Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > L-R-RC > The Theology of Mariage | CONT. > sez. 6

  IV. (MARRIAGE FOR LIFE) - selez.
  V. (PASTORAL CARE) - selez.
Statement And Discussion Of The Norms Of The Catholic Church
Regarding Mixed Marriages

  (CONCLUSION) - selez.



63. The Commission was able to note in many matters a great deal of agreement between the views of the Churches. These agreements exist, above all, in dogmatic matters and in the practical and theological aspects of pastoral care of spouses and families in mixed marriages.

64. In other matters, however, differences have come to the fore and appear to be rather complex. The Catholic Church sees certain matters against a different horizon, or on a completely different plane from the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. This is particularly true in the field of canon law relating to marriage. This is not only a matter of the function and the weight that the Catholic Church on the one hand and the Lutheran and Reformed Churches on the other attribute to such a juridical system. Each of the two sides, quite obviously, sees the juridical system in a different dimension, as belonging to an altogether different plane. The two sides therefore treat canon law in completely different contexts, assess it in different ways, and assign altogether different task and functions to it.

65. But the subject of canon law on marriage is of great importance for ecumenical dialogue about the theology of marriage and, above all, of mixed marriages. The Lutheran and Reformed members of the Commission therefore deem it desirable for the present report to include a detailed statement about the present state of legislation regarding mixed marriages in the Catholic Church. This provides occasion for illustrating the different ideas of the Churches in this matter and thus of beginning a dialogue between them.

A. Norms Of The Catholic Church On Mixed Marriages

66. Like all ecclesiastical laws and rules, the norms on mixed marriages have a pastoral function whose primary and fundamental goal is the salvation of souls. The principle "salus animarum suprema lex" expresses the final end of all the normative activity of the Church. On the other hand the regulations on mixed marriages, like other ecclesiastical laws, are an expression of theology, which makes it necessary to examine their motives and their deep roots in relation to the Gospel message and its theological explanation.

67. The Catholic regulations at present in force may be found in Paul VI's Motu Proprio "Matrimonia Mixta," of 31 March, 1970. This document contains a synthesis of the resolutions passed, after prolonged discussion, at the first Synod of Bishops in 1967. It is generally known that the Fathers of Vatican II, unable to treat the question of mixed marriages in a definitive manner, requested the Pope to reform canonical discipline in this regard. This is what the Pope in effect did, after meeting once again with the Bishops and in answer to their wishes.

68. The Pope's document is a kind of general law for the whole Catholic Church which leaves to the episcopal conferences the power of filling in the details in regard to certain aspects such as the concrete form of the promises to be made by the Catholic party, the reason for which a dispensation may be obtained from the canonical form of the marriage ceremony, the way of registering mixed marriages, and the different forms of pastoral care to be adopted in this matter. To learn about these aspects it is essential to have recourse to the complementary norms issued by the various episcopal conferences.
69. Paul VI's Motu Proprio is in two parts, one doctrinal, the other normative. The first underlines certain general principles of primary importance for the understanding of the Catholic Church's position on mixed marriages.

70. The Catholic Church, like other Churches for that matter, advises against mixed marriages in so far as they can easily cause difficulties in families, since in such cases living together can endanger the faith, and divisions in the faith can create problems in married life.

71.2. The Catholic Church reaffirms as fundamental and primordial the right of all men to marry and to have children. Respect for this right leads the Catholic Church to take into special consideration the difficulties encountered by Catholics in finding a Catholic partner in countries where Catholics are a small minority.

72.3. "The Church does not place on the same level, either from a doctrinal or from a canonical viewpoint, a marriage contracted between a Catholic and a non-Catholic who is baptised, and a marriage between a Catholic and a non-baptised person. In fact, as was affirmed at Vatican II, those who, among non-Catholics, ‘believe in Christ and are validly baptised, may be said to be in communion, even if an imperfect one, with the Catholic Church'. There exists therefore in a marriage between two baptised persons-which is a true sacrament - a certain communion of spiritual goods which is lacking in a union where one partner is baptised but not the other"(MM, § 5).

