Here is a hypothetical example of what may be a very common situation.

Bill and Martha have been seeing each other for four years. Both were raised in Catholic families, but were not baptized. They are not married, but instead, they had been living together for a while now. Now Bill sees that both want to continue in their relationship, and because of their upbringing, they would like to get married under the Catholic Church.

Would it make any difference if Bill and Martha got married before they were both baptised, or after?

  • I don't understand how Bill and Martha could have possibly be raised in Catholic families and remain unbaptized. The only conclusion that I can draw from that is that Bill and Martha's families aren't devout Catholics to start with. Baptism symbolizes one's entry to the church, and without it, how can one possibly have or want a Christian marriage performed by a Catholic priest?
    – Double U
    Aug 18, 2013 at 0:47

2 Answers 2


The Sacrament of Baptism is often called "The door of the Church" because it is considered the first of the seven sacraments. According to Catholic Catechism (1212), the Catholic Church sees baptism as the first and basic sacrament of Christian initiation. For most Christians and especially Catholics, baptism is the first sacrament received (often as an infant) after which one becomes a member of the church. Baptism is also required by the Catholic church in order to receive the other sacraments. For example, the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Sacrament of Holy Communion depend on first being baptised.

For such a couple, it would be required by the Catholic Church for baptism to take place before being married otherwise the marriage would not be considered a sacramental marriage, and the church would not be allowed to perform such a marriage.

The Sacrament of Marriage is built on a firm foundation of Baptism. Clearly from the Catholic point of view, marriage cannot take place before both man and woman are baptised. The Catechism (1633) describes a mixed marriage as between Catholic and a baptised non-Catholic that requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. It further states "marriage between a Catholic and a non-baptized person requires even greater circumspection" meaning a marriage to a non-baptized person would create complications and at least raise some tough questions about one's faith. There is a passage in the Bible in 1 Cor 7:14 about being married to an unbelieving spouse and the believing spouse a blessing to the other so there are some allowances for "mixed" marriages, but that is the exception not the rule.

Without a baptism, the commitment of the couple to the faith and church would be in question. When children come into the picture then it becomes even more important to decide whether one is a Christian or not and whether children should be raised as Catholics or not. The Bible clearly talks about "luke warm" Christians (Rev 3:16) and rebukes such attitudes. From the church's perspective, this is very relevant since you next have to ask about the commitment the couple will have to one another.

Of course, a secular stand point would have an entirely different point of view on this topic, but the context here is between two "nominal" Catholics who would like to get married in the church.

  • Yeap, just read up on sections 1633 through 1635 and updated the answer to reflect that and your comments.
    – CodeMonkey
    Apr 12, 2013 at 1:31
  • Excellent first post. Glad to have you participate. Just a reminder to take a close look at the faq and get all the ins and outs of the site.
    – user3961
    Apr 12, 2013 at 6:34
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    "otherwise the marriage would not be considered valid" could be a little confusing here -- two unbaptized persons can enter into a real, natural marriage (which would not take place using a Catholic ritual or in a Catholic church), but it wouldn't be a sacramental one.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Apr 12, 2013 at 13:21
  • @Ben Dunlap: Catechism 1638 describes a "valid" marriage. Agreed, the term "valid" can be little confusing as opposed to a sacramental marriage.
    – CodeMonkey
    Apr 12, 2013 at 14:30

It would make a huge difference.

First of all, neither Bill nor Martha is Catholic or ever has been, so they are not subject to canon law in either the negative or the positive sense. Neither of them is a valid minister of the sacrament of matrimony -- that is to say, it is not possible for them to contract a sacramental marriage. Objectively speaking, an attempt by them to conduct the sacramental rite of matrimony would be a sacrilege.

A priest or deacon who knowingly assisted at such an event would be subject to canonical penalties, and no cleric could reasonably claim ignorance unless he were elaborately deceived by the spouses (e.g., with faked baptismal certificates, etc.).

That being said, two unbaptized persons can, in the eyes of the Church, contract a "natural" marriage. This would not normally take place in a Catholic church and could be dissolved under certain conditions (see Canons 1142ff).

  • Thanks, the part about them being ministers of the sacrament really clears up why baptism is required. I asked this in part because I was wondering about the Catholic answer to this question, so your answer also explains why someone might even be wondering what baptism has to do with marriage.
    – Alypius
    Apr 12, 2013 at 3:42

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