Civil Ceremony Then the (Real) Catholic Marriage?

My son and his fiance, both practicing Catholics, are engaged and plan to be married in the Church in a big ceremony this October. My son just informed me that he and his fiance were “joined” by the Justice of the Peace in a civil ceremony by themselves last Friday in order for her to receive medical and dependent benefits (he is in the Navy) which she just recently lost with a job change.

He was quick to point out to me that they are NOT married. According to him that will not happen until the wedding in October. They are not living together, there was no consumation of the marriage and in fact they will live in different cities until they marry. They have already completed pre-Cana classes.

I am confused. Is the October ceremony now a convalidation or an actual wedding? You can only get married once! But since the Church does not recognize civil ceremonies and since he and his fiance are still living the chaste lives the Church requires of those preparing for marriage, is it true that the real wedding is in October? His mother and I are conflicted about whether to treat this as a full wedding (rehearsal dinners, etc.) or a simple convalidation with little pomp and circumstance. The bride’s immediate family, who is as strongly Catholic as we are, has no problems with this and plan to go forward with a full wedding ceremony. Also, should we tell the guests? Certainly by all appearances they do not look or act married, but I cannot shake the feeling that the October ceremony is a sham.

Thank you for your guidance.


There is no conflict. Some countries do not recognize Church weddings. So the couple are married civilly first and then are married in the Church. They don’t consummate the marriage until after the sacramental wedding. As far as the Church is concerned, it is only the sacramental marriage that is real.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit