The royal wedding is over and now everyone is wondering where the royal couple is honeymooning and how they will live out their married life. The royal wedding was interesting and exciting to watch. I turned on the television early that morning, just in time to hear the sermon delivered by the Bishop of London. Interestingly, the sermon began with a quote from St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
and he continued, “Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.” From the bishop’s explanation of marriage in his sermon we can tell that we share a lot in common with the Church of England regarding the sacredness of marriage beyond the glitz and glamour of a royal wedding. Unfortunately, one of the reasons for our division in Christianity concerns the differences regarding the marriage and divorce of an English king.
Sure, it was pegged as the ‘wedding of the century.’ I wonder, however if our excitement was about marriage or about the wedding? A wedding and a marriage are two different realities for and Catholic Church is always concerned about both realties, however recognizing that the sacrament of marriage is established by the consent exchanged at a wedding. Catholics are therefore bound to marry according to the rites and law of the Church. The instruction of Jesus Christ, “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female; for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become as one. They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore let no one separate what God has joined.” (Mark 10:6-9, NAB) are taken seriously and regarded as the foundation of marriage as a sacrament brought about by the exchange of consent at a wedding. Marriage is therefore an irrevocable bond that cannot be divided, not even by the Church. And therefore, the idea that an annulment is a divorce in the Catholic Church is false.
The Archbishop’s recent pastoral letter on cohabitation and marriage (April 3, 2011) has sparked a number of inquiries about marriage and annulments. The Archbishop boldly reminded us that cohabitating (“living together”) outside of a valid marriage in the Church is a grave sin. The Archbishop courageously called those who find themselves cohabitating to take the steps necessary to rectify the sinful situation by deciding to marry in the Church, and or to take the necessary steps to pursue an annulment if necessary.
The telephones at the Tribunal and in our parishes have been ringing.
The ringing telephones have provided an opportunity to explain annulments, but more importantly it has provided us the opportunity to explain our understanding of marriage. Annulments only make sense when we have a clear picture of the Church’s complete teaching about marriage. Marriage is rooted in Scripture in the Old Testament in the Book of Genesis; “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one body.” (2:24. NAB) and is confirmed by Jesus Christ in the Gospels (Mark 10:6-9, NAB). Marriage is brought about by the consent exchanged through the vows exchanged at a wedding. Consent makes marriage. And therefore, when two people exchange consent we presume that they mean and intend everything that was said by them, and that includes a correct and complete understanding and desire for marriage. The Church presumes that people mean and intend what they say when vows are exchanged, and when consent is given to marriage and to their spouse. The result is the indissoluble bond spoken of in the Book of Genesis and confirmed by Jesus Christ in the Gospels. The bond that is established is permanent and binding, meaning that persons who have exchanged consent are not free to marry someone else even if they have obtained a civil divorce.
The Church presumes that the consent exchanged by two people is valid until the contrary is proven. An annulment
refers to the process by which the consent exchanged is questioned. The Tribunal follows the law and instructions in the Code of Canon Law and of the Instruction at each stage of the process, Dignitas Connubii
the only what way that a marriage (bond) can be declared null.
In order for a marriage to be valid both people must understand what they are consenting to in marriage (all that is included in marriage as based in Sacred Scripture and as taught by the Church). The parties must be free to marry (not having any prior marriages), and understand the meaning of marriage as found in the Scriptures and taught by the Church. Technically speaking, we often refer to marriage as unitive, procreative, and permanent. The essential elements of marriage are summarized in the instruction that the minister gives at the beginning of the rite of marriage at a wedding. The priest or deacon asks the couple in these or similar words:
“My dear friends, you have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church’s minister and this community. Christ abundantly blesses this love. He has already consecrated you in baptism and now he enriches and strengthens you by a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity. And so, in the presence of the Church, I ask you to state your intentions.” (Rite of Marriage)
The minister then asks the bride and the groom three essential questions that summarize the meaning of marriage:
1. “N. and N. have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”
2. “Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”
3. “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to Christ and his Church?” (Rite of Marriage)
The questions establish that the couple understands and that they consent to the freedom necessary for marriage; the unitive part of marriage whereby they affirm that marriage and marriage to the person before them is good for them, and the procreative part of marriage, whereby they affirm that they understand and intend that begetting and raising children is an essential part of marriage.
Having established that the bride and groom understand marriage and all of the essential parts of marriage, and that they intend to enter into marriage as the Church teaches, the minister leads the bride and groom in exchanging consent with the following words:
“Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, join your right hands, and declare your consent before God and his Church.”
Bridegroom and Bride:
“I N. take you, N. to be my wife / husband,
I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” (Rite of Marriage)
The result of the consent exchanged by the vows of a couple at a wedding is a valid marriage that is binding until the death of one of the parties. Even in the situation of a separation and a civil divorce, the couple is considered to be bound to the bond of marriage, and therefore not free to marry someone else.
The unfortunate reality of a failed marriage and subsequent separation and divorce poses many difficulties. A separated and or divorced person who remains chaste and does not begin an intimate relationship with another person and who does not begin to cohabitate with another person may continue to receive the Eucharist and celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.
However, the reality of being prohibited from receiving the Eucharist and going to confession arises if one of the persons begins and intimate relationship with another person, begins to cohabitate with another person, or enters into a civil marriage. The Archbishop’s letter reminds us of this fact and encourages anyone who finds themselves in this grave sin to do what they can to rectify the situation, especially since this means that one in such a situation may not receive the Eucharist.
The Archbishop challenged those who are free to marry to make a decision for marriage if they intend to be married and to take the steps necessary to be married in the Church if they are cohabitating. For those who were married prior, they are encouraged to work with their parishes and with the Tribunal to consider if an annulment is a possibility.
refers to the legal process in the Church by which one of the parties in a marriage raises the question of the validity of their marriage bond. The law of the Church establishes how the validity of the bond is questioned and outlines the process by which a marriage bond can be declared valid or invalid. An annulment
also refers to the conclusion of the process in which the bond is declared to be valid or invalid. Often times we hear of someone having received an annulment,
which means that the marriage bond was declared to be invalid at the conclusion of the annulment process. It is important to note that the result of an annulment process can establish that the bond is valid, and therefore the parties are not free to marry someone else in the Church.
The annulment process begins with a pastoral discussion at the parish with a priest, deacon, or lay person that has been charged to assist in annulments. A person considering beginning the annulment process must consider whether or not they believe there may have been a defect in the marriage bond, and whether they believe that perhaps the consent exchanged at their wedding was invalid. An invalid marriage bond refers to the time of the wedding when consent was exchanged. The testimony concerning the time of consent (time leading up to the wedding, the wedding, the honeymoon, and the early life of the marriage) is the most important testimony that must be provided. The reasons for the breakdown of the marriage are considered as they confirm problems that were evident at the time of consent.
After discussing the possibility of an annulment with the ministers in a parish a person interested in pursuing an annulment is given a comprehensive questionnaire to complete. The questionnaire requires complete information for both parties including a correct mailing address for the former spouse (Respondent). The bulk of the questionnaire requires that the person (Petitioner) answer questions about how they grew up, their families, their parents, all that they know about the Respondent, how they met, decided for marriage, prepared for marriage, the wedding, the honeymoon, the early life of the marriage, the life of the marriage, and the breakdown of the marriage. The questions are an attempt to help the Petitioner tell the complete story about how they exchanged consent. Once the Petitioner has completed the questionnaire and collected the necessary marriage certificate and final divorce decree, the Petitioner submits the questionnaire to the same minister in the parish to review and assure that it is complete. The questionnaire is submitted to the Tribunal after the Petitioner and a minister in the parish sign the questionnaire.
(Future articles in the People of God will describe how the process unfolds and the other elements necessary in the annulment process.)
Witness testimony is necessary to confirm the testimony provided by the Petitioner and the Respondent in an annulment process. A minimum of four people is needed to provide witness testimony by completing a questionnaire submitted to them. The Respondent will be given the opportunity to provide testimony and review the testimony provided regarding a marriage nullity case. It is imperative that a correct address for the Respondent is provided when the questionnaire is submitted.
When marriage and annulments are discussed there are two predominant questions that are asked about annulments:
How long will the process take?
What does an annulment have to do with children born in the marriage?
From the time that a complete questionnaire is submitted and accepted by the Tribunal the minimum time frame is one year, and can take longer depending on the amount and quality of the testimony that is received. Every case is considered a second time by an appeal court in the Diocese of Phoenix. Therefore, plans for a wedding should never be made until the annulment process is complete, and one should also consider that the conclusion of the process might indicate that the marriage bond is valid and that the person may not be free to marry.
With regard to children, a declaration of nullity does not have an effect on the legitimacy of children as commonly believed. Children born in the life of a marriage are presumed to have been conceived and born within what was presumed to be a valid marriage. A declaration of nullity does not have any bearing on the legitimacy of children.
Many of us were enchanted with the Royal Wedding and while we are also glad that it is over, we wish Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Katherine much happiness. While the Royal wedding sparked an interest in weddings and marriages, it is my hope that that a correct understanding of marriage begun by the consent exchanged at a wedding will encourage many to have the courage to enter into and live out the sacredness of marriage when they feel so called to live this holy vocation.
The Bishop of London said in his sermon, “In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.” At baptism we were anointed as kings who share in the royal dignity of Jesus Christ that is increased as we live the sacramental life of the Church. Marriage is a sacrament that helps us to live that royal dignity as sons and daughters of God. Every wedding is a royal wedding that effects our Christian lives and growth in holiness because of the foundation for marriage as taught by Jesus Christ, “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female; for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become as one. They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore let no one separate what God has joined.” (Mark 10:6-9, NAB).