FAQs About Catholic Marriage

Why does the church teach that marriage is a sacrament?
Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but for the community as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The permanent and exclusive union between husband and wife mirrors the mutual commitment between God and his people.

Do Catholics ever validly enter into non-sacramental marriages?
Yes. Marriages between Catholics and non-Christians, while they may still be valid in the eyes of the Church, are non-sacramental. With permission, a priest or deacon may witness such marriages.

If a Catholic wants to marry a non-Catholic, how can they assure that the marriage is recognized by the Church?
Catholic must seek permission from the local bishop to marry a non-Catholic. If the person is a non-Catholic Christian, this permission is called a “permission to enter into a mixed marriage.” If the person is a non-Christian, the permission is called a “dispensation from disparity of cult.” Your parish office can assist with the permission process.

Why does a Catholic wedding have to take place in a church?
For Catholics, marriage is not just a social or family event, but a church event. For this reason, the Church prefers that marriages between Catholics, or between Catholics and other Christians, be celebrated in the parish church of one of the spouses. Only the local bishop can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.

When a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, must the non-Catholic promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith?
The non-Catholic spouse does not have to promise to have the children raised Catholic. The Catholic spouse must promise to do all that he or she can to have the children baptized and raised in the Catholic faith.

Are weddings permitted on Sundays or during Lent?
Church law allows weddings to be held during most days of the year, except the Triduum. However, many parishes do not schedule weddings on Sundays because of the conflict with regularly scheduled Masses and other parish activities. In addition, some dioceses and parishes do not allow weddings during Lent, a season of penance. Check with your parish office.

What should a couple do when they decide that they want to marry in the Catholic Church?
They should contact their parish as soon as possible and make an appointment to talk with the priest, deacon or staff person who is responsible for preparing couples for marriage. All parishes in Malaysia insist that couples attend a marriage preparation program (CMPC)  at least  six months before the intended date of marriage.

Why does the church require engaged couples to participate in a marriage preparation program?
Marriage preparation offers couples the opportunity to develop a better understanding of Christian marriage; to evaluate and deepen their readiness to live married life; and to gain insights into themselves as individuals and as a couple. It is especially effective in helping couples to deal with the challenges of the early years of marriage.

What key issues are covered in marriage preparation?
Marriage preparation programs help couples to understand the Christian and the human aspects of marriage. Typical topics include: the meaning of marriage as a sacrament; faith, prayer and the church; roles in marriage; communication and conflict resolution; children, parenthood and Natural Family Planning.

Is there a cost for marriage preparation programs?
Most programs charge a modest fee to cover the cost of materials. Programs that require an overnight stay will include an additional cost for rooms and meals. Assistance is frequently available for couples who would otherwise be unable to participate.

What is an annulment?
An annulment is a declaration by a tribunal (Catholic church court) that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union. Unlike civil divorce, an annulment does not erase something that was already there, but rather it is a declaration that a valid marriage was never actually brought about on the wedding day. A declaration of nullity does not deny that a relationship ever existed between the couple, or that the spouses truly loved one another.

Cohabitation and Catholic Church teaching
Every act of sexual intercourse is intended by God to express love, commitment and openness to life in the total gift of the spouses to each other. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage cannot express what God intended. Rather, it says something false–a total commitment that the couple does not yet have. This total commitment is possible only in marriage.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that some couples claim a right to live together if they intend to marry later on. Although the couple may be sincere in their intention, the Catechism stresses that human love is not compatible with “trial marriages.” Rather, “it demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another.”

If you are a cohabiting couple who has chosen to marry, the Catholic Church welcomes your decision to marry, but because cohabitation can have an effect on the marriage, couples are encouraged to explore certain questions with the pastoral minister who is preparing them for marriage.

Cohabitation may raise questions, for example, about the couple’s freedom to marry, that needs  to be explored.