Tag Archives: annulment

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 3)

26 Aug

As we discussed in the previous post, marriage is a sign of God as the eternal exchange of love before time began.  Marriage represents this truth because the husband and wife commit and give themselves as a gift to each other. The married couple images God as a communion of persons.  God’s wisdom in establishing marriage as a union between one man and one woman did not stop with signifying Him “as it was in the beginning.” Marriage also signifies God as He “is now.” We have come to experience and know God through time, and so this is the second aspect I would like to explore.

Marriage is a sign of God’s loving existence during time.  In fact, St. Paul reminds us that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His son . . .” (Gal. 4:4).  Every sacramentally married couple is called to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church.  By the way a married couple loves each other, they bear witness to the reality that God is a God who is passionately in love with His People, faithful to His promises, and generously merciful and life-giving.

In fact, this truth is at the core of the vows that the bride and groom exchange at the altar. The vows are what establish the sacrament. No vows, no sacrament. The couple has to promise to love each other in the same way that Christ loves the Church. If they are not willing to do that , then they do not become a sacrament.  Let’s look at those vows more intently.

If you have not been to a Catholic wedding recently, let me refresh your memory.  The priest or deacon who is officiating the wedding asks the couple three questions.  The couple is asked is they have come freely.  Next, the couple is asked if they promise to be faithful to one another, and finally, the couple is asked if they will be fruitful and receive children lovingly from God.  Freely, faithfully, and fruitfully are the three hallmarks of Christ’s love for the Church, so for Her part, the Church is doing its due diligence to make sure the couple is not being tricked in any way.  The Church is essentially asking the couple, “Do you want to be a sacrament?  Do you want to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church?  If you do, we will proceed to the exchange of the vows.” Continue reading

What God Has Joined

17 Aug

What does Jesus really mean when He says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Mk 10:11)? This may seem straightforward enough, but in our culture of “hook-ups,” “no-fault” divorce, and “gay marriage,” we tend to lose sight of God’s plan for marriage and occasionally need some reminders.

First, what is adultery? It means a married person having relations with someone who is not his or her spouse. We may reason that if a marriage “ends” in divorce, then the slate is clean — the person is free to marry a second spouse without committing adultery. Is that true?

This reasoning would be legitimate if a divorce really could end a marriage, if a state or the individuals themselves — or even the Church — were to possess the authority to do so. But Jesus courageously proclaims that marriage is within God’s sole jurisdiction: “What God has joined together, man must not separate” (Mt 19:6) we hear in today’s Gospel.

In a valid Christian marriage, the two become one in a permanent, mutual bond that exists even when the spouses and the state consent to the legal fiction of a divorce. Therefore the Church has constantly and emphatically taught that a consummated Christian marriage cannot be dissolved. In an analogous way, we understand that Christ the Bridegroom has become one with His Bride, the Church, and will never part company with her (cf. Mt. 28:20; Eph. 5:25-32).

In upholding the indissolubility of marriage, the Church has carefully distinguished divorces from annulments. An annulment, or a “decree of nullity,” is a finding by the Church that a genuine marriage never existed. The principal bases for annulments are lack of form (it was not really a Christian marriage ceremony), incapacity (e.g., the person is under age or already married), or a failure of consent (e.g., the person lacks the emotional or psychological maturity to consent to marriage).

But if a real Christian marriage exists and has been consummated by the couple’s engaging in the marital act, the Church teaches — in fidelity to Christ — that no human being or institution has the power to dissolve it.

Given this clear teaching, the alarming rise in annulments of consummated Christian “marriages” in recent decades can be a source of scandal, particularly here in the U.S., where the annual number of annulments has risen dramatically since the 1960s. Both to those who love the Church and to those who ridicule her, the seemingly routine granting of annulments on such a large scale appears to be a development that threatens the Church’s pivotal teaching on the permanence (“indissolubility”) of marriage.

This threat is not explicit, since an annulment is not a divorce in principle. However, if the teaching — embodied by canon law — is easily avoided, its credibility is compromised. To our shame, a skeptic of the Church’s claims regarding marriage can point to the annulment process as a convoluted system of “Catholic divorce.” How do we respond to this challenge? I’d like to offer six points for our readers’ consideration: Continue reading