Banns of marriage

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The banns of marriage, commonly known simply as "the banns" or "bans" (from a Middle English word meaning "proclamation," rooted in Old French[1]) are the public announcement in a Christian parish church of an impending marriage between two specified persons. It is commonly associated with the Church of England and with other denominations whose traditions are similar; the Roman Catholic Church abolished the requirement in 1983.

The purpose of banns is to enable anyone to raise any canonical or civil legal impediment to the marriage, so as to prevent marriages that are invalid. Impediments vary between legal jurisdictions, but would normally include a pre-existing marriage that has been neither dissolved nor annulled, a vow of celibacy, lack of consent, or the couple's being related within the prohibited degrees of kinship.


Roman Catholic Church

The original Catholic Canon law on the subject, intended to prevent clandestine marriages, was decreed at the Council of Trent on November 11, 1563. (Sess. XXIV, De ref. matr., c. i) which provided that before the celebration of any marriage the names of the contracting parties should be announced publicly in the church during Mass, by the parish priests of both parties on three consecutive Holy Days.[2] Although the requirement was straightforward in canon law, complications sometimes arose in a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, when one of the parties to the marriage did not have a home parish in the Roman Catholic Church.[citation needed]

Traditionally, banns were read from the pulpit and were usually published in the parish weekly bulletin. Prior to 1983, canon law required banns to be announced, or "asked", in the home parishes of both parties on three Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation prior to the marriage. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, publication of banns is no longer required.

In some places, the words once spoken by the priest were: "I publish the banns of marriage between (Name of party) of the Parish of........ and (Name of other party) of this Parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is for the (first, second, third) time of asking."


While the Council of Trent is best known as a Counter-Reformation Council, neither the Lutheran Church nor the Church of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church on the requirement of publication of banns (or the equivalent) prior to marriage. (An equivalent notice was not required in the Orthodox Christian Churches, which used another method to verify eligibility to marry.) The break between some Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church was over what would constitute an impediment to marriage (the Church of England, for example, recognised remarriage after divorce in some circumstances), rather than over the means by which impediments to marriage should be identified.

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