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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Civil Marriage and Sacramental Marriage

by Catherine Frakas 25 Jul 2001

Civil Marriage and Sacramental Marriage QUESTION from A. Basto on September 11, 2002 In my country, one can get married before civil law by one of two different procedures. The first is a simple civil wedding. The other is a religious wedding with civil effects.
When my brother got married in December 2001, the parish priest in the city where his fiance lived refused to cooperate in the religious wedding with civil effects. He said that in the city it was the rule for couples to marry first before the Justice of the Peace, and then have the Catholic Wedding. My brother found out that in the diocese where he lives and got married, other catholic couples were also married in that way, because of instructions from the local priests.
Therefore, my brother, after several talks with this priest, gave in to his instructions. He booked both weddings, filed the necessary papers both before the Civil Registry and the Church and attended pre-Cana as usual. On Friday, December 14th, the civil wedding was performed by the Justice of the Peace, with no gests present apart from both families. My brother went to his appartment and his wife went to her father's. The next day, Saturday, December 15th, the Catholic Wedding took place, with all the gests present. The party followed the Catholic cerimony and not the other. We only adressed them a couple after the Catholic wedding.
Nevertheless, I have thecnical doubts about when the Sacramental marriage has taken place. They were both baptized catholics, who, on the day of the civil marriage, agreed to a marriage convenant.
If the Church recognizes marriages between two baptized protestants as Sacramental, then, by use of logic, my brother got Sacramentally married in the civil wedding, although that wedding was illicit before Canon law, because the necessary canonical form was not fulfilled in it.
If this line of thinking is correct according to canon law and the doctrine of the Sacrament of Marriage, then, what was the nature of the Catholic wedding?
I keep asking myself why did the parish priest decided to have things arranged that way. The religious marriage with civil effects was the natural option for the couple and for the Church. It is an option created by decades of political pressure by the Church and by catholics. The enactment of the law allowing for such an option was welcomed by the Church's Hierarchy.
In a religious marriage with civil effects, there is only the religious wedding, performed, in the case of Catholics, before the Catholic Minister. In the moment they get married according to the Church's law, then they are immediately recognized as married before civil law. But the process requires the cooperation of the parish priest, since the couple, before wedding day, need to inform the civil authorities about their intention of having a religious marriage with civil effects, so that the necessary civil licences are issued. Then, instead of booking a date with the Justice of the Peace, the couple inform the authorities of the date set by the priest for their Catholic wedding. The priest has the responsibility of delivering to the civil authorities a copy of the Church's certificate of marriage, bearing his signature and that of the couple, within 30 days of the wedding, so that the marriage is entred in the Civil Record, and a civil certificate is issued. There is no civil cerimony and the date of the wedding, entred in the Civil Record, is the date of the catholic wedding.
After the State separated from the Church in 1890, and until 1937, the plain and simple civil wedding was the only option recognized by law, so that everybody had a Catholic wedding and a civil wedding. But the Church disliked that state of affairs. Only in 1937 the religious marriages were recognized, but the procedure was very complex. The Church insisted that the red-tape needed to be cut and that the procedure for getting a religious marriage with civil effects had to be more simple. The Church won the battle. An act passed in 1950 simplified the procedure. The whole matter is now regulated in a single Act, issued in 1973, and it is the widespread practice of the Brazilian Dioceses to use this option, thus avoiding the civil wedding.
Why would a priest dislike this option, conquered by the Church?
What is the Sacramental status of my brother's first wedding cerimony to the same wife. And what about the second cerimony?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on September 17, 2002 Dear Mr. Basto:
Each country has its own laws regulating marriage. We must follow whatever those laws are (unless the laws violate the laws of God).
To be Sacramental, several things must be true. The marriage must have civil effect AND must have religious effect.
The state laws regular the civil effect; the Church regulates the religious effect.
A marriage that is solely before a justice of the peace even if both parties are baptized I do not believe is valid. I would have to check. But I dont think it would be valid because all that happens is the civil effect.
A Protestant wedding DOES have a religious effect according to the beliefs of that denomination.
In your specific example of your friend, the civil ceremony effects on the civil reguirments and it was MOST PROPER for the bride and groom to go to their separate appartments until the Church wedding takes place.
The Sacramental nature of marriage begins when the couple are validly and licitly married in Church and then consumate the marriage.
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