What Is a Convalidation Ceremony?

convalidation couple

Photo by Monica Leggio

It’s not uncommon for beliefs about religion to change over time, both as an individual and as a couple. Often, many couples may choose to get married in a non-religious ceremony, whether because of differing religious beliefs or no significant spiritual beliefs at all. As your commitment to each other grows, you may discover or return to the church and decide that it would be personally and spiritually meaningful to have your marriage recognized by the church you belong to. This can be done through a convalidation ceremony.

What Is a Convalidation Ceremony?

A convalidation ceremony is a type of marriage ceremony where a couple has married outside of the Catholic Church and now wants their marriage validated in the Catholic Church.

In the Catholic Church, marriage is a sacrament, like baptism or confirmation. A sacrament brings you closer to God (and in the sacrament of marriage, to each other). Sacraments join Catholics all over the world with Jesus Christ and with one another, and are therefore the most important celebrations of the Church. 

A wedding officiated by the state or in another faith outside of the Catholic Church is not recognized as a valid marriage by the Catholic faith. In order for the Catholic Church to recognize their union as "valid," a Catholic couple has to go through a convalidation ceremony. Catholic couples who were not originally married in the church may want to partake in the marriage sacrament as a way to deepen both their faith and their commitment to each other.

Below, we explore the meaning of a convalidation ceremony and how couples can prepare for this form of the covenant of marriage. Read on for our guide to a Catholic convalidation ceremony. 

The Meaning of a Convalidation Ceremony

The word convalidation comes from the Latin word meaning "to firm up" or "to strengthen." A convalidation ceremony is a religious ceremony for a Catholic couple to be legally wed under Canon law. This ceremony makes the civil wedding official because, in the Catholic tradition, marriages performed outside of the Catholic Church aren’t recognized. The convalidation ceremony legitimizes the marriage in the eyes of the church and God. Although it may sound official, a convalidation ceremony is not that different from a traditional wedding ceremony. 

"It is the same as a wedding ceremony," explains Elizabeth Reha, director of family life at St. John Catholic Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. "Sometimes lower-key."

Meet the Expert

Elizabeth Reha is the director of family life for the Diocese of Little Rock in Arkansas. The Family Life Office develops, supports, and coordinates marriage and family ministry in its many dimensions throughout the Diocese of Little Rock, including convalidation classes for couples who are married civilly (outside the Catholic Church) and wish to have a sacramental marriage within the Church.

Convalidation Ceremony FAQs

How is a convalidation different from a traditional wedding ceremony/service?

"They are the same in the Catholic Church," says Reha. "Because the couple may have already had a major civil marriage, the ceremony may be less lavish."

When would a couple consider having a convalidation ceremony?

Couples may seek a convalidation ceremony if one or both of the spouses was not free to marry in the Catholic Church because of a previous marriage. In the Catholic faith, divorced Catholics are not allowed to remarry until their earlier marriage has been nullified.

Couples may decide to have their convalidation ceremony on the anniversary of their civil marriage so they don’t have to juggle multiple dates. 

Can anyone have a convalidation ceremony?

"Only if you are civilly married and transitioning your marriage to a Catholic marriage," explains Reha. The Catholic Church views marriages between non-Catholics or people of different faiths as valid and legitimate. However, marriage outside of the church by Catholics isn’t recognized by the Catholic Church because Catholics are bound to observe a certain form of marriage ritual in order for their marriage to be valid.

Where can you have a convalidation ceremony and how long is it?

Convalidation ceremonies typically take place inside the church. The length of the ceremony depends on whether it takes place during Mass or outside of Mass. If the couple are both Catholic, it is fitting that the convalidation be celebrated within Mass. If one spouse is not, convalidation may be celebrated outside of Mass in a separate ceremony.

Can you personalize a convalidation ceremony?

"The Catholic order of matrimony follows specific prayers," shares Reha. "We encourage couples to bring their personalization to their rehearsal or reception time."

Can a convalidation ceremony replace a wedding ceremony?

They are the same, according to Reha. Catholic couples interested in getting married in the Catholic Church would have a traditional Catholic wedding ceremony. Only couples who have been civilly married outside of the church would seek convalidation in order to fulfill the sacrament of marriage. 

Is a convalidation ceremony binding?

Yes, it is. A convalidation is not simply a renewal of promises made previously, but the creation of a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church.

Can a couple invite friends and family to their convalidation ceremony?

Yes! Couples can invite anyone they want to witness their convalidation ceremony. However, remind any non-Catholic guests that they shouldn’t receive Communion if they haven’t been baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church. 

How to Plan a Convalidation Ceremony

Once the couple has agreed that it’s important to be married in the Catholic church, they should reach out to their local church for guidance. "Couples planning to marry in the Catholic Church will need to meet with their pastor first," recommends Reha. "Couples in the Diocese of Little Rock must begin their marriage preparation no less than six months to their tentative wedding date."

Your pastor will help explain all the ins and outs of a convalidation ceremony, if it’s appropriate for your specific situation, and if there are any requirements to fulfill before a convalidation, such as an annulment. If one partner is not Catholic but is interested in joining the faith, this would be the time to do so. 

Whether seeking convalidation or a traditional marriage in the Catholic Church, all couples must go through some form of marriage preparation. The steps to a convalidation are similar to traditional marriage prep, but the focus is to make sure the couple understands Catholic marriage. 

After marriage prep is completed and the couple is in canonical compliance, only then can a couple set a convalidation date. The day of convalidation is the day your marriage truly begins, at least in the eyes of the Catholic Church, so think of convalidation as just another wedding celebration. After the ceremony, the couple is encouraged to commemorate this important milestone in their faith and relationship by gathering with loved ones to eat, drink, and dance the night away.

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