Convalidations

Convalidation (a.k.a. Marriage in the Church)

With a convalidation, the bride and groom are exchanging consent for the first time (according to canonical form), even though they may already be civilly married. As with any marriage, the couple seeking a convalidation must have the proper capacity, knowledge, and intention for entering into marriage.[1] They also must give their consent freely.[2] It cannot be assumed that two people having been civilly married for a period of months or years means that they understand what marriage is, or that they have freely chosen it.

In order for a priest or deacon to witness a convalidation, all of the requirements for entering into a marriage must be fulfilled: The couple must exchange consent anew (and not simply renew consent that was previously given),[4] and they must have the proper knowledge, intention, and capacity for doing so.[5]

Questions to Consider

Once their marriage takes place in the Church, they will have entered into a new sacramental relationship with one another in the context of the Christian community. There are several important questions for each couple to consider in this situation:

  • What were the events leading up to their marriage outside the Church?
  • What contributed to their decision not to marry in the Church, but rather elsewhere?
  • How would they describe their marriage up to this point? Have there been any major arguments or periods of separation? Have there been any instances of infidelity? Has there been any verbal, physical, or substance abuse?
  • If they have children, how would they describe themselves and how would they describe each other as parents?
  • If they already have children, are they being reared in the Catholic faith? If not, what are their plans for doing so?
  • What is their attitude toward having children, or having more children? (When couples “convalidate” their civilly valid but ecclesiastically invalid exchange of consent, they must have the same intention as any other couple entering into marriage; that is, to enter into a faithful, fruitful, and abiding relationship.)
  • Understanding that sacramental marriage may not be dissolved by any human
    power (cf. Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9),[3] how does this teaching influence their perception of the permanence of their relationship?
  • What made them decide to seek marriage in the Church? Were there any
    external factors present in their decision, such as parental pressure, the birth of a
    child, problems in the relationship that they believe “God’s blessing” would cure, etc.?
  • What do they think would be different about their relationship after their marriage in the Church?

Pastoral Suggestions

This process will look different for every couple depending upon their situation. After consulting many pastors and comparing the practices of other dioceses, we recommended the following pastoral practice within the Diocese of Richmond:

  • For couples civilly married for 3 years or less:
    • Meet with the priest or deacon to complete the prenuptial investigation interview
    • Work the priest or his designee to complete the Prepare-Enrich inventory and begin subsequent meetings.
    • Attend Unveiled or Engaged Encounter for some formal catechesis
  • For couples civilly married for more than 3 years:
    • Meet with the priest or deacon to complete the prenuptial investigation interview
    • Work the priest or deacon to complete the Prepare-Enrich inventory and begin subsequent meetings. Use the inventory tool to facilitate more personalized catechesis and formation based on the needs of the couple. However, if you think the couple would benefit from Unveiled or Engaged Encounter, they may still attend.

[1] Cf. Code of Canon Law, canons 1057, 1096 §1.

[2] Cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 1103.

[3] Cf. Code of Canon Law, canons 1056, 1136, 1141.

[4] Cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 1160.

[5] Cf. Code of Canon Law, canons 1057, 1096 §1.