DISCLAIMER: Please note that this is not a definitive guide to convalidations. Please get in touch with your parish priest or your local Marriage Tribunal directly if you have any further queries.
Convalidation (meaning "with validation") refers to a simple process by which a marriage that is considered invalid is made valid by an act of new consent between both husband and wife (Can. 1157). A convalidation is simply thought of as a “blessing” given by the Church to make the marriage valid and sacramental, but it is more than this. Convalidation, as stated earlier, requires a new act of consent between the parties involved, the husband and wife. If the current union is thought to be invalid by one or both parties involved, then convalidation must be sought after in order to make the marriage both valid and sacramental. This does not mean that the husband and wife must have a new wedding ceremony - it is assumed that there were no impediments to the union in the first place and that full consent was exchanged – but the marriage must be recognised by the Church. The marriage, prior to convalidation, is assumed to be licit, but not valid in the eyes of the Church and this could be for a couple of reasons:
- one of the parties is a Catholic but has married a non-Catholic without a dispensation (or “blessing”) from the local ordinary (e.g. the local bishop); or
- the marriage was not performed in a Church (i.e. by a Catholic priest) and without canonical dispensation
If a dispensation was given prior to the marriage then the marriage is both valid and sacramental. Those who marry outside of the Catholic Church can no longer receive the Sacraments. By convalidating the marriage it retroactively becomes sacramental and both husband and wife are able to participate fully in the Sacraments of the Church.
Converts to the Catholic Church from another Christian faith tradition may be wondering if their marriage is considered valid in the eyes of the Church when they are received into communion with the Church. The answer is ‘yes’, the marriage is considered valid given that both parties were validly baptised and proper consent was exchanged; the marriage would also be considered sacramental.
If for any reason you believe that your marriage is not valid, then you should – at your earliest convenience – contact your parish priest (or the parish office) to put you in touch with the local ordinary or marriage tribunal so that you may obtain convalidation.
If your marriage requires convalidation then the local ordinary will give some instructions on what you will be required to do in preparation or what should be done/avoided in the meantime. These may include – if the marriage is considered invalid – for the husband and wife to live together chastely as “brother and sister” until the marriage is convalidated; abstaining from the Eucharist until having attending confession; and abstaining from the Eucharist until after the marriage is convalidated. This is so as to avoid scandalising others. The couple should of course continue participating at Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. The local ordinary or parish priest will provide you with the counsel you require.
“’So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’" – Matthew 19:6