What is convalidation and how do couples plan a convalidation ceremony?

The Roman Catholic Church believes that marriages entered into by non-Catholics are valid. Indeed, in the eyes of the RC Church, even two atheists or agnostics who are married civilly before a judge or magistrate enter into a valid marriage.

Convalidation Requirements:

Roman Catholics, however, are bound to observe a certain form of marriage ritual in order that their marriage be considered valid. Canon law—the law of the Church—requires that Roman Catholics enter into marriage by free mutual consent that is witnessed (performed) in a Roman Catholic church by an authorized bishop, priest, or deacon and involving at least two other witnesses.

Marriages in which one or both parties are Catholic and which are not witnessed (performed) by an authorized bishop, priest, or deacon, or which do not receive proper permission to take place in another location, are considered invalid in the eyes of the Church.

It may be that the Catholic who entered into marriage outside the Roman Catholic church did not realize that these requirements exist but, more often, it is because one or both of the spouses was not free to marry in the Roman Catholic Church because of a previous marriage or because they were awaiting an annulment. Or because the marriage (even if between Catholics) was held somewhere other than Roman Catholic church property and hence a Roman Catholic priest could not perform the ceremony.

Or it simply may be that the Roman Catholic partner(s) may not have been active in the Church and did not even consider having a Catholic wedding at the time they were married. Later in life, in order to bring their children up as Roman Catholics, they may wish for their marriage to be recognized by the Church.

Convalidation Wedding Ceremony

The Roman Catholic Church very much wants to assist these couples who later want to enter into valid Catholic marriage, and it offers them pastoral and spiritual support as they need it.

When these couples are ready and free to do so, they celebrate what is called a convalidation, from the Latin word meaning “to firm up” or “to strengthen.” This is sometimes referred to as the blessing of a marriage.

It is important to realize that a convalidation is not merely a renewal of vows made previously but is a new act of consent by each spouse. This new act of consent is essential to marriage, and the words that the couple expresses are the outward sign of the gift of self that they exchange.

This convalidation of marriage may be celebrated within Mass or outside of Mass, again depending on the particular situation of the couple. If both are Catholic, it is fitting that the convalidation be celebrated within Mass.

If one spouse is not Catholic, they are not entitled to take communion, so it is likely preferable that the ceremony be celebrated outside of Mass. Customarily, since the couple’s married life is a known and public fact and may have been so for many years, a simple celebration with an invitation to close family and friends may seem more appropriate than a large celebration.

It is important to note that it is entirely up to the parish priest to decide whether or not to perform this Convalidation ceremony.