Sacramental Marriage

A parent recently approached me about a daughter who was engaged to a guy who had been married before and is intimidated by the church’s annulment process.  The couple was informed by their local priest that they could not marry in the church because the groom’s prior bond of marriage renders him ineligible for the sacrament.  The parent wanted to know if there is any way I could officiate.  The quick answer is that I cannot.  That is the response that most young couples in similar situations receive from church officials.  Though it is the correct answer, most of us would agree that it is not a very pastoral response, nor the answer that a good shepherd gives.

Marriage for Catholics is either a civil union or the sacrament of holy matrimony.  Though both are marriage, the former is defined by the society in which they live, the latter by the church.  The former is a legal contract, or 50-50 agreement, between two parties; the latter is a covenant in which they seek to imitate God by giving of themselves 100% for the sake of the other.  The former can be entered into by whomever the civil law permits: two individuals of legal age irrespective of prior sacramental bond or sexual orientation.  The latter has numerous restrictions, mostly based on our church’s interpretation of Sacred Scripture.  Included in the restrictions are that sacramental marriage must be between one man and one woman who are free from prior bond.  Other impediments that could prevent sacramental marriage include deception, mental illness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, incapacity for monogamy, history of physical abuse, unwillingness to pass along life and faith to children, etc.  To enter the former, the couple needs only to appear at the civil jurisdiction (county courthouse, no more than thirty days and no less than three days before the ceremony in Missouri) and pay the prescribed fee; the ceremony can take place in any chosen venue.  To enter the latter, the couple follows ecclesial guidelines along a suggested nine-month-or-so process that includes compatibility assessments and reflections upon stages of marital life and love; and vows must be stated in a designated sacred place.  Most couples appreciate the preparation process.  Though long for some, holy matrimony is no less sacred than holy orders which normally has a five-year preparation process.

Returning to the initial query of the parent, I, as a priest, am limited in my jurisdiction of whose marriage I can officiate, where, and how—so I would not be able to witness the daughter’s ceremony until the groom is eligible to receive the sacrament.  But pastorally, I can assist the couple as they seek to remain connected to the church and bless them along their journey.  Priests bless cars, animals, people seeking reassurance of the Lord’s company, and far stranger things.  It is no wonder that many clergy, especially in Europe, are challenging hierarchical rules-makers about blessing civil unions.  If a gay or divorced couple, or any other couple in an “irregular” situation, asks their church for help, much as those viewed as sinners in Jesus’ day asked for His help, we ought to think about helping.  As Jesus accompanied people, so can we.  He rarely turned people away or labeled them ineligible for sacramental grace.  Then He challenged them to receive the grace, follow the path of holiness, and stay close to God.

The Lord is a better judge of what is sacred than are we.  I suspect therefore, we will find more blessings of irregular unions in the future.  Though they will not be granted the sacramental status of the church, they may very well be viewed as sacred by God.

11 thoughts on “Sacramental Marriage

  1. This is a tough one to swallow especially when it comes to gay marriage. I have had many discussions with my 90 year old Dominican Priest Uncle. I do admire that although he could not officiate my niece’s wedding to another woman, he came and supported their civil union as a witness in the crowd..
    On another note, I wanted to share with you some news in my family. My brother, Tom, was recently ordained a deacon in Indianapolis. It was such a beautiful ceremony. At his first Mass he gave the homily and it was amazing! I have some hard copies if you would be interested in reading it. He talks about being a member of a large family.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 35 yrs ago, I was asked to write a statement for a friend’s pending annulment process, so he could marry in the church. The bride’s uncle was an archbishop no less!! I was aware of his state of mind when he first married about 10 yrs earlier…. so he came to me for my help. We’d been close friends for years after that marriage failed, but he was leery of the whole annulment thing to take our relationship further. At first, I was appalled, but then, as a friend and a fellow Christian, I felt it was the responsible Catholic thing to do. He and his lovely wife just celebrated 35 yrs…raised a family and are enjoying retirement. We are friends via social media. BB at STM Don’t have your current email!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marriage is not a sacrament, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches. It is a creation, not a redemption ordinance between a man and a woman. It was given by Elohim to all of humanity at creation — pre-dating the Church, Western Society, and even Sinai. God wasn’t meant to be left out of it for believers or non-believers, but unfortunately in our brokenness He often is.

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