Thursday, December 30, 2010

Follow Up: Catholic Weddings, Marriages, and Canon Law...

Follow up question from my friend over at the Catholic forum and my response. It was a very good follow up question!

Question: I'm still unsure about one thing. Say a non practising Catholic couple are married by a non Catholic celebrant and they die without ever having intended on getting their marriage convalidated, would this have any effect on where their soul ends up?

Answer: To my knowledge a Catholic couple (practising or not) being in an invalid/non-sacramental marriage would equate to committing adultery and thus being in mortal sin which would mean Hell if they both died with mortal sin on their souls (i.e. unforgiven and unrepented), but there's an important caveat to highlight. The precise nature of the sin will depend on what their will was at the time of the marriage, when they realised it was invalid, and whether they are having sex, etc., but the matter involved in this area is grave and thus, if done knowingly and deliberately, it will constitute mortal sin. 

[Blogger's note: emphasis added; I forwarded a paraphrased version of the original question to Jimmy Akin; the highlighted portion is his response]

The caveat: Vincible versus Invincible Ignorance

If a Catholic couple was genuinely ignorant of the fact or unaware that they had to be married by the Church in order for their marriage to be valid and sacramental, then they may not be culpable (responsible) for the resulting sin.

"Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors." - CCC, 1735

"Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin." - CCC, 1859

"Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest." - CCC, 1860

So if the couple is genuinely (i.e. invincibly) ignorant, then they may not suffer the fate that which mortal sin presents, but if the couple indeed knows that being married invalidly would result in mortal sin and gets married invalidly in a manner of "rebellion" so to speak, then they will have willingly committed mortal sin and for that to diminish they would need that sin forgiven by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and for their marriage to be convalidated.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Catholic Weddings, Marriages, and Canon Law...

The following is a discussion I had with a friend over at the Catholic forum based on a question regarding a relation's upcoming wedding.

Question 1: Are there priests who marry couples outside of a church and would the marriage be valid in the eyes of the Church?

Answer 1: Some diocese may have a specific policy when it comes to such weddings so it would be very worthwhile for your brother and for your sister-in-law to first make contact with their pastor and then the bishop of the archdiocese to inquire about this. If your sister-in-law is told that she would not be permitted to have a garden or beach wedding ceremony (and I think it's likely that she will be told this, but if the answer is "yes" then a dispensation from the bishop would be required), I would encourage your sister-in-law to look into a church she'd be happy to get married in and that she finds aesthetically pleasing.

Concerning why Catholic beach/garden wedding ceremonies are discouraged, here's how Fr. Vincent Serpa, the chaplain for Catholic Answers, addresses the question:

I find it a sign of the times that we so often get this question and others like it. Why can’t we be married at the beach or in our family home?
No one ever asks if an ordination to the priesthood or the final profession of a religious sister or brother can take place in a garden. These vocations are automatically associated with the worship of God and it is understood that a church is a building specifically designed for and designated as a place for worship, i.e., acknowledging God to be who He is. It is unlike any other place.
Unfortunately, weddings make a lot of money for a lot of people. So our culture demands a whole array of unnecessary attachments to this most significant and sacred of events--to the point that they take over. There is a television series—not an individual program, but a series--that is just about the wedding dress. Week after week young women are encouraged to obsess over a dress they will wear only once—hopefully. Recently I noticed in the TV listings a program about Disney dream weddings. The further weddings become whimsical fantasies, the less likely the bride is to be grounded in what the wedding and marriage are really all about.
Like the ordination to the priesthood and the profession of the vows of religious life, marriage is all about GOD! The bride and the groom are all about God, because everyone who has ever lived is all about God. We are His idea. He created us for Himself. Union with God is the goal of every Christian vocation, including marriage. In fact, Pope John Paul II called marriage the primordial vocation because it peoples all other vocations. Our blessed Lord likened the relationship He has with His Church to the relationship of husband and wife.
The further away the wedding wanders from its sublime God-centered context, the more obscure its significance becomes in society. Certainly, Mass can be celebrated anywhere. But it is most appropriately celebrated in church and for the most part, it is. The Church, in the light of a secular world that relegates religion to the sidelines, very wisely insists that Catholic weddings take place in church. It is sadly another sign of the times that so many priests, religious and laity of my generation haven’t a clue to all this.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.
Canon 1118 of the Code of Canon Law (1983) is otherwise quite clear on the matter:
Can. 1118 §1. A marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic party and a non-Catholic baptized party is to be celebrated in a parish church. It can be celebrated in another church or oratory with the permission of the local ordinary or pastor.
§2. The local ordinary can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.
§3. A marriage between a Catholic party and a non-baptized party can be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.
Question 2: I have a friend that found a priest that married her and her husband outside of a church and apparently it was legit (valid), but they had to pay $2000.00. Have you heard of that happening before?

