I Still Receive the Sacraments?
am a Catholic. My wife and I divorced seven years ago. I attend church periodically
but pray almost daily. In talking with other Catholics, if the subject of my divorce
comes up, they cut the conversation short.
Am I prevented from receiving any
sacraments in the Church? Is an annulment necessary for continuing my life as a
Catholic? If so, would that render my son illegitimate?
you have not remarried and are properly disposed, you can receive the sacraments
of Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance or Anointing of the Sick.
A declaration of nullity, sometimes called
an annulment, says that you are free to marry within the Church or that an existing
marriage can be convalidated (regularized).
Declarations of nullity do not render
children illegitimate because the Church presumes that the bride and groom married
in good faith—even if that marriage is later declared null.
Annulments in Scripture?
have been divorced twice and recently inquired about getting an annulment. The
interview was a very grueling process for me. Because of ex-husbands and certain
people in my past who would not cooperate, I will not be able to complete this
Why does the Catholic Church judge
people by their past and not allow them to receive the Eucharist? If the Church
tells me that God forgives the repentant sinner, why can’t the Church do the same?
I go to church and read my Bible every
day. I would like to receive Holy Communion, but I will respect the Church’s laws.
Why is there an annulment process,
anyway? Is there anything in the Bible about this?
Catholic Church believes that a valid, sacramental marriage (between a baptized man
and a baptized woman) cannot be dissolved except through death. The biblical basis
for this is Matthew 19:6: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what
God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
What appears to be a valid, sacramental
marriage, however, may not be that. There are many reasons why a union between a
man and a woman might be declared null. For example, one person’s “I do” could mean “as
long as I like how this relationship is going.” If such an intention could be proven
by testimony from firsthand witnesses, then the marriage might be declared null because
one partner was not making a permanent commitment.
A valid, non-sacramental marriage (where
one or both parties are unbaptized) can be dissolved under certain conditions.
You wrote that you cannot complete the
annulment process because of “certain people in my past who would not cooperate.” Did
the person who interviewed you about a possible annulment agree with that assessment?
Your former spouse (one case at a time)
has to be informed or a reasonable effort must be made to do so, but your case can
proceed even if he does not cooperate. Depending on the baptismal status of each
of your former husbands and where those weddings took place, your case might be rather
simple to resolve.
The Catholic Church does not say that
divorced people cannot receive the Eucharist. It says that those who are divorced
and remarried cannot.
Why? Because of the Scripture passage
quoted above. The Church feels that any other policy would fail to recognize the
sacredness of marriage and would undermine family stability.
You asked if the Scriptures say anything
about annulments (declarations of nullity). The Law of Moses includes regulations
about which people are too closely related to allow them to marry each other (Leviticus
Jesus said that the Law of Moses was
too lenient on the subject of divorce and did not reflect God’s intention from the
creation of the world (Matthew 19:4-8).
St. Paul addressed the situation of Christians
married to unbaptized spouses who were no longer willing to live with them because
of their Baptism (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
The Catholic Church’s thinking about
declarations of nullity comes from centuries of pastoral care with people whose marriages
have broken up. In fact, some people have found the Church’s process to be a healing
The Catholic Church is placing more emphasis
on preparing men and women well for marriage.
I encourage you to investigate whether
an annulment is possible in your situation. Do not be afraid to get a second opinion
from a Church minister trained in these matters.
Whatever you decide, I hope you keep
going to church and keep reading the Bible. God still loves you very much.
Is Its Origin?
was recently asked where the Sign of the Cross comes from, but I could not give
an answer. We all bless ourselves without thinking how this tradition started.
words are the second half of Matthew 28:19, part of Jesus’ final words to the apostles.
I am not sure when and where this gesture
was first used. My guess is that it was not until Christianity had become a legal
religion in the Roman Empire (313 A.D.).
Artistic depictions of the crucified
Jesus come after that date. I suspect this gesture was used soon after Christianity
became first a legal religion and later the empire’s state religion (fifth century).
In the Eastern Churches (both Orthodox
and Catholic), people touch the right shoulder first and then the left—the opposite
of the Western custom. There are different explanations for this variation.
The cross symbolizes Jesus’ generous
love, which makes our salvation possible.
I Be Redeemed?
am a Catholic. My wife and I were married by a justice of the peace 35 years ago.
I understand that means I am excommunicated. If so, what can I do to become redeemed?
is God’s responsibility, and only God knows a person’s heart well enough to make
that awesome judgment.
Regarding marriages, the Catholic Church
makes judgments on the basis of public facts. In this case, your Baptism, your marriage
by a justice of the peace and your obligation to follow Catholic “form” (marriage
by a priest or other previously authorized representative) are all public facts.
It sounds as if you did not follow Catholic “form.” Your
baptismal certificate and your record of marriage by a justice of the peace may be
enough for your pastor to determine that. Then a priest or deacon can “convalidate” (regularize)
your marriage within the Catholic Church.
Even now, you can go to Mass whenever
you like. The Church understands that you need to convalidate your marriage before
receiving the Eucharist. I encourage you to speak with your pastor or another member
of your parish staff.
Can Be Saved?
to news reports, a cardinal recently said that only Catholics can get to heaven.
Isn’t it true that, no matter the credentials of the person making a statement,
if it is not consistent with Scripture, Christ and Church doctrine, then it is not
are probably referring to the document Dominus Iesus [The Lord Jesus]: On the
Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.
It was published on September 5, 2000,
with the pope’s approval, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Holy See’s Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. You can find it at www.vatican.va.
This instruction is directed primarily
to those involved in interreligious dialogues (that is, with non-Christians). It
denounces any downplaying of the unique and saving role of Jesus, any seeing him
as one savior among many possibilities.
The document also addresses how Jesus’ Church
is related to other Churches or faith communities. As Vatican II taught, the Church
which Jesus founded “subsists” in the Catholic Church (Dogmatic Constitution on
the Church, #8).
“Subsists” is not the same as “is.” The
bishops at Vatican II chose this word very carefully.
Many news stories erroneously reported that, according to this document, only Catholics
can go to heaven.
Nothing in this instruction contradicts the Church’s faith as expressed in one of
its eucharistic prayers, “...and all the dead whose faith is known to you [God] alone.”
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