Well, I've read in several articles, and if not mistaken also in canon law, for a marriage to be valid, there has to be consummation (intercourse). However, since, if I'm not mistaken, by Catholic teaching (Virgin) Mary and St. Joseph never had intercourse, then the question of the validity of their marriage poses itself.

Was it valid?

  • Interesting about marriage process: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/40945/… Aug 25, 2015 at 13:26
  • See my comment on Matt's answer. I think you're mingling two different traditions and applying a modern definition to an ancient practice. Aug 25, 2015 at 13:41
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    @TheFreemason I disagree. The question asks whether the marriage was "a true marriage" according to Catholic teaching; it therefore relies on a Catholic understanding of what "a true marriage" is; and this Catholic understanding is independent of the Jewish tradition and understanding. The question asks whether the (current) Catholic definition of "valid marriage" applies to the first-century relationship between Joseph and Mary. Aug 25, 2015 at 14:05
  • @MattGutting I think we're saying the same thing, see my comment on your answer which expands my comment above. Aug 25, 2015 at 14:19
  • It's not quite the same thing. You're saying "it's a Jewish custom, not a Catholic one"; we're saying "what custom it was doesn't matter; a marriage is a marriage". But now we're getting into a substantive discussion, better for chat (which I don't really have time for today). Aug 25, 2015 at 14:32

2 Answers 2


Yes; Catholicism teaches that Joseph and Mary had a true marriage.

In the first place, consummation is not required for a marriage to be valid in the Catholic Church. What is necessary is (more or less) that the man and woman vow to be with each other, as one, forever; and that they intend to be together for the purpose of having and raising children. In fact, canon law distinguishes between consummated and non-consummated valid marriages:

A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum [that is "sufficiently established"] if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum ["established and consummated"] if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.

(Canon 1061, section 1)

I don't see a discussion of the question in the Catechism; that's really not the point of the Catechism. But Aquinas answers this very question, in the Third Part of his Summa Theologica:

Marriage or wedlock is said to be true by reason of its attaining its perfection. Now perfection of anything is twofold; first, and second. The first perfection of a thing consists in its very form, from which it receives its species; while the second perfection of a thing consists in its operation, by which in some way a thing attains its end. Now the form of matrimony consists in a certain inseparable union of souls, by which husband and wife are pledged by a bond of mutual affection that cannot be sundered. And the end of matrimony is the begetting and upbringing of children: the first of which is attained by conjugal intercourse; the second by the other duties of husband and wife, by which they help one another in rearing their offspring.

Thus we may say, as to the first perfection, that the marriage of the Virgin Mother of God and Joseph was absolutely true: because both consented to the nuptial bond, but not expressly to the bond of the flesh, save on the condition that it was pleasing to God. For this reason the angel calls Mary the wife of Joseph, saying to him (Mat. 1:20): "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife": on which words Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): "She is called his wife from the first promise of her espousals, whom he had not known nor ever was to know by carnal intercourse."

But as to the second perfection which is attained by the marriage act, if this be referred to carnal intercourse, by which children are begotten; thus this marriage was not consummated. Wherefore Ambrose says on Lk. 1:26,27: "Be not surprised that Scripture calls Mary a wife. The fact of her marriage is declared, not to insinuate the loss of virginity, but to witness to the reality of the union." Nevertheless, this marriage had the second perfection, as to upbringing of the child. Thus Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): "All the nuptial blessings are fulfilled in the marriage of Christ's parents, offspring, faith and sacrament. The offspring we know to have been the Lord Jesus; faith, for there was no adultery: sacrament, since there was no divorce. Carnal intercourse alone there was none."

(Question 29, Article 2)

That is: the point of marriage is for the man and the woman to come together, for all time, for the purpose of (having and) raising children. And indeed, in Catholic teaching, Mary and Joseph did come together, and stay together for the rest of their lives, and raise a child whom they appeared to treat and understand as "their child". The only thing they didn't do is consummate the marriage—which of course is usually required in order to have one's own children, but not in their case.

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    With all due respect, the Catholic church didn't exist at the time of Mary and Joseph. We would have to be discussing the marriage ritual of the Jews. So then, the question becomes, "Does the Catholic church recognize ancient Jewish marriages?" Aug 25, 2015 at 13:38
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    Why? This is how the Catholic Church views marriage, not [just] how it views Catholic marriage. Aug 25, 2015 at 13:39
  • Matt, a ratum tantum marriage is in any way a lesser marriage, with respect to duration, etc? Aug 25, 2015 at 13:47
  • See my addition to my comment and my comment to the question itself. Ultimately we're attempting to apply modern customs/rules/rituals retroactively. "Does the Catholic church 'grandfather' ancient Jewish marriages?" is how I now see the question. Which, I have no reason to believe that they would not and they wouldn't care to discuss the issue (why bother). Aug 25, 2015 at 13:48
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    @Matt Excellent Answer. Wouldn't you agree that that the Catholic Church recognizes by its definition of Marriage all marriages that are recognized by God? It is clear to Catholics and to scripture that Mary and Josephs Marriage was recognized and preordained by God. (Math 1:20-23) Christ's Authority on earth confirms what is already bound in heaven (Mat 16:19) The Church does not do so independently as those who question the sacred magisterium do. Yes, God recognized Mary and Josephs marriage. And how do we know this? The Catholic Church boldly states “Thus Says the Lord”
    – Marc
    Aug 25, 2015 at 15:35

They would be considered at least in the first stages of marriage. Which is not like an engagement, but the first part of a two step process to become fully married (but just the first step means that you're married). To directly answer your question, they were married - a true marriage. However I assume that the Catholic church believes that the second stage was never completed. This does not negate the marriage.

To find out more about the process of marriage in early Judaism please follow this link - I have included part of it below.

Kichah ("taking," the formal acquisition) approximates the economic term kinyan and seals the marriage. Because this is the first stage in the process of creating a covenant of partnership, unions that are prohibited and void, such as incest, are never referred to in the Torah by the term kichah, but as she'khivah (sleeping together). In regard to almost all valid marriages, even those that are prohibited, the Torah makes specific reference to kichah.

This first stage of marriage is not a preliminary agreement to contract a marriage at a future date (like the western concept of engagement), but an integral component of the two-step marriage process. The betrothal portion is a sort of inchoate marriage; from that point onward, the couple is considered married. Until the second step is taken, however, the bride may not cohabit with the groom (or any other man). In this social suspension that marks the difficult transition from the single life to the married state, the couple is together yet apart. Until the twelfth century, this first stage of marriage lasted up to one year in order to make preparations for the final step. The second stage of the marriage process is the consummation. It is alternatively termed nissuin, meaning elevation of status, from nassa, coming by carriage from the father's home to the groom's; or chuppah, wedding canopy.

You must consider that females were often married at a very young age - too young to complete the second part of the marriage. It may be years before the wife was ready for the second stage. Even though the article says "up to one year".

  • Mary and Joseph had a union that far surpassed that of Jewish Wedding Traditions. They embraced the call to be open to new life, in this case, the life of the world. Each made a sacrifice to do so, a sarifice of the the will which was pleasing to God. "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and Keep it" Luke 11:28 Not a rebuke as many non-catholics would (NEED TO) imply, but a clarification, as to why Mary is Blessed as well as all other Christians. They did the will of the Father. In Josephs Case, to raise Christ as his very own in a blessed union based on the faith of Abraham.
    – Marc
    Aug 25, 2015 at 15:46
  • -1 really? Your comment really has nothing to do with the question or my answer. The question is about the validity of their marriage (which is the scope of my answer), not about if their union "surpassed that of Jewish Wedding Traditions". I have demonstrated that their marriage (according to Jewish customs) was valid and real without consummation. And as @MattGutting points out, " a marriage is a marriage" Aug 25, 2015 at 17:01
  • My apologies if I seem to contridict you, that was not my intention. It was to inhance in this individual situation why indeed a marriage is a Mairage and why, in agreement I believe and more in the spirit of the question, that the CAtholic church recognizes the union as a marriage regarless of stages and outside of the Jewish understanding of it.
    – Marc
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:17

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