The rite of marriage is but one moment, however significant, in the process of a marriage that begins before the rite and deepens and grows thereafter. In preparing couples for marriage, the Church focuses on both the rite and the process. In Catholic belief, Christ is at the center of married love; celebrated in the context of the Church and its faith tradition, marriage is understood as a covenant and an integral part of the journey of faith. So marriage in the Church is approached with great seriousness and deliberation. It is the responsibility of the pastor or other pastoral staff members appointed to help a couple discern their freedom and readiness to take this step.
The Church requires a preparation period of at least six months prior to the wedding to explore the couple's readiness, to take care of necessary paperwork, and to ensure that the couple takes the time needed to prepare well. There are several components to the preparation process in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and we can assist you through every step along the way. Engaged couples should secure a date for use of the church and begin this process before making commitments with caterers, reception facilities, etc.
Documents Required for Getting Married in the Catholic Church
Marriage celebrates the unbreakable commitment between a man and a woman who are free to make this mature decision in a community of believers. Certain documents are required to establish your sacramental status within the Catholic Church and your freedom from previous unions. Sworn statements attest to your understanding of Christian marriage and your willingness to live within the Church's vision of marriage.
Permission from the Archbishop is needed when a Catholic prepares to marry someone of another faith; a dispensation is required for a Catholic to marry someone who is not baptized. Likewise, couples planning to be married in another Roman Catholic diocese need permission from the Archbishop of San Francisco.
The documents needed for marriage are generally prepared in the local parish of the bride or the groom unless other arrangements are made.
The marriage cannot take place without the following documents:
Baptismal Certificate: Catholics need to get a certificate from their parish of baptism issued within the six months prior to the wedding. For those baptized in another Christian faith, a copy of the original baptismal certificate is sufficient.
Bride and Groom Form "A": This form, completed with a pastoral staff member, attests to the freedom and intentions of each party to the marriage.
Civil Marriage License: It is illegal for a marriage to take place without a civil license. The license must be acquired in person and is good for ninety days from issuance. Any California county can issue a license for marriage to be performed anywhere within the state; a confidential license for a marriage within San Francisco County must be issued in San Francisco County. The San Francisco County Clerk's Office is located at:
Room 190, City Hall I
Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102-4698
Other Documents: If either party has been married before, other documentation regarding past marriage(s) will be required. No date for use of the church will be set until the freedom of both parties to marry in the Church has been determined. Individuals with a previous marriage history should have this preliminary conversation with the priest or pastoral minister in person, not by phone, before making any deposits with reception facilities, photographers, caterers, etc.
Letter from your Pastor: This letter of permission is required only of those registered in a parish other than Old Saint Mary's. It is your responsibility to ensure that our marriage coordinator has all the necessary documentation at least two months prior to your wedding date.
FOCCUS© Pre-Marriage Inventory
Couples are asked to complete a pre-marriage inventory in consultation with the priest or deacon who will preside at the ceremony or with a delegated member of the pastoral staff. The couple's answers to a wide range of questions about various aspects of married life provide an opportunity for growth in self-understanding and mutual exploration of their relationship during the months before the wedding.
NOTE: The FOCCUS is required in the Archdiocese of San Francisco but not necessarily in other diocese. Please check with the diocese in which you are getting married to see if it is a requirement
Marriage Preparation Sessions
Engaged couples are asked to participate in an approved marriage preparation program such as an Engaged Encounter Weekend, a Saturday for Engaged Couples offered through the Paulist Center, or a similar process in their home parish or diocese. These sessions provide a valuable opportunity to focus on various aspects of married life, including the faith dimension. Couples must attend together. These programs fill up quickly, so you are encouraged to sign up immediately after setting the date for the wedding. For information and to register, call:
Saturday for Engaged Couples (full day) (415) 288-3800 email:
Marriage for Life at St. Mary's Cathedral (evening and weekend formats) (415) 664-8108; email:
Engaged Encounter (weekend retreat) (415) 664-1985; email:
Residents Of Other Dioceses
Couples planning to be married here who reside in other dioceses are asked to complete the marriage preparation process prescribed by their home diocese. The required documentation for marriage is the same across all dioceses.
Residents Of This Archdiocese Getting Married Outside The Diocese Or In Another Country
Couples who reside here and are planning to be married in other dioceses or in another country need to know that this process takes a little longer. While the required documentation for marriage is the same across all dioceses, it takes extra time to forward these papers through the proper channels. Please be sure to see your priest as soon as possible after you decide to get married. If you are marrying outside the country, it is advisable to check with the US embassy and the embassy of the other country to see if there are any special legal requirements for a foreigner being married there.