The Status of Marriage III

What is a Catholic Marriage?

This reading is in support of the call of our Holy Father, Pope Francis for a Synod regarding family issues. It is an attempt to bring to light the current pressures and realities of the world we live in. It is not a discussion to pass judgment but rather to highlight the issues, which will be discussed during the upcoming Synod.

I remember registering stories of young couples while I was growing up. They would be planning their wedding and speak of marriage preparation classes. For the Protestants, this meant a few sessions, depending on their church, with the pastor in order to give the pastor a feeling that the couple was entering into the marriage with the best intentions. For Catholics it was something different. The Catholic couples were required at that time to attend a weekly course regarding marriage that lasted up to 1 year prior to that couple receiving permission to marry in the church.

So what does it really take to be married in the Catholic Church?

First, you should contact your Parish Priest, as soon as you are engaged and start talking about preparation requirements and available dates for the ceremony.

The couple should be baptized Christian; it is not a requirement for both members to be Catholic. Non-Christians cannot receive the sacraments. For a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic Christian, express permission is required from his or her bishop. A Catholic can marry an unbaptized person, but such marriages are natural marriages only; they are not sacramental marriages. The Church, therefore, discourages them and requires a Catholic who wishes to marry an unbaptized person to receive a special dispensation from his or her bishop. Still, if the dispensation is granted, a non-sacramental marriage is valid and can take place inside of a Catholic church.

You cannot be too closely related. This is normally covered in civil code (law) as well, and current guidance is that no one closer than a second cousin may be wed.

You must be free to marry, meaning that neither of the parties is currently bound by a marriage contract, If one of the partners, Catholic or non-Catholic Christian, has been married before, he or she is free to marry only if his or her spouse has died or he or she has obtained a declaration of nullity from the Church. The mere fact of a divorce is not sufficient to prove the nullity of a marriage. During marriage preparation, you must inform the priest if you have been married before, even in a civil ceremony.

You must be in good standing with the church. Meaning that you should attend service regularly and be free of scandal in your life. This is normally where the subject of co-habitation comes up. So, for instance, a couple who are living together may not be allowed to get married in the Church until they have spent sufficient time living apart. (There are exceptions—for instance, if the priest is convinced that the couple is not engaged in immoral behavior but is living together out of economic necessity.) Likewise, a Catholic politician who supports policies condemned by the Church (such as the legalization of abortion) may be denied a sacramental marriage.

Finally, what may have until only a few years ago, self evident, the two individuals requesting either a sacramental or non-sacramental service in the church must be of the opposite sex.

IN his call for the Synod, Our Holy Father has asked bold questions about society and about how we should address these issues as a church. In the section titled “Marriage according to the natural law”, we find the following questions:

a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?

These are questions that we will have to deal with as a church and as individuals. The correct answers will only be known to each of us in our hearts. For myself, I share with you that one of my oldest and dearest friends, declared he is gay a few years after we graduated college. I had to make a choice, of loving him for the friend I had known for many years or to accept that he was who he was and if I was to be a friend, then I needed to accept him for all he was.

He has had the same partner for 15 years now, and recently they wed in the state of New York in a civil ceremony. They are both successful and solid members of the community, being charitable and caring in their lives.

They did not request a marriage in the church, but in today’s world, where registered partnerships and legal marriage between the same sex exists, it is a question that needs to be addressed.

For me, the decisions were simple; he is and will always be my friend. I do not have any friend with whom I agree with all of his or her opinions or how they live their lives. As for the decision on who goes to heaven or hell, I will side with Pope Francis and say it is not my place to judge.

What will be decided for the church is more complex than an individual decision of acceptance. We will have to wait and see, what if any changes will occur.

God Bless.