Getting married and "Catholic elope" are not phrases a practicing Catholic will find together very often. After all, strict rules within the Catholic Church dictate what makes a marriage recognized within the Church, and eloping usually does not follow those rules. But fortunately for Catholics, options are available if they choose to get married outside the Church.
Convalidation of Marriage
The process by which Catholics can make their elopement a recognized marriage in the eyes of the Church is called convalidation of marriage. Sometimes it is referred to as blessing the marriage or a re-validation of the marriage.
Catholics who marry outside the religion in a ceremony performed by a civil official/justice of the peace or another faith's religious clergyman can get their marriage recognized by the Church if they take the necessary steps. According to an article appearing in American Catholic, seven steps are necessary for convalidation. In short, they include:
- Contacting your priest to discuss the options available based upon your unique circumstances.
- Obtaining baptismal records for both parties.
- Seeking a Church declaration of nullity, if necessary.
- Filling out the proper paperwork (usually filled out in conjunction with or by the appropriate authority, often your priest).
- Setting the date, time, and kind of service for the convalidation.
- Participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) before the ceremony.
- Planning a social event afterwards to celebrate the convalidation.
The process may vary slightly according to what you must do in order to have a Catholic marriage. Both parties usually end up attending marriage counseling sessions with the priest before the ceremony in which numerous articles of faith are discussed, including the Sacraments of Marriage.In the case where one of the parties involved does not see the need for setting a convalidation ceremony, a "sanatio in radice" may be sought, which is a retroactive convalidation from the time of the original marriage. This usually happens when one party is not of the Catholic faith and does not fully understand the reasoning behind the convalidation, according to In the Spirit of Cana.
Dispensation From Canonical Form
To avoid any question of validity in the Church or to avoid having to convalidate a previous Catholic elope, couples should take all the steps necessary to assure that their marriage will be valid in the eyes of the Church. Being excused from following Church law (known as Canons) by the proper authority is called dispensation from canonical form.
According to the Archdiocese of Chicago, the dispensation from canonical form often requires sound ecumenical and inter-faith reasons. Usually this involves one party not being of the Catholic faith or the marriage being performed as a non-Catholic ceremony. Dispensations may be granted for other reasons, but those are the most common. Talk with your priest if you think you may qualify for a dispensation.
Destination Catholic Elope
When people refer to "elopement," they do not always mean a simple civil ceremony. Sometimes they are using elopement to mean a destination wedding. In these cases, it is possible to have a Catholic elope be considered valid.
Places like Anse Chastanet Resort in St. Lucia may offer an elopement package that includes a ceremony in the Catholic Church, performed by a priest. At Anse Chastanet Resort, a notice of three months must be given, and the couple must go through pre-nuptial sessions with their home parish priest. A written confirmation from the priest is required before the Catholic ceremony.
Couples who have other destinations in mind may be able to arrange a destination wedding through their parish priest. Find Catholic churches across the United States by visiting Catholic.org. Speak with your priest on whether it is possible to have a destination Catholic elope in another church and what is involved, should it be approved.
Catholic Marriage Resources
Your own priest is the best resource for information regarding valid Catholic marriages. Of course, he may not always be available when you have questions. To find out more regarding various aspects of a Catholic wedding and marriage, use these resources: