QUESTION: I am living with my boyfriend and we want to be married in the Catholic Church. Before contacting the local priest, I wanted to know in general how the Catholic Church feels about people who are living together before marriage.
ANSWER: Obviously, I can’t speak for the entire Catholic Church or really for any other priest. But below are a few thoughts on the question above.
Any priest or deacon with whom you meet to prepare for a wedding in the church will be both a spokesperson for the church and a person committed to addressing the pastoral care of those who come to him.
As a spokesperson for the church and without making judgements about you, he will likely explain the teaching of the church on issues such as sexual relations before marriage. But his pastoral care for you will encompass much more than that.
There is a saying in marriage preparation classes that says: “A wedding is a day; a marriage is a lifetime.” That sentence summarizes one of the church’s concerns as you approach a priest regarding a wedding. While you might be most concerned about the wedding ceremony the priest or deacon with whom you meet must be concerned about the marriage. As you know the Catholic Church believes that a truly sacramental marriage is forever. Because that is our belief, we take seriously how a couple prepares for marriage. This is especially true of those who wish to enter a sacramental marriage after living together for some time.
There are studies that indicate a higher divorce rate among those who live together before marriage than those who do not. Some who have done those studies indicate that those who live together before marriage, may at times get lost in the details of managing a house and careers and other elements that seem to be essential. In the process, they find that they have less time to talk to one another and less opportunity to share their hopes and dreams. As this continues over time, they may say “why not marry?” At that point for some couples, marriage may be just a natural progression and less of a chosen commitment.
Aware of these studies the priest you may contact would be concerned about the effect of your cohabitation on the future marriage. Are you really getting to know each other and talking about all the issues of importance to married life? Are you really prepared to begin to live as a couple committed to creating a community of life and love? Are both of you entering this marriage in complete freedom?
The priest with whom you meet will be concerned about your ability to enter a lifelong sacramental marriage. Is your living together enabling you to make an unconditional choice for marriage before God and the church?
In general, the priest or deacon with whom you meet to discuss marriage will be addressing his concern for your spiritual and sacramental welfare as well as his responsibility for the parish family where you hope to celebrate your wedding.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.