Marriage, Convalidation, and Annulments

My husband and I teach RCIA at my local parish, which is a wonderful and difficult ministry. Obviously, we deal quite a bit with divorce and annulments and have read rather extensively on the subjects. Over the course of the year, our priest convalidates several marriages of all types, for example: a Catholic and an RCIA candidate (former Protestant, baptized Christian) who were married outside the Church, or two RCIA candidates (former Protestants, baptized Christians) who were married in their Protestant Church. He convalidates every marriage that falls into these categories as a matter of course.

My question is this: what exactly is the purpose of a convalidation? Is it to validate the marriage? If so, then how can any NonCatholic Christian marriage (between two baptized Christians, outside the Catholic Church) that has not been convalidated ever be found valid, that is non-annulable?
Is there a difference between a valid and a Sacramental marriage? Is our priest actually performing a “Sacramentation” so to speak instead of a “Convalidation?”

And finally, if there is a difference between valid and Sacramental, are only marriages that occur in the Catholic Church (or have been convalidated) Sacramental marriages?

Thank you for your time and effort!

The purpose of convalidation is to validate an invalid marriage. Before a marriage can be validated it must be determined that an invalid marriage exists and that it CAN be validated.

In the first case you mention (a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic married outside the Church) such a marriage may be invalid if, for example, the Catholic party failed to obtain a dispensation to marry a non-Catholic party or to marry outside the Church. A convalidation may be required.

In the second case (two baptized non-Catholics married outside the Church) marriage between non-Catholics is generally presumed valid as the parties were not under the authority of the Church when they married. There is no apparent need for convalidation.

In cases where there are previous marriages, annulments are required prior to having current marriages validated.

Regarding sacramental marriage, a valid marriage between baptized parties is sacramental, even when one or both parties are non-Catholic.

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