Spiritual Marriage


Your thoughts please:

As far as I know, you have to be married legally at the same time or before you can be spiritually married by a Catholic priest - anywhere in the world. But then if you happen to get divorced it’s possible to be spiritually married without being legally married.

Why can’t a couple be spiritually married first without being legally married???



It’s a good question, but the only way I’ve heard the term “spiritual marriage” used in modern times is in the context of plural marriages–where obviously a man can only have one legal wife but considers himself “spiritually married” to the other women he takes on board as plural/sister “wives”. To me, this is just a fancy way of a man trying to explain his way out of the sin of adultery and/or bigamy! :smiley:

As the church defines marriage it is a sacramental union between one man and one woman in every sense–which would include the spiritual commitment–and that this spiritual and physical joining is a covenant until death. I am aware however, that it was not infrequent in even the days of the old west for instance, when a couple might have absolutely no access to a Catholic priest or a civil authority for sometimes years at a time if ever, that couples basically “married” by making the decision and commitment between themselves to live as husband and wife. Sometimes this was done in the presence of other family members–other times, even that wasn’t possible. I love geneology and history and both areas provide a plethora of examples of this. My opinion is that marriage is always spiritual–at least the first time around–but sometimes may not have a legal or even a sacramental piece to it–particularly in days of old. It will be interesting to hear what others say–maybe I am not understanding the question correctly!


Modern Catholic Dictionary:

SPIRITUAL MARRIAGE. The calm, abiding, transforming union of the soul with God. Raptures and ecstasies may occur, but they are replaced by a marvelous peace and serenity enjoyed in the presence of a reciprocated love. St. Teresa describes this stage of intimacy with God as one of complete forgetfulness of self, thinking only of God and his glory, leaving her with an insatiable thirst to suffer with Christ in love and in sole conformity with his will. An ardent zeal for the sanctification of other souls follows the repose. Aridities disappear, leaving only a memory of God’s tenderness.


As others have pointed out, the term “spiritual marriage” is not propery used in this context.

Marriage is marriage. It is a public act. It has both canonical and civil implications, especially where children are concerned. Therefore, the Church acknowledges the legitimate interests of the State in marriage. The Church certainly can intervene in circumstances that warrant it.

Can.* 1071 §1. Except in a case of necessity, a person is not to assist without the permission of the local ordinary at:

2/ a marriage which cannot be recognized or celebrated according to the norm of civil law;


I think the OP may mean ***sacramentally ***married.



Marriage is a sacrament carried out by the two people involved with the Priest just a witness for the Church and in the modern State as the State representative giving legal status to the marriage. But say you two were shipwrecked on an island outside of civil law. You could still marry each other as a sacramental marriage, all other obstacles being absent, and yet not married under civil law. You two are still sacramentally married regardless, and could obtain Church sanction later on when rescued.


You can only do that if you exchange consent before witnesses.


Your question has generated one from me. Well, to be accurate several; only one main one the others are ancillary. Are you in the US? You don’t state your location so I don’t know where you are talking about. Does what you say apply to the US? Are you referring to other countries?

Here in the UK the two happen together. Perhaps I’d be on safer ground saying England & Wales (I don’t know if Northern Ireland and Scotland have different laws on this). At a Catholic marriage in England there is an Authorised Person present. He or she witnesses the marriage on behalf of the state. Consequently, the one ceremony (Nuptial Mass or Marriage Service) marries the couple both in the Church and civilly. The Authorised Person is often a parishioner who has been trained by the relevant government department to fulfil this role.

I know in many parts of Europe a civil marriage ceremony takes place prior to the Catholic wedding. Why the civil ceremony takes place first I don’t know. Both the civil ceremony and the Catholic liturgy often take place on the same day.


Ok, yes, I meant “Sacramental Marriage”… Can you please explain: “Except in a case of necessity”

I think that even if I and my beloved were ship wrecked with a priest and two witnesses, when we got back to the mainland, we would not be considered “Sacramentally” married.

You say that marriage “has both canonical and civil implications” … but that’s not true.
If two people are married by a judge, there are just civil implications.

If two people are married by a priest, and then later divorce, there are just canonical implications. Until if/when they get the marriage annulled.

What I don’t understand is that… say two people get married by a priest, then divorced, then one gets married to someone else by a judge. In order to not be “sinning” the person who is remarried should have sex with the x who he/she is still “sacramentally” married to.


Meanwhile, say there are two other people, who love each other, and are free to marry in the church, and want to marry in the church, yet there are some legal reasons why they don’t want to get legally married.
Why can’t they get “sacramentally” married???
If they get close, they are sinning. And yet, this situation makes more sense then the above-mentioned “not sinning” scenario.

What does this mean:
“The Church certainly can intervene in circumstances that warrant it.”


One example might be in the case of an unjust law such as those in the US South that prohibited interracial marriage years ago. Or if there were a country that prohibited Christian marriage, etc. In that case they may have to employ both the canon I quoted and the one allowing secret marriages. it is up to the bishop to decide what consistitutes necessity.

