MARRIAGE PREPARATION COURSE
Church Law Concerning Marriage
I. FUNDAMENTAL FACTS
For any young man or young woman, marriage certainly ranks as one of the most important events in life. Upon the manner in which they prepare for their marriage, and upon the choice they make of a life partner, will depend much of their happiness in this life. Almost inevitably, their eternal happiness as well is deeply involved.
The Catholic Church has but one major purpose to assure the eternal salvation of her members by showing them how to live a happy, meritorious life. Because marriage is a very serious matter, the Church accordingly takes great precautions in formulating her laws concerning it in order to assure the happiness of those who enter into this state. All Catholics are bound in conscience to observe these laws which, since they come from God, are the means of procuring their partner’s and their own true happiness.
1) MARRIAGE IS A SACRAMENT
Properly speaking, matrimony or the marriage between two baptized persons, is a sacramental contract. In this sacramental contract, the sacrament and the contract cannot be separated. On the contrary, the contract and the sacrament are inseparable. The contract is the Sacrament.
Under ordinary circumstances, a contract is an act by which two people (or two groups of people) make an agreement, one with the other, with conditions freely arranged. For example, in contracting for the sale of a house, once the contract has been signed, the two contracting parties are certainly obliged to fulfill their promise to each other; nevertheless, both parties can still agree to modify or annul the contract.
Any contract consists in the mutual consent of the two parties. Marriage, however, is a contract of a very special nature. We are free to marry but because the institution of Matrimony is of divine origin, once the vows have been pronounced, we can neither modify in any way nor annul the contract. The conditions are set by God ... not by the parties themselves (See Lesson 7). In marrying we must also accept all ecclesiastical laws governing Christian marriage and submit ourselves to them. These laws, we repeat, have no purpose other than to procure for the husband and wife the most complete happiness possible.
2) ECCLESIASTICAL LAWS CONCERNING MARRIAGE
Matrimony is in itself sacred, but it is even more so now since the coming of Our Savior, Who raised it for all baptized people to the dignity of a sacrament. All the sacraments are entrusted by Christ to His Church, and particularly to His Vicar on earth, the Pope. From the earliest days of the Christian era, the Church has exercised its authority over the marriage of Christians in order to safeguard the sanctity of Matrimony and to protect the faithful against pagan laws.
We understand, therefore, why the Church has always concerned herself with safeguarding the true status of Matrimony by establishing laws to protect the moral and physical welfare of the husband, wife, and children, and to assure the social well being of the family.
In this lesson, the terms "ecclesiastical laws" and "civil laws" are used frequently. An explanation of the terms might be in order: 1) Civil laws are laws made by civil authorities. 2) Ecclesiastical laws are laws laid down by the Church.
The ecclesiastical laws in their turn may be subdivided: a) In the wide sense: These are the laws established directly by God Himself but which the Church defines in an exact manner. As an example, Our Savior commands us to receive Holy Communion. This precept is a divine law. The Church makes this divine law specific and exact by fixing the time when we must receive Holy Communion: at least once a year at Easter. This is ecclesiastical law in the wide sense.
b) In the precise or strict sense: Ecclesiastical laws are laws established directly by the Church by virtue of the authority she has received from God, for example, the precept to abstain from meat on Friday. Understood in the strict sense, ecclesiastical laws differ from divine laws. Divine laws come directly from God. They are (i) the natural laws which govern creation; and (ii) positive legislation from God, such as the laws promulgated by God Himself in the Old Testament, or by Our Savior Jesus Christ in the New Testament. On the other hand, ecclesiastical laws, strictly speaking, are laws given by the Sovereign Pontiff or by the Roman Congregations, organizations delegated by the Holy Father, the Pope, to interpret his ideas correctly.
From both the natural and the supernatural points of view, God made the essential laws regulating Matrimony. However, he left to His Church, the power (1) to give greater precision to these laws and also the power (2) to make other laws directed towards procuring the happiness of the individual, of the family, and of society. To civil authority, He left the right to make laws that concern the purely civil effects of Matrimony.
(1) In giving more precision to the essential laws established by God, the purpose of the Church is to assure proper respect for marriage and its main purpose: the procreation of children; and to assure also the respect for the essential properties of marriage: unity and indissolubility.
