A Vow Renewal By Any Other Name Is Still A Vow Renewal – Convalidation

by admin on January 2, 2013

My situation is similar to “One Wedding, Two Celebrations,” but different. In my case, my husband and I got civilly married 3-1/2 years ago. We just went to the courthouse in jeans with no elaborate ceremony and no reception (unless you count the brunch tab we picked up for the 7 or 8 friends that went down to the courthouse with us). No gifts were involved, which was perfectly fine. Between the rings, marriage license, and the brunch tab, total spent for our wedding was $400ish.

Fast forward to now, and my husband I are preparing to go through the convalidation process, which essentially means that because I’m Catholic, we are going to be sacramentally married as well as civilly married. From what I can tell, the ceremony will involve Scripture reading(s), vows, and a blessing, so it will basically be another wedding ceremony. My husband, his family, and all our friends (including those who were able to go with us 3-1/2 years ago), seem to think that we ought to use this as an excuse to have a wedding celebration, involving a dress, taking pictures, and a reception of some sort.

My husband argues that this wedding is fundamentally different and more meaningful than the civil wedding we had 3-1/2 years ago, and from a theological perspective I completely agree. (Ironic that he, the agnostic one in the marriage, is making this argument to me.) But the reality is that we have been living as a married couple (obviously), so for our day-to-day lives, there is nothing transformative about this event.

On the one hand, I feel apprehensive about treating this event like a wedding, but I suspect that if I go along with it I will enjoy it, and I may even be glad I did. I also think that if everyone we would invite thinks we should have a full-blown celebration, the risk of appearing tacky to anyone that matters is minimal, at best.

I would appreciate any thoughts on this – thanks. 1228-12

I know there are countries where it is quite common to have a civil ceremony followed by a religious ceremony.  However, the gap between the two ceremonies is mere days, at most, as opposed to years.

What your friends and husband are encouraging you to have is a vow renewal in which the couple recreates their wedding day.   My thoughts on vow renewals are that they are often either self indulgent events meant to assuage any regrets the couple has had about their initial wedding or an opportunity for the wife to relive her one glorious day of being the center of attention. There is something ridiculous about a couple who has been allegedly happily married for years having a big wedding vow renewal production complete with bridal showers, the big dress, attendants, and the big shebang ceremony as if the “bride” was a blushing young thing.

I understand the theology of Catholic convalidation of marriage.   To the readers who may not be aware of what the OP is referring to, Catholic doctrine views marriages conducted by a minister of another faith or civil weddings as invalid.   One Catholic forum I read referred to civil weddings as “pretend” weddings which convey “outright disrespect for the real deal”. Some parishes even view such marriages as “living in sin” and thus require the couple to cease all sexual contact during the convalidation review process which can be anywhere from a few weeks to years before approval.   It is very important for observant Catholics to have their invalid marriage convalidated by the Church so they can be considered in good standing with the Church.

So, dear Letter writer, I know that convalidation ceremonies run the gamut from simple 10 minute rites conducted in the church office to short rites immediately after Mass at the altar to full blown weddings.   Unless all your intended guests are Catholic and understand the meaning of the convalidation, having a big wedding ceremony will elicit confusion from guests wondering, “Aren’t they already married?”

If you and your husband truly believe that the convalidation ceremony carries far more spiritual and theological significance than your civil wedding, then the fluffy trappings of a big wedding day should be irrelevant.   Profound spirituality does not manifest itself in a big wedding dress, bridesmaids, wedding cake, big reception, etc.  Does that make sense?  The internal spiritual and theological importance of the rite is what should take center stage, not the external accoutrements commonly associated with a wedding.

I found a lovely example of a convalidation ceremony on a Catholic blog that would be so tasteful and fit the decorum of the situation:

The actual exchange of vows before a priest took place at the main altar after a Saturday night Mass, with only members of their immediate family attending. Maria and Tony dressed in the same outfits they had worn for their Florida civil ceremony years earlier.  With considerable abbreviation and adaptation, the priest used the basic “Rite for Celebrating Marriage Outside Mass.” The service took about 10 minutes. Afterward, the family celebrated at a local restaurant.


{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Mer January 2, 2013 at 8:11 am

In sometimes very gray world I feel that almost any reason to celebrate with near and the dear is a good one. I know that my mother, after decades of happy marriage is bit sad that she never got a “proper wedding” (proper marriage she got of course). This has never been huge issue in our family, more like something that surprisingly came up in other discussion between us. And knowing my mother, I don’t think she’s missing the dress, cake, bridesmaids or gifts but the fact that she did not have change to be with and celebrate this important thing with her closest ones. I think sometimes one wishes to have other people to share their good memories. Shared happiness is double the happiness, shared sorrow is half the sorrow.

This is why I, personally, would not be too hard against if somebody would want to celebrate this ceremony (which is unfamiliar for me as non-Catholic but from OP’s and admins posts understood that this is important and meaningful one). However, if this would be me I would avoid celebration which resembles very traditional weddings to avoid confusion, especially if most of possible guests would be thinking that you are married (I personally don’t wish to in anyway say that OP is not married, just referring to the cases admin mentioned of perhaps more strict Catholics who do not see any civil marriage as a marriage at all thus for them the couple would really be unmarried).

And I am slightly questioning the vow renewal -term used in here. Marriage is funny thing, because it has several meanings. For other it is a promise to their god, a sacrament if you wish. I’ve heard some more religious persons to say that marriage is not about their promise to their spouse but to their god. For other it is legal and financial agreement upheld by the state. And in addition for those, it will be a social institution. If the minister do not have right to do the state upheld agreement but you still want to be married in the eyes of your god, you do need two weddings. How much there is in addition to the mandatory ceremony either by the state or the religion is up to the couple, but both ceremonies will be weddings. (Quoting the Wikipedia here: “A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage or a similar institution.”) In some countries you can choose only one of these. If you don’t want the legal options, just be married in the eyes of your god. If you are not religious, just do the legal agreement. Sometimes both can be done in same ceremony and one wedding fulfills both marriages.

So while I do agree in almost everything with admin here and I admin is dead right on the fact that marriage of any kind does not require any extra fluffy trappings, on the other hand I don’t see that celebrating any important moment of your life with close people would be bad. These happenings are the salt in the life’s sometimes bit dull, but nourishing porridge. And I think that in one’s deathbed one is more likely to regret not celebrating important moments with loved ones than celebrating them. Now it can be done badly, and perhaps, etiquette wise not having any celebration would be safer to avoid labeled as gimme pig or with other not so flattering terms. But I do believe that it is possible to have a some kind of additional celebration to this ceremony without it looking bad.

(Please do not take offence of using small g with word god. I used the word to mean any god in different religions even if this situation talked about Christian God. I know that in my language some people will take offence if you use the small letter while speaking about specifically their God and this post might be one where context might cause confusion.)


scotslass January 4, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Can’t add anything to this, but listen to Mer, this is a gorgeous response! Any celebration you would have doesn’t have to be lavish, but my sister (and CBM) uses the analogy of oil and water: alone, a church ceremony is spiritually important – alone, a party is fun. You can have one or the other, or you can choose to shake them both up together and use the party afterwards (even if it is a dinner with friends and close family as opposed to 6 course meals for everyone you have ever met) as a chance to celebrate the momentous occasion that has just occurred spiritually. Mutton dressed as lamb is one thing, but I personally would see nothing wrong with having a low-key gathering after the church ceremony, simple dress maybe with a coloured sash to look different from a “first-time” bride, etc.


Lo January 2, 2013 at 8:26 am

Congrats, OP, for undergoing the convalidation and kudos to your husband for treating it with the gravity it deserves! I married a non-practicing Jew and was fortunate that he was gracious enough to agree to a Christian ceremony for me so that I could be married in the tradition of my faith, even though these things weren’t important to him.

I do agree with Admin regarding the idea that this doesn’t need to be treated like a wedding at all, however. There’s no reason this cannot be a monumental event in your lives and also be a small event that doesn’t need any wedding-related fuss. I think you are right in this and that your husband and his family and friends probably have their hearts in the right place but are pushing in the wrong direction. Definitely don’t let yourself get talked into a full-blown wedding. This would only distract from the spiritual nature of the occasion.


Tracy January 2, 2013 at 9:56 am

I’m glad to see the Admin’s response. I get so annoyed with couples who have a civil ceremony (often because they need to marry quickly for practical reasons) and later decide to have a big fancy party because “we wanted a church wedding.” A church wedding does not have to be a big fancy party. If you want a big fancy party, admit that you want a big fancy party, instead of pretending it has anything to do with your religion.


Gellchom January 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

Mer’s post was excellent. Really well thought out and well-written, too.

I agree that a religious ceremony after a civil one, even much later, isn’t simply a “vow renewal,” and I also agree that celebrations are wonderful, especially during otherwise gray periods.

But I also agree that after years of civil marriage, things like formal wedding gowns and bridesmaids won’t have the effect you want. Fair or not, you can’t prevent people from thinking it looks silly or pathetic. They love you and won’t care, but you’re just not going to enjoy it very much if you have a nagging feeling of embarrassment.

I don’t think that means you can’t have a big event, though. I would just do it very differently from a traditional wedding. The ceremony itself can — probably should — be exactly the same, minus crowds of attendants. And you can have a lovely party, as big as you please, to celebrate. The trick is to make it very clear that what you are celebrating is the religious sacrament and what that means to you, not the fact that you are now a married couple. So the focus is off your forming a new unit and household, joining each other’s families, starting a new life together, and such.

And those are the things that go with showers, registries, attendants, bridal gowns, wedding cake, throwing a bouquet, and such. I would make a point of skipping those details. I know they’re fun, and it wouldn’t hurt anyone, but I bet you’ll be glad if you let go of them and make it great some other way. In other words, don’t have a sort-of-a-wedding, have a full-out meaningful religious ceremony followed by a fabulous — but dignified, in keeping with the solely religious purpose of the event — party. (Doesn’t mean you can’t have music or alcohol, but I’d skip the limbo and tequila chugging.)


Kendo_Bunny January 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I recently ran into what I thought was a fairly interesting conundrum on this. One of my dear friends got engaged to a young man from another country, and his visa expired. He had to go back to his home country, and they had a big hassle trying to get him back into the US. They married legally pretty much as soon as he set foot on American soil so they could continue with the paperwork. They went ahead with their planned wedding, which ended up being three months after their legal wedding.

One friend made a comment that the latter wedding was all for show, but it was the wedding they had planned originally, and it was legal hassles that had made them hurry up the legal part, otherwise the groom might have had to return to his home country right after the vows. It wasn’t a particularly lavish wedding, and the bride treated it mostly as a combined reception for everyone who hadn’t been able to attend the courthouse service (pretty much everyone but her parents and one sister) and family reunion, rather than making herself the center of attention.

So was she in the etiquette wrong for continuing with her planned wedding when she was already legally married?


Nancy January 5, 2013 at 3:58 am

I know someone who did this very same thing. Some of the wedding had already been planned, the dress already bought, ect. She was going to be deported; the obvious solution was to make her a legal resident. They did it quickly and without regret, and everyone understood the utility of the situation.


Rodinne January 2, 2013 at 10:40 am

I think you can have a party for this celebration, but not a wedding party. Treat it like any life event that you would celebrate.

For example, I would wear a fancy church-appropriate party dress, but not a wedding dress. You should not plan to have attendants. You could hold a gathering at a hall, but you would enter before your guests and greet them as they arrive instead of waiting to be announced, because in this case you are the host and hostess, not the guests of honor.

There can be a DJ or a band or recorded music as you like, and you can dance, but you should not have the trappings of a wedding reception, including no “first dance,” no “bouquet toss,” no “special parent dances.” If you want to dance with your father, or your husband with his mother, that is fine, but you should not clear the dance floor to make this an observed event.

There should not be a head table, which is helped by the fact that you will have no attendants. You and your husband should sit with your parents or siblings, if you have assigned tables. You should not have a wedding cake, although any other kind of cake is entirely appropriate. You do not need wedding favors. This should greatly reduce your budget, so it is to your benefit.

Just think about what you would do for a similarly large party held for another life event, like your future milestone wedding anniversaries, childrens’ christenings and confirmations, graduations, and so forth, and let these be your guides.

Of course, if all you want to do is go from the church to a luncheon at a nice restaurant, or back to your place for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, that is fine, too.


Malu January 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I kind of understand the situation of the OP. I too, went through the civil and catholic weddings separately, 4 months in between. To have both ceremonies the same day is trending, but the reason we did it separately was so my husband could apply in time for a scholarship to study abroad and include my expenses in the scholarship. One week after our religious wedding we travelled abroad for his studies and started living together. My point is, we don’t know much more about the circumstances of the OP and her partner nor the country they live in, so I wouldn’t think anything is wrong with this case if they had a good reason to wait. The thing is, we don’t know the reason.

Like Mer, I question the “vow renewal” term used by the Admin. I can’t speak on behalf of all catholics, but for my husband and me our religious wedding was the important one instead of the civic ceremony. For that same reason our civic wedding was much more simpler and smaller in comparison to our religious wedding. So it wasn’t just a vow renewal. At least in my country, the civic wedding is the one that counts for most civic procedures; in fact, we had to turn in a copy of our marriage license to our church for the religious registry procedure in addition to the scholarship procedure. But the civic ceremony is the wedding that is allowed to end through divorce and that’s why we don’t see it as important. Calling the religious wedding a “vow renewal” sounds to me like diminishing it.


Xarcady January 2, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I just need to point out that what the OP is planning is not in any way a Catholic vow renewal. The Catholic Church encourages married couples to renew their wedding vows–it is a sacrament and the repetition of that sacrament has benefits to the couple, strengthening their bond and bestowing grace upon them. It is the very opposite of “fixing what is broken.” It is more “strengthening what is already strong to help in the future.”

However, the vow renewals I have seen have been very much like the ceremony that is described here–held at a regular Mass, nice clothes, but not wedding attire, a small group of family and friends, and maybe everyone goes out to brunch after Mass.

What the OP is planning is different from a vow renewal. She is, in fact, getting married in the eyes of the Church for the first time. I wouldn’t expect a full-on wedding ceremony by any means. But they could easily have a small, private Mass, with a select guest list, maybe 40-50 people who are all close family and friends instead of 250, and a reception afterwards, which could be a nice dinner in a private dining room. Something in-between just standing up at a regular Mass and reciting their vows and a big white wedding extravaganza.


Cat January 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm

A few sacraments can be repeated, but a renewal of vows is in no way a repetition of the sacrament. Once married validly, married until one partner dies.
Baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and marriage are one-time only unless one is widowed and then marries again. Penance and the sacrament of the sick can be repeated.


Ellen January 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I would concur with Admin, that unless all or the great majority of your invited guests put the same weight on Convalidation as you do and consider it the “real” wedding, that it sends the wrong message to make a big formal ceremony out of it.

I was honored to be invited to the Orthodox Jewish wedding of a former employer. The bride and groom were civilly married 3 months before the religious ceremony, but continued to live in their parents’ homes and were treated in the community as an engaged, not married couple (aka, they were not allowed to be in the same room alone, the bride was allowed to show her hair as an unmarried girl, etc.) After the very large and opulent religious ceremony, they began living as a married couple. In that case I think the formal second wedding was justified, as 99% of the guests were of the same religious community and considered it the “real” wedding. The civil ceremony was considered on a par with applying for the license – a legality that had no spiritual significance.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, my husband and I were later invited to the “wedding” of one of his cousins. After a long journey and a great deal of inconvenience and expense, we were surprised and dismayed to learn from the presiding pastor’s remarks that the couple had been married for a year (news to her entire family), and this was a “blessing of their vows”. The bride and groom looked uncomfortable, and a series of looks were exchanged that certainly made it seem as if, they were hoping the pastor would perform a “fake” wedding and he had refused to do so. So that situation added outright deception to the distatefulness of a reinacted wedding.

In any event, OP, congratulations on your big event, and I am sure you will find the right way to mark its significance in a meaningful way.


Ellen January 3, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Regarding the question below from Double You, and some other comments, yes in the case of the orthodox wedding I attended the religious ceremony could have been legally binding if the civil wedding had not preceded it. However, the civil wedding was timed for immigration purposes and so that the bride would qualify for maternity benefits on her new husband’s policy (since they intended to have children as quickly as possible after the religious wedding). I know that some commenters think that benefitting legally from the civil marriage conflicts with calling the religious one “real”. However, from an etiquette standpoint, that is the custom in that particular community, which is very much separated from the wider culture. It is also common in that community to enter into contracts that are considered binding according to religious law, but that might not be enforceable in the civil court system, for example. I don’t offer it as a “right” or “wrong” way to do things, just as an example where most of the guests share the same understanding of the religious vs. civil weddings.


Cat January 2, 2013 at 5:23 pm

You really need a canon lawyer to explain the ins and outs of this, but, the bottom line, is that you made your wedding vows according both to your heart and to your faith. I think that’s lovely and wish you both joy.


Cam January 3, 2013 at 3:30 am

As a non-catholic, I find the original post and some of the comments a bit confusing. Some write that the church ceremony is the important one, and only after that you are married in the eyes if God. But still some, including the OP, have been only legally married when they moved in with their respective partner. If the church ceremony is the one that matters, then these people have been living together without being married in the eyes of their god. Isn’t this a sin, if you are actually religous?

To me, it feels like people are trying to have it both ways: marry legally early, and have all the benefits of marriage because it was convenient to do so, and then have the big wedding at a later stage, and get the party. But, if you really are truly religious, then you couldn’t live together before you were married also in the eyes of God? And if you actually feel that it is ok to live together (with everything that entails, scrabble, etc) before being married in the eyes of God, then do you really respect God?


AMC January 3, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I’m not Catholic either and was confused by this as well. In the eyes of the state, the OP and her partner are married; in the eyes of the church, they are not. So the question becomes, how do OP and partner define their relationship? If they felt the same way as the church, it would stand to reason that they would wait until the “real” wedding to start their married life together. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case here; OP and her partner have been living together as a married couple for several years. The only reason OP is considering having a wedding is because of pressure from family and friends. So while the convalidation is indeed an important milestone in their relationship, from OP’s perspective they’ve already had their wedding. Because of this, I would not think it approporiate for them to have a full-blown wedding ceremony & reception. A low-key celebration as described by Admin would be just fine though.


Cat January 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Actually, it’s not that simple. You need a canon lawyer to explain this. For example, if a Catholic marries a Christian who is not Catholic in a non-Catholic religious ceremony, the parish Church can enter them as being married. It needs a canon lawyer to explain it all, but it’s not a matter of being married in a Catholic Church is the only way for a Catholic to be validly married.It’s certainly the most simple.
The couple marries each other. The priest is there to represent the Church and to perfrom the legal ceremoney.


Tracy January 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Cam, I agree. If the church wedding is the only one that matters, you should live as if you were single until that point. And that means, for example, that you should not sign up for your spouse’s health insurance. I have very little respect for people who are happy to take advantage of benefits that are provided to spouses by employers or the government, but then insist they must have a big church wedding because “it’s the only one that matters.” If you want to have a big party in addition to a civil wedding, fine. But be honest and don’t pretend it has anything to do with God. Because the truth is, many people who arrange a quick civil ceremony could have just as easily arranged a quick religious ceremony.

Ellen gives a very good example above of a couple who showed that the only ceremony that mattered was the religious ceremony.


Ellie September 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm

I am really appalled by everyone’s reaction here. First of all, it is not easy to arrange a “quick religious ceremony.” You have to meet with a priest more than 6 months in advance. Some large parishes refuse to marry you in less than a year’s time. My husband and I tried to marry within the Catholic church at first, and visited a few churches including our own parish. Our priest refused to marry us because he did not want my husband, a foreigner, to receive residency. Basically, he did not want any more foreigners living in the U.S.! Needless to say, I stopped going to that particular church. The other churches refuse to marry us without at least 6 months or more notice, which just wasn’t feasible in our situation. And no, it’s not because we were getting any benefits from it from our employer or the government or anyone else! It’s because he just wouldn’t have been able to be physically here for the wedding if we had waited that long. Afterwards, we did not have a party at all.

I think that in some ways the Catholic church is completely outdated. We could have easily gotten married in another Christian, non-Catholic church without so many hoops to jump over. Furthermore, many couples live together before they are married, which I think makes absolute sense. Lets be real here, if you are entering a marriage with someone for life, it makes sense to see if your relationship has more than love to it and you can deal with the day-to-day troubles together as a team. Also, many couples live very far from each other or have jobs that take them overseas (military), where the 6 month rule just doesn’t work. I don’t think that these couples are taking advantage of anything. If anything, having such a inflexible and unreasonable cannon just doesn’t work with reality.

In other countries, people have to get married civilly first, and they sometimes wait months or years to have their religious ceremony (it’s not always days like someone else said on here). And guess what? It’s not a big deal, and it’s certainly not tacky to have a big lavish wedding. They tend not to have a reception after their civil wedding but wait to have it after the religious ceremony. If the people that you are inviting to your convalidation ceremony or vow renewal think it’s tacky to dress in a wedding dress, have a wedding cake and a party, then those are probably not the people that you want to invite. I don’t know about you, but when I have my religious ceremony, I plan to celebrate it in full.


Kate January 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Yep, this confused me too. Plus, from what I understand, the expensive bit of a wedding comes from the reception, photography, flowers, etc. Getting married in a church is probably not all that much more expensive than a civil ceremony if you need a wedding without the trimmings for financial reasons.


Kendo_Bunny January 3, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Well, some people find that their feelings towards their church change during their marriage. My father and stepmother were married for nearly 10 years before they had a co-validation ceremony. For those 10 years, they were attending an Anglican church, and when they went back to the Catholic church, my stepmother had to have her first marriage annulled, and they had to be re-married in the church. It wasn’t too big a deal for my dad (he considered them completely married already), but it was a big deal to my stepmother that they have a valid Catholic marriage, so he supported her. If I became Catholic after being married for a period of time, or became a more devout Catholic during my marriage, I would want to make sure my marriage was square in the eyes of the church, even if it wasn’t a big deal to me when I actually did get married.

They had a small ceremony after Mass and went out to a nice dinner. The kids were informally invited. A low-key ceremony (small, private Mass in nice clothes and brunch/dinner) for family and close friends would be perfectly appropriate. A big white wedding would be a little much.


Double You January 3, 2013 at 9:49 am

The OP has been married for over three years now. From a legal perspective, after the religious ceremony that’s now being planned, she and her husband will not be “more married” than they were before. However, if it’s important to them for religious reasons, I think they should go ahead… life’s too short not to throw in the occasional celebration. But if the OP and her husband want to avoid confusion, they could make it clear in their invitations that the event is basically a religious one, in addition to their wedding that already took place.

One question, though… maybe it’s a cultural thing, but is it really possible in the US to ONLY have a church wedding, and that the resulting marriage will be legally valid as well? Over here in Belgium, a marriage is only valid if it is a civil one, and holding a church wedding without being legally married first is even a punishable offence. All to do with the separation between state and church, I believe. Couples wishing to have a religious component to their wedding day usually have their civil wedding in the morning, followed by a religious ceremony later in the day.


Lerah January 3, 2013 at 11:08 am

Double You –
Yes, in the USA priests, ministers, rabbis, even public notaries can officiate marriages.
The requirements vary from state to state. Some states request a letter from your church stating you are a minister in good standing. Others just require you to fill out a form.

After the wedding ceremony is performed the religious leader, bride, groom, and 2 witnesses sign the wedding license. Once the license is filed at the court house – you are officially married as far as the state is concerned. No additional civil ceremony is required.


Tracy January 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Yes, in the U.S. a marriage performed by licensed clergy is legal and complete.


violinp January 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Yes. You can choose to have a religious or civil wedding, and the marriage certificate is signed by the officiant, couple, and two witnesses.


Kate January 3, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Same in Australia – a religious wedding is a legal ceremony. The religious leader will file the paperwork at the relevant place same as a civil celebrant.


Malu January 4, 2013 at 10:25 am

Yes, it’s a definitely a cultural thing, and now I can understand why so many people are confused. In my country, Mexico, religious ceremonies are not legally binding, and only judges from municipalities and boroughs are allowed to perform the civil ceremony, contrary to what happens in the US and Australia. This is maybe because there was a war in which some were against the catholic church because it had too much power and properties (church and state weren’t separated back then), and after the war church and state were separated and most of the church’s privileges were taken away. But I digress.

That is why I don’t see the OP’s case as strange, all of the weddings I’ve been to in Mexico had a civil ceremony previous to the religious ceremony (and have only been invited to civil ceremonies in which I’m closer to the bride and groom, because they’re usually smaller and no gifts are expected). Also, the bride and groom in most cases, of course with some exceptions, don’t live together until after the religious wedding. But then again, and as I said earlier, we don’t know the country the OP is from nor the reasons why they decided to go that way. Because of the reaction of their guests it seems they’re not used to having two separate ceremonies. There’s also the issue of them living together, but I don’t want to judge them in that aspect as they could be living together as opposed to, for lack of a better term, sleeping in the same bed. Maybe I’m just being naive, but it’s a possilibity nevertheless.

Previous to reading this post I had a notion that in the US the wedding procedure is different but now that lots have commented on it, now I definitely know a religious wedding can be legal. Admin, I keep visiting this site because learning this kind of cultural differences is very interesting for me. Keep it up!


Decimus January 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm

While I appreciate the theological fine point, I do agree that while it is fine to have the ceremony, wrapping it up as a do-over wedding is wrong unless all (or most) of the guests are Catholic.

@ Double You: While it varies by state law, the usual procedure in the US is to get a marriage license from civil authority and then stand before an “officiant” who then solemnizes and formalizes the marriage. That officiant can be a judge or a religious figure (and in Pennsylvania couples can even marry themselves in front of witnesses). I believe the officiant then fills out part of the license to confirm that the marriage was made official, and that gets returned to the government.


OP January 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm

To clarify a couple things –

The reasons for having the convalidation 3-1/2 years after the civil ceremony are irrelevant to the question I actually asked. I presented the situation as it stands now.

To those of you that offered relevant commentary –

Thank you. I really do appreciate all your thoughts.

Regarding our guests and their understanding of what’s going on, the only observant Catholics in my circle are my parents, my brother, and my husband’s grandmother. Everyone else in my husband’s family is some stripe of Christian, but they were either: 1) raised Catholic; or 2) one generation removed from someone who was raised Catholic. Our friends are either agnostic, atheist, or Wiccan, but we have discussed religion enough in a friendly context (as well as the convalidation specifically) that they understand what’s going on and why this is important to me. Altogether this will be 25 people (at most) who, while not Catholic, understand the nature of what’s going on. And as I mentioned in my original question, these are the same people who think my husband and I should have an actual wedding celebration now. So like I said, the risk of appearing tacky to anyone we would invite is minimal at best.

Side note: This includes the priest we have been meeting with. Even after we told him what our situation is, he still gave us materials such as “Guidelines for having a full-blown wedding at St. X Parish,” and continued to talk with us in a manner assuming that we were planning a full-blown wedding. (Guidelines for flowers, music, selecting the readings, time allotted for pictures, etc.)

Showers? Attendants? Bouquet toss? Head table? Wow. My heart just skipped a beat in horror. I hadn’t even thought about doing any of that stuff. Although, I could see at least a few friends volunteering to be attendants (on either side) simply so they could be told what to wear.

It is hitting me more and more, though, that the Church marriage is indissoluble. A civil marriage can end with a civil divorce, but once we go through with the convalidation, this is it for me. Barring my husband’s death, I can NEVER remarry. (Obviously, annullments exist, but if I had any reason to suspect that any of the conditions required for an annullment were present now, I wouldn’t be going through with this.) So to me, this is a REALLY big deal, and we really ought to mark it with something really awesome, whatever that means. Plus, my two daughters will NEVER forgive me if they don’t get to wear pretty dresses and hold some flowers (or something).