73. With regard to the communion of spiritual goods, the Catholic Church distinguishes in theology and in canon law between three kinds of mixed marriages among its members: 1) with members of the Oriental Orthodox Churches; 2) with other baptised persons; 3) with the nonbaptised.

74. Baptism is a fundamental and precious bond of union. It forms the basis of the sacramental character of marriage. The identity between the bond of marriage and the sacrament and sacramental reality of Christian marriage is the reason for the (Church's) pastoral concern for the marriage of Catholics as regards its essential presuppositions, its conditions, its preparation and celebration, and for the development of married life.

75. This sacramental character is also one of the reasons for the different attitude adopted by the Catholic Church in connection with different kinds of mixed marriages. Those of Catholics with baptised persons cannot be licitly contracted without first obtaining a dispensation from the diocesan authority. For marriages of Catholics with un-baptised persons the dispensation is required for validity.

76. Ecclesiastical regulations touch on the following aspects of mixed marriages:

           1) The promises made by the Catholic partner.

           2) The canonical form of the celebration.

           3) The liturgical form of the celebration.

           4) Regulations concerning pastoral care of mixed marriages.

      1. The Promises

77. Catholic regulations underline the responsibility in conscience of the Catholic partner to profess his (or her) faith and to transmit it to the children as a requirement inherent in the faith itself.
From this there follow these rules:

78. a) "The Catholic partner should declare himself ready to remove any danger to the loss of his faith," even dangers that may result from a mixed marriage.

79. b) The Catholic partner "has a grave obligation to promise sincerely to do everything he can so that his children are baptised and educated as Catholics."

80. To provide a religious education for the children is viewed as a requirement that derives from the nature of the faith. This obligation, however, is conditioned by circumstances which may escape the control of the Catholic parent. That is why it is stated that he is obliged to do all that lies within his power, all that is possible.

81. c) Abiding by the principles laid down at Vatican II, the Catholic Church does not wish to impose on the non-Catholic partner anything contrary to his conscience. But the Church has the duty to support and enlighten the conscience of the Catholic partner (and so also his freedom of conscience), since it is directly responsible for his salvation. Consequently, the Church requires that the non-Catholic partner be in formed of the moral obligations of the Catholic spouse, without, however, asking him to make any promises.

      2. The canonical form of the celebration of marriage

82. If a marriage, even a mixed marriage, is to be recognized as valid by the Catholic Church, the Church requires its own faithful to celebrate it according to the canonical form. The canonical form consists in the celebration of the wedding in the presence of a Catholic priest or deacon empowered to do so, and in the presence of two witnesses. This law applies to all marriages of Catholics. It was introduced at the Council of Trent, but not with any polemical intention or any wish to defend the Catholic faith against the Reformers.

83. At the Synod of Bishops of 1967, a large majority of the world's episcopate delegates agreed that this law was still necessary for mixed marriage also, since it offered a greater safeguard of the sacred and sacramental character of marriage, a greater guarantee of the indissolubility of marriage, a greater certitude of the validity of marriage and the respect for its essential qualities, and finally, greater possibilities for the pastoral care of married life. These are reasons which in the course of time have become more important than the original aim of the avoidance of clandestine marriages.

84. Whenever, in the case of mixed marriage, serious difficulties arise in the implementation of the canonical form, local Ordinaries have the right to grant dispensation from it. But it is the task of each episcopal conference to establish the rules according to which this dispensation may be granted in a licit and uniform manner throughout their region or territory, with due attention to the fact that the celebration should possess a certain public character.

85. It is evident that dispensation from the canonical form does not mean that the Catholic partner is dispensed from the other obligations concerning the faith and mentioned above.

      3. The liturgical form

86. The canonical form normally coincides with the liturgical form of the celebration of marriage. In the case of a marriage of a Catholic with a baptised person, two possibilities are envisaged:

a) A celebration without a Mass, according to the rite of the "Ordo celebrandi matrimonium" of 1969, nos. 39-54, in the framework of a liturgy of the word, followed by the exchange of promises and the blessing of the spouses;

b) alternatively, with the consent of the local Ordinary, a celebration during Mass, according to the same Ordo nos. 19-38; but in this case for the distribution of Communion the rules concerning intercommunion must be observed.

87. Paragraph 13 of MM is intended to prevent a form of celebration which might be to the detriment of sound ecumenism instead of promoting it; or else one that might cause doctrinal confusion. This paragraph forbids a simultaneous celebration in two different rites, or a non-Catholic celebration preceding or following the Catholic one, if this includes a fresh expression or renewing of the marriage vows. In fact, since the Church considers as valid the exchange of vows of the spouses in the presence of a Catholic priest or deacon, another exchange of vows, either before or after, would be like performing a second marriage, for a marriage is made effective through a single act.

      4. Regulations concerning the pastoral care of mixed marriages

88. Paragraph 14 of MM lays down that diocesan authorities and parish priests should give special attention to mixed marriages, since this pastoral care in the course of the preparation, celebration and the entire development of such marriages, can help to prevent and to resolve numerous problems. More particularly, those who have the care of souls should:

- offer the Catholic partner and the children born of the mixed marriage the spiritual support they need to accomplish their duties in conscience;

- offer this support especially to help him to give witness to his faith;

- offer such help so that the unity of the couple and of the family should grow above all on the basis of their common baptism in Jesus Christ;

- finally, this paragraph supports the wish of the 1967 Synod of Bishops that in mixed marriage ceremonies there should be a loyal and sincere collaboration with the ministers of other religious communities.

89. Local Ordinaries and parish priests should take care that the Catholic partner and the children born of a mixed marriage should not lack the spiritual help they need to perform the duties they have in conscience. They should also encourage the Catholic partner to always take care of the divine gift of the Catholic faith and to give witness "with gentleness and reverence and with a clear conscience" (1 Pt 3, 16); and they should help the spouses to strengthen the unity of their conjugal and family life which, since they are Christians, is founded also on their baptism. For this reason it is desirable that those responsible for souls should establish with ministers of other religious communities relations of sincere loyalty and enlightened confidence. This regulation has encouraged fruitful collaboration at various levels.

90. The norms in the Apostolic Letter "Matrimoni Mixta" are general laws for the Catholic Church. In different countries these laws are embodied in regulations laid down by the appropriate episcopal conference. From an ecumenical viewpoint these regulations may often be of more interest since they go into detail, facing diverse situations and suggesting possible solutions in particular cases. But particular regulations laid down for a given territory cannot go beyond the limits stated in the general law.

B. Lutheran-Reformed Comment

91. In the Lutheran and Reformed Churches we are accustomed to marriages between spouses who belong to different ecclesiastical traditions such as our own and the Anglican, Methodist and Baptism communions: and although at one time these presented problems, and although even yet it is impossible to make unqualified universal judgements, by and large the problem has disappeared, and conventions have arisen to govern situations of this kind. One such convention, for example, which operates in some areas, is that whereby the wedding takes place according to the form of the bride's Church and the married Couple thereafter attach themselves to the husband's Church. There is no doubt that a major factor in bringing about this state of affairs is the growth of mutual understanding and recognition within the ecumenical movement and the family of Churches it has produced.

92. In the past there has been, however, a serious and a difficult problem where one of the intending partners was a Catholic: and it can hardly be disputed that the difficulties stemmed from the legal norms imposed on the situation by the Canon Law of the Catholic Church. This idea of legal norms in this connection is foreign to the spirituality of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. From their point of view these norms seemed to place the first importance upon the fulfilment of the Catholic spouse's obligations on the part of the children: whereas it has been possible for Lutheran and Reformed ministers and Churches to give the first priority to the Christian good and growth in grace of husband and wife together as a married couple and so of the whole family.

93. Against this historical background the Lutheran and Reformed Churches welcome the changes in the legal norms which have taken place in recent years and which are expressed in Matrimonia Mixta; and they appreciate the intention of the Catholic Church to seek the Christian good of the whole family. The Lutheran and Reformed Churches recognize further that the legal norms seek to express a pastoral concern and that they have their roots in underlying theological convictions regarding such topics as the nature of the Church and of divine revelation.

94. It is necessary, however, to affirm that the legal norms continue to create problems especially in connection with the provisions concerning the promises and the canonical form. We must raise the question whether especially at these two points the legal norms do not hinder a fully ecumenical solution to the problem of mixed marriages. In other words, in view of the undoubted intention of the Catholic Church to seek the Christian good of the whole marriage and in view of the pastoral concern behind the Canon Law we would ask whether that pastoral concern is fully and adequately expressed by the legal norms. It is significant to note that the conversations on marriage between Anglicans and Catholics found difficulties at the same points and we venture to suggest that the question may be raised whether the degree of consensus which our own dialogue has achieved does not justify some modification of the legal norms.

C. A Catholic Reply

95. The difficulties of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches mentioned above seem to derive from the fact that the theological roots and the eminently pastoral function of the Catholic regulations have not been studied deeply enough. This could lead to two forms of distortion:

- that of thinking that the various Churches are united in faith and doctrine concerning mixed marriages and of regarding ecclesiastical regulations as the sole source of differences in this matter;

- that of viewing ecclesiastical laws themselves as "the law" in the formalistic and legalistic Old Testament sense, and of pushing divergent ideas of law to the point of giving the impression that one wishes to reduce the radical character of the Gospel to a mere invitation by Christ which is not binding and which vanishes when confronted with the failure of man's weakness.

96. In the Catholic view, on the contrary, the laws of the Church are a function of theology and an expression of pastoral concern. They express in a practical manner the requirements of the doctrine of faith, and are intended to introduce Christian values into the life of the faithful. It is therefore true that theological convictions about the nature and obligatory character of the faith, as well as about the nature of the Church, influence the characteristic spirit of Catholic regulations: the conception of the Church as both visible and invisible, the role of Bishops as doctors and guides of the faithful, what in the faith binds believers, the very conception of the Incarnation of Christ and the sacramental nature of His Church (as institution and mystery, sign and instrument, of the grace of Christ)..., all this implies a fuller embodiment of theological insights in ordinary practical life, even by means of numerous and detailed rules of behavior.

97. The pastoral concern of the Catholic Church is expressed in various ways: through the liturgy, through a great variety of means of evangelization, through the personal contacts of bishops and parish priests with the faithful, as well as through juridical rules. These regulations then do not exhaust the pastoral activity of the Church: but their purpose is still profoundly pastoral.

98. Therefore it may be true that pastoral concern is not totally and fully expressed in juridical rules. Yet it remains true that they have a pastoral function, that of guiding bishops and parish priests and the faithful toward a conduct which introduces into the daily Christian life of married couples values brought by Christ and communicated to us by the Church. These regulations, moreover, can at times help to give direction to other pastoral activities (of a non-juridical kind), and in this sense they serve a doubly pastoral purpose.

99. Apart from the differences in doctrinal and theological convictions on the nature and authority of the Church, on the obligatory nature of the faith, and on the sacramental and indissoluble character of marriage, there are certain other differences which create difficulties with regard to mixed marriages. These concern chiefly moral principles.

100. The Catholic Church possesses a single general law for mixed marriages, which can be applied in a highly flexible manner in different situations in accordance with the directions of national episcopal conferences. But the Church is now in relation with the numerous Churches that came from the Reformation, Churches with diverse theological convictions and sometimes also different legal principles regarding mixed marriages. Hence agreements arrived at by a commission need to - be very closely studied, while at the same time seeking their practical expression at various levels.

101. In spite of difficulties that persist, the present dialogue and the partial progress already made by this Commission would seem to indicate, not that dialogue should be brought to a close, but that it should be continued and made more effective at various levels.

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