Paraphrasing one of the Precepts of the Catholic Church, the Church insists that all Catholics who intend to marry participate in its marriage preparation process. If a Catholic person gets married outside of the Catholic Church without participating in the Church’s marriage preparation process, that marriage is considered as invalid in the eyes of the Church and thus of God.
Let’s look at why the Church gets involved as it does in the marriage preparation process. At its heart, the Christian Faith is incarnational. In the man, Jesus, God fully placed Himself in our shoes to express His love for us. Based upon this fundamental conviction, it can be said that it is through other persons, and in marriage in a unique way through a person of the opposite sex, that God works to extend to us in a most powerful way with His redeeming love in Jesus. By God’s design, every marriage is intended to express in miniature the extraordinary bond of love that exists between Christ and the Church.
For this to happen, persons who would marry need to be free to enter into marriage. This means that those whose marriages are to be recognized by the Church not be tied down or restricted by the demands and implications of former marriages. Normally, the Catholic Church regards as valid the marriages of non-Catholics where neither party has been married prior to entering into marriage.
One of the painful realities of our time is that a number of married couples get divorced. Oftentimes in the eyes of the state, divorced persons can legally enter into another marriage without going through an annulment process. The Catholic Church insists that if a divorced person wants to marry again and have her/his marriage recognized by the Catholic Church, the parties involved in a civil divorce need to look into the possibility of having the consent that they exchanged at the time of their wedding declared null and void. The healing arm of the Church that looks into marriages that ended in divorce is called a marriage tribunal.
Ultimately, the annulment process is based upon the teaching of Christ that marriage is designed to be permanent. When a church tribunal looks into a former marriage, it is seeking to determine whether the parties whose marriage ended in divorce had, at the time that they exchanged their vows, the intra and interpersonal qualities that are essential for sacramental marriage, the marriage that our Lord instituted.
If, upon the basis of an intensive investigation, the testimonies and evidence indicate that at the time a given couple exchanged their wedding vows, the parties did not have the intra and interpersonal resources that are essential for sacramental marriage, this provides the basis for granting an annulment to the consent that this couple expressed on the day of their wedding. If and when the consent that a couple expressed at the time of their wedding is declared null and void, both parties in that former bond are free to prepare for a marriage that can be recognized by the Catholic Church.
The bottom line for why the Church gets involved as it does in the marriage process is in the concern to do all that it can to enable each given marriage to become a vehicle of eternal salvation for the persons who enter into that marriage.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Nelson Beaver – Pastor