I and my younger brother were both raised Catholic and some attempt was made to educate us in the Faith but, as has been too common for many years now, we both fell away. I returned several years ago, but he hasn’t, and that is about to take a more serious turn. His planned civil wedding is tomorrow, at the botanical garden in the city where they are.
Marriage is a great good and I want my brother’s happiness. But there’s a problem. A Catholic is bound by Canon Law which states a Catholic cannot be married validly at all except he or she marries in accord with Canon Law–and even for reason of loss of faith, it’s not possible to defect from the Catholic Church in order to marry as a non-Catholic. This is the reason why marriage annulments occur: marriage is for life but some relationships were never true marriages in the first place, and those are the only ones that can be declared null. The title of my post explains what tomorrow’s ceremony will be, sadly. The young woman involved will still be my brother’s friend, not his wife.
If my brother ever wants to get an annulment, it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll get it, because he won’t really be married in his ceremony tomorrow. But the possibility also exists of an invalid marriage becoming a real and Catholic marriage later on if the person returns to his Faith. I pray that my brother will, and that his friend will also be positively disposed toward Catholic Christianity, that is, toward the good, the true and the beautiful!
During the summer last year I asked Fr Tait Schroeder, a very good priest who was home from his canon law doctoral studies in Rome, if I was misunderstanding something or if it was true that my brother would not be able to be married except in keeping with canon law, and the law does not allow for him to become a non Catholic. Fr Tait said that is correct, a bishop can give a dispensation from the form of the marriage ceremony etc which can allow a Catholic and a protestant to marry, for instance, in a protestant church, but a purely civil marriage that the Church is not involved in at all is not valid for a Catholic. I begged him to pray and Fr Tait went immediately and knelt in front of the tabernacle with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, and he prayed. And I continued to pray, and did what I could do to try to get information on the Catholic faith and its marriage requirements to my family. But at Christmas time, as I feared, my brother announced he and his girlfriend wanted to marry, and not in the Church. And I prayed and fasted more.
This situation of invalid marriages of Catholics has become common. We pray a rosary just after Saturday morning Mass at Holy Redeemer Church, and yesterday we had visitors join in, a young woman and her grandmother. The young woman was to be married yesterday afternoon and her Grandma had asked to come to Mass in the morning. Her granddaughter kindly brought her. We each state at the beginning of the rosary what we are praying for, and I said “for my brother, who is to be married invalidly on Monday outside the Church, for his return to the practice of his Catholic faith and that he may be married for real someday, if it is God’s will”. I heard later the young woman was to be married at a country club, which would never be the case for a Catholic wedding. Was this kind granddaughter in the same situation as my brother? Either way we had her covered with prayer, as someone else spoke up with the rosary intention “for our visitors, one of whom is to be married today”.
It’s a difficult situation for Catholic family members. Everyone wants to be kind and charitable and to keep family relationships positive, but it would be a mortal sin of scandal to show approval of an invalid marriage. Typically the best choice is not to attend such a ceremony, nor send a card or gift. The couple must be treated with charity but as friends, not spouses. It is sinful for them to live together.
There is a pamphlet by a priest at this link: How to act toward invalidly married Catholics.
You can light a virtual prayer candle for a loved one at the Redemptorist Fathers’ Our Mother of Perpetual Help page here.
I will be praying and fasting tomorrow. I am sad but my love is with my family. Although all is not well, God is love and mercy. My hope is that with grace and goodwill everyone can start from where they are right now and grow in friendship with Christ and grow in holiness, which we were made for: to know, love and serve God in this life, and to enjoy Him forever in the next. We’re made for happiness, and the desire to marry can be a part of that. So I hope that for my brother… even though unfortunately it won’t happen tomorrow.