Why do I need sacramental records before I can get married? How do I find them? (Allouez)
In baptism, original sin is washed away, we are given new life in Christ, we become children of God and are initiated into the sacramental life of the church. Without baptism, a person cannot receive the other sacraments in a valid and effective way. Therefore, when a couple gets married in the Catholic Church, each party must provide proof of their valid baptisms.
For Catholics, baptism is recorded in the sacramental registry of the parish at which it is received. If you were initiated into the full communion of the Catholic Church after baptism as an adult, that record is kept at the Catholic church at which you were formally received and initiated. Then, as the sacraments of confirmation, marriage and holy orders are received or final vows are professed in a religious community, such documentation is recorded not only at the church or place received, but also sent to your parish of baptism to be inscribed in your baptismal record.
When, as a Catholic, you prepare for marriage, you will be asked to obtain an official testament of your baptism. You will also be asked to provide proof of confirmation, and any other sacramental notations available. This is not only to prove your baptism, but also to show that you have (or have not) received the sacrament of confirmation. It also shows that you have never before (or whether you have) been married or ordained in the Catholic Church or perpetually enrolled in consecrated life. This documentation is easily obtained by contacting your Catholic parish of baptism to ask for proof of baptism and other sacramental notations. The pastor or equivalent minister will issue a certificate signed by him and stamped with the parish seal.
Even non-Catholics are required to present proof of baptism prior to marriage in the Catholic Church. Some non-Catholic churches keep baptismal records that can be obtained from the church of baptism. Some do not. In the event that a Christian is baptized, but no record of it is documented anywhere, the baptism can be proven by credible witnesses who attest the baptism took place. It is generally not necessary for non-Catholics, baptized or not, to provide any other sacramental information other than former marriages regardless of where they took place.
In the event that a Catholic seeks marriage with a person who was never baptized in any Christian religion, or was not baptized with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, a dispensation from disparity of cult may be granted by the diocesan bishop or his delegate. If a person believes they were baptized, but cannot prove it, a dispensation ad cautelam for a doubtful baptism can be requested. The dispensations allow a good and natural marriage to take place without baptism. The priest, deacon or minister assisting with marriage preparation can help obtain the dispensation.
Fr. Brian Belongia serves as judicial vicar for the diocesan Marriage Tribunal. He is also rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, both in Green Bay.
If you have a question regarding the church or the Catholic faith, send it to [email protected] or to The Compass, PO Box 23825, Green Bay WI 54305, attn. FAQs. Please keep questions short and include name, address and contact information. We will only publish the city of origin, but require contact information. All questions are subject to editing.