(2) In addition, the Church, by virtue of the authority given to Her by God, has added other impediments to marriage. Her purpose in doing so is directed (a) towards the moral and physical well being of the husband, wife, and children. (Example impediment of age, crime, etc.); (b) towards the general well being of civil or religious society (Example impediment of disparity of cult, of Holy Orders, of solemn vows, of certain relationships); (c) towards respect for the sacrament and religion (Example: impediment of Holy Orders, solemn vows, etc.)
1) NATURE OF THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
Marriage is a contract. This contract consists essentially in the mutual consent of the husband and wife. This consent is an act of the will manifested by the outward sign by which the husband and wife give and receive reciprocally, in a permanent and exclusive manner, the conjugal right to procreate. As a result of this mutual consent, Matrimony becomes a lasting union of the man and woman and constitutes a permanent manner of living. The purpose of this union is the procreation and education of children, mutual help of husband and wife, and the legitimate satisfaction of the instincts that God has placed in human nature.
2) QUALITIES OF THE CONSENT
The consent to the marriage contract must be 1) deliberate, that is to say, given with sufficient knowledge. Thus, a marriage contracted while under the effect of insanity, or alcohol, etc., may be declared void, depending upon the degree of insanity or lack of knowledge; 2) free: this mutual consent supposes an act of free will. A marriage contracted under durance, violence, under pressure of exterior and unjust fear (that is to say coming from the outside) of which we cannot free ourselves except by accepting Matrimony, nullifies the consent and, by that fact, nullifies the marriage itself; 3) mutual: it is a reciprocal contract ... one that binds both parties. If one of the parties consents and the other refuses, there is no marriage. 4) exterior: the marriage-contract-sacrament is an outward sign (as are the other sacraments also). It must, therefore, be manifested by the "I will," (or by an equivalent mark or sign when it is impossible to enunciate the words, as in the case of a mute person). 5) unconditional: A condition opposed to the nature or essential qualities (unity, indissolubility) of marriage, renders the marriage null.
III. IMPEDIMENTS TO MARRIAGE
In general, impediments are external circumstances which, affecting the persons of the husband and wife, render them legally (i.e. according to the laws of the Church) and morally (i.e. before God and their conscience) incapable of contracting a valid marriage, or which at least prohibit marriage under pain of mortal sin. These impediments are of two kinds: 1) prohibitive impediments: These render the marriage illicit (forbidden and grievously sinful); 2) diriment impediments: These render the marriage not only illicit but also invalid (sinful and null).
1) PROHIBITIVE IMPEDIMENTS
There are two prohibitive impediments 1) vows, and 2) mixed religions.
1) Any one of five simple vows prohibits the celebration of a marriage. These are: a vow of virginity, a vow of perfect chastity, a vow to never contract marriage, a vow to enter religion or a vow to enter Holy Orders (subdiaconate, diaconate, priesthood). By a vow is here meant a promise made to God, whereby one obliges himself to choose a greater good. The law does not distinguish between temporary and perpetual vows, or between private vows and vows taken in a religious order.
2) The impediment of mixed religion exists between two persons, both validly baptized, but of whom one is a Catholic while the other belongs to a non-Catholic sect (Protestant or schismatic).
The principal reason for this impediment is because of the danger to the faith of the Catholic party and to the faith of the children born of such a marriage Often a Protestant who marries a Catholic will not manifest his aversion to the Church and all things religious until after the marriage. Then his wife finally yields to his insistence and ultimately abandons her faith with great consequent harm to her own soul and to those of her children!
This impediment, though simply prohibiting, is nevertheless of divine right. In fact, the Church goes so far as to say that, "if there is danger of perversion for the Catholic party and the children, it is the divine law itself which forbids the marriage." (Article 1060 of Canon Law).
2) DIRIMENT IMPEDIMENTS
Diriment impediments, as has already been said, are those which, not only under pain of mortal sin but also under pain of nullity, prohibit a marriage. There are twelve such diriment impediments.
It will be well to divide them into categories in order to understand them better:
1) There are impediments by divine law (whether natural law or positive law) such as a) the marriage bond (a person already actually married), b) impotence, c) consanguinity to the 1st degree. (Concerning these a dispensation cannot be granted by the Church because they come directly from God). Other impediments are due to ecclesiastical law (for the baptized), or to civil law (for infidels and non-baptized persons). The Church can grant dispensations from impediments of ecclesiastical right.
2) Some impediments, such as age, marriage bond, disparity of cult, and abduction, may be classified as temporary. That is to say, they may last merely for a certain length of time. Other impediments are perpetual and cease only by dispensation, e.g. certain blood relationships.
3) Some impediments may be multiple, such as certain blood relationships (consanguinity), affinity, spiritual relationship, crime; others are simple.
4) According to their disclosure, some impediments are public if they are known or on the point of being known, or if it is impossible to conceal them; others are occult, or hidden.
Here then are the diriment impediments:
1) Age: The law of the Church requires that, in order to contract marriage, the man be at least 16 years of age and the woman at least 14. What is required above all in marriage is the ability to give a true consent when it is a matter of so important an act as marriage which concerns one’s future life. Consequently, the Church wishing to be sure that the future spouses have sufficient knowledge, and can freely make a free act of the will (consent to marriage), has determined the above-mentioned age as the minimum age for contracting a valid marriage. Dispensation from this impediment is very rarely granted.
2) Consanguinity: In the direct line of consanguinity, marriage is invalid between all in the ascending and descending line. In the collateral line, marriage between persons in the first, second, and third degrees of consanguinity is invalid. Thus, for example, an uncle cannot marry his niece, nor can an aunt marry her nephew; first cousins or second cousins cannot marry.
To trace this consanguinity or blood relationship which at times is very complicated, we draw what is called the genealogical or family tree. Here is how we proceed: We must go back to the common source or common ancestor, whether it be father, mother, grandfather, or grandmother, etc. Ecclesiastical law does not distinguish between brothers and half-brothers. To trace the bonds of blood relationship, we follow the line of relationship, that is, the series of persons who descend one from the other (direct line), or from a common source (collateral line). Example of direct line: grandson, father, grandfather, great grandfather (direct ascending line). Or, reversing the direction great grandfather, grandfather, father, son, grandson (direct descending line). The collateral line is equal (brother and sister), or unequal (uncle and niece).
The degree of relationship is the distance between a person (direct line) or several persons (collateral line), and the common source. In the direct line, there are as many degrees as generations, not counting the common source (ancestor). In the collateral line, there are as many degrees as generations on one of the lines, not counting the common source. If the lines are unequal, we count the number of generations along the longest line.
In practice, it is best to declare all relationship, even the most distant, to the priest who will then ascertain by questioning if there is really any impediment.
The Church, in forbidding marriage between relatives, is merely following the legislation traditional among all civilized peoples, beginning with the Hebrews and the Romans.
The reasons for these prohibitions are, first of all, physiological: the danger of begetting crippled children, abnormal children, etc. But there are other reasons springing a) from the sanctity of the family, which must be safeguarded; b) from the respect due to the common ancestors; and c) from fear of immorality between persons living under the same roof. These same, considerations hold for the impediments of affinity which will be explained farther on. Finally, one of the chief reasons why the Church establishes these impediments of relationship, is to promote universal charity between individuals and families by encouraging alliances outside a restricted family circle. The reason for this is of the highest social order. The Church consequently obliges each of the faithful to seek marriage with a person who is a total stranger to his own family ties, and to marry outside of his own immediate environment. The state has copied this pattern in formulating its civil laws.
3) Affinity or Alliance: A widower cannot marry the sister, the aunt, the niece, or the first cousin of his deceased wife; a widow cannot marry the brother, the uncle, the nephew or the first cousin of her deceased husband.
This relationship comes from the alliance which unites the husband to all of his wife’s blood relations. But the husband alone (and not the husband’s relations by blood) contracts affinity with his wife’s relations; the wife alone (and not the wife’s relations by blood) contracts affinity with the relations of her husband.
To find out the degree of affinity of a widower with his future spouse (if any relationship exists), determine the degree of consanguinity between the future wife and the deceased wife. (In the case of a widow who is planning to remarry, proceed conversely.) In the direct line, the diriment impediment of affinity extends to infinity. In the collateral line, it extends to the second degree.
The reason for this impediment is not physiological but rather moral and social to safeguard the sanctity of the family.
4) Crime: Those persons cannot marry each other a) who have committed adultery together, with the promise to marry when one or the other will be freed by the death of his or her wedded partner; or b) who have committed adultery together, with attempted marriage (whether religious or civil); or c) who have committed adultery together, and one of whom has brought about the death of his or her spouse (killing of a spouse where there is no conspiracy nor promise of marriage); or d) who by complicity (conspiracy) have caused the death of a spouse, but have neither committed adultery nor promised to marry.
Adultery is to be understood here as actual and consummated.
