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Confirmation required for marriage?

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The answer is contained in the church's Code of Canon Law

Father Kenneth

Q. My question concerns the requirement for a Catholic to be confirmed before being allowed to be married in a Catholic wedding ceremony. My grandson is engaged to a Catholic girl who was baptized and made her first Communion but was never confirmed. The priest they went to for their pre-Cana requirement said that she needs to attend classes on Catholicism from September until next June, in preparation for confirmation.

She is fully employed at a hospital and simply cannot attend all of these classes, so she asked me "how mandatory" this requirement actually is, and I was hoping that you could provide an answer. (I am aware that different priests may have different views on this.) (Alexandria, Virginia)

A. In a fair number of dioceses, the sacrament of confirmation is not administered until the candidate is in his or her teens (often in 10th or even 11th grade), the thinking being that the sacrament has more impact at a time when the candidate is in the process of making other lifetime choices.

Since some may have dropped out of religious education by then, an unintended result is that they arrive at the time of marriage never having been confirmed. This is unfortunate since, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The sacraments of Christian initiation -- baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist -- lay the foundations of every Christian life" (No. 1212).

Which leads us to your question: "How mandatory" is confirmation before a Catholic marriage? The answer is contained in the church's Code of Canon Law: "Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before they are admitted to marriage if it can be done without grave inconvenience" (Canon 1065).

So confirmation before a Catholic marriage is clearly not obligatory, since the wording of the canon allows for exceptions. As the website of the Catholic cathedral in Houston puts it: "The church strongly recommends all Catholics to be fully initiated prior to receiving the sacrament of matrimony, if it can be done without unnecessary burden or delay. Catholics in the United States are not required to be confirmed prior to marriage, but it is strongly advised."

As you point out, individual dioceses or parishes are free to adopt their own practices, but your grandson and his fiancee have canon law on their side. I would suggest that they return to the priest they saw for pre-Cana and explain to him how the confirmation classes are complicated by her work schedule. A more abbreviated program may be possible -- with an individual instructor provided through the parish -- or perhaps the wedding could take place first, with confirmation coming later when her work schedule permits.

Q. As an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, I have something bothering me. As we give out Communion, we say "body of Christ" for the host and "blood of Christ" for the chalice. But aren't we actually offering the "complete Christ" -- body, blood, soul and divinity -- under each species? (Ogallala, Nebraska)

A. You are correct. In fact, the U.S. Catholic bishops answered that exact question in a 2001 document titled "The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist," which states: "Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is wholly present under the appearance either of bread or of wine." This is a comfort to those who are unable to receive under both species. Some, for example, may have a wheat allergy, and a low-gluten host may not be available; others may have an alcohol addiction where even a single sip could trigger a problem.

When possible, though, it is appropriate to receive under both species -- since that serves as a more precise reminder of the Last Supper when Jesus, instituting the Eucharist, passed around both the unleavened bread and the chalice saying, "Take and eat" and "Take and drink."

- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service

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