Guidelines for Catholic Intending Marriage
Every marriage is a lifelong covenant of love and fidelity. If both parties are baptised, marriage is also a sacrament. The Church and the State have vital interest in marriage, since marriage by its very nature has an ecclesiastical and social dimension; therefore both authorities lay down certain conditions on which their recognition of a marriage depends.
I. Civil Law Requirements:
The marriage is to take place in a licensed church (see Part III).
In ordinary cases the parties are to obtain beforehand a marriage licence (Certificate of Registrar of Marriages) from a Marriage Registry.
The giving of notice at the Marriage Registry must be made by one or both parties to the proposed marriage attending personally at the Marriage Registry with their identity cards or passports or some other identifying documents. Ample notice of the intended marriage should be given at a Marriage Registry. The marriage licence may be obtained 17 days after the giving of notice. If the marriage does not take place within 3 months of the date on which the notice was given, a new licence must be obtained.
Persons over 16 and under 21 years of age who intend to marry must produce to the Registrar the written consent of their father, or, if he is dead or non compos mentis, of their mother, or, if both are dead or non compos mentis, of their lawful guardian.
II. Church Law Requirements:
Notice should be given at the Church of the wedding as early as possible, but in any case at least 6 months before the proposed wedding date.
The proximate preparation for marriage consists of three steps.
(1) Registration with the church of the wedding:
This involves choosing the place and date of the wedding and filling out a preliminary form on the personal data and free status of the parties.
The parties shall be reminded by the church office by way of a written statement that if they make false declarations about their free status and this is discovered prior to their wedding, then the wedding may not take place, and the church concerned shall not bear any responsibility whatsoever, even if in the meantime other preparations have been made for the wedding.
When a marriage is to be celebrated outside this Diocese, documents must pass through the Chancery for “certification”.
When a Catholic is coming to Hong Kong in order to marry, he must at least produce a recent baptismal certificate issued “for marriage purposes” and duly authenticated by the Chancery Office of his diocese of origin. In case of a non-Catholic, he/she shall produce adequate documentation to prove his/her freedom to marry.
When both parties come to Hong Kong to marry, they must present to the parish priest of the parish where they intend to marry the completed prenuptial inquiries, made by the parish priest of one of them or of the Catholic party in a mixed marriage, along with all the other documents normally required. These documents must be duly authenticated by the Chancery Office of the diocese in which they were issued. Before proceeding with the marriage the parish priest must present these documents to the Hong Kong Chancery Office and obtain a written nihil obstat.
The proposed wedding date shall be confirmed only when the pre-marriage inquiry has been duly conducted and a baptismal certificate issued within six months, a license of the Marriage Registry, and other necessary documents have been submitted to the church office.
(2) Participation in one of the available Pre-Marriage Formation Programmes:
As a general rule, this is also required in the case of validations involving relatively young couples whose civil marriage took place not too long ago, and for those who seek to enter a second marriage after the canonical annulment or dissolution of a previous marriage.
If the parties have justifying reasons for not being able to attend a pre-marriage formation programme, then the priest in charge of the pre-marriage inquiry should try to make a special arrangement for them to attend some form of counselling session through some competent persons, and if this is not possible either, the parties should at least be strongly exhorted to attend a formation programme soon after marriage.
(3) Pre-Marriage inquiry conducted by a priest:
The inquiry may take place either before or after the pre-marriage formation programme.
The priest responsible for the pre-marriage inquiry is the proper pastor of a Catholic party (or of one of the Catholic parties), i.e., the parish priest of his/her domicile, or the chaplain in charge of his/her community (as in the case of an ethnic group) or an assistant priest delegated by them.
In exceptional cases, with the permission of the Catholic party’s proper pastor, another priest may be delegated to conduct the pre-marriage inquiry, provided there are justifying pastoral reasons.
A Catholic who has a close link (through regular Sunday Mass attendance, joining a lay association, etc.) with a parish which is not his/her proper parish, may also ask the parish priest of that parish to conduct his/her pre-marriage inquiry.
The Church holds that the right to marry is an important natural right. However, it is not an unrestricted one. The following are some serious grounds that warrant the delay of a marriage:
a) Failure to produce one or more of the following authentic documents in case one of the parties or both parties were married before:
Death certificate of deceased spouse; or
Rescript of dissolution of marriage from the Catholic Church authorities; or
Formal notification of declaration of nullity of marriage by the Catholic Church tribunal.
b) Refusal of the couple to take part in the process of preparation for marriage without justifying reasons.
c) Non-practice of the Catholic faith by the Catholic party (parties) with no intention of returning to the practice of the faith.
d) Refusal by either or both parties to have the children baptized and brought up as Catholics.
e)Denial of the essential elements or properties of marriage (e.g. the indissolubility of marriage).
f) Serious immaturity on the part of either or both parties.
g) Either or both parties not entering marriage freely (e.g. due to pre-marital pregnancy, family pressures, etc.).
If a major obstacle to marriage is discovered, the priest will make the decision if there is to be a delay of the wedding after a prudent evaluation and due consultation with the Chancery Office.
If the wedding is delayed, the parties have the right to appeal the decision to the Bishop.
In the event that the marriage is delayed by the decision of the priest, every effort will be made by the priest to help the parties overcome the specific circumstances that made the delay advisable.
A priest may not proceed with a marriage delayed by another priest without the approval of the Bishop.
Mixed marriages are to be discouraged. However, they may be contracted under certain conditions which are to be clearly explained to the parties concerned by the priests concerned. A permission from the parish priest of the Catholic party (or from the parish priest of the church where the marriage will take place) is required for a Catholic who wishes to marry a baptised non-Catholic. A dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult is required if he/she wishes to marry a non-baptised person.
Every marriage of which at least one of the parties is a Catholic ordinarily is to take place: (a) before a priest or deacon; and (b) in the presence of two witnesses. In special case the Bishop may grant dispensation from the above Canonical Form.
Before contracting marriage, Catholic are earnestly recommended to receive the Sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion. Those who have not yet received the Sacrament of Confirmation should receive it if they can do so without grave inconvenience.