As a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) Coordinator, I get a lot of questions about marriage, divorce and the need for annulments. Unlike some of our Protestant brethren, Catholics believe that marriage is a sacrament, instituted by God, at the dawn of mankind (Gen. 2:24) and reaffirmed by Christ (Matt 19:6). We also believe that it is a covenantal commitment between husband, wife and God, meant to last for a lifetime. In that covenantal relationship, God blesses the union of man and woman, and seals it with an unbreakable marriage bond. Therefore, sexual sins, conducted outside of the marriage covenant, can be a real deterrent to getting to Heaven.
Purposes and Properties of Marriage
Based upon the Catholic understanding of marriage, Catholics see two purposes of marriage: unitive and procreative. With the unitive aspect, the couple fully self gives one to another, where, “the two become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). From their conjugal union, comes the blessing of children, thus fulfilling the procreative purpose of marriage. Within marriage, the use of contraceptive devices and abortifacients are gravely sinful, as they disavow the procreative purpose of marriage. Use of such devices dictate that we believe we know what is best for us, and God does not. We fail to acknowledge God’s omniscience. Also, such action infers to our spouses, “I love you, but not enough to have a child with you.” Such a statement means that we are not fully self-giving one to another. Thus, we do not live up to the purposes of marriage.
We also have two properties of marriage: unity and indissolubility. By unity, I mean that the relationship between husband and wife requires monogamy. Indissolubility refers to the unbreakable marriage bond where Jesus declared, “what God has joined together, no man must separate” (Matt 19:6). Therefore, the Church discourages divorce unless one’s life, or one’s children’s lives are in danger.
Divorce breaks “the contract, to which the spouses freely consented…Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture; the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery.” 1
Sexual Sins Will Separate Us from God
Any sexual relationships, outside of marriage, are considered grave sexual sins and can be considered a real deterrent to getting into Heaven. I refer to the sins of adultery, polygamy, fornication, sodomy, and masturbation. Each of these sexual sins serve self-pleasure, rather than unity within marriage.
The Need for Annulments
For my RCIA Candidates converting from a Protestant faith to Catholicism, learning that they need annulments for previous marriages (because they remarried) comes as somewhat of a shock. Yet, to enter in to full communion with the Catholic Church, one must seek an annulment in these situations. An annulment is different than a divorce in that an annulment, if granted, states that the first marriage was never valid – that there was no marriage bond to break. If the Diocesan Tribunal grants the annulment, then my RCIA candidate can convert to Catholicism. If an annulment were not sought, then the person remains in that “situation of public and permanent adultery.” To enter in to full Communion with the Catholic Church, one must be in a state of grace – free of mortal sin. Adultery is a direct violation of the Sixth Commandment, and therefore considered a mortal sin.
Words of Advice
Take to heart these chilling words from Our Blessed Mother, herself, when she appeared to the children of Fatima:
More souls go Hell because of the sins of the flesh than for any other reason.
– Our Lady of Fatima
So, we must respect the sacrament of marriage, its purposes and properties. To do so means that we fully self-give to our respective spouses. We must place our full trust in God’s plan for our lives and be open to bringing new life into the world. We are called to remain faithful to our spouses “until death do we part” for the marriage bond is unbreakable and indissoluble in God’s eyes. What He has blessed remains blessed. If unmarried, we should refrain from engaging in sexual relations, as the gift of sex was reserved by God for those who receive the sacrament of marriage. Should we faithfully follow these precepts, then we need not fear Our Blessed Mother’s warning, because we will be living chaste lives.
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1997. Print. n. 2384.
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