Interesting Question About the Sacrament of Marriage

A reader writes:

I have enthusiastically read your blog for some time now. I greatly enjoy it. Anyway, I hope you can answer a question I’ve been struggling with.

As I was pondering the sacrament of confirmation, and how the Eastern Church delivers it to infants, it led me to a particular point about sacraments. The grace is freely given by God, and not dependant on the recipient’s preparation.

Infant baptisms are valid, infant confirmations are valid, because they were performed correctly, and do not reflect the recipient’s understanding. Similarly, the reality of the Eucharist, is not dependent on the recipient’s or observer’s acknowledgement. In fact as long as the mass is celebrated validly by a valid presbyter, as I understand it, it is the specific words and actions that cause the consecration, not the priest’s frame of mind, or earnestness.

So, my question. Why does this not apply to marriage. Why are annulments a thing? Yes I understand that they are declarations that the sacrament never took place. I’m asking why the sacrament never took place. If it was correctly performed, and no one was coerced, why is the validity dependant on the future intentions of the recipient? This doesn’t seem to jive with the aforementioned sacraments.

My guess would be that mere freedom and perfect performance of the words and actions in marriage rites don’t speak to the question of whether the people had sufficient knowledge and intentionality of what they were doing. Remember:  the couple being married doesn’t merely *receive* the sacrament: They *confer* it too.  The priest (at least in the Western Church) does not celebrate the sacrament of marriage.  He simply *witnesses* it.  It is the husband and wife who confer it on each other. Lots and lots of people enter into marriage with deeply immature notions of what they are doing and with no serious intention of fidelity to the vows they make.  This can’t be known oftimes on the wedding day, but the immaturity manifests itself in actions as time progreses and makes clear that one or both partners had no real belief in, understanding of, or intention to keep the vows they parroted.  If sufficient evidence for this is adducede, it follows that the vows are no more real, and therefore the sacrament no more valid, than if children made them.

By the way, a word abouut annulments: Lots of people find annulments scandalous (in the sense that they think the Church should not give them out so freely).  I find them scandalous in the sense that we laity have such a crappy understanding of marriage (despite the abundant catechesis we could easily find if we just got off our fat butts and did it).  The fact is, we laypeople–we laypeople–enter, at a 50% rate, into marriages we are are ready to bail on the moment we decide we need to go find ourselves and Eat Pray Love, or explore our sexuality, or the money gets tight, or some other juvenile rationale for stabbing our spouses and children in the back.  That’s not the Church’s fault.  It’s ours–us allegedly adult laypeople-for refusing to grow up (often while complaining that the Church treats us like children).  Annulments are a mercy offered by a Church that specializes in mercy so that , out of the societal wreckage wrought by the Pepsi Generation, at the very least thousands and thousands of betrayed spouses and betrayed children are not screwed out of happiness and still have a shot at some kind of stable family and happiness.  Blaming the Church for granting annulments is like blaming it for offering soup to the poor or hospitals to the sick.  The fault, dear laity, is not in annulments, but in ourselves.

And, by the way, the crime of no fault divorce (invented by and for heterosexuals) has done *infinitely* more damage to the family than gay “marriage” has done or will do.  No fault divorce was the bullet to the brain of marriage.  Gay “marriage” is just kicking the corpse.

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