Do you Have a “Rite” to Marry?


Does the Church deny couples the opportunity to marry? If your answer is yes, then we need to rethink our understanding of why the Word became flesh.  The Incarnation is the fountain of the grace of the sacraments and the Church would never deny anyone that grace.

However, there is more than merely the desire of the Church at work here. A person desiring the grace has to be in a proper disposition of intellect, soul, and will.  In the sacramental arena of marriage preparation this type of question is key. Often this misunderstanding rests with a couple desiring marriage but involved in a certain lifestyle i.e. cohabitation, that impedes their freedom to marry. The key here is that it is their impediment not the Church’s.

The Church’s “Rite”

When a couple is denied the “Rite” to marry they tend to blame the Church for ruining their opportunity for marital bliss. The Church’s doctrine impedes the opportunity for a couple to marry so says the cohabitating couple.

Blessed John Paul II reminds us:

Knowing that marriage and the family constitute one of the most precious of human values, the Church wishes to speak, and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully (Familiaris Consortio 1).

The key phrase is: “. . . the Church wishes to speak, and offer help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully.” Does this mean that the couple has to be aware of what they are getting themselves into? I’d be lying to all of you if I said I knew exactly what I was getting myself into with my new bride. The few things I did know: I love her, she is a gift from God for coming into my life, and I can’t wait to share my life with her.  Other than that, well, we are talking about a future holding many surprises — this is true for all. Hence, marriage is an authentic sacrifice between two individuals bonded for life in marriage — for whatever they may face together.

A Marriage Dilemma

The sanctity of marriage is under duress from within. Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the need for proper Marriage Preparation for all couples.  The Holy Father addressed the high rate of annulments and the relationship with poor sacramental marriage preparation.  The Church values the sanctity of marriage revealed by God in the order of creation found in Genesis 1:28; 2:4. Man and woman were created to share in the intimate union God had created in His own image and likeness.

Let’s go back to my original question. Does the Church deny a couple the “right” to marry? If a person comes to you and says “the Church cannot deny me the right to marry,” my response to him or her would be: “You are right the Church cannot stand in the way of you getting married. However, if you desire to marry within the Catholic Church, the Church has the right determine if you are sincerely prepared for marriage.”

The Importance of Marriage Preparation

Do you view yourself as gift from God who will sacrificially give your future in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony? This type of question may not be the first thing that comes to any one’s mind but it does not hurt to prod one another. What types of questions should be asked of a couple who desire marriage? The following examples might serve as a starting point:

1.      Have you talked to your Pastor about getting married?

2.      Are there any issues (divorce/annulment) that would prevent marriage within the Church?

3.      Are you active practicing Catholics? Registered at your local Catholic parish?

4.      Are you cohabitating?

5.      Do you understand the moral teachings of the Church on contraception, chastity?

6.      Have you heard of Natural Family Planning?

7.      Are you planning to be open to children?

Is the Church an obstacle to a couple’s intent to have a “Church wedding?” It can be, but not by the Church’s choosing. Authentic marriage preparation should draw on how we, men and women view ourselves before God. Do we truly realize the gifts we hold as children of God. The genesis of any relationship between a man and a woman is Jesus Christ Himself. In Christ we are able to offer ourselves, in a simple way, the opportunity to experience authentic friendship rooted in Christ.

The end goal is having the blessing of Christ upon the marriage. We welcome and desire Christ to become part of this holy union. Our Christian Beatitude is to be pure of heart so we may see God in everything (Mt 5:8; CCC 1720). Please see Christ’s love for you in the Church telling you that you have an impediment to marriage. There may be steps you can take to remove this impediment, because after all, you want your marriage to be right.


About Author

Department Director of Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and author of Screwtape Teaches the Faith (2011) Saint Benedict Press.

  • noelfitz

    I am afraid I do not understand this article.

    What does “[t]he Incarnation is the fountain of the grace of the sacraments” mean?

    I read “cohabitation, that impedes their freedom to marry.” Does this imply cohabiting couples cannot get married in a Church? If this were so in Ireland there would be even fewer marriages. Here 30% of children are born outside marriage, and of those couples who choose to marry more and more are participating in civil ceremonies, even though born Catholic.

    Here parishes rejoice when there is a marriage, sometimes the children of the couple are given roles in the ceremonies. In Ireland the Church is pleased that a cohabiting couple decide to stop cohabiting and regularize their status.

    I read “marriage is an authentic sacrifice”. How is this so?

    I also read “The Church values the sanctity of marriage revealed by God in the order of creation found in Genesis 1:28; 2:4”. Gen 2:4 is “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens”. I cannot see the connection of this to marriage.

    The question is posed “Do you view yourself as gift from God who will sacrificially give your future in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony?” What happens if the person wanting to marry does not understand this. I don’t.

    Again I read “The genesis of any relationship between a man and a woman is Jesus Christ Himself.” What does this mean?

    In Ireland the Church encourages marriage, even though it is disappearing from working class areas as on marriage the woman can lose the state support as an unmarried mother.

    Ireland Q2. 2010.

    Of the 18,844 births, there were 6,205 births registered as outside marriage. This accounted for 32.9% of all births. Of these, 3,381 births were to unmarried parents with the same address, 17.9% of all births. The highest percentage of births outside marriage occurred in Limerick City at 50%, while the lowest percentage occurred in Galway County at 21%.

  • Noelfitz,

    “The Incarnation is the fountain of the grace of the sacraments” means that the Incarnation of Christ is the source of all sacramental power. God entered into His own creation to become man, and the sacraments, like the person of Christ, are a manifestation of Divine power in the world. The sacraments were entrusted to the Church by Christ. If there had been no Incarnation, there would be no sacraments.

    About cohabitation, I’m not sure what a prudent pastor would suggest. It seems to me that fornication before marriage impedes one’s ability to see the relationship objectively, and the decision to marry needs to be an objective one – am I called to have a place with this person? There is a lot that goes on in modern society that perhaps the Church should not condone.

    Not being married, I can’t testify to marriage being a sacrifice. But all relationships are sacrificial in the sense that one gives up a bit of one’s self in order to be with another – and as Jesus said, No man has greater love than this, than that he lay down his life for his friends. If the ultimate sacrifice is the sign of true friendship, then how could it be any less for husband and wife?

    Jesus is the source of every relationship between husband and wife – this is an interesting observation. To take one angle on it, it could mean that Jesus’ love is self-emptying (see this Sunday’s liturgical readings), and genuine love is rooted in the desire to give oneself as a gift just as Jesus did.

    So follow what Blessed John Paul II called the “Law of the Gift” and see how far you can go!

  • noelfitz

    thanks for your reply.
    Let’s get back to basics. What is a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to signify grace and confer it on our souls, or briefly an outward sign of inward grace. The incarnation is the taking of human nature by Jesus Christ. Trent teaches us that the sacraments confer grace. Grace is give us through the merits of Jesus Christ, this article ignores the live, death and resurrection of Christ in meriting the grace of sacraments.

    Also the article takes no account of the forgiveness of sins in denying marriage to those who cohabited and believed in contraception.

    If marriage is a sacrifice, who is the victim? Is it the poor man?

    Jesus came to call sinners and to lead people to God. Efforts of the Church to deny marriage to Catholics who cannot tick all the boxes seems totally counter-productive and damaging to the People of God.

    However thanks for your effort to clarify this article.

  • “This article ignores the li[f]e, death and resurrection of Christ in meriting the grace of sacraments.” The Church is saying that people do not have an automatic right to marry – if I could put the author in my own words, I would say that people have a prior right to be formed properly for marriage, and pastors have a duty to ensure that right is upheld. People often don’t realize they need proper formation, but they do.

    While Christ’s life, death, and resurrection merit for us the grace of the sacraments, neither are the sacraments a reward for us because of Christ. If I approach the altar for Communion, I have the duty to make certain I am properly disposed; my disposition doesn’t happen magically because Christ is the source of the sacrament. It’s the same thing with marriage. People have the duty to make sure they are properly disposed (and formed), and if they aren’t, the priest’s job is to inform them.

    In some unfortunate cases this may result in people being turned away for sacramental marriage, if they do not have the proper intentions and dispositions and will not work to obtain them.

  • noelfitz


    congratulations on your very clear and balanced reply to me.

    I fully agree with what you say and I admire the concise way you express the Church’s concern for the common good.