5)Disparity of cult: This impediment is somewhat similar to the prohibitive impediment of mixed religion. It differs, however, as to baptism and it is because of the absence of baptism in one of the partners that it becomes a diriment impediment.
This impediment exists between a person baptized in the Catholic Church (or a convert to the Catholic Church) and an infidel, that is to say, an unbaptized person. (N.B. For the reasons for this impediment, see above Impediment of mixed religion, P. 176.)
Dispensation from this impediment is granted only on certain express conditions, namely: a) a written promise by the non-Catholic party to allow the Catholic party to fulfill his (or her) religious duties; b) a written promise by both spouses to have the children baptized and raised in the Roman Catholic religion; c) the certainty (on the part of the one who grants the dispensation) that the promises will be fulfilled.
These mixed marriages are not celebrated in the church; they take place in the sacristy or in the rectory. There is no publication of the banns, no blessing of the ring, no marriage Mass.
Sometimes the Protestant party asks the Catholic party to be married before a Protestant minister before going to the Catholic priest, or to renew the marriage vows before the Protestant minister after their marriage before a priest. This practice is formally forbidden under pain of excommunication. Father Hugh Calkins, O.S.M., writing in Novena Notes, explains the seriousness of excommunication: "Excommunication means exclusion from the communion of the faithful. Which means cut off from the intercommunication of graces, indulgences, prayers, privileges which Catholics on earth, saints in Heaven, souls in Purgatory, inter-share.
"The excommunicated loses all rights and privileges: yet he keeps all his burdens. He remains a Catholic forever through the indelible characters of Baptism and Confirmation. But he is cut off from Catholic life, an exile from Christian Society, a stranger in the Family, separated from the Organization. He must attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays: yet he can’t share the public fruits of the Mass. He may not receive the Sacraments. Nor may he act as a sponsor or official witness: nor be an acolyte at Mass. He loses all right to assist actively at Divine Services - Mass, Vespers, Benediction, Divine Office, Public Processions. For him, no Christian burial with its powerful prayers. Nor can he share public prayers.
"Excommunication is not merely external separation, as Luther heretically taught. It is a spiritual sword which severs an internal bond and deprives a man of internal graces. Why? Because it excludes him from public prayers and sacred rites, particularly the great Sacraments. Persons under excommunication have no share in indulgences, in common public prayers for living and dead, still less in public prayers offered in the Church’s name by her priests. They have no share in spiritual treasures coming to the Christian family from Mass the world over, recitation of Divine Office the world over, and liturgical services everywhere. where. ‘Cut off’ really has profound meaning."
6) Public Honesty: A person who has lived in public concubinage, or who, even in good faith, has contracted an invalid marriage (no matter what the cause of this invalidity) cannot marry the father or the mother, the grandfather or the grandmother, nor the children nor grandchildren of his or her accomplice or partner. The marriage of a Catholic before a civil officer or a Protestant minister is regarded by the Church as public concubinage. The Church does not, of course, regard in this light the marriage of two Protestants. It is ridiculous and false to suppose that She would! Where a Catholic, however, is involved, since such a "marriage" of a Catholic is not recognized by the Church, the Church does regard this union as public concubinage.
Concubinage is public (notorious) when the fact itself is publicly known or on the point of becoming so, either because a public document has made known this concubinage (Example: marriage before a Protestant minister or a civil officer; or by a court judgment), or when it is impossible in any way to hide the fact of the concubinage.
The reason for this impediment is the safeguarding of public decency and the honor of the home.
7) Impotence: The marriage of a person who is physically unable to perform the marriage act (when this inability exists prior to the marriage, and is perpetual) is null by natural right. No dispensation therefore can be granted from such an impediment.
There is a difference between the inability to perform the marriage act and the inability to beget children: the first case is a case of impotence in the canonical or legal sense; the second case is that of sterility, which is not an impediment to marriage.
Impotence is either a) absolute, when intercourse with any person is impossible; b) relative, when intercourse is impossible only with a certain person.
8) The Marriage Bond: A person already validly married cannot contract a second marriage as long as the first spouse is living. To get married, one must consequently establish with certainty the death of his spouse or furnish a declaration of the nullity of his first marriage.
As this impediment is of divine right, it is binding on everybody, even the Protestant and the infidel. For this reason, even with a divorce decree in hand, a Protestant or an infidel cannot morally contract another marriage. The Catholic Church, faithful always to God’s command; has never permitted nor granted a divorce. Nor will She ever do so, for She cannot do so because the marriage bond is an impediment by divine right. This impediment flows from the unity and the indissolubility of marriage, which are essential qualities of marriage. Nevertheless, and most unfortunately, many of the Protestant Churches, not so sure of the essential qualities of marriage, and forgetful of the Divine command, are yielding before the pressure of present day circumstances.
