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What are Catholic teachings concerning marriage?

The sacrament of matrimony is the union in Christ of a wedded couple. This sacramental union begins with the professed commitment of love at the wedding ceremony and continues throughout the remainder of the couple's life. In the sacrament of matrimony, the love of husband and wife is a sign before the world of Christ's enduring love for His Church.

To ensure that the sacrament of marriage be given proper reverence by Catholics, the Church has decreed several laws about marriage that Catholics are obliged to follow.

First, let us consider marriage between two baptized Catholics. The marriage between two baptized Catholics is considered valid and binding if a couple truly intends at the time of marriage to live up to their vows, and the profession of vows takes place before a priest or deacon and two witnesses. The reason for professing the vows before a priest or deacon is that the marrying Catholic makes the marital commitment as a member of the Church; the priest or deacon -- in witnessing the marriage commitment -- stands for Christ and for the Church community of believers.

What about marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian? Does the Church recognize "mixed" marriages?
The Catholic Church recognizes any valaid marriage between two baptized Christians to be a sacramental marriage. This also includes marriage between a Catholic and another Christian and also between two people who are members of other Christian churches. Because they are baptized, the union between two Christians of any denomination is also a special union in Christ and, therefore, a sacramental encounter. A Catholic, however, even when marrying someone from another denomination, is still obliged to be married before a Catholic priest or deacon. Exceptions to this rule are sometimes granted by the bishop, if there is sufficient reason. Otherwise, a priest or deacon must be present -- even if he officiates jointly with a minister of another church.

What about marriage of Catholics before a justice of the peace? Does the Catholic Church recognize a civil wedding?
A civil ceremony is not recognized by the Church if either party is a Catholic. Such a marriage is considered invalid as far as Church law is concerned until it is blessed by the Church with the profession of vows before a priest or deacon.

Another issue concerns marriage after divorce. Is marriage after divorce permissible?
It is God's law that marriage between a man and woman is until death. Therefore, sacramental marriage is only for those who are free to marry, i.e., those who have not been married or whose previous spouse is deceased or whose previous marriage has been declared null and void from the beginning by the Catholic Church.

This close involvement of the Church with marriages of Catholics, even when they marry someone of another church or of no church, bears witness to the fact that the sacrament of marriage is, for most people, the way that they obey God's will and work out their eternal salvation. It is through their married life that most people get to heaven.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission