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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CNS) -- It took years, but Arturo and Maria Perez and their children now receive Communion at Sunday Mass as a family.
For some time, the couple didn't participate in the sacraments because their marriage was not valid in the eyes of the church although they had long been civilly married.
That changed this summer when the Perezes were married at their parish, Good Shepherd Church, along with 20 other couples in "la gran boda," or "the big wedding" -- a convalidation ceremony June 24.
Convalidation is takenfrom the Latin word meaning "to firm up" or "to strengthen."
The ceremony takes place when couples who have been civilly married "want to make their wedding proper with the church or get a blessing," said Father Ramon Baez, one of two parochial vicars at the parish who performed the ceremony.
Maria Perez described the ceremony as a blessing for her family. She said her daughter Catherine had been asking her why she didn't receive the Eucharist at Mass.
"She was asking me all these questions and that's when I said I need to do something about it," Maria Perez said.
The wedding ceremony was particularly emotional for her because she had not received the Eucharist for more than 12 years.
Good Shepherd's first convalidation ceremony occurred in 2002 and continued every two years until 2016. The event was such a success that the parish decided to have another this year.