Answer 2: Let me just start off by saying that the marriage would not be invalid due to the ceremony taking place outside the physical bounds of a church, but typically what you'd find is that the practice (i.e. a Catholic beach or garden wedding ceremony) would be discouraged.

Concerning the $2000.00 figure, in my opinion that's ridiculous; completely and utterly ridiculous! It's normal for a couple to pay a stipend to the priest and or parish, but $2000.00 for a wedding that didn't even take place within a church? Allow me to put this in perspective for you: a few weekends ago I attended my cousin's wedding in Melbourne; the wedding took place at St. Mary Star of the Sea Cathedral in West Melbourne. My cousin and his wife paid $3000.00 (which I believe was still way too much) for use of the church and for the priest's services that day. Unfortunately there may be some priests who abuse the stipend thing and run it more like a personal business for themselves, and it sounds like this is what has happened with your friend, i.e. she was ripped off. It almost sounds as though the priest was "penalising" them for having the ceremony outside of a church.

Having said that there is no flat fee or rate for stipends, but is expected to be a generous donation to the church and or priest as a "thanks" and always within the means of the couple or whoever is paying the wedding expenses. My wife and I paid a stipend of $200.00 total for use of the church and for our delegated priest's services; this is all our parish asked of us and our priest thought this was more than generous.

Question 3: Can a couple go ahead with an outdoor wedding without the permission of the priest marrying them? 

Answer 3: A couple should always inquire about it first; the priest marrying them should be their first port of call. They can then go to the bishop if necessary.

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." - Romans 13:1-2

Question 4: If a Catholic couple get married by a celebrant, how does the Catholic Church view the marriage? Is it legit, sinful etc?

Answer 4: By celebrant I'm assuming you mean a non-Catholic/non-ordained celebrant like a judge or Justice of the Peace.

All Catholics are required to be married by the local Ordinary or priest, or delegated priest, deacon or orindary in order for the marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church:
Can. 1108 §1. Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses according to the rules expressed in the following canons and without prejudice to the exceptions mentioned in cann. ⇒ 144, ⇒ 1112, §1, ⇒ 1116, and ⇒ 1127, §§1-2.
Question 5: If a Catholic couple gets married by a celebrant, are they able to Baptise their kids in a Catholic Church?

Answer 5: All Catholics have a moral obligation to raise their children in the faith and thus all Catholic parents should be able to have their children baptised. If the priest, however, believes that the parents are either unable or unwilling to raise the child in the Catholic faith (e.g. if the parents do not practice their faith, if they only want to have the child baptised to get into Catholic private schools, for example), he can defer baptism until a more appropriate time when the two of you are better prepared to meet the religious requirements of baptism. If this priest does choose to defer baptism, he'll let you know and you can then ask him what you and your husband need to do to demonstrate your ability and willingness to raise your child Catholic.
Can. 868 §1. For an infant to be baptized licitly:
1/ the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent;
2/ there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason.
Question 6: When we say "valid in the eyes of the Church", what exactly does that mean?

Answer 6: Validity pertains to the [marriage] bond itself: that there is nothing impeding the marriage (e.g. age, consent, previous marriage, etc.) and it has received the Church's "blessing", so to speak.

Question 7: What's the difference between having the Catholic Church's blessing and not having it?

Answer 7: Having a marriage blessed and receiving the Church's "blessing" are two different things. The latter is an informal way of saying that the marriage is valid (and may take place within the Church to begin with given there are no impediments to it) as discussed/mentioned earlier. Having a marriage blessed (the correct term for this is "convalidation"), on the other hand, essentially makes a marriage Catholic and thus valid and sacramental. This would need to take place, for example, if two Catholics did not get married within the Catholic Church, i.e. married by judge or Justice of the Peace.

Question 8: So a couple can get married where ever they want, by whom ever they want, and just get a "convalidation" to make it Catholic?

Answer 8: A Catholic couple should get married in church and by the local Ordinary and priest (or a delegated priest, deacon or ordinary), but let's just say that a Catholic couple many, many moons ago decided it would be a great idea to elope and get married by a judge or a Justice of the Peace (i.e. or another type of non-ordained/non-Catholic celebrant) and many years later realise that their marriage is not valid (in the eyes of the Church) and sacramental. Having their marriage convalidated makes it a "Catholic marriage" (i.e. valid and sacramental) as opposed to merely a civil union/legally recognised marriage.

Obviously couples with no Catholic or other Christian background/upbringing are not obligated to get married in a church or have it recognised by an ecclesial authority.

Bible version cited: RSV

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I hope you have found this helpful; please do note hesitate to contact me via email if you have any questions about this blog entry.

