Sunday, 6 July 2014
The ‘Blessing’ of a Marriage
I had a discussion this week with a young man who wants to marry his fiancé in a quiet ceremony attended only by family and friends. To facilitate this he has chosen to have a civil ceremony at a local hotel, but asks if I will bless his marriage the next day before Mass so as to keep God involved from the beginning of the honeymoon.
The desire to keep God involved is praiseworthy but as I pointed out, there is no such thing as the ‘blessing’ a civil marriage; what the Church provides is the Sacrament of Matrimony over and above the civil marriage. I also pointed out that matrimony, being a holy gift from God and belonging to Him, should really be celebrated in God’s house and not a hotel, garden or Register Office. I then had the delicate task (the task of finding prudential but clear words) to say that until the civil marriage is raised to the dignity of the Sacrament by the Church, engaging in the ‘benefits’ of marriage (copulation) is gravely sinful and puts the soul in jeopardy. Having noted that a Church ceremony need not be any more complicated or guest-laden that a civil ceremony, I added that he and his fiancé would still have undergo the usual pre-nuptial formation and enquiry before proceeding to the Sacrament, and affirm that they understand matrimony to be a life-long, exclusive union open to life.
Having given the young man this information and asked him to reconsider, I found myself wondering if his idea of a civil ceremony followed by a Church ceremony might not be a good way forward for the Church in today’s secular world. If we left the State to provide civil marriage with the Church supplying the Sacrament of Matrimony to practicing Catholics after their civil ceremony, we could avoid conflict with the State over the issue of homosexual pairings and serial spouses (those who enter a second, third or more civil marriages after divorce).
Delineating the Sacrament of Matrimony from Statutory Marriage in this way may mean –sadly- that some couples decide not seek out the sacrament at all, “just in case the marriage doesn’t work out and we need to divorce”. This would leave the couple in the sad position of being unable to receive Holy Communion. However, those for whom the sacramental life is important would still be likely to seek out the Sacrament after their civil ceremony. Should a civil marriage indeed break down, the absence of the sacrament would make pastoral care much easier when one or other seeks out that sacrament after divorce, and would take a lot of work off our marriage tribunals.
Would requiring a civil ceremony before a Sacramental celebration (which is already the case in Germany) not be something the German Church should propose to the October Synod as a useful way forward for the Church universal? It could be something the Synod might usefully consider, rather than simply admit all and sundry to Holy Communion for ‘pastoral reasons’.