Do you Have a “Rite” to Marry?

Does the Church deny couples the opportunity to marry? If your answer is yes, then we need to rethink our understanding of why the Word became flesh.  The Incarnation is the fountain of the grace of the sacraments and the Church would never deny anyone that grace.

However, there is more than merely the desire of the Church at work here. A person desiring the grace has to be in a proper disposition of intellect, soul, and will.  In the sacramental arena of marriage preparation this type of question is key. Often this misunderstanding rests with a couple desiring marriage but involved in a certain lifestyle i.e. cohabitation, that impedes their freedom to marry. The key here is that it is their impediment not the Church’s.

The Church’s “Rite”

When a couple is denied the “Rite” to marry they tend to blame the Church for ruining their opportunity for marital bliss. The Church’s doctrine impedes the opportunity for a couple to marry so says the cohabitating couple.

Blessed John Paul II reminds us:

Knowing that marriage and the family constitute one of the most precious of human values, the Church wishes to speak, and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully (Familiaris Consortio 1).

The key phrase is: “. . . the Church wishes to speak, and offer help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully.” Does this mean that the couple has to be aware of what they are getting themselves into? I’d be lying to all of you if I said I knew exactly what I was getting myself into with my new bride. The few things I did know: I love her, she is a gift from God for coming into my life, and I can’t wait to share my life with her.  Other than that, well, we are talking about a future holding many surprises — this is true for all. Hence, marriage is an authentic sacrifice between two individuals bonded for life in marriage — for whatever they may face together.

A Marriage Dilemma

The sanctity of marriage is under duress from within. Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the need for proper Marriage Preparation for all couples.  The Holy Father addressed the high rate of annulments and the relationship with poor sacramental marriage preparation.  The Church values the sanctity of marriage revealed by God in the order of creation found in Genesis 1:28; 2:4. Man and woman were created to share in the intimate union God had created in His own image and likeness.

Let’s go back to my original question. Does the Church deny a couple the “right” to marry? If a person comes to you and says “the Church cannot deny me the right to marry,” my response to him or her would be: “You are right the Church cannot stand in the way of you getting married. However, if you desire to marry within the Catholic Church, the Church has the right determine if you are sincerely prepared for marriage.”

The Importance of Marriage Preparation

Do you view yourself as gift from God who will sacrificially give your future in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony? This type of question may not be the first thing that comes to any one’s mind but it does not hurt to prod one another. What types of questions should be asked of a couple who desire marriage? The following examples might serve as a starting point:

1.      Have you talked to your Pastor about getting married?

2.      Are there any issues (divorce/annulment) that would prevent marriage within the Church?

3.      Are you active practicing Catholics? Registered at your local Catholic parish?

4.      Are you cohabitating?

5.      Do you understand the moral teachings of the Church on contraception, chastity?

6.      Have you heard of Natural Family Planning?

7.      Are you planning to be open to children?

Is the Church an obstacle to a couple’s intent to have a “Church wedding?” It can be, but not by the Church’s choosing. Authentic marriage preparation should draw on how we, men and women view ourselves before God. Do we truly realize the gifts we hold as children of God. The genesis of any relationship between a man and a woman is Jesus Christ Himself. In Christ we are able to offer ourselves, in a simple way, the opportunity to experience authentic friendship rooted in Christ.

The end goal is having the blessing of Christ upon the marriage. We welcome and desire Christ to become part of this holy union. Our Christian Beatitude is to be pure of heart so we may see God in everything (Mt 5:8; CCC 1720). Please see Christ’s love for you in the Church telling you that you have an impediment to marriage. There may be steps you can take to remove this impediment, because after all, you want your marriage to be right.

Marlon De La Torre, MA, MEd. is the Director of Catechist Formation and Children's Catechesis for the  Diocese of Fort Worth. Over the last fifteen years Marlon has served in multiple catechetical diocesan positions in Memphis and Kansas City. He is regular guest on the "Sonrise Morning Show" with Brian Patrick and Matt Swaim.  His new book is Screwtape Teaches the Faith: A Guide for Catechists based on The Screwtape Letters and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His EWTN discussion about the book with Fr. Mitch Pacwa is here