Guidance About Civil Marriages

Question: If a practicing Catholic marries a non-Catholic in a civil marriage ceremony is that considered a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church? If a couple who is Catholic and non-Catholic marries without a religious ceremony and lives together, is the Catholic partner committing a mortal sin if they receive Communion?

Answer: Thank you for writing and asking questions about the teachings of the Church in two important areas – civil marriage and a marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic.

All Catholics (and in the situation you raise, namely a Catholic and non-Catholic) who exchange vows in the presence of civil officials are not considered validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church. If they marry in a civil ceremony and are living with their spouse, they should not present themselves to receive Holy Communion.

The Catholic Church invites couples who are married civilly to the graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony, to bless them in the vocation of marriage and dedicate themselves to sharing God’s love. This is called a convalidation.

The couple should contact a priest who can assist them in preparing for the Sacrament of Matrimony. More information about convalidation can be found by clicking here.

You also ask a question about marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic. The Church supports interfaith marriages where one of the spouses is a baptized non-Catholic or a non-baptized non-Christian, but recognizes many of these couples face unique pastoral challenges.

Someone who is Catholic should marry in a Catholic ceremony. Out of pastoral care for the couple and a respect for the faith of the non-Catholic party, there are occasions when a Catholic and non-Catholic are permitted to be married in the Church of the non-Catholic spouse.

In these cases, the Bishop of the Diocese grants a special dispensation (permission) for the wedding to validly take place outside of the Catholic Church.

Information that can assist these couples with their preparation for marriage and provide guidance in selecting the appropriate marriage rite for the wedding ceremony can be found by clicking here and