Monday, July 20, 2015
Msgr. Michael Souckar - St. Andrew Church
It is a common misunderstanding that a Catholic who divorces his/her spouse is no longer free to receive Communion. There are even some who think that divorced Catholics or those who do not marry by the Church are excommunicated. Perhaps you know someone who no longer attends Mass or is otherwise alienated from the Catholic Church because of his or her marital status. While these can be complicated matters and every person’s situation is unique, I believe it is my duty to present a few important teachings on marriage and the freedom of Catholics to receive Communion.
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage instituted by God is a natural good open to men and women who profess any faith or no faith. The Church recognizes the marriages of non-Catholics and does not presume to determine the way they are to marry, be that a religious or civil ceremony. So, for example, the Catholic Church considers as valid the marriage of two Methodists who marry before a justice of the peace or a Jewish man and a Baptist woman who marry before a Baptist minister.
However, when a marriage involves at least one Catholic, the Church does say that, to be valid, that marriage must be celebrated according to the regulations of the Church. This normally means a marriage ceremony in a Catholic church/chapel, officiated by a Catholic priest or deacon with two witnesses present. (The bishop can grant exceptions, but limited space here does not allow me to go into those details.)
Therefore, Catholics even when marrying a non-Catholic who marry only civilly or before a non-Catholic minister (without the bishop’s permission) are not considered to be validly married. Since they are living as husband and wife and sharing those intimacies which are proper to marriage, there arises a moral obstacle to their reception of Communion. (The same would apply to a Catholic who cohabitates without the benefit of marriage.)
It does not, however, mean that they are any less Catholic, or are rejected by the Church or, by any means, excommunicated. In fact, these Catholics are equally members of the Church and they have the same freedom and obligation to participate in Sunday Mass as do all Catholics. At Mass they benefit from receiving God’s word communicated in the Scriptures and joining the community of the faithful in offering prayer, worship and praise to God. Although they are not free to receive Communion, they are invited to make a “spiritual communion” by their personal prayer with Almighty God.
The Catholic Church does not recognize the authority of civil officials (judges) to break the bond of marriage by divorce. There are situations, however, where the separation of the spouses is inevitable or, as in the case of spousal abuse, even necessary.
A Catholic who is civilly divorced is no less a part of the Church nor are they by that fact alone prohibited from receiving Communion or the other sacraments. Catholics who are separated or divorced do have a moral obligation to provide for their minor children and to fulfill other just obligations imposed by the civil court (e.g. a just alimony). They also are to live a chaste life.
The Catholic Church loves and embraces all her children. We all stand before God in need of His mercy and none of us is free to judge the other, especially his or her conscience.
Without setting aside or watering down the true nature of marriage and its rights and obligations, the Church recognizes with the heart of the Good Shepherd that quite a few of her own are in difficult marital situations. Far from rejecting these loved ones, the Church and individual parishes can and must always be a place for their healing, reconciliation and peace.
As Pope Francis has said, “It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 23)