By Therese Ivers, JCL
The world is in tumultuous confusion as the reports about the recent Synod have disseminated. Will the Catholic Church allow practicing homosexual couples and divorced and remarried without a Church annulment Catholics receive Holy Communion? Will doctrine about homosexuality and marriage change? It seems that now is a good time to review some quick points about what the Church actually teaches about nuptial bonds and sexual fidelity.
Supernatural Nuptial Bonds
There are three types of supernatural (above nature, cannot be manufactured by humans alone) nuptial (marriage) bonds. The first is the union of Christ and the Church. The second is the union or marriage of Christ and the sacred virgin (consecrated virgins). The third is the union of a baptized man and a baptized woman in sacramental marriage.
What is a Supernatural Nuptial Bond?
Marriage is a contract. An invisible but true bond arises between the married. It unites the married in a spousal relationship. The spousal relationship is unique among relationships in God’s plan in that, among other things, it alone brokers the mutual surrender of the use of the procreative powers to the other spouse, and to that spouse alone.
How long does the Supernatural Nuptial Bond Last?
- Between Christ and His Church- Forever. Eternally.
- Between Christ and the Sacred Virgin – Forever. Eternally.
- Between a baptized husband and a baptized wife who have consummated their marriage- until death dissolves the bond.
- Between a baptized husband and a baptized wife who have NOT consummated their marriage- until death or dissolution by the Pope or religious vows dissolves the bond.
Note that a sacramental consummated marriage is the closest representation a married couple has in mirroring the eternal marriage bond between Christ and the Church. It is consummation that makes it an indissoluble bond that cannot be broken by anyone or anything but death.
Can the Church change its teachings on divorce and remarriage with respect to indissoluble sacramental marriages so that more people can receive Holy Communion?
No. To change the doctrine on marriage would essentially indicate the Church is (1) a liar and (2) with no purpose for existence. Why? Because the Church has always taught that a valid sacramental consummated marriage most perfectly reflects her own indissoluble union with Christ***. Right now people are calling for people living in adultery (e.g. husbands and wives with invisible indissoluble or intact nuptial bonds who have received a civil divorce from the state but have not received a judgement of invalidity of their bond from the Church) to be able to receive Holy Communion. The Church cannot condone adultery and “allow” people to commit sacrilege for any reason whatsoever without lying about her fundamental nature. Further, if the Church all of a sudden cooked up the idea that maybe valid-sacramental-and-consummated-marriages are not in fact truly indissoluble and allowed for the “dissolution” for “pastoral reasons”, then the Church has no point in existing. Why? Because what is said of sacramental-consummated-marriage is said of the Church’s own marriage and relationship to Christ. If sacramental-consummated-marriage can be dissolved or if adultery is okay, then the Church can dissolve because Christ could just get “divorced”, or the Church could turn to Satan and be adulterous. Again, my point is that the teachings on marriage, the nuptial bond, and Christ and the Church are symphonic and interconnected. Destroy one teaching and the whole thing falls apart.
The main drive behind a change in the Church’s teachings is the pervasive idea that we are “entitled” to sexual union of any kind with anyone at any time. God’s teaching is very clear and opposite to this mainstream thought. A human being may NOT surrender his/her sexual powers to – or utilize them with – another person except in a monogamous nuptial bond and only with one person of the opposite sex. Once surrendered, only death of the spouse returns the ability to bestow that power on another of the opposite sex. Yes, this is a hard teaching, but there are a lot of natural and supernatural reasons which support this permanent and exclusive heterosexual relationship.
The Eucharist is a sign of communion. It is also a union between Christ and the member of the Bride the Church when an individual receives the Lord in this sacrament. To worthily receive Holy Communion, a person must be in the state of grace. That is, he or she must conform to the ways God hard wired humans to be happy and holy. Being chaste (continent if one is single or continent towards anyone who is not a spouse if one is married) is such a requirement for being in the state of grace because our relationships should reflect God’s own pure relationships within Himself and with all creatures. Sexual union with one other than a spouse destroys that life of grace and ability to grow in true love and friendship, particularly with God our Father. Can the Church which purports to have a spousal relationship with God allow a person in the state of sin to approach God intimately in Holy Communion and “eat and drink unto damnation”? Is this true love for the Christian soul? Ignoring the invisible realities makes us blind to the reality of the push for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the Sacrament of unity, an act of sacrilege which is ultimately an act of hatred of God and the Church.
Sexual promiscuity (any sexual act that is not a loving conjugal union with a validly married spouse) is not the ultimate answer to happiness and fulfillment. If it were, Christ would have made it allowable because He wants us to be happy and virtuous. Instead, He invites people to be continent for the sake of the Kingdom. He also condemned divorce which led the apostles to say that it might be better not to marry! Christ didn’t do this to make life miserable, but to allow us to participate in the nuptial mystery He models with the Church.
What can be said about Christ’s indissoluble union with the Church that human marriage should reflect? Volumes can be said about this subject, but the most basic, fundamental elements of human marriage are shown in this Divine union. First, the nuptial bond is permanent. It is indissoluble. So is sacramental consummated marriage between the baptized. Second, marriage is relationship in which the spouses are united in an intimate communion of the whole of life. They are to ever strive for the good of the other. This is why Christ says to men to lay down their lives for their brides like He did for the Church. Communication is key in fostering and nurturing this relationship. Third, marriage is a fruitful entity. The Church, through baptism, has brought supernatural life to countless human beings. Likewise, husbands and wives are normally called to acts that are apt for the generation of children… and once they have them, to raise, form, and educate them. Love is willing the good of the other and working towards that in a nuptial relationship.
