As we continue to explore various grounds for marital invalidity which the Diocesan Tribunal looks for in evaluating its cases, it’s time to mention what really is the most common one “infecting” marriages in the Western world today. It’s a consensual defect that far too many people nowadays embrace.
We’ve already mentioned how the exclusion in a person’s consent of something essential to matrimony will invalidate. We’ve talked about the exclusion of children, and also of the proper intention to be faithful, as two of these “essentials” which have to be part of every proper nuptial consent.
Well, another absolutely essential property of marriage is indissolubility. While I suppose just about every spouse who goes into a marriage hopes that it will be a permanent relationship, one that they can enjoy “until death do them part,” hoping or anticipating for a lifelong union is not exactly the same as making a personal commitment to the union’s absolute indissolubility. In fact, no doubt due to the prevalence of no-fault divorce in today’s society, it is sadly all-too-easy to confuse one’s intention to stay together for life with a commitment to do so even if the union should prove unhappy or less than satisfactory.
Thus every person who marries must make a proper irrevocable commitment to the union’s indissolubility. If a spouse reserves to him- or herself the mistaken “right” to be free to marry again for whatever reason short of death, instead of committing self to respect and maintain the union even in the face of unforeseen or unfortunate circumstances, the proper total self-gift is not made.
Many an expert in church doctrine and law has pointed out that people nowadays too easily think that they have the “right” to be fulfilled or personally happy in this world. This is not true (although we certainly can hope for happiness!), but for such people most decisions they make include at least an implicit intention to do whatever it takes to be happy. Thus they will change jobs, residences, and sadly even spouses if it suits them.
This has led to something akin to a “divorce-mentality” in the world today. Since people are not content with anything except what pleases them, they end up rarely being content with anything at all. And they rarely commit themselves to any situation with which they might disagree – the most they will do is tolerate ambiguous situations for a while!
But marriage is supposed to be an irrevocable commitment to a total partnership of life, “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health,” forever. If this is rejected from the outset, the marriage may appear to be valid for a time, but it never really is. And the Church will not affirm as valid and proper a marriage that a one or both spouses thinks can be ended by them.