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Questions & Answers About Marriage

Does the Bible say that Christian marriage is a sacrament and more than a mere civil contract?

Yes, and we find the evidence from the mouth of Christ. The Lord tells us: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:4-6). St. Paul adds: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . This mystery is a profound one [great sacrament], and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:25,32).

What is the special grace that comes to a couple in marriage?

They are given the divine grace to join their hearts into a more intimate, more lasting, and more holy love. They are enabled to raise their children in reverence or holy fear and love of God.

Does the Bible actually say that married people should not remarry while their spouse is alive?

Jesus made it quite clear: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh . . . So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:5-6).

Does the Bible forbid divorce?

Yes, although many churches, which profess Christ, have permitted it on their own authority. It is evidence that the Catholic Church is the true biblical Church and the one steadfast in Christ and his truths. Difficult teachings are not eliminated or ignored simply because they are difficult or out of fashion. A proper reading of Matthew 19:6-9 shows Christ’s mind on the subject: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Then they ask Jesus, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” Our Lord responded: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity [unlawful or lewd conduct, actually incest], and marries another, commits adultery.” Again, St. Paul adds upon the subject: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) – and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). “Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress” (Romans 7:2-3). Obviously the rights of the husband and the wife are here the same and the law holds for the husband, too.

Does the Catholic Church grant divorces?

No, although there is an annulment process which many Catholics pursue after a civil divorce. If it is determined that there was a serious impediment to a true marriage in the first instance, a marital union might be declared annulled. However, if the marriage were true, it is indissoluble. If the first marriage is a valid sacrament, it can only end at the death of one of the spouses.

Why does the Church forbid marriages among close relatives?

The prohibition in Matthew’s Gospel is certainly part of the answer. Besides violating the natural order, such bonds often prove wanting and the offspring deficient in mental and bodily development.

Why is there the custom of publishing banns?

Often made optional today, or dispensed by lawful authority, banns were published as a public announcement. Not only did this notify a parish community, but it also prevented perilous elopements, and invited general information about their freedom to marry. After such a publication, one would quickly discover if there were a prior promise from either of the parties to marry someone else of if there were a serious impediment to marriage.

What are the duties of husband and wife?

They are to live together in peace, love and fidelity. They are to raise their children as good Christians, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows.

How is this sacramental covenant enacted?

Taking each other’s right hand, they render their vows or consent before the priest or deacon. The priest blesses them and confirms their union. The priest witnesses marriages. Couples, themselves, are the actual ministers of the sacrament. The rings are blessed by the priest and they place them on each other’s fingers with the appropriate prayer. A Nuptial Blessing comes at the end of the service. If it takes place during Mass, and they are both Catholic, they will also receive Holy Communion. The marriage is fully consummated when they go home and share the marital act.

16 Responses

  1. As a convert in RCIA I have to petition for an annulment from my first marriage 20 years ago. This is apparently required prior to confirmation. My first marriage came about only after entering the military and wanting to continue seeing my girlfriend at the time (can only bring a wife with you). I did not want to have children with her at all, and did not plan on staying married after the military or sooner. I believe this may be a valid case for defect of consent, but I’m having a hard time getting information. My views on marriage now are inline with the church, however my concern is that the annulment may be denied. Is this a valid case? If not, what do I do then? Can I still be confirmed? The Catholic Church is the one true church. Does the salvation of my eternal soul hinge on this?

    FATHER JOE: What religion were you at the time of the first marriage? What was your spouse’s faith? Was the service a religious one or a civil wedding only? How long were you married? Did she want children? Were there any? A defect in consent can be hard to prove unless you bragged to others that you were only marrying this girl so that you could drag her with you and make having sex convenient. They would have to testify to such admissions. I am happy that you have come to appreciate the truths of faith, even if such should fill you with remorse about the type of man you once were. I ask a series of questions because there can be all sorts of reasons for why an annulment is granted. Let the canonist handling your case and the Tribunal figure out the status. Just fill in as many blanks as possible, no matter how difficult. Given that there is a second marriage, you cannot receive sacraments until the status of the first marriage is resolved and you are free to have the subsequent union con-validated by a priest.

  2. Good afternoon Father,
    I am a protestant who is divorced due to my wife’s infidelity! I am in love with a Catholic lady and would someday like to get married! Would this be possible? And if so what is the process?

    Thank You
    Oliver M.

    FATHER JOE: You would have to pursue an annulment. However, infidelity as such may not suffice as grounds. Talk to a local priest.

