This recent series of ti morceaux is dealing with the ministry of the Diocesan Tribunal, and in particular a few of the more-likely “grounds” found in marriage-nullity cases. Such defects can render a marital union invalid, of course, if they are proven to exist and if they are serious enough.
In my last morceau I mentioned that a frequent "ground” for marital invalidity is the improper content of consent. What fundamentally has to happen when two people marry is that both have to intend to establish matrimony as God Himself defines this, for then every essential element and property of marriage will be included in the nuptial commitment. I mentioned a number of the various essentials of the marital definition that is found in Church doctrine and law; in this morceau I’d like to expand on a few of these essentials a bit, so we can better understand what can’t be excluded from a proper attempt at marriage.
The most well-known essential “end” of marriage is the procreation and education of offspring. As you might suspect, in other places and in earlier centuries, when additional members of the family were always in demand as extra farmhands and workers, this parental purpose of marriage often was thought to be the superior – or even the sole – reason for it. While we may not be so functional today in valuing children – instead we are much more prone to love them for their own sake, fortunately! – still marriage provides the ideal “nest” in which offspring are best raised. So intrinsically connected are children and marriage that to deliberately intend a union which is not cooperative with God’s creative design – or open to His will for fruitfulness within the relationship – is to desire something other than marriage!
It is sad that nowadays, especially in the North American setting and culture, that so many people separate out children from what they call their marriage. From my observation this isn’t usually done cruelly, but where it does occur it usually does flow from a basic selfishness that values one’s own personal satisfaction and comfort over the opportunity to share creative love. In annulment cases when it can be shown that one or both parties really excluded proper openness to children, or rejected parental responsibilities rather completely (remember, one has to be open to the proper “nurture” of offspring as well as simply bringing them into the world!), God and His holy Church identify that as less than a valid marriage.
What about unions between persons too old to have children themselves, and between those who are – sadly – infertile? While marriage is usually entered into between the young, who presumably wish for their lovemaking to be fruitful, this isn’t always possible. But matrimony is valid when people are open both to God’s creative initiatives (even if this would be miraculous!) and to sharing their unique couple-love beyond themselves. In other words, overarching selfishness invalidates, but fundamental generosity is always praiseworthy.