Ten Things Every Catholic Should Know About Marriage

6. For a marriage to be valid for a Catholic some other obligations must be fulfilled – A Catholic also has to be married according to the proper “form”. The proper form is that they must marry another Catholic in a Catholic church according to a Catholic ritual and officiated by a Catholic priest or deacon. If you’re a Catholic you can’t be married in a Las Vegas wedding chapel or on the beach or the mountaintop chapel at your local Baptist camp. You can’t be married by the Lutheran pastor or the Episcopal priest. You can’t choose a church according to which is prettiest. However, if there is good reason for a Catholic to be married to a non-Catholic or in some other place by another minister it is possible to ask the bishop for permission to dispense from the proper form. If you are a Catholic and you have not been married according to proper form then the marriage is probably invalid and you could probably receive a decree of nullity.

7. A decree of nullity is not a “Catholic divorce” –  A marriage can be declared null or non existent by the competent church authority. After due investigation the authority may decide that a marriage never existed. This could be because of lack of form–the Catholic was not married in a Catholic Church to another Catholic by a Catholic official according to a Catholic rite. It could also be because one of the partners was not free to marry or because for complicated reasons, one of the persons was not able to make a valid marriage.

8. A decree of nullity has nothing to do with the quality of the relationship – You can’t apply for a decree of nullity because your husband has turned out to be a stinker or your wife is unfaithful. You said “for better or for worse” remember? A decree of nullity doesn’t have anything to do with what is happening in the marriage itself. Instead it is a decision based on whether or not a marriage was validly contracted in the first place. The reasons for the problems within a marriage might have existed at the point of marriage and may mean the marriage is invalid, but the actual fact of difficulties within a marriage–even if they are severe–are not the basis on which a nullity is decided.

9. For Catholics Marriage is a Sacrament  – Marriage is not just a fairytale romance in which a man and woman fall in love and live happily ever after. In addition to the romance and erotic love, marriage is a sacrament. What is a sacrament? It is a sacred mystery in which the physical aspect of life becomes a channel of divine grace. In other words, through the physical aspects of married life–everything from making love to making breakfast, making money or fighting and making up–can be a connector to the divine life. That’s why we say marriage is given by God and we can’t tinker with the basics of what marriage actually is.

10. Marriage is part of the mystery of Christ and his church – In the Old Testament God said he would come and be the bridegroom of his people. Jesus used nuptial imagery many times in his teaching. He called himself “the bridegroom” and his followers “the bride.”  St Paul said husbands should love their wives “as Christ loved the church”. He uses nuptial imagery repeatedly to talk about the church which is “the bride of Christ.” This means that our human marriages connect us with the mystery of Christ and his church. It is through the sacrament of marriage that we learn what God’s love is like. It is through the mystery of marriage that we experience the unity a believer is to have with Jesus Christ himself.

This is why the Catholic Church cannot tinker with marriage, because when we change the definition of marriage we change our understanding of our salvation. When we change the definition of marriage we change our understanding of Christ and his church. When we change marriage we therefore change our relationship with God.

This is also why the Catholic Church is opposed to anything which hurts or breaks marriage. This is why we are down on adultery, fornication, co habitation, homosexuality, masturbation, prostitution, pornography, divorce, re-marriage, bigamy, sexual abuse, rape, artificial contraception, artificial conception and anything else that breaks the precious and eternal sacrament of marriage.

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