I have to admit, being the daughter of a Deacon in the Catholic Church has its perks. One such perk being my full-time access to a person (way more) knowledgeable about the Catholic rulings on the holy Sacrament of Matrimony than I. This knowledge and support certainly helps in my profession of Marriage and Family Therapy.
When I started a conversation on annulments with my dad he mentioned the appropriate timing considering the Church has added new items to “The Order of Celebrating Matrimony” just recently. This new “order” simply clarifies the rituals surrounding a couple’s obligations towards one another to further allow us to understand the extent to which we are agreeing to the Sacrament. This new order is available for use as of September 8, 2016, and it will become obligatory December 30th, 2016. So, this is certainly a perfect time for married couples to review their marriages, as well as for premarital couples to become fully aware of the commitment they are making.
Let’s start with defining an annulment. Despite popular statements, an annulment is NOT a “Catholic divorce” and it does not make children “illegitimate”. An annulment is what occurs when a sacramental marriage did not in fact take place and the marriage is deemed null. There can be many reasons for this, and the majority have to do with the “questions before the consent”, which we will discuss shortly. It is notable that only the Tribunal of an Archdiocese has the authority to decide if a marriage can be deemed null. This annulment process gets the reputation of being lengthy and thorough, but that is entirely appropriate considering we are ruling on a sacrament, not simply dissecting someone’s choice of what to eat for lunch! But I digress.
When my dad meets with couples preparing for marriage he starts by stating, “My goal is to make you ineligible for an annulment”. Now any couple entering into marriage should never think that they will need an annulment, because otherwise they wouldn’t be getting married. These people should be so in love that this doesn’t even cross their minds, and the statistic of divorce isn’t a concern. However, it is important to directly ask the couple if they have full knowledge of what is being asked of them.
Let’s go through the new wording of the “Questions before the consent”.
Priest: “Jack and Jill have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely, and wholeheartedly”?
God granted us the beautiful gift of free will. Entering into the sacrament of marriage is no exception. Marriage is a choice. No one is forcing anyone into marriage. This is not a shotgun wedding. The Church asks couples to take nine months to discern for a reason. Therefore, a person should be ineligible for a divorce if he or she takes this question seriously. They need to be able to go into their marriage, day in and day out, making this CHOICE. Premarital couples must ensure they are ready to answer this question affirmatively. If they cannot make that decision, then they should wait until they are confident in the decision. For married couples, they have already made this decision on the day of their wedding. It is important we remember this fact and remind ourselves of it often.
Priest: “Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live”?
Notice that this is not a conditional statement. It doesn’t say “to love and honor each other as long as you can” or “to love and honor each other as long as your spouse doesn’t have an affair”. When we are engaged we have fallen in love, because we often don’t feel like we can help ourselves. A lifetime marriage commitment is not likely to have the same path where we just keep “falling”. It becomes a continuously more active choice.We have to be aware of this choice to love and honor our spouse day in and day out, forever.
Priest: “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church”?
This question seems simple at face value. Accept children and raise them to be Catholic. However, that word “accept” should be looked at more closely. This word does not mean that we are simply against abortion; it also means that we are not using, and will not use, any contraceptives. Younger generations often struggle with this Church teaching because we have a selfishgenerational mindset. We want children on our timeline, once we have achieved our own goals in our profession, with ourspouse, etc. The use of contraceptives is not answering this question of accepting children, so we have to be cautious of answering this if we do not plan on using the Church’s program of Natural Family Planning (NFP). Also, not only are we openly accepting children, but we are also agreeing to raise them Catholic. This has become increasingly difficult in our society today, which makes this part of our marital sacramental vow that much more important. This vow applies to couples that are both practicing Catholics, as well as if a spouse is not Catholic. Regardless, this vow is committing to raising the children, that you are openly accepting, in the Catholic Church.
These three questions have a lot more depth than maybe we thought. So I challenge all single persons, dating persons, and premarital couples to reflect on these questions. I challenge all married couples to reflect on them as well. If you struggled with any of these questions, it is not too late to get help. Think about it-we pay for sport coaches, piano teachers, and tutors for our kids, but we neglect our own marriages. Why?! This is arguably the most important thing to focus on for our children. There are many Catholic resources, including us at St. Raphael’s, that want to help you fulfill the commitment you made (or will make) to your spouse, so please reflect on this blog and truly consider if additional steps need to be made.