Sunday, May 1, 2016

When Life Isn't Ideal: "Amoris Laetitia"

Something I found on page 59 of "Amoris Laetitia"1 is an example of why I love being Catholic — common sense, drawing on the Church's experience and wisdom, developed by dealing with people for two millennia.

Some folks have been having conniptions over the encyclical: some because the Pope won't redefine marriage to suit their preferences; others, I suspect, for his failure to heap abuse on couples in " 'irregular' situations."

Instead of denouncing them as loathsome sinners who should be cast into the outer darkness, Pope Francis actually talks about "...offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God's plan for them...." ("Amoris Laetitia," page 227)

"The Validity of Certain Unions"

That's 'way ahead of where I'm at in the encyclical, though. I'm still reading through the third chapter, where I found this 'shocking' statement:
"...Canon Law also recognizes the validity of certain unions celebrated without the presence of an ordained minister.71 ..."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 59, Pope Francis)
I put a longer excerpt,2 and links to Canon Law cited in footnotes 71 and 72,3 at the end of this post.

Like I said, I love being Catholic: partly because the Church has been dealing with people for two millennia — and learning how to deal with less-than-ideal situations.

Mass and Mixed Marriages

(From John Martin, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Marriage is a sacrament " which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601-1617, 1621-1651)

Marriage between two Roman Catholics "...normally takes place during Holy Mass...." (Catechism, 1621)

So any couple who say they're married, but aren't both Catholics, or didn't have a 'proper' wedding during Mass, aren't really married, and will burn in eternal hellfire?

I certainly won't say that, partly because I've read Luke 6:37-38, and that's another topic. (March 9, 2016; March 15, 2015)

Also because that's not what the Church says.

My wife and I were married during Mass, but I wasn't a Catholic at the time. Not on paper, anyway: although my wife once quipped that 'in my heart I have always been Catholic.'

In countries like America, where Catholics are a minority, "a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic)" is hardly uncommon. (Catechism, 1633)

We had to get "the express permission of ecclesiastical authority," but not "an express dispensation," since I was already a baptized Christian. (Catechism, 1633-1637; Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter VI, 1124; Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter III, )

I'd done the research before an interview with our parish priest. I'd been expecting a detailed examination of my beliefs, and was hoping there wouldn't be too many 'technical' questions.

The interview was a massive anticlimax. The priest asked me what I thought marriage was: and stopped me before I'd really hit my stride — asking if I thought marriage was a lifelong and exclusive bond. I didn't reply "well, DUH!," but that's how I felt.

I knew that some folks stumbled into and out of physical relationships with little or no mutual commitment: but I didn't understand why they'd bother calling it "marriage." Like my wife said, 'in my heart, I have always been Catholic.'

Banns and Disasters

Ideally, a nice young Catholic couple have their banns read, or use "other opportune means to accomplish the investigations necessary," as Canon Law 1067 puts it; have perfect weather for their wedding Mass, and live happily ever after.


We do not live in an ideal world. Weather was reasonably pleasant when my wife and I got married, but lightning with near-simultaneous thunder and a torrential downpour was in progress at a relative's wedding I attended.

Couples have faced worse, including imminent death.

Disasters, accidents, and terminal illness, happen. Couples in such situations might be reasonably certain one or both of them wouldn't survive long enough for a 'proper' marriage ceremony.

The good news is that they might still get married, if only for a short time:
"If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only...."
(Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter V, 1116)
The conditions where this is okay are rather limited: impending death; or a reasonable chance that the couple can't find a priest for the next month. The latter isn't likely for couples living in urban areas.

For the 250 or so folks who keep McMurdo Station running during Antarctic winters, finding a priest before an icebreaker clears a channel might be challenging.

Having clergy present is still a good idea, though:
"...In either case, if some other priest or deacon who can be present is available, he must be called and be present at the celebration of the marriage together with the witnesses, without prejudice to the validity of the marriage before witnesses only."
(Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter V, 1116)
I don't see that as being "lax." It's recognizing that a marriage is done by the two people getting married, and God:
"The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized."
(Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII, 1055)
That's pretty much what Pope Francis says:2
"...the couple who marry are the ministers of the sacrament...."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 59)
It's also an example of the common sense I mentioned earlier: my opinion.

There may be awkward situations that the Church hasn't had to deal with yet. But after two millennia, my guess is that there aren't many.

After the Wedding

Getting married is just a first step. Couples tend to become couples with children, which is a good thing: and a lot of work, which is yet another topic. (Catechism, 2201-2223)

No pressure, but here's a link to the Vatican Press online copy of "Amoris Laetitia:"
  • "Amoris Laetitia"
    Pope Francis, Vatican Press (March 18, 2016)(released April 8, 2016)
More of my take on life, love, and families:

1 I haven't finished reading "Amoris Laetitia," the Pope's encyclical about love in the family, yet. That's because I'm studying it "patiently and carefully:"
"...The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs...."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 6, Pope Francis)
2 From "Amoris Laetitia:"
"...Canon Law also recognizes the validity of certain unions celebrated without the presence of an ordained minister.71 The natural order has been so imbued with the redemptive grace of Jesus that 'a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament'.72 The Church can require that the wedding be celebrated publicly, with the presence of witnesses and other conditions that have varied over the course of time, but this does not detract from the fact that the couple who marry are the ministers of the sacrament. Nor does it affect the centrality of the consent given by the man and the woman, which of itself establishes the sacramental bond...."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 59, Pope Francis (March 18, 2016)(released April 8, 2016))
3 Code of Canon Law, referenced in "Amoris Laetitia," page 59, footnotes 71 and 72:
  • Footnote 71
    Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter V, 1116; Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter X Art. 2, 1161-1165
  • Footnote 72
    Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII, 1055


Brigid said...

Extra word and missing comma: "the Pope's encyclical about love in the family on yet."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Found, fixed, and thanks, Brigid!

Paul Smith said...

There are a lot of reasonable factors that may affect marriage... You never know what's gonna happen tomorrow! We're sometimes too limited to make certain decisions... However, Resume Writing Services - Classy Resume Writer won't let you down, especially if you're young and have a lot of things to do!

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