Catholic marriage, also called matrimony, is a "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. [It] has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized." In the Roman Rite, it is ordinarily celebrated in a Nuptial Mass.
The nature of the covenant requires that the two participants be one man and one woman, that they be free to marry, that they willingly and knowingly enter into a valid marriage contract, and that they validly execute the performance of the contract.
On the exact definition of each of these steps hinge all the arguments and technical points involved in annulments, and annulment disputes (e.g., one of the most famous, that of Henry VIII). Catholic Canon law regulates the celebration of marriage in canons 1055–1065.
Conditions for a sacramental marriage
From the point of the Catholic Church, for a marriage to be a sacrament, both the man and the woman must be baptized, able to marry and freely consent to the marriage. The Church typically provides classes for some months before marriage to help the participants inform their consent. During or before this time, the would-be spouses are confirmed, if they have not previously received confirmation and it can be done without grave inconvenience (Canon 1065).
The Catholic Church has further requirements for the form of vows, called the "canonical form". The canonical form of marriage must be followed (unless dispensed). The requirement for a Canonical Form of Marriage began due to the reforms of the Council of Trent. With the decree Tametsi of 11 November 1563. Ne Temere promulgated by Pius X, August 2, 1907 added (and continues to enforce) further specifications.
Freedom to marry
The participants in a marriage contract must be free to marry, and to marry each other. That is, they must be an unmarried man and woman, with no impediments as set out by Canon law.
In addition to being free to marry, the participants must intend marriage. In the Catholic Church, it is consent that creates marriage. Consent consists in a human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other. Consent must be a free act of the will of the consenting parties, free of coercion or grave external error. If freedom is lacking, the consent is invalid.
- antecedent and perpetual Impotence
- Consanguinity to the fourth collateral line (1st cousin), including legal adoption to the second collateral line
- Affinity (relationship by marriage, e.g. a brother-in-law) in the direct line
- prior bond
- Holy Orders
- perpetual vows of chastity in a religious institute
- Disparity of cult (one party not being baptized)
- Crimen (one party previously conspiring to marry (upon condition of death of spouse) while still married); also called "conjugicide"
- non-age (at least 16 for males, 14 for females)
Ministers of matrimony in Latin rite
The husband and wife must validly execute the marriage contract. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the spouses who are understood to confer marriage on each other. The spouses, as ministers of grace, naturally confer upon each other the sacrament of matrimony, expressing their consent before the church. This does not eliminate the need for church involvement in the marriage; under normal circumstances, canon law requires the attendance of a priest or deacon and at least two witnesses for validity (see canons 1108-1116).
Ministers of Matrimony in Eastern Catholic Rites
In Eastern Catholic Churches, which follow the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox beliefs regarding marriage, a priest (never a deacon) is the minister of the sacrament (see Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1623, 1992 edition) through the act of "crowning" the couple with a pair of crowns while proclaiming them received into the Kingdom of Heaven. The vows are exchanged well beforehand in the Byzantine ritual and are not binding. They are a remnant of the Liturgy of Betrothal which had used to be done in a separate Liturgy. Thus it is known in the East as the Mystery (read: Sacrament) of Crowning as often as it is called matrimony.
A marriage may be somewhat defective and yet still be valid; such a marriage is illicit. A marriage which was sufficiently defective as not to meet the required criteria is invalid, and the participants are considered not to have actually married. However, Canon 1137 states that children born to a "putative" marriage (defined in Canon 1061, sec. 3 as one that is not valid but was entered into in good faith by at least one spouse) are legitimate; therefore, the declaration that a marriage is null does not render the children of that marriage illegitimate.
Catholic theology teaches that a validly contracted marriage is accompanied by divine ratification, creating a virtually indissoluble union until the couple consummate, after which the marriage is completely indissoluble. An unconsummated marriage can be dissolved by the Pope, as Vicar of Christ. Once the marriage is consummated, only a separation is possible; the marriage bond cannot be dissolved. Therefore, the term "divorce" has no meaning in the context of Catholic marriage.
An annulment is a declaration that the marriage was invalid at the time the vows were exchanged. In cases of two baptized people, this also means that no sacrament ever took place. Thus, an annulment is declared only when an ecclesial tribunal finds a lack of validity in the marriage at the time of the marital contract. Behavior subsequent to the contract is not directly relevant, except as post facto evidence of the validity or invalidity of the contract. That is, behavior subsequent to the contract cannot actually change the validity of the contract. For example, a marriage would be invalid if one of the parties, at the time of marriage, did not intend to honor the vow of fidelity. If the spouse did intend to be faithful at the time of the marriage but later committed adultery this does not invalidate the marriage.
Annulment and divorce, therefore, differ both in rationale and effect; an annulment is a finding that sacramental marriage never existed, whereas a divorce is a dissolution of marriage.
History of marriage in the Catholic church
Concern about the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God as supported by Jesus and early followers such as Saint Paul, and the need to avoid 'earthly ties', meant inevitably that first-century Christians placed less value on the family but rather saw celibacy and freedom from family ties as a preferable state. Paul had suggested that marriage be used only as a last resort by those Christians that found it too difficult to remain chaste.
Augustine believed that marriage was a sacrament, because it was a symbol used by Paul to express Christ's love of the Church. Despite this, for the Fathers of the Church with their profound hostility to sex, marriage could not be a true and valuable Christian vocation. Jerome wrote: "It is not disparaging wedlock to prefer virginity. No one can make a comparison between two things if one is good and the other evil" (Letter 22). Tertullian argued that marriage "consists essentially in fornication" (An Exhortation to Chastity") Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage said that the first commandment given to men was to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue this process of multiplication. Augustine was clear that if everybody stopped marrying and having children that would be an admirable thing; it would mean that the Kingdom of God would return all the sooner and the world would come to an end.
This negative view of marriage was reflected in the lack of interest shown by the Church authorities. No special ceremonial was devised to celebrate Christian marriage - despite the fact that the Church quickly produced liturgies to celebrate the Eucharist, Baptism and Confirmation. It was not important for a couple to have their nuptials blessed by a priest. People could marry by mutual agreement in the presence of witnesses. This system, known as Spousals, persisted after the Reformation. At first the old Roman pagan rite was used by Christians, although modified superficially. The first detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates from the 9th century and was identical to the old nuptial service of Ancient Rome.
- "CIC". http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3V.HTM. "1055 §1"
- "CIC". http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3Y.HTM. "1083-1094"
- Pope John Paul II (1988-06-28). "Const. Ap, Pastor Bonus". http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_19880628_pastor-bonus-roman-curia_en.html. Retrieved 2009-07-22. "Art 67"
- Karen Armstrong, Christianity's creation of the sex war in the west, London, 1986
- Karen Armstrong, The Gospel According to Women, London, 1986
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Sacrament of Matrimony An authoritative summary of Church teaching on marriage, including the main requirements for the celebration of the sacrament of Marriage.
- Order of the Rite for Celebrating Marriage During Mass Order of a Catholic wedding during Mass, with links to official texts from the Rite of Marriage
- Liberté plus haute… The canon law for dummies.
- Arcanum Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Christian Marriage
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