God bless!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Luke 1:28, how to explain the Immaculate Conception and the Ark of the New Covenant

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke we read of the archangel Gabriel coming to Mary who is in Nazareth (a city in Galilee) and declares to Mary that she will bear the son of God and call him "Jesus". The archangel greets Mary by saying, "Hail, full of grace" (Luke 1:28; "Hail, O favoured one" in other translations). The term "full of grace" ("gratia plena" in Latin) for Mary comes from the original Greek manuscript of the Gospel of Luke (who was a Greek himself). The word used by the archangel Gabriel (i.e. the word St. Luke uses for it) for the Blessed Virgin Mary was "kecharitomene" which translates to "having been graced" or "having been favoured". The archangel Gabriel is speaking in what's known as the "perfect passive participle", meaning Gabriel is talking about a quality that is and was always present, namely freedom from original sin.

How can this be explained in layman's terms? Mary's preservation from original sin is like this: if you fall into a pit and I pull you out from it, I've saved you. In the same way, if you're walking along and I prevent you from falling in the pit (either by warning you about it or physically stopping you before you get there) I have also saved you this way. In the latter instance, I have "preserved" you from the fall, ergo Mary has been "preserved" from original sin.

Mary's Immaculate Conception is not of her own doing (Catholics do not deify Mary) nor is it the doing of her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. Preservation from original sin is the gift given to Mary by God. Was it necessary that Mary be free from original sin in order to be the mother of the human person of God (Jesus Christ)? No, but it was fitting that she be preserved from it. Just as the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament (Exodus 25:10-22) was crafted according to detailed and specific instructions given by God, so too was Mary created with a purpose: with Christ, giver of the New Covenant, in mind. This is why we call Mary the "Ark of the New Covenant". To emphasise what this means, have a look at the following table and I will finish things with this to allow you to ponder these things within your own heart:

Further reading:

God bless you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Question Concerning Sexuality: How Far is "Too Far"?

A friend of mine (let's call him "Brody" for the sake of anonymousness) that I know through The Catholic Forum sent me this question last week concerning Catholic sexuality and with it my answer. "Brody" has given me permission to publish his question to me; I hope you find the answer I provided helpful for yourself.

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Brody: I didn't want to post this question on or on your wall because it is a bit awkward, and you are the smartest person I know in Church teaching.

I was having a discussion at work with the guys on shift (they seem to always ask me religious questions) and they began to ask me about sexuality, and I wanted to ask just to clarify my own answers to their questions and also so I know too.

Where is 'the line' for sexual behaviour between a couple? Is passionate kissing allowed? I told them that having sex is a mortal sin. Is that correct? Do the rules apply differently for engaged couples.

Also, I understand and believe that contraception is a mortal sin, but how is a married couple to have sex if they don't want kids? Is the man to just withdraw every time and stop?

I'm sorry for the akward questions.
Thank you brother Hospitaller, PAX

Me: Sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin, that is correct. It is in violation of the Sixth Commandment: "You shall not commit adultery". All of this is actually covered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church from paragraph 2331 to 2400 (

As far as "the line" between a couple in a committed relationship (dating, I'm assuming) is concerned, there'd certainly be nothing wrong with a exchanging a kiss with your significant other as a display of affection, but the advice I always give to my male students when they ask about where "the line" is, is this: always make sure you're thinking with the "right head" because if you're not careful you may become consumed by your lust. Be prudent and exercise chastity: uphold the dignity of yourself as an individual and that of your significant other.

Men should always see women as daughters of God. It becomes very difficult for your lust to consume you if you keep this thought in mind, so do nothing to a woman that God would not want you to do with his daughters.

Concerning engaged couples: yes, even they must remain chaste. For even for them it is a mortal sin to engage in sexual intercourse before marriage:

"Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity." - CCC, par. 2350

Concerning not wanting kids: This is covered in paragraphs 2366 to 2372 of the Catechism, but this paragraph in particular hits the bullseye with your question:

"Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil" - CCC, par. 2370

Onanism, the sin of "seed spilling", is so called because Onan who had a moral obligation to bear children with his dead brother's widow, was struck down by God because he refused to bear offspring for his brother; he "withdrew" (Genesis 38:6-10). Onan acted selfishly; he contracepted. Further reading here:

What paragraph 2370 of the Catechism means when it refers to "methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods" is Natural Family Planning (or the Rhythm Method. More information on NFP here: (some good answers to other questions there too).

My wife and I have been using a combination of NFP methodology and abstinence in our own marriage, and while it is challenging at times we're sure to communicate any feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction between us in order to come to some sort of compromise. Personally I have found that I have been able to grow more in love with my wife over the years because of this; the type of love we call "agape".

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If you want some great reading about the Church's teachings on sex and sexuality, then I highly recommend reading Jason Evert's material over at and by visiting his website over at

Have you got a question that you want answered? Feel free to shoot me an email here. I look forward to your correspondence.

God bless!