Catholic Church Teaching on Marriage

Scriptural Basis 

Marriage is a social institution. Historical documents attest to the perennial human desire for a clear societal understanding of the relationship and mutual responsibilities which are undertaken by a man and woman who join their lives and bring up their children. As a religious society, the Israelites developed their practice of the marriage relationship based on their understanding of God as Creator. From the gospels, we know that people of Jesus’ time brought questions to him regarding his views about marriage. Raised in the Jewish faith, and familiar 

with several rabbinical interpretations of Moses’ teaching, Jesus strongly supported not only the natural institution of marriage, but its religious foundation in God’s creation, as well as its permanency (Mark 10:6-9). As he gradually trained his disciples to carry on his work, Jesus gave them the authority to continue to develop and interpret his teachings (Mt. 16:18-19). 

As the church grew, questions arose as to how Christian teaching applied to married life. The approach taken by Paul was twofold. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he states, "To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord) a wife should not separate from her husband… (7:10) To the rest I say (not the Lord) if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever…" (7:12). The first approach is clearly understood as revelation directly from Jesus Christ. The second approach shows that the Apostle felt empowered to apply Jesus’ teaching to specific cases not mentioned in the gospels. From its earliest days, the church’s understanding about marriage was based on the words of Jesus, but its leaders took responsibility to carefully apply this teaching to the circumstances of life. 

The high regard with which the early church held marriage is clear from the Letter to the Ephesians where spouses are told to love each other "as Christ loved the church and handed himself over to her to sanctify her." (Eph.5:25-26) Christian marriage is a sacrament—a sign of God’s action in human lives. "’For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church." (Eph. 5:31-32) 

Second Vatican Council 

The theology of marriage received special treatment at the Second Vatican Council in the document Gaudium et Spes, which sets a high and beautiful standard for Christian marriage: 

The intimate partnership of life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by his laws. It is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence, by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too, is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their offspring, as well as, of society, the existence of this sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. . . . 

Thus, a man and a woman, who by the marriage covenant of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" (Mt. 19:6), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union, as well as the good of the children, imposes total fidelity on the spouses and argues for an unbreakable oneness between them. . . . 

Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church . . . For this reason, Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state. (#48) 

Canonical Description of Marriage 

Immediately after the Council was concluded, Pope Paul VI appointed several committees of canonists from around the world to reorganize the topic of marriage in the Church 

Law in order to reflect and support this Christian ideal. As Pope John Paul II said when he promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law, "Since the Church is organized as a social and visible structure, it must also have norms." Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, 1983.) Not only does the section on Marriage (Canons 1055-1165) include the basic theology of the second Vatican Council, it also brings forward the long tradition of law through which the church has tried to help ordinary Christians live according to Church teaching. 

In this context of law, how do Catholics understand marriage? Let’s look at two key canons: 

What is marriage? 

Canon 1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament. 

Canon 1056. The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness in virtue of the sacrament. 

What makes a marriage? 

Canon 1057 §1 Marriage is brought about through the consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons who are capable according to law of giving consent; no human power can replace this consent. §2 Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman, through an irrevocable covenant, mutually give and accept each other in order to establish marriage.

Consent makes the marriage. Consent creates a bond of relationship between the two persons which is called a covenant. The 1917 Code had called the relationship a contract, but the 1983 Code also uses the word covenant. This covenant is irrevocable. Just as the relationship between parent and child can never be changed, so too the covenant relationship which arises from consent does not change, even though the parties may later divorce. Properly given, consent is truly "till death do us part." 

Form and Place of Marriage 

The proper and regular place of marriage for two Catholics or between a Catholic and non-baptized person, is the parish church of the Catholic party. With permission of the local ordinary or pastor, the marriage may take place in another suitable place. (C. 1115, C. 1118) 

The canonical form for marriage consists of the following: 

  • The marriage takes place in the presence of the local ordinary, pastor, or delegated  priest or deacon. 
  • The bride and groom are in the presence of two witnesses. 
  • The local ordinary or delegated priest or deacon asks for the parties’ manifestation of  consent, and he receives it in the name of the Church. 

The sacred character of the sacrament of marriage is foremost. Backyard weddings and home weddings are generally not permitted in the Archdiocese of Portland. The most common request for a dispensation from canonical form is for a wedding to take place in the church of the non-Catholic bride or groom. At times, because of family concerns, a request might be made for the wedding to take place in a non-denominational chapel. In rare and unique circumstances, a request could be made for a wedding to take place in another suitable place. 

Dispensation from Canonical Form 

The Dispensation from Form is considered when the parties, one of whom is not Catholic, wish to marry in the presence of a non-Catholic minister, who receives the exchange of consent in a non-Catholic church. The request for the dispensation is made by priest or deacon preparing the parties for marriage. The couple may present their reasons and requests to the priest or deacon. He then would write to the Tribunal, asking for the dispensation. He should include the following in the request: 

  1. A letter making the request, with the names of the parties, their baptismal status,  name of the church or location in which the parties have requested their wedding  to take place, date of the wedding, and the name of the person who will be  receiving the exchange of consent. The priest or deacon should state the reasons  for his support of the request. 

  2. Freedom to marry forms for the bride and groom. 

  3. Recent (within 6 months) baptismal certificate for the Catholic party. 

  4. Parish dispensation sheet for mixed religion or disparity of cult, as is necessary. 

Please forward this information to the Tribunal at least three months before the date of the wedding. 


At rare times, the parties may have reasons to request that their marriage take place outside of the church building, but, a Catholic priest or deacon is in fact the official Church witness, for example, at a non-denominational chapel. This may be the case when some family members are unwilling to go inside a Church building. 

The Permission is asked for when a Catholic priest or deacon will be receiving the exchange of consent. However, this should not take place in a Church of another denomination. If that is the case, then the priest or deacon would ask the pastor of that denomination if he could proclaim a scripture reading or give a blessing. 

If permission is sought, the priest or deacon preparing the parties would make the request to the Tribunal. The request should include the following: 

  1. A letter making the request, with the names of the parties, their baptismal status,  name of the location in which the wedding is requested to take place, date of the  wedding, the name of the Catholic priest or deacon who will receive the exchange  of consent. 

  2. Freedom to marry forms for the bride and groom. 

  3. Baptismal certificate for the Catholic party. 

  4. Parish dispensation sheet, as is necessary. 

Please forward this information to the Tribunal at least three months before the date of the wedding. 

The Tribunal will process these requests as quickly as possible, and we will call the priest or deacon if we have any questions. Please call us here at the Tribunal if you have any questions about the request. 

Tribunal Home




Documents in English:

Freedom to Marry: Instructions and Checklist 

Freedom to Marry: Bride-Groom Interview

Freedom to Marry:
Witness forms - Bride & Groom 


Documents in Spanish:

Freedom to Marry: 
Instructions and Checklist

Freedom to Marry: 
Bride-Groom Interview

Freedom to Marry:
Withness forms - Bride & Groom



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