Yes, you likely would under Canon 1116, well if a priest were present then it wouldn’t even need that canon.

no, I don’t think you are understanding. It has civil implications as to children, property, etc. The Church recognizes this and the legal protections civil law is to give the married (in modern times, the law has failed in that regard). Marriage is a public reality, the couple combines lives and lives out their marriage in civil society. It is not something that is “in the church” only.

The person should not be “remarrying” at all. They should likely not be engaging in relations with their true spouse until they reconcile fully, otherwise they would be using the other person.

Because typically if there is a legal reason they cannot marry the Church will respect the civil law. If there is a just reason they should be able to marry but the law disallows it, then the bishop can give permission per the canon I already quoted.

You have not provided a “non sinning” scenario. there is much wrong with the scenario you attempted to present as “non sinning”.

It means what it says. The Church could allow a marriage to go forward that is not allowed under the civil law if they deemed the circumstances to warrant it. This is atypical, as marriage is a public reality, not typically to be held in secret.


I am in the US. However I am referring to the entire world.

In the US, either both take place at the same time, or if a couple gets married civilly first, there is a penalty period of a year (?) then they can be sacramentaly married. In Mexico, I’ve heard, one gets civilly married first, then takes the paperwork to the priest and gets sacramentally married a few days later.

I just find it odd that you can’t get married Anywhere sacramentally first. (Short of getting a Bishop to approve some odd situation, or being stranded on a island with a priest and two witnesses )

If I had the money I would set that up, just to see if the church on the mainland would really accept it as a sacramental marriage while remaining legally unmarried.


It is the law in countries like Germany that the civil marriage must take place first. The Church obeys this law because it is not unjust.


However, even though this is true, the Church can witness a sacramental marriage and not “register” the marriage with civil authorities and therefore it would in fact be a marriage sacramental only.

It is a choice of the Church to follow the law and serve as both the Church witness and the civil witness simultaneously. I emphasize the word “choice”.

Look at South America, if I remember correctly, because of same sex marriage issues being mandated, the bishops of that conference have decided to not serve as civil authorities and only perform sacramental marriages. As far as which one comes first I have no idea.

I have had this very conversation with my bishop and this is what he used in his answer. If SSM was forced to all civil marriage witnesses, the Church in the US would cease serving as civil authority in case of marriage. Couples would then have to basically have two ceremonies to be sacramental and civilly married. I think we will see this happen in many places, including America; our bishops have and are still having discussions about this very issue.


I understand and agree with why the church in the USA and some other countries might well eventually be forced to cease officiating as civil authorities in weddings–but it does make me sad to think of such a thing happening in a country that was founded on principals such as “In God We Trust”. I’m glad I was married back in the 60’s I guess…


The Canadian Bishops have already threatened to do this when they appeared at the hearings the Gov’t. held into SSM.


Interesting idea… I wonder what a priest would say if during the 6 month preparation (required many places in the US) the couple mentioned that they don’t want it registered…

Would they still need to go and apply for the civil license before the wedding?

I have a hard time believing that a priest would go along with that.


It requires persmission of the Ordinary.


hmmmmm. Whether it is just or unjust really depends on the situation at hand.

Once upon a time a man and woman met and fell deeply in love. He had been married previously civilly but not sacramentally, his wife had kicked him out and divorced him years before. In time the new couple decided to get married. So they went and talked to a priest, taking marriage prep tests, they were very excited and still very much in love. When the priest asked for divorce paperwork, they found out at the court house that his paperwork was not complete due to a minor paperwork glitch, and had just been sitting there for years. Due to the slowness of the court system, and lack of money to get a lawyer to speed things up, it took another year for this paperwork to be completed and the divorce to civilly be finalized. During this year, things grew more and more difficult for the couple - in love, but unable to be sacramentally married. The man, being a man, and with no lack of testosterone, wanted to be close. The woman, trying to be devout, did not want to sin. Thus the tension grew, and many frustrations and fights grew out of this…

Who really lost in this case, I believe, was the womans child. The child’s father had died several years before. And I believe that if this couple could have been sacramentally married, then the man’s need to be close would have been met, and the woman’s spiritual desires would have also been met. Their financial situation would have vastly improved as they would have been together in one house rather than maintaining two. The child would have had a new father here on earth. Many, many things that became problems because of separateness would not have become problems.


Is “the Ordinary” the same as the Bishop???


The answer isn’t a direct yes or no.

The diocesan bishop is the Ordinary of his diocese. The following are also ordinaries:
*]Vicars general
*]Episcopal vicars
Vicars general has the same executive authority in their diocese as the bishop. The vicar general’s authority as ordinary may be restricted either by law or by the diocesan bishop.

An episcopal vicar has the executive powers given to him by the bishop.

Vicars general and episcopal vicars do not have legislative or judicial power.

If the law says the decision is made by the ordinary it can mean any of the above.

Major religious superiors are ordinaries too with their powers being exercised over their order.

All ordinaries except major religious superiors are called local ordinaries.

When the law says the decision is to be made by the ordinary it is to be made by the bishop in a diocese unless one of his vicars general or episcopal vicars has the necessary authority in that diocese.

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