"Un Ti Morceau"

"A Little Something," mini-lessons and reflections by our pastor, Father Paul Counce

Grounds for Marital Invalidity 4

Published July 23, 2017 by Fr. Paul Counce

The ti morceaux in this recent series are exposing the ministry of the Diocesan Tribunal, and in particular a few of the more-likely “grounds” found in marriage-nullity cases. If proven true and serious, such defects render a marital union invalid.

In the past two morceaux I noted both defective intention (an inability to comprehend the marital commitment properly) and actual incapacity for marriage, usually as a result of some kind of psychological problem. While these situations do happen, they are not the most widespread reasons for marital failure. Most people are capable of understanding and living out matrimony, after all!

Why do people fail to marry well and properly? Honestly, they just don’t want to. Many distracted people of the 21st century, sadly, often leave God out of their lives. They may even reject Him, but even if they don’t do this completely, they may not agree with or subscribe to God’s definition of marriage. If someone “redefines” marriage, and in so doing also positively rejects those things which really are essential to it, their consent – no matter how sincere – will be invalid. They will be committing not to the proper understanding of marriage but rather to something incomplete. When this happens, true marriage does not come into being.

The best place to begin to understand this is the very definition of marriage found in arts. 1601 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (repeated in can. 1055, §1 of the Code of Canon Law). The Church has spent almost two millennia now refining this description of marriage in human language, but we understand it as being actually created by God Himself:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

In this definition of matrimony we identify a number of essential elements: its heterosexuality, its origin in the free consent of the parties, its natural ends of mutual good and of offspring, and its sacramentality for baptized persons. Additional essentials are the properties of unity and indissolubility (see can. 1056). All of these essentials must be intended in the marital commitment: to reject any of these results in an invalid attempt at marriage. And we’ll explore these a bit more in the next morceaux.

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