Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dear Father Tharp:
My son who is a Catholic was married in his wife’s church (Methodist) last year. Does the Catholic Church recognize them as being married, and when they have children will they be able to have them baptized in the Catholic Church? His wife feels that if their marriage is not recognized that she does not feel like going to Mass any longer. Up until recently, they have been alternating attending services between each others’ churches.

Name and Hometown Withheld

Sacraments are an essential element to the life of a Christian. They are conduits of grace and represent our participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. They are not just ceremonies for the benefit of the community; they are living encounters with the Risen Christ and a sharing in His Divine Glory. Hence, what makes up a sacrament is a critical consideration in addressing your question.

Let’s begin with a definition. Sacraments are visible signs instituted by Christ to confer grace. We can put this more formally by saying that sacraments have three components: form, matter, and intention. (We could also include the proper minister and what is required to fruitfully receive a sacrament as well.) Generally speaking, the form is the words that are spoken over the visible sign (the matter) with the intention of doing what the Church wants done in each sacrament. For example, at the Holy Mass, when the priest confects the Holy Eucharist, he takes bread and wine (matter) and speaks the words of institution over them (form). In this action, he intends what the Church intends, namely to make present the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. These same three elements are present in the Sacrament of Marriage.

In marriage, the matter of the sacrament is the consent expressed by the exchange of vows. When a person enters into marriage, he or she is making a faithful, permanent gift of self for the good of the other and for the good of children the marriage ought to bring forth. If a person doesn’t intend to make a faithful, fruitful, permanent gift of self when giving the vows, this can prevent the marriage bond from coming into existence.

The form of the sacrament concerns how the consent is obtained. For the Church, the proper form for marriage entails the exchange of vows by one man and one woman, who are free to marry, in the presence of the Church’s properly delegated minister (usually a priest or deacon) or duly delegated representative, in the presence of two witnesses. The intention of course is to live as a Christian husband and wife until death. Based upon what you have said in your question, I would have to conclude that the marriage is invalid. In not fulfilling the form of marriage, there is some question about whether a valid sacramental bond came into effect.
Your son had the obligation to follow the Church’s law concerning marriage. By not doing so, he has failed in a basic duty as a Catholic. In essence, looking at it from the outside, I would have questions about his intention to live as a Catholic. Is being Catholic simply a tie to a cultural dimension of his family background or is it the living well-spring of his knowledge of Christ?

Further, based on your question, it sounds like he is not regularly going to Sunday Mass. If the couple wants to have the child baptized, there must be evidence that the couple practices the Catholic Faith. If they are going back and forth between the Methodist church and the Catholic parish, then reasonably, one could infer that this couple doesn’t know what faith they are going to profess. Therefore, the child ought not to be baptized until such a time as this marriage can be regularized as well as question surrounding the practice of the Faith.

The good news is this situation is easy to correct. Assuming that there are no other impediments and that both spouses are free to marry, the couple could receive a convalidation of their vows. The act of convalidation euphemistically is called “having the marriage blessed.” In a convalidation, the couple seeks to fix anything which might leave the status of the marriage in doubt. In your son’s case, the lack of proper canonical form needs to be corrected. As I would see it, it could be a very simple ceremony in which the couple could fulfill the canonical form and thus bring their marriage into line with what the Church intends for the Sacrament of Marriage. If they are interested in straightening out this situation, their parish priest can help iron out any specific questions they may have.

With all that said, however, I would like to point out two things. On the one hand, from your question, I detect that this couple seeks to live in union with God and to know Him authentically. I think that needs to be praised and encouraged. On the other hand, I can’t help but notice a certain manipulative potential in your daughter-in-law’s statement. If she was really all that concerned with what the Church thought about her marriage, why were they married in the Methodist church in the first place? The statement about not feeling comfortable at Mass if the marriage isn’t recognized sounds vaguely like a threat. Implicitly, her attitude suggests that if you don’t like what I have done, then I am going elsewhere. As the Catholic who will, in all likelihood, serve as the bridge to bring her into the Church, you must avoid being sidelined by this sort of emotional argument. Regardless of how she feels about her relationship with the Church, there is an objective norm to these matters and she and her spouse didn’t follow it. If she is really interested in feeling comfortable at Mass, why not see into having the marriage blessed and take part in RCIA? In these two ways, she can truly taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

I appreciate how difficult this must be for you as a parent. It’s hard to see your kids turn away from the Faith that you worked so hard to encourage in them. Know that you and your family will be remembered in my prayers as your family works out this situation.

Dear Father Tharp,

A week ago Saturday, in the religious section of the Oklahoman newspaper, my husband read an article stating that there is to be more Latin in the Mass? Is this true and when does it start and how much more Latin?

Mary and Bill
St. James the Greater Parish, Oklahoma City

Ah, thanks for the question which allows me to vet my favorite subject: What did the Second Vatican Council actually teach? As you might gather from these columns, I am a pretty simple guy and when it comes to what the Council intended to teach, I tend to start from the documents the Council produced. Put another way, it is difference between the reforms the Holy Spirit wished to enact in our time versus a false reform coming from a so-called “Spirit of Vatican II.”

This might come as a surprise, but a priest needs no special permission to celebrate the Mass of Paul VI, also known as the Novus Ordo Mass, in Latin. In prudence, a priest should prepare a parish before diving into the Mass in Latin. I have wonderful memories of my time in seminary when, at least once a month, the Mass would be celebrated in this ancient and venerable language. I could faintly hear the echo of the ages reverberating through the chapel, hearing the voices of generations who uttered their praise of God in this way.

At no time did the teaching of the Second Vatican Council suggest that Latin should be completed expunged from the Mass. If anything, the opposite was true. As the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36). However, the Council Fathers recognized that the faithful could benefit from the inclusion of the vernacular language; hence, greater use of it was encouraged. Specifically the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy lists three places where the faithful might realize this benefit: the readings from the Sacred Scriptures, directives, and in some prayers and chants (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36). Furthermore, even where the vernacular was permitted, the Council Fathers cautioned that the faithful should still “be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #54). You can see, then, that the battle is between Latin versus vernacular language; true to Catholic sensibilities, the ideal was a “both-and” gesture, keep what is good from the past and include what might benefit for the future.

We can find this line of reasoning echoed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal from 1975 and 2000. In the 1975 edition we find this “both-and” aspect echoed in paragraph 12: “Since no Catholic would now deny the lawfulness and efficacy of a sacred rite celebrated in Latin, the Council was able to acknowledge that ‘the use of the mother tongue frequently may be of great advantage’ and gave permission for its use.” People found the vernacular so beneficial that even broader use was permitted by the Holy See (GIRM 1975 #12; GIRM 2000 #12). Notice though that there is no conflict between the use of the vernacular and the use of Latin in the mind of the Church. The same document reaffirms the use of Latin especially in situations where people of different countries, hence of different languages, come together for the sacred Liturgy (GIRM 1975 #19; GIRM 2000 #41). Specifically, the Creed and the Our Father are cited as concrete places for this to happen.

In the end, Latin is the patrimony of every Catholic. To be deprived of exposure to its riches is unfortunate, at best. It was only a hundred years ago when to be well-educated meant being well-versed in classical languages, Latin and Greek. The article you mention shows how people misunderstand the role of Latin in the Liturgy. In my own parish, I am working with my music director to broaden our parish’s use of Latin. This implementation will require cooperation but ultimately, putting my parishioners in contact with the fuller picture of the history and practice of the Faith can only benefit them and me. Even though it might take work, I would encourage any pastor to do the same.