Honestly, I’m no closer to settling on what we want to do. The good news is that we can’t even set a date until we get some paperwork back from the Archdiocese and go through some other classes / meetings. (Protip – it is IMPOSSIBLE to arrange a “quickie” Catholic wedding. Minimum of 6 months; indefinite if there are any irregularities.) I was hoping to have some thoughts in order before we have everything done and have nothing to do but set a date and plan whatever we’re going to plan, so I still have some time.

Thanks again to those of you that offered some helpful thoughts.


Bint January 7, 2013 at 9:18 am

“the Church marriage is indissoluble. A civil marriage can end with a civil divorce, but once we go through with the convalidation, this is it for me…So to me, this is a REALLY big deal”

But if it’s such a REALLY big deal, why do you say “for our day-to-day lives, there is nothing transformative about this event”. I don’t understand. Which is it? It sounds to me as if there is something transformative about it in your day to day life – you become married in the eyes of your church, which seems to be hugely important to you. Presumably at the moment you are not married to them, hence your priest’s advice.

You need to decide whether this is a wedding or not, and accept that if you mark it as a wedding, you are telling the world that you were unmarried before, and by implication considered that courthouse wedding meaningless. I also think you should stop trying to justify yourself on non-religious grounds, because you don’t need to. You list the cost of your courthouse wedding as if it matters – there were no gifts – my kids want to wear pretty dresses and hold flowers – this is about a religious step forwards, so base your decision on that, not the kind of reasons given by married couples who suddenly decide they wanted a big white wedding after all.

So if this is your REAL wedding – and it is clearly of great import to you – then do it. If this is more a major religious milestone to be celebrated, do that. But you cannot celebrate a second wedding as the only one this many years on without nullifying the first, and I don’t see why you’d need to, let alone want to. He is your husband. You are his wife. Do ‘something awesome’ to mark this new step forward together that doesn’t wipe out what you’ve already done.


OP January 8, 2013 at 10:12 am

When I say, “for our day-to-day lives, there is nothing transformative about this event,” that’s exactly what I mean. Before and after, we will be living together, he will still be the father figure to my girls, etc. All the logistics of our day-to-day lives will be the same. But then again, in that regard we are the same as ~90% of all the other couples (including the Catholic ones) approaching the altar.

It’s not that the civil wedding wasn’t also “real” in its own right. Legally, we became a social unit for various purposes, I changed my name, etc. But like I mentioned, this upcoming wedding is indissoluble. In addition, and most importantly to me, I will be able to receive the Sacraments again (but I didn’t want to get into that because I wasn’t sure how many people would understand).

Finally, I mentioned the circumstances surrounding the civil marriage to fend off the assumptions that I wanted to “recreate” my wedding or “relive my day of being the center of attention.” Of course, I got those assumptions anyway, so /shrug.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Nancy January 5, 2013 at 3:55 am

I’m not Catholic, but it seems like there should be some kind of a party. Not a big, fluffy, wedding dress party (seriously, ya’lls have been married for 3 1/2 years, are you honestly gonna lay out the kind of cash for the Standard American Wedding?), but something along the lines of a party that one would expect for a confirmation or baptism. People dress up nicely, there is cake, maybe a luncheon, gifts are appreciated but not expected. I would RSVP to something like that in a heartbeat.


JJ January 13, 2013 at 6:03 am

” but something along the lines of a party that one would expect for a confirmation or baptism.”

I agree with this. Marriage is a sacrament, and sacraments are beautiful moments in one’s life, and deserve to be celebrated.I am a Catholic and for every sacrament I ever had, Baptism, First communion, Confirmation, there was always a celebration of some kind. You dress nice, you have a party, or go out to eat. Friends and family visit for it. I can’t count how many baptism parties I went to over the years. Nothing wrong with throwing yourself a good party in celebration of your sacrament!

Good Luck OP!


GleanerGirl January 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Go ahead and have a party to celebrate your spiritual wedding. Just don’t call it a wedding reception, and don’t do the wedding invites. Call your friends and family, and tell them “We’re finally having our convalidation! Hooray! Also, we’re having a party on such and such a day. Can you come?”

The ones who want to share your joy will be happy to share it and celebrate it. The ones who don’t care about your spiritual wedding will not think you’re having a “fake wedding reception gift grab,” but just having a party, especially if the two events are held on separate days.

I look at this along the same lines as throwing your own birthday party. It’s tacky to announce “I’m throwing a birthday party for myself!” and gifts expected. However, if you throw a party for your friends, and it just happens to be on or near your birthday, that’s just fine. No expectations – no offense.


Stacey Frith-Smith January 7, 2013 at 3:29 pm

You know what OP? I used to be of the opinion that it was unnecessary to muddle through multiple interpretations of how a wedding plays out and that the etiquette we consider normative should prevail. Yet here we have another case where a community (in this case a community of faith) would not recognize you as married without the proceedings you outline here. You know what? HAVE the wedding. Have the party, the ceremony, the whatever. Maybe the simplest rule of thumb could be “one to a customer” instead of “no, no…no ceremony and party for YOU because you got it out of sequence”. Whatever. The rest of us should just give up already and celebrate with those whom we can support and decline those we cannot. That should sort out the wrinkles quickly enough. (Hopefully.) Wishing you happiness OP, no matter how you decide to proceed.


