Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cohabitating Brides and Grooms

Some advice.
Many pastoral agents feel caught between Scylla and Charybdis, fearing that demanding the couple's separation before marriage might dash any hopes of re-evangelizing them during the marriage preparation course. For this reason some might be tempted to turn a blind eye to cohabiting couples.

Here the Latin adage "Suaviter in forma fortiter in re" (gentle in form, firm as to principle) comes into play.

When a couple request a Catholic wedding it is necessary to inquire as to their motives. When the motives are genuinely, even if imperfectly religious, it should be gently but firmly explained that being married in the Church, more than a pretty social event, is a lifelong binding pact between them and God. It thus requires serious spiritual preparation, and the couple should be encouraged to take the commitment fully aware of what is required.

Any diocesan policies should be explained right from the beginning. While the Church is almost always willing to conduct a sacramental marriage so as to at least give the couple the opportunity of returning to the sacraments, many dioceses and pastors are wont to refuse cohabiting couples the full panoply of a religious wedding and insist on a discreet private service.

This is done out of respect for, and to emphasize, the essentially religious nature of the sacrament of holy matrimony so that it is never reduced to the social sphere.

While marriage preparation courses have several goals in preparing the couple for married life, it is gravely incumbent that the couple reach a clear understanding of the commitments toward fidelity, permanence and openness to children. These commitments are essential to celebrate a valid wedding in the Catholic Church. Otherwise the wedding should not proceed, since no pastor should ever risk witnessing a probably invalid marriage.


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