Marriage Dispensations in the Catholic Church

When working with French-Canadian Catholic church records, it is very common to come across ancestors who needed a dispensation. This was an approval granted by the bishop or cardinal to suspend the usual rules for Catholics that would prevent the marriage from occurring. Dispensations come in two types: dispensation of banns or dispensation for consanguinity. These dispensations provide great clues to genealogists for further research.

 

Banns

In order to be married in the Catholic church, couples were required to have their intention to marry announced at the parish mass three times prior to the marriage. If the bride and groom were from different parishes, the announcement needed to be made in both parishes. This was a safety precaution so that if one member of the couple was already married, or too young, or any other reason why the marriage would not be valid in the eyes of the church, the couples’ neighbors, family, or friends could bring the issue to the priest ahead of time. The banns are still part of the church today, although they are often printed in the bulletin in addition to or instead of being announced during the mass.

 

Dispensations on the banns could be made for a number of reasons. Usually. these were granted because there was a need or desire for the marriage to take place quickly. It is very common for those who are about to emigrate to have the banns dispensed with. This is especially common when one of the parties (usually the husband) has already emigrated and returned for the sole purpose of getting married. Such individuals may not be able to remain in Quebec for long. Another reason, of course, is that the first child is already on the way. If you see a dispensation for banns, be certain to look for a child born fewer than nine months later.

 

Dispensations were given for one or two of the banns, but never for all three. This is because the third bann is part of the marriage ceremony. Perhaps you may be familiar with the words “If anyone can show just cause why these two should not be married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.” (or words to that effect).

 

Consanguinity

Dispensations for consanguinity were made for a different reason; one that is far more valuable to genealogists. These dispensations were made because the bride and groom were related by blood. The degree of consanguinity is measured by the difference to the common ancestor.

 

Degree Relationship Common Ancestors
First Siblings Parents
Second First Cousins Grandparents
Third Second Cousins Great-Grandparents
Fourth Third Cousins Great-Great-Grandparents

 

Dispensations are never give for the first degree of consanguinity. They are not required for the fourth degree or higher. The only time a dispensation is required is for the second or third degree. There may be records where the fourth degree of consanguinity is stated, but a dispensation was not required by the church.

These dispensations are frequently found in smaller parishes. After a generation or two, it is not surprising to find intermarriage of relatives. My maternal ancestry leads back to the parish of Gentilly in Nicolet. I have both Rivard and Poisson ancestry whose lines are constantly intermarrying. This record from the parish of St. Edouard shows the marriage of my fourth-great grandparents, Alexis Rivard dit Lavigne and Julie Poisson, on 9 October 1821. After the naming of the bride and groom and their parents, the record goes on to say that no impediment to the marriage was found, other than the third degree of consanguinity, and a dispensation was issued by the vicar general on the 21st of September. The vicar general is the highest official in the diocese after the bishop. He is usually responsible for executing administrative authority in the diocese. Alexis and Julie were both great-grandchildren of François Rivard dit Lanouette dit Lavigne; Alexis from the first wife and Julie from the second.

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