Refreshed January 24, 2013 at 11:09 am

thank you for this post. most of the commentary by others come off very pretentious and judgmental–as if they abhor any act that is not customary (yeah right!). your post was sensible and refreshing… esp for someone who is milling through the same desire to renew.


Ellen January 7, 2013 at 6:14 pm

OP, if you are still checking comments, I’d really recommend the Judith Martin (Miss Manners) book “On Weddings”. She goes through all the standard so-called “traditional” American wedding customs and talks about what they mean and where they come from. That could really help you sort out what traditions are meaningful/relevant to you in this situation.
For example, engraved invitations were invented as a time-saver/shortcut for hand-written ones. Really, a hand-written, personal letter is the ultimate elegant, formal invitation.
Similarly, you might look at processsing down the aisle – perhaps being “given away” seems irrelevant, but you and your husband walking to the altar together might be a very good emotional picture of your spiritual journey. Just brainstorming, but you see what I mean. There is a way to commemmorate what is really happening here, and it’s importance. I think the reason that things seem “fake”or tacky in a reinacted wedding is when the symbolism (a veil symbolizing mystery or disclosure, or a bridal shower for “setting up housekeeping”) does not match the reality of what is happening.


OP January 8, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thanks – that’s very helpful. Speaking of being “given away,” one of the things I found out while reading through my convalidation materials was that for a Catholic wedding, the bride and groom are actually supposed to process together since they are giving themselves to each other in the sacrament. If the bride would rather be “given away,” it’s allowed because it’s traditional, and it seems to be what is commonly done.


Angel January 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

To me there is not much difference between what the OP and her DH are planning and a vow renewal. The only difference is this time the ceremony will be spiritual and in a church. They are already legally married and that’s the important thing.

There is no reason why they can’t have a party afterwards. But if the first wedding was not that big or elaborate why would you make the second one big and elaborate? Doesn’t make much sense to me. She doesn’t need to do all that traditional wedding stuff because it’s not a traditional wedding. I would think you celebrate much like you would with an anniversary party–maybe have it at your favorite restaurant with family and closest friends, a favorite type of cake, party clothes, cocktails and you’ve got yourself a nice celebration. There are lots of cute white cocktail dresses out there and I think that would be a nice compromise on the traditional wedding gown 🙂


OP January 14, 2013 at 11:32 am

For anyone who is still reading the comments, I finally found out where all this “you need to have a wedding” stuff is coming from. It’s all coming from my mother-in-law, either directly or indirectly.

She told me over the weekend that she sees this as her one chance to do any wedding planning / shopping / celebrating with a bride in a motherly capacity (since I’m actually closer to her than my own mother and all her children are boys), and that she thinks I need to have a wedding (translation: she thinks I will enjoy having a day to be the bride). So she has been telling my husband and all the relatives that a wedding is what needs to happen. I have observed, over my time in the family, that no one really argues with my mother-in-law anymore because she tends to have very strong opinions, and also because for the most part everyone trusts her judgment. So that’s where the encouragement from the family is coming from.

As for the friends, my husband has talked to them about this (again, because his mother initially said something to him), they understand what makes this different from the civil wedding, and they are always up for a celebration. Plus, the two other women in our group got married within the last year, they enjoyed being the bride, so I think they want to share the love, so to speak.

So the good news from where I’m sitting is that all this encouragement to have a wedding isn’t as widespread and grass-roots as I thought it was, especially since my apprehension I mentioned originally stems from the fact that I agree with the commenters that it really does seem ridiculous to go all out (i.e. white dress, bridesmaids, flowers, the whole shebang).


Tracy January 14, 2013 at 11:48 am

Interesting. How does this change your plans? Seems like it might be even more appropriate to have a private ceremony and then let your MIL throw you a nice party.


Smiling Charmer January 20, 2013 at 9:41 am

I know a couple who lived together for many years. One day I received an invitation for a get together. When I arrived at the venue I was surprised by the large number of people. Turned out they were getting married that evening but did not want their friends&family to think they were supposed to buy a gift, so they never mentioned there was going to be a wedding! It was a lovely wedding, in which what really mattered was that they were making their long relationship official in the presence of the people they love, followed by a lovely dinner and dancing 🙂


kellie flores July 8, 2014 at 1:34 pm

My husband and I have been married (civil ceremony) for 6 years 4 months. We are having our former marriages annulled and getting married in the Catholic Church. Should I wear a white dress ? I didn’t wear white when we married but want a new dress. What is appropriate?


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