Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Very Special St. Valentine's Day


Mr. & Mrs. Brian Hudson, December 17, 2005

 
February 14th is celebrated by many as a day for love and romance. This Valentine's Day, Brian and I are celebrating in a very special way: Today is the day we finally have our marriage convalidated! Hm...somehow that doesn't have a very romantic ring to it. At least half of you are probably sitting at your computers wondering, "What on earth is she talking about? Con-vali-what?"

Convalidation is the process through which a legal marriage or a religious marriage performed in the presence of a minister other than a Catholic priest is made valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It is retroactive, meaning that after the convalidation, the marriage is considered valid from the time of the original vows. In our case, this will mean that this convalidation is recognizing our marriage as valid from the time we were proclaimed man and wife over three years ago, on the morning of December 15, 2005 through the present time. It officially legitimizes our children in the eyes of the Church, and it declares what our intent has been all along: that we are married not just according to the state but in the eyes of God and His Church.
Largely, this is a legal process, requiring a lot of paperwork getting filled out and stamped, taking a several-hundred-question FOCCUS survey, receiving any necessary or required counselling, and meeting with the parish priest. The culmination of the entire process is the only really romantic part of a convalidation: the ceremony. Some people (usually those who eloped, like my paternal grandparents back in the 1940s) choose to have what might basically be considered a "second wedding," inviting all their friends and family, wearing formal clothing, hiring musicians, etc. Since Brian and I already had a Christ-centered wedding, this is not what we chose to do. Our convalidation ceremony will be very simple. It will take place in the morning, following the daily Mass. We will dress in our normal Sunday clothes. Besides the priest and our daughter, we will only have our two witnesses present. Yet, being devoid of all the trappings will not make this experience any less special, because the essential element--the vows--really is only about the two of us.
According to Catholic teaching, marriage is a very unique sacrament, because the grace conferred in it is not administered by the priest, though a priest is present to witness the sacrament. In the sacrament of marriage, the spouses themselves administer God's grace to each other through the vows they speak. Though Brian and I have already made these solemn promises before God and made our lifelong covenant together, it will be a precious moment when we repeat our vows again, renewing that covenant and remembering those promises after three years of marriage: three years that have brought us to a new home, that have blessed us with children, that have seen us through many changes as the following years are sure to do.
Now, not only will our marriage be valid in the eyes of God, our friends, and our family but according to canon law. This may seem rather legalistic; in fact, it is rather, but it is also more than that. I read once that "Canon law is meant to guide, not rule." Canon law brings unity to a diverse Church. It hedges us in from erring unwittingly into sin, and it shepherds us back when we have gone astray. It promotes fairness and order among Christians. By convalidating our marriage, my husband and I are able to declare in a very real way that these aims are worthy and that we desire this unity, this following Christ, this fairness and order in our lives as Christians.
And, of course, what more romantic gesture can one make on Valentine's Day than to renew one's wedding vows? This serendipitous timing makes me smile in my very soul, and I am grateful for blessings great and small today.

6 comments:

  1. Blessings on your special day!

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  2. Bethany, I just want to give you my hearty congratulations. I am so happy for you and Brian that you made this decision. I pray that God showers your newly sanctified marriage with many wonderful graces and blessings.

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  3. Congratulations and many years to you!

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  4. Green mommy
    I got married in the Presbyterian Church but I am Catholic, somebody told me that my marriage was not valid in the Catholic Church because was not any Catholic priest in the ceremony. Do you know something about this? thanks for your help.

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  5. Green Mommy - Do I ever know about this! Technically, your friend (or acquaintance) is correct: your marriage is not valid in the Church. Not because there wasn't a priest, though. Actually, Holy Matrimony is the only sacrament where the spouses themselves convey the grace of the sacrament upon each other! (Beautiful, isn't it?) But, as Catholics, we are bound to canon law, and as such, there are rules regarding not only our marriage ceremonies but our premarital counselling, and we are not permitted to overstep those bounds, even in ignorance. This may seem legalistic, but think about it for a minute: Wouldn't it be better if those who were being united in an indissoluble, holy relationship actually KNEW what they were getting in for and had a higher authority to hold them accountable, not only our Father in Heaven who has eternal authority, but an earthly authority who could spur them to tow the line?

    But, you can GET your marriage validated. Contact your parish office and tell them you need what is called a CONVALIDATION ceremony (or a Marriage Blessing). Basically, you will have to do some sort of premarital counselling or preparation (just so the priest can be sure you know what is expected of a Catholic marriage); there will be some paperwork to fill out; and then you get to renew your vows before the priest and witnesses!

    Now, convalidation is "retroactive" meaning that from the time of the convalidation, your marriage will be "retroactively" blessed by the Church from the time of your ORIGINAL wedding ceremony--meaning your ENTIRE marriage time will be blessed in retrospect. However, until that time, you must remember that your marriage is not considered valid according to canon law. How you approach this is a very personal decision that should be made between you and your husband, but it is recommended that you refrain from receiving Holy Communion until the marriage is blessed. I found this time of refraining being very humbling in my own experience and it greatly helped me appreciate my Protestant husband's ban from the Eucharist. It certainly brought us closer together as a couple and closer to God!

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  6. Bethany,
    Thank you very much for your answer!
    Green Mommy

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