9) Spiritual Relationship: One cannot marry (her) godfather or (his) godmother, or the person by whom one is baptized. This last case is encountered fairly frequently in Protestant hospitals where a nurse baptizes a patient in danger of death.
By Baptism the child receives spiritual life. That is why those who contribute to the birth of the child into the life of grace, (the layman. or laywoman or the priest who baptizes, the godfather or godmother who answers for the child’s faith) contract a spiritual relationship with that child. The Church therefore looks upon certain spiritual relationships resulting from Baptism as similar to the ties of parenthood resulting from blood relationship.
This spiritual relationship exists only a) if that Baptism be valid, (supplying the additional ceremonies of Baptism that surround the pouring of the water does not produce spiritual relationship); b) if the godparents have been godparents validly: that is, the godparents themselves must have been baptized, must have the use of reason, and must touch the child while the water is being poured in Baptism.
The sponsors in Confirmation also contract a spiritual relationship but this relationship does not constitute an impediment to marriage.
10) Holy Orders: He who has received the order of subdiaconate cannot, from that moment and by that very fact, contract marriage with any person whatsoever, not only under pain of sin and excommunication but also under pain of nullity. The Church has added this severe sanction to its law of ecclesiastical celibacy.
As this impediment is of ecclesiastical origin it happens, (although rarely) that for very serious reasons the Church dispenses the sud-deacon or the deacon from his obligations in this matter.
11) Abduction: If a man abducts a woman against her will with a view to marrying her, he becomes subject to the impediment of abduction. This impediment flows from the very nature of marriage which requires a free consent.
12) Solemn Vows: Anyone who has taken solemn vows of religion cannot validly contract marriage. For very serious reasons the Church sometimes dispenses from this impediment. These solemn vows can be taken only in religious Orders (e.g. Benedictines) and are perpetual. Vows, temporary or perpetual, taken in religious congregations or institutes are not solemn vows.
13) Legal Adoption: In countries where civil law forbids as illicit a marriage between the one who adopts and the person adopted, the Church also considers this marriage as illicit (prohibitive impediment). In countries where the state considers this marriage as invalid, the Church also considers this marriage as invalid (diriment impediment).
IV. THE CELEBRATION OF MARRIAGE
1) THE PRENUPTIAL INQUIRY
The steps to be taken prior to marriage are contained in the code of Canon Law and in the Instruction from Rome, dated June 29, 1941. Here they are in brief:
1. When should you notify your Pastor of your intention to marry? See your pastor at least one month before the celebration of ‘the marriage.
2. To whom must you go? To the pastor of your own parish because to him belongs the right and the duty to perform the marriage.
(N.B. One’s own parish signifies: a) the domicile or the place where one actually lives with the intention of remaining there permanently except for unforeseen circumstances; or b) the quasi-domicile or the place where one actually lives with the intention of remaining there during the greater part of the year; or c) the domicile or quasi-domicile of the parents if one or both partners are under 21 years of age (Church law); persons under 21 years of age have as their legal domicile the residence of their parents even though in fact they do not live with their parents.) If the spouses belong to different parishes, both the right to perform the marriage and the duty to make the preliminary inquiry belong as a general rule to the pastor of the girl. However, the man’s pastor also, whether of his own accord, or on the insistence of the man, or on the insistence of the girl’s pastor must make an inquiry and thus establish the man’s freedom to contract marriage. He must then send the results of this inquiry to the girl’s pastor as soon as possible. For various good reasons, however, permission may be granted for the marriage to be celebrated in the man’s parish or even in some other locality. Under such circumstances, the duty of making the prenuptial inquiry belongs to the pastor in whose parish the marriage is to be performed. In any case, wherever the marriage be celebrated, the future spouses, preferably only after each one has gone to his own pastor, will go to the pastor of the parish where the wedding is to take place.
3. What documents must be brought to the pastor? On the first visit to the pastor in whose parish the marriage is to be performed, it is advisable to bring the following documents which will have been obtained in advance:
a) Identification papers;
b) Baptismal certificate, dated no earlier than six months previously;
c) Confirmation certificate unless it has been recorded on the baptismal certificate;
d) In the case of a minor (under 21) written consent of the father and mother, or of the legal guardian or trustee, in accordance with the law of the province or state;
e) If one of the parties is widowed, death certificate of the husband or wife.
4. In what does the prenuptial inquiry consist? The pastor questions the future spouses concerning:
a) Family name and given names, age, address, date and place of birth and of baptism, religion, profession or trade of the future husband, names of the parents;
b) The existence of impediments, both civil (see Lesson 9) and religious;
c) The freedom to contract marriage (previous marriage? fear? force?)
d) Affiliation with a condemned society (Free Masonry, etc.) or with an atheistic sect;
e) Christian doctrine in general, and its fundamental teachings concerning marriage: unity, indissolubility, right intention, mutual obligations;
f) The exchange of medical certificates. This is designed to reveal any inability to perform the mutual duties and functions of married life, physical incapacity, mental illness, contagious disease, etc. Unions that might become unhappy because of these causes may thus be prevented while there is still time;
g. The existence of a marriage agreement or marriage contract if such exists.
5. Why publish marriage banns? Marriage is essentially a public event. The Church therefore insists on its official publication in the parish of each spouse in order to uncover any impediment that might prohibit the celebration of this particular marriage.
Normally, the banns are published three times. For serious reasons, a dispensation from one or two publications may be obtained. This dispensation is seldom granted for all three publications.
2) "FORM OF THE MARRIAGE"
Let us suppose that we now know all the laws of the Church regarding marriage. What immediate conditions have yet to be fulfilled to assure a valid exchange of consent? Ecclesiastical authority has established certain rules among which is one that must be observed under pain of nullity. This rule is called the "form of the marriage" and consists in this: Every person, provided that he or she is a Catholic or has been a Catholic during even a single moment of his or her life (whether this person gets married to a Catholic or a non-Catholic) is bound under pain of nullity of the marriage to marry in the presence of the pastor (or of the bishop, or of a priest delegated by the pastor or bishop) and in the presence of at least two other witnesses as well.
This, therefore, must be stressed: the presence of an authorized priest and of two witnesses is required. This point is fundamental to insure the validity of the marriage.
V. DECLARATION OF NULLITY OF MARRIAGE
When an existing diriment impediment has not been uncovered before marriage and no dispensation has been granted for it, or when there was an absolute lack of consent, the Church by means of its tribunals declares such and such a marriage null. Therefore, when the Church declares a marriage to be null, this does not mean that the Church dissolves or annuls a marriage previously valid. In fact, marriage, being indissoluble, the Church merely declares by its official judgment that what seemed to be a marriage, even though celebrated 3, 5, or 10 years previously, never was a real, true marriage.
In a divorce action, the civil judge says: "You are married, but I declare that from this moment the bond of marriage which exists between you is broken and you are no longer married." In a declaration of nullity, the ecclesiastical judge says: "It is evident that you never were married, your union never had the character of a marriage, regardless of appearances. I therefore officially declare that your marriage has never existed."
The validity or nullity of a marriage between baptized persons can only be pronounced by an ecclesiastical tribunal. Any civil judgment, therefore, even though seemingly annulling a marriage, in no way affects its validity from the Catholic point of view, and can affect only the civil results of this marriage.
Whenever doubt arises as to the validity of a marriage, a priest should be consulted who will, if necessary, present the case to the diocesan ecclesiastical court where it will be studied. If the marriage is found to be null, and officially declared as such, only then may the case be taken to the civil courts where the civil effects of the marriage may be dealt with.
Marriage cases, examined by an ecclesiastical court, follow a very complicated and lengthy procedure, somewhat similar to that followed by a civil court in such cases.
This is due to the fact that marriage is a Sacrament. It concerns the spiritual welfare of the spouses. Consequently, the Church takes every necessary precaution in order that a valid marriage may never be declared null. The judges of an ecclesiastical court must, before rendering judgment, have a moral certainty that such a marriage is null, that is, that it has never validly existed. If the least doubt persists, the validity of the marriage is maintained.
We have summed up in this lesson the main canonical principles that govern Christian marriage. Add to this the views already expressed regarding the spirituality (Lesson 7) of marriage, and you have an idea of the beauty and the grandeur of marriage.
In view of the greatness of this Sacrament, we are better able to understand the laws enacted by the Church in her desire to procure by all possible natural and supernatural means, the spiritual and temporal happiness of the spouses. Though seemingly severe, this prudent legislation of the Church offers the