Can You Have a Catholic Wedding After a Civil Ceremony?

Some couples opt to have a civil wedding because it is fast, takes less time, and is cheap compared to a religious wedding ceremony. A licensed government official usually performs a civil ceremony. A couple may have a civil ceremony before having a religious or traditional wedding ceremony. The catholic church has some strict rules when it comes to validation of marriage. If this marriage didn’t follow these rules, then it’s deemed invalid.

So can you have a catholic wedding after a civil ceremony? You can have a catholic wedding ceremony after getting married through a civil ceremony. The catholic church allows its members who got married through a civil ceremony to retake their vows in a church ceremony. This process is commonly known as convalidation, where if completed, the catholic church will recognize the marriage as valid.

In the catholic church, an invalid marriage can be a hindrance to the couples’ spiritual growth. Hence, most couples who have had their wedding officiated by non-Catholic officiants arrange to have their marriage validated by the church. Read on to find more information about having a catholic wedding after a civil ceremony along with the steps one must take to convalidation.

Having a Catholic Wedding After a Civil Ceremony

The catholic church doesn’t recognize a marriage formed out of a civil wedding ceremony as valid. The Code of Canon Law has set out the approved form of a catholic wedding ceremony. Any ceremony different from this approved form will lead to a marriage not recognized by the church as valid.

The catholic church recognizes a marriage as a spiritual reality. Two people are coming together and entering into a contract with God and the church. Marriage is not just a piece of paper or a legal formality. In a civil ceremony, the couple only enters into an agreement; many times, the officiant is not a religious leader making it a secular wedding ceremony.

If a baptized catholic couple gets married through a civil ceremony, the marriage is considered valid by the church. In order to amend this error, the catholic couple has to seek convalidation from the church. It is a simple celebration of the sacrament of marriage so that the church can witness the couple’s consent.

There is another process of validating a marriage. It is known as radical sanation, where the church will validate the marriage without the formal exchange of vows. It is essential for the couple to consult with their priest or deacon on the process of validating their marriage. The priest or deacon will advise the couple on the correct procedure to get their marriage validated.

Three things make a catholic marriage valid; capacity, consent, and canonical form. Capacity refers to the ability the couple has to enter into a marriage. The bride and groom have to be mature, both physically and mentally. They should also be free from impediments like prior marriages.

Consent is where the couple both willingly agree to enter into the marriage. The couple decides to stay married to each other for the rest of their lives. They agree to have an exclusive marriage. They also agree to have children in the future and raise them within the catholic church.

The canonical form is where the wedding format follows the rules placed by the catholic church. The couple has to be married in the presence of a catholic bishop, priest, or deacon. There also should be two more witnesses to the marriage. If all these conditions are met, then the marriage is valid.

Catholics are bound by canon law and marrying outside the church is frowned upon. If one has a wedding outside the church, they cannot receive communion until they validate the marriage. This may make an individual struggle with their faith and spiritual growth. Validating the marriage allows the couple to continue receiving communion during mass.

Steps to Convalidation

The government and the church view marriage differently. One sees it as a legal contract on a piece of paper that can easily be broken, while the other sees it as a spiritual contract with God that is hard to break. For them to validate an invalid marriage, a couple has to go through convalidation. There are several steps to convalidation. They are:

  1. The couple needs to consult with the priest or deacon on having the marriage validated. The couple has to visit the priest or deacon and explain to him their situation. The priest needs to know how the couple got there before advising them on what to do next.
  2. After getting advice from the priest, the couple will have to produce their certificate of baptism. All catholic spouses have to produce their certificate of baptism. You can request the parish you were baptized in to send your baptismal records to the priest. This process only takes a few days.
  3. The couple will then collect the necessary papers for a prenuptial investigation. The church will investigate to confirm the couple’s marriage history. If one or both spouses had a previous marriage, they have to obtain a declaration of nullity. The priest or deacon will help the spouse with this process; it usually takes six months or more for spouses with previous marriages. For catholic spouses with no previous marriages, it takes only a few days.
  4. The couple then starts preparing to enter the sacrament of marriage. The priest or deacon will prepare guidelines for this step. The priest may request that the couple attend a parish or diocesan marriage preparation program if married for less than two years. If married for more than two years, the priest will recommend the couple attend a marriage enrichment weekend or event.
  5. The couple will then attend the sacrament of reconciliation. The couple will have to go through the sacrament of confessions. The priest will guide you through this process and assist you in confessing the sins. After confessions and repentance, the couple is ready to prepare for their wedding ceremony.
  6. The couple can now arrange for the convalidation service and set the time and date for the ceremony. If the couple is both catholic, they can opt for a nuptial mass, and if only one of the couple is a catholic, then a rite of a marriage ceremony is appropriate for them. If one spouse does not want to participate in the convalidation, the church will recognize the marriage as valid through the radical sanation process.
  7. The final step is to celebrate a wedding. The couple will receive the sacrament of reconciliation. There is no need for a big wedding with bridesmaids and groomsmen. A simple ceremony with a few guests is enough. At least two witnesses need to be present during the ceremony. Some priests will allow a big celebration, but they will clarify to the couple and the guests that a legal marriage is already in place. The couple can then become actively involved in the church’s activities.


Most Catholics want the church to recognize their marriages as valid. It makes it easy for couples to attend mass and receive communion. Convalidation fulfills the need to get closer to the church and God.

Catholics are bound by canon law to marry under specific conditions. If any of these conditions are not met, the church will not consider the marriage valid. To fix such errors, the catholic church introduced convalidation—a simple way of fixing the mistakes of the catholic couples who got married outside of the church.

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