  3. I am a Catholic woman thinking about getting married in a civil ceremony. My boyfriend is also Catholic, though not practicing. Would the marriage have no validity in the Church? Also, I do not want to have children, which I know is contrary to the Churches teaching, am I to understand that I have no business getting married at all? Thanks

    FATHER JOE: An attempted marriage between Catholics in a civil ceremony would be regarded as both illicit and invalid. It would also place the couple in bad standing with the faith. While couples who are infertile can get married, their bond is still consummated by the marital act— that act which is inherently open to the generation of new human life, even if highly unlikely or impossible. As for couples still within child-bearing years, yes, true marriage requires openness to divine providence and children. The marital act is non-contraceptive vaginal intercourse. The ends of marriage are children and the fidelity of the spouses. If one is absolutely opposed to having children then what is desired would not be defined as Christian marriage but something else entirely. (One might seek a Joseph-Mary union but such would mean a mutual life of celibate love and service to the community.)

  4. I recieve Holy Communion in my hand and our Parish Priest wants everyone to receive on the tongue . I am confused. I always thought we had a choice to receive on our tongue or in our hands . Please explain how we are suppose to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. Thank you.

    FATHER JOE: Current regulations allow for a choice. But the traditional form is on the tongue. When intinction is offered, the host must be taken on the tongue. I would not worry too much about the manner. The main thing is to receive the eucharist worthily. While it is hurtful when a priest refuses to distribute communion on the tongue, and in your case in the hand, do not allow an accidental to deprive you of the blessed sacrament.

  5. I am a 75 year old male .I have had prostate cancer and the radiation treatments. Is it a sin to try and masturbate?

    FATHER JOE: Masturbation is wrong. I do not see how the practice might impede your cancer. There is a disconnect here that I do not understand.

  6. I am catholic husband non catholic both of spouces died married civil ceremony what do we need to have marriage blessed?

    FATHER JOE: If a Catholic marries in a civil ceremony, that marriage has no standing in the Church. Death brings sacramental marriages to an end. Catholics who marry outside the Church need more than a blessing, they need a convalidation (sacramental marriage).

  7. I have a question too embarrassing to ask out loud. My husband suffers from erectile dysfunction. He cannot have sexual intercourse and yet it is wrong for me (according to the Catechism ) to relieve his sexual frustration in any other way. Do you have any advice?

    FATHER JOE: Other than seeing a doctor and having medical intervention, no. It may be a cross the two of you will have to suffer.

  8. Father, my husband and I have only had a civil ceremony but not one within the Catholic church. We did it privately between the two of us and have no disclosed it to anyone. Does the church still recognize this? When we decide to have a Catholic ceremony would it only be a blessing of the marriage or? Thank you. God Bless.

    FATHER JOE: Marriage is a public sacrament. Catholic marriages must be witnessed by a priest or deacon. Your current union would only be a marriage if you were stranded on a deserted island and there was little or no hope of immediate rescue. In other words, you are NOT currently married. There is nothing to bless. Indeed, it is judged as sinful cohabitation. You need to prepare for Catholic marriage and to go to Confession.

  9. Fr. I am 51years old and Catholic. My husband of 25 years passed away 6 years ago. I want to be remarried to another catholic man in the Church. We applied to the marriage tribunal to get his marriage to be considered Null. He and his wife were Catholic but chose to marry in a Methodist Church. The tribunal declared that marriage null. I spoke with our priest and he tells me we must now go through 6 months of marriage prep classes that include natural family planning. I have tried to explain to him that I am now past child bearing years and after being married successfully for 25 years, I understand how to be married. I really do not want to be “taught” how to be married by a couple in their mid thirties. I just want to do what is right and get married in the Catholic church. What are our options?

    FATHER JOE: The six months waiting period and accompanying instruction is Church policy. You probably do not need NFP classes but Pre-Cana can be valuable for many other reasons. The fact that your betrothed was married before, that the relationship failed and was out of the Church is evidence that he needs the instructions. It is about more than just you. Take them with him. You may both learn something… when we stop learning we begin to die. Do you understand how marriage is a sacrament? Do you appreciate the marital union as a renewal of a covenant with each other and Christ. What are the goods of marriage? What spiritual graces are required for a healthy Christian marriage? What is and is not lawful sexually? What does it mean to speak of the groom as the head of the home and the bride as the heart? How is marriage a mystery where three are married? Do you view each other as helpmates in growing in holiness? Why should the marital act always be that type of act that is open to the generation of new human life, even when couples are elderly and infertile? What is the danger posed by pornography in the home? The list for instructional matter goes on and on.

  10. My fiancee did not formally leave the church and his ex wife is not a Catholic. They did have a child during their marriage. What would the annulment say about this child?

    Are Catholics able to get married in an outside ceremony?

    FATHER JOE: Given the defection to another religion, it would probably be wise to have a local priest address the matter to the Tribunal. A declaration of nullity would still be required. The annulment does not really address the child as deference is given here to civil law. Most places, as here in my archdiocese, forbid outdoor weddings. Ideally, marriages should be conducted in a church.

  11. I have several questions.
    I am recently engaged. I am catholic but my fiancé is Buddhist. He has all of his sacraments through the Catholic Church but decided as an adult to become Buddhist. Will we be able to have a catholic wedding?

    Can a catholic ceremony take place outside?

    My fiancé has been married and divorced. He was married through the court. Will this hinder us from marrying?


    The situation is somewhat complicated. Indeed, there was a heated debate a number of years ago between the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The former argued that if a baptized Catholic formally renounced his faith and joined another religion or denomination then he was no longer bound by the precept of the Church requiring marriage before a priest. The latter insisted on the traditional view that once one was baptized as a Catholic then you were always Catholic and thus bound by our laws. This dispute has since been clarified with three conditions for a formal act defined:

    1. There must be a certain “internal decision to leave the Catholic Church.” This is not the case for most lapsed Catholics.

    2. There must be a clear “realization and external manifestation of that decision.” The matter is not secret and is demonstrated by their witness and practice of their new faith.

    3. There must be a definitive “reception of that decision by the competent ecclesiastical authority.” This is more than merely removing your name from the local parish registry. The Church must interpret it as a genuine case of apostasy, heresy or schism. The involved party must provide a written document wherein they formally renounce their Catholic faith and insure its reception by a competent Catholic authority, i.e. the pastor or bishop.

    So I can only answer your question by asking a question: did your fiancée formally leave the Catholic Church when he became a Buddhist? If he did, and the former spouse was not Catholic, then the first marriage might be reckoned as binding. This case would require an annulment before any marriage in the Catholic Church. Otherwise, any marriage in the Church is impossible. If your fiancée did not formally leave the Catholic Church, then you would need to request a declaration of nullity in regards to the first union because of a lack of canonical form. Once granted he would be free to marry you in the Church. Given that he is a practicing Buddhist, you would still have to get a dispensation to marry him.

    Of course, problems would not end there. You would still have to see a priest and as a couple take instructions. The issue of religion can be a serious problem, particularly if there is any hostility or resistance to you or any potential children practicing the Catholic faith. The fact that he was Catholic compounds the problem because you would be living with someone who has renounced the importance of Christ as Lord and Savior.


    I would urge you to reconsider the wisdom of such a union. I will keep you in prayer. God bless!

  12. she is the daughter of my granfather’s brother, not sure what to do.

    FATHER JOE: As I said, since it is a matter of ecclesial law and not natural law, a dispensation is possible. But is it really serious? How would the family feel about it? You can talk to your pastor about it. Peace!

  13. the cousin once removed was a daughter born from an affair from her dad unkown to me and i meet her as she is of my age as a young adult, i am worried i may have grown feeling more to that of a cousin or aunt

    FATHER JOE: Once or twice removed in terms of lineage here is different from the parlance of affairs or divorce. It has to do with blood line and when the connection is from different degrees.

  14. is a 1st cousin once removed to close to have a relationship with?

    FATHER JOE: First cousins are generally forbidden to marry. Once removed means there is a generational difference between them. Dispensations can be granted by the Church.

  15. Between a married man and woman, is anal sex and oral sex permitted by the ctholic church?

    FATHER JOE: The former is not open to human life and is a distortion of its natural purpose. The latter might be an element in foreplay but it cannot morally stand by itself because it is also closed to the generation of new human life.

  16. My wife had blood clots after her c-section in September. The medication she’s on causes serious birth defects, miscarriages, & still birth. She went on birth control medication.

    She might be able to go off the medication, but the chances of a blood clot in the future is high. If she has to stay on the medication, the chance of defects or death will always be there.

    She doesn’t want to have any future problems with pregnancies, so she has asked me to consider a vasectomy. I understand it is a sin, but don’t want any future complications. What should I do? NFP hasn’t worked for us, as my wife has irregular cycles. I’m lost and need to know the right decision.

    FATHER JOE: There are details I do not have and the case seems somewhat complicated. I would urge you to sit down with a priest or seek referral to a Catholic ethicist associated with a hospital or other health professionals. Is there some therapeutic benefit to the birth control “medication” beyond contraception? You seem to infer that it prevents blood clots. The Church would have serious reservations about you seeking to destroy your genital faculty. Many women have irregular cycles and yet there are modern NFP methods that are highly successful. If her health is extremely precarious, it might be best to restrict the marital act with some stringency as a gift of charity.

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