God’s grace so you have a happy and fulfilling marriage. There are several components to this:

  • 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 practical advice and assistance on married love, including marital communication and overcoming challenges
  • To provide education and support on Catholic values concerning human life and 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), for a marriage to be valid:

  • 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 two other witnesses
  • The spouses must be free to be married (e.g., no prior valid marriages)
  • They must be psychologically mature and capable of consenting to the marriage
  • They must understand the nature of Catholic marriage (i.e., exclusive, permanent, and open to having children)

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.

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 not just technical. They are designed to help you have a good, solid foundation for a happy marriage. (See “Why does the Church have so many rules about marriage?”)

When you meet with the priest/deacon who will be witnessing your marriage, he will ensure all Canon Law requirements for marriage have been met.

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

The Church takes marriage seriously and wants you to have a great marriage..

Marriage is a sacred covenant between a man, a woman and God. It is a tremendous gift and a visible sign of God’s love and commitment to His people (Eph 5:31-32). It is the foundation of the family and society and central to the life of the Church. It is a public act celebrated as part of the Church’s liturgy and introduces couples into a special state of life in the Church. It creates a permanent and faithful bond between husband and wife and establishes significant rights and responsibilities between acouple and, eventually, their children. Finally, it is the most important relationship in the life of a married couple, vital to their happiness and to the happiness of their children.

Because marriage is so significant, the Church wants to make sure couples are properly prepared and that they enter into the union freely, without reservation and with full understanding of what is involved.  It also has an obligation to make sure the marriage is celebrated the right way. 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, marriage preparation is governed by Canon Law (the Church’s universal law), regulations of the archdiocese, liturgical rules and pastoral requirements of individual parishes and priests. Most people find them no more difficult to work within than civil laws 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. Are there marriage prep programs other than the Archdiocesan Marriage Prep Program?

There are other marriage prep programs that are not offered by the archdiocese, but the two programs below do complete your marriage preparation class requirement. Any questions should be directed to the organizations running these programs.

Engaged Encounter Weekend

This weekend retreat program provides couples an experience of in-depth, personal, private marriage preparation in peaceful surroundings during a weekend dedicated just to them. The weekend is interactive, providing each couple private time to work on their relationship. There are several locations within the archdiocesan geographic area this program is offered. For additional information, visit the Catholic Engaged Encounter website at www.engagedencounter.org.

Three to Get Married

This weekend day program provides couples with a reflective and in-depth preparation for a joyful marriage. Given by qualified professionals, priests and therapists and volunteer lay couples, it places couples in small groups to foster intimacy, lively discussion and personal attention. For additional information, visit regnumchristinyctnj.org/events/couples/three-to-get-married/.

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

If you’re 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 communion and confirmation if applicable
  • If you’re not getting married in your home parish, your freedom to marry must be established by either a statement of “no notations” (prior valid marriages, religious vows, etc.) 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 will need evidence that you were baptized (e.g., a recent baptismal certificate). Some priests/deacons will ask for a letter from a parent or other adult stating that you are free to be married (no prior marriages).

You will usually be asked to have these documents at the time of the  Pre-Marital Interview (PMI), a meeting at which the priest/deacon will ensure all of the Canon Law requirements for marriage have been met (see FAQ #18 below).

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

A marriage between a Catholic and a baptized Christian (even if they’re a non-Catholic) can still be a sacramental marriage, according to Canon Law of the Church) provided the couple is free to be married (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” (a waiver of the formal requirement that the wedding occur in a Catholic Church, witnessed by a Catholic priest, deacon or bishop) from his/her bishop (see FAQ #12 below).

If you’re from within the Archdiocese of New York, the priest or deacon overseeing your marriage preparation will help you obtain these documents. If you’re from outside this archdiocese, you should contact a priest in your home parish to obtain them. 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 serious obligation to ensure their children are raised in 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.

Differences in religious faith can be a significant source of stress and strain in a marriage – especially when the issue of children comes around or if there are problems with relatives or friends over this issue. The most important thing is to discuss this issue now.  There are 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 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. What if one of us is a Catholic and the other is a non-Christian?

According to the law of the Church, a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian can be valid if the couple obtains from the Catholic spouse’s bishop a “dispensation” due to “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” (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. Click here for more information about this.

If you’re from the Archdiocese of New York, the priest or deacon overseeing your marriage preparation will help you to obtain these documents from the Chancery Office. If you’re from outside this 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 a 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 serious obligation to ensure their children are raised within the Catholic faith — indeed, during one of your interviews with the priest/deacon 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.

8. Do I (we) have to be confirmed before we get married?

While you do not need to be confirmed to be married in the Catholic Church, it is strongly encouraged. 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. 

Thousands of adults are confirmed every year through tRCIA classes (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Almost every parish offers them – they typically begin in September or October and run until Easter.  Participants are brought into full communion with the Church 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 parish about their RCIA schedule for the fall.

9. What if one of us was married previously?

Because the Catholic Church recognizes marriage as a permanent and sacred bond between a man and woman “until death,” a person cannot enter into a second marriage while his or her previous spouse is still living.

Yet, certain personal and spiritual elements required for a valid marriage may have been missing before the previous wedding ceremony took place. After an annulment investigation, the Church may conclude with moral certitude that no valid marriage had taken place, and the parties are free to marry someone else.

The Annulment process can bring tremendous self-healing to individual whose marriage ended in divorce.  It is best to contact your parish priest to begin the annulment petition process, and he will direct you to next steps.  For additional information on annulments, visit https://www.foryourmarriage.org/annulments/.  In the Archdiocese of New York, you can also visit https://archny.org/tribunal/, email tribunal@archny.org or call 646-794-3200 for more information.

10. What if we’re getting married outside the Archdiocese of New York?

If you’re getting married outside of the Archdiocese of New York 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, 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 a Pre-Marital Interview (PMI) (see FAQ #18 below). 

The spouse who is a native of the archdiocese will have to make sure 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 other spouse is a native of the archdiocese, she will also have to obtain a letter certifying that there are no barriers to the marriage (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.

 Any dispensations or permissions required by 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.

11. 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 send the documents to its diocesan offices, which will then forward them here. Because this takes time, start this process as soon as possible.

12. Can we get married in a place other than a church?

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 sacred for both the couple and for the Church as a whole. It is a sign not only of the love of the couple for each other, but also of the love of God for His people. Indeed, one of the parties to every Christian marriage is God Himself. With rare exceptions, all sacred events in the life of the Catholic people (Mass, baptisms, funerals, weddings, ordinations, confessions, confirmations, etc.) are celebrated at a church — the place that is the center of our life as a faith community and the place where Jesus Himself is really present in the Eucharist in the tabernacle. The church is also where past and future generations have worshipped and will worship — so when we gather there, we act in solidarity with God’s people, present, past and future.

That is why weddings are supposed to be celebrated at the home parish of one of the spouses (by custom, it is usually the bride’s parish) — so that your own part of the universal Christian community can be a witness (at least symbolically). A catering hall, park, 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.

The right place for your sacred exchange of vows is a sacred place — a Church.

Having said this, 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 — Between Two Catholics

  • Under 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 permission.

Marriage Outside of a Church — 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” (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.
  • Permission will be granted for a wedding between a Catholic and another Christian outdoors or in a non-religious location only if the circumstances merit special permission, reserved to the judgment of the Chancery.

Marriage Outside of a Church — 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” (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 overseeing your marriage preparation will help you obtain this dispensation from the Chancery Office. This can take time, so you should start the process early.
  • Permission will not be granted for a wedding outdoors. However, permission may be given for a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian in a non-religious building if there are truly extraordinary circumstances.
13. What if we married civilly and want to marry in the Church?

For various reasons, a couple 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 convalidated by the Church.

If you and/or your spouse are baptized Catholics and you were married in a civil ceremony or under another religious tradition, your marriage is not fully recognized by the Catholic Church (unless you received a specific dispensation).

Convalidation is a relatively simple process, particularly if neither of the spouses was in a prior marriage before joining their current partner.  If one or both of the spouses was in a prior marriage, the partner in the earlier union must have died, or the Church must have issued a declaration of nullity (commonly called an annulment) before the convalidation process can begin.

In either case, the first step is to contact a local parish or your own parish, and make an appointment to thoroughly discuss your situation with the pastor or his delegate and determine the steps to follow.

14. 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 relationships:

  • 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/deacon 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.
15. Does the Church have a position on prenuptial agreements?

The question of prenuptial agreements frequently arises today. These agreements are basically a contract between 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 bad idea, and may even call into doubt the validity of the marriage.

One of the basic elements of a Catholic marriage is indissolubility — that marriage is permanent. Jesus himself stated, “what God has joined, let no man separate” (Mt. 19:6). This teaching is very strongly reflected in Canon Law, the law of the Church. For a marriage to be valid, the couple must both fully understand what indissolubility means and they consent to it.

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. It suggests their consent is 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 relationship. It implies a lack of trust and commitment and maybe some doubts about whether they are really ready to get married. It suggests the couple is not truly dedicated to working through 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 prenuptial agreements. We would also recommend that couples talk seriously about why they would contemplate a prenuptial agreement and whether they are truly ready to make the commitment to a full, permanent marriage.

16. Do we need to get a marriage license?

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

17. What are Catholic Couple Checkup and Prepare/Enrich relationship inventories?

Catholic Couple Checkup (CCC) and Prepare/Enrich (PE) are relationship inventories that the Archdiocese of New York endorses when we work with our couples. Used as both premarital assessments as well as marriage enrichment tools, these two inventories are designed to help couples discover their unique relationship strengths, which enable them to enjoy and continue developing a healthy relationship. They also address areas of growth and help identify issues threatening the vitality of the relationship. CCC and PE are in the same family of relationship inventories and the main component of each program is an online survey. Both CCC and PE are informative and easy to complete, and are tailored to the unique stage and structure of each couple’s relationship, whether dating, engaged or married. Some of the key scales that are assessed include: Communication, Conflict Resolution, Partner Style and Habits, Financial Management, Leisure Activities, Relationship Roles, and Spiritual Beliefs. Catholic Couple Checkup and Prepare/Enrich are part of the archdiocesan marriage preparation program. For more information, click here.

18. What is the Pre-Marital Interview (PMI)?

This is the meeting at which the priest/deacon will make sure all Canon Law requirements have been met. For instance, he will ask you for proof of baptism, first communion and confirmation and he’ll ensure any dispensations or other required documents have been obtained. He’ll also ask you questions about your background and understanding of Catholic marriage. The process is not very lengthy and offers an excellent opportunity to speak to the priest/deacon about anything 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 and to obtain this blessing, click here.

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

There are many resources to support married couples.

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. You should make sure to regularly attend some kind of marriage enrichment program, like the one-day Celebrate Marriage Day sponsored by the Family Life office or a Marriage Encounter Weekend.

Don’t forget that the family that prays together, stays together. There are lots of ways to grow together spiritually, such as praying together as a couple and 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 see the Family Life Office Marriage Enrichment webpage.

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.

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 646-794-3188 or email us at FLRLevents@nyfamilylife.org and find out how you can help.

21. Where can I find more information on wedding liturgy readings and information?

For information on readings for your wedding liturgy and additional information:

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