Catholic Wedding Q&A
Can we get married by a justice of the peace in a civil ceremony and then have a Catholic wedding?
The Church does not recognize a civil wedding ceremony as valid when one or both people are Catholic. If a couple are married in a civil ceremony, the Catholic person(s) are asked to refrain from receiving the Eucharist until the marriage is recognized as valid by the Church. The reason for this, in a nutshell, is that the Church recognizes marriage as a spiritual reality, not just a piece of paper or a legal formality.
If you've already been married in a civil ceremony, how can you have your marriage recognized as valid by the Church? Talk to your pastor, who will probably recommend a process called convalidation; it usually involves an expedited marriage preparation process (to determine that there is no impediment to the marriage) and a simple celebration of the sacrament of marriage so that the consent of the couple to be married can be witnessed by the Church. Another process, called radical sanation, may sometimes be used to recognize a marriage as valid without a formal exchange of consent (vows).
While you may be (understandably) eager to be married as soon as possible, giving your whole selves to one another for the rest of your lives is a huge commitment—and a much greater challenge than waiting to be married. Taking the time to prepare for that lifelong giving through the sacrament of marriage will ultimately make your marriage stronger and richer.