St John's Q&A

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Married "in the Church"

Do you know an adult Catholic who has not received the Sacrament of Confirmation? Please invite them to come to Fr. Mike’s Catholic refresher course tonight (and every Wednesday) at 7 pm in the school. During the Easter season, Fr. Mike will especially prepare those who need to be confirmed. Adult Confirmations are celebrated by the Archdiocese at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on the feast of Pentecost.
Anon asked, “Are Catholic marriages done outside the church valid and if not, why not? God is everywhere.” First, by “Catholic marriages”, I am assuming you mean a marriage where at least one of the spouses is Catholic. Second, let us be reminded that “valid” means that the marriage takes place; an “invalid” marriage is one where the bond of marriage does not occur. Third, there are a couple of ways to interpret your question, Anon. The first is a general approach to “outside the church”. By this we would understand that the couple has chosen to be married without the Church’s approval.

I have already worked with several couples who have chosen this route either in a prior marriage or in their current marriage. They either chose to get married quickly by a justice of the peace or in the church of the non-Catholic spouse without the permission of the Church. Canon Law # 1108 states: “Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses…” So, a marriage which is not contracted in the presence of a bishop, pastor, priest or deacon and before two witnesses is an invalid marriage. One of the main points here is that the ordained minister (bishop, pastor, etc.) and witnesses represent the Church and the Church’s approval of the marriage.

Let’s keep in mind that Christian marriage originated in the Catholic Church. Christ has raised marriage to the level of a sacrament; it is through the Church that each valid and sacramental marriage occurs. For a Catholic to go “outside the Church” to get married, then, would be for him or her to enter into a marriage that is not valid or sacramental.

Let’s also keep in mind that to go outside of the Church for marriage means to be deprived of the
Church’s beautiful, enriching, and necessary preparation for this most important sacrament. The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is a most sacred act between the spouses whereby they promise their love to the other for the rest of their lives. The promises they give to the other are so powerful that they need to understand to what they are consenting. The Church requires at least six months of preparation which helps the couple to understand marriage more fully, the responsibilities of raising and educating children, communication within marriage, moral issues, the sacramental life within marriage, etc. Another huge component of the six month period is spiritual discernment and prayer for the couple: ‘is God calling us to get married’? The couples to whom I have offered this preparation have been grateful to get it, and are much more equipped to live out their marital promises.

Finally, the specific approach to your question, Anon. Yes, a Catholic couple needs to get married in a Catholic church for it to be a valid marriage. Canon # 1118 states, “A marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic party and a non-Catholic baptized party is to be celebrated in a parish church.” The parish church is part of the “canonical form” of a Catholic marriage. Canonical form means to follow the form (or formula) as prescribed by the Church; other sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, etc.) follow the same form of being celebrated in a church.

The sentence after this one in #1118 does allow an exception, granted that it is approved by the local bishop or pastor: “It can be celebrated in another church or oratory with the permission of the local ordinary or pastor.” This does not contradict the whole idea of being married in the Church because it still carries the Church’s approval or permission in some way. In other words, the Church does allow situations where it will dispense from the requirements of canon law when there is a good and just reason. The Catholic couple that comes to the Church for this or other kind of dispensation can be married “in the Church”, mainly because the Church has given its witness and approval for their marriage. To have a marriage recognized, witnessed, and approved by the Church is my understanding of what it means to be married “in the Church”.


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