It is loving God and neighbor in a virtuous marriage or virtuous continent lifestyle for singles that brings happiness and peace, not spurts of pleasurable sexual encounters with all and sundry or in successive bigamy.
Happiness in Sexual Fidelity
A single person can be fulfilled and happy as a continent person. True happiness is found in doing the will of God and in living a devout life. This does not mean a single person should refrain from finding a spouse, but that sex is not indispensable to human happiness. In a sense, the single person does imitate the married life of Christ and the Church by being a baptized person. The individual participates in the spiritual fatherhood of Christ and the spiritual motherhood of the Church via baptism. Baptism makes one participate in the bridehood of the Church, and so one can live focused on Christ as the soul’s Bridegroom.
Likewise, the married can be fulfilled and happy even if circumstances mean that they must exercise continence/abstinence. This does not mean that it is easy, but God’s grace can sustain those who are unwillingly in a position wherein they must practice continence. Should a valid, sacramental and consummated marriage come to a point where it is necessary for the parties to live separately, they must live in continence with respect to others. They cannot seek the emotional support, the communion of the whole of life and sexual dimension that marriage is all about with another person unless the Church finds and rules that their original bond was invalid for lawful reasons.
Sacred virgins share in some of the joys and difficulties of both singles and married persons. Because of their explicit nuptial bond with Christ that goes beyond the participation of the bridehood of the Church initiated by baptism, sacred virgins are eternally bound to sexual fidelity to Christ. They are not free to bestow the gift of their sexuality to any other person. Their bond is indissoluble, and so they are models for fidelity to the sacramental and consummated married persons and vice versa, because the bond cannot be broken by any human power. Similarly, they are much like single persons in the sense that they do not and cannot lawfully experience conjugal acts. Thus, in their persons, they witness to the overwhelming love for Christ which induces and assists them in living out their marriage with Christ and all it demands, including sexual fidelity. Unlike religious, who may have their vows dispensed, sacred virgins cannot be released from their indissoluble marriage with Christ. In this sense, they share their lot with the married. After the honeymoon is over, they must be diligent to keep up the communication and loving acts to deepen the marital relationship with Christ just as married spouses must do to deepen their marriage relationship. Sacred virgins are a beacon of hope to this sex crazed world. They show in their lives and bodies that sexual fidelity can be lived out and that continence, indeed, perpetual virginity can be fulfilling.
Concretely, this means that a sacred virgin consecrated by the bishop under the provisions of Canon 604 cannot give up on her married life with Christ and turn to human consolation of a person for a marriage relationship with the emotional support, sexual dimension and other benefits marriage with a visible man entails.
Finally, a Note about Divorce and Remarriage
Civil divorce happens when the State says that the marriage contract entered into by John and Jane Doe is now dissolved and now no longer binding. The Church’s stance against divorce, contraception, infanticide, homosexual activity, and abortion were the most culture changing forces in the apostolic and patristic era. What could be more counter cultural than these things against the sexually promiscuous Greek, Eastern, and Roman civilizations of the time? It was unheard of for a man to be required to be married to one and the same woman for life instead of having the easy way out with a divorce. Or for the pater familias to be forbidden the right to kill any newborn for any reason whatsoever of his extended family and slaves. Daughters were more likely to be exposed or drowned than sons. Likewise, it was easy for a man to keep concubines, lovers, and slaves for his sexual pleasure whilst perpetuating the family line with his legitimate progeny. It was and now is again in this modern age, a startling concept that a bond arises with valid marriage and that even if the State claims it is now dissolved, God still recognizes valid marriages and expects people to fulfill their duties as married persons.
Poorly catechized Catholics and non-Catholics often think that a civil divorce dissolves a marriage and that an “annulment” is merely a Church stamped recognition of that dissolution or a “Church dissolution/divorce”. This is not the case. A declaration of nullity occurs only when a person proves with the Church’s own laws that the union he/she was in was not a valid marriage. Annulments (more properly called declarations or findings of nullity) are not really about the sacramentality of a marriage but validity. Was it a true marriage when John and Jane said “I do”, or was there something that prevented the marriage bond from being created at the time of consent? Unless and until a declaration of nullity has been issued by the Church’s courts that examine the marriage in question, people must presume that their marriage is valid, and that to civilly divorce and remarry without this declaration is to go into the state of public adultery (living with a consort who is not one’s spouse as if they were one’s spouse). The Church does not “grant annulments” as if all a person has to do is submit a request and the Church “grants” a divorce. No, the person must challenge the existence of the marriage bond, and if the nullity of that bond is proven, the Church will declare it to be invalid and the person(s) free to marry because in the sight of God they are single.
For more information on annulments and to clear up myths about them, please refer to my book, 101 FAQs on Annulments sold on Amazon:
*** Update: It should be emphasized that this is only true between the different types of natural and supernatural marriage bonds between husbands and wives. A (valid) sacramental and consummated marriage is indissoluble and most closely represents the Church’s indissoluble union with Christ insofar as human marriages are concerned. However, there is a marriage that represents and participates in the Church’s own indissoluble union with Christ- the sacred virgin’s indissoluble marriage with Christ. As the the Roman Pontifical (the Bishop’s Liturgy book) puts it:
Among your many gifts you give to some the grace of virginity. Yet the honor of marriage is in no way lessened. As it was in the beginning, your first blessing still remains upon this holy union. Yet your loving wisdom chooses those who make sacrifice of marriage for the sake of the love of which it is the sign. The renounce the joys of human marriage, but cherish all that it foreshadows. OCV, n. 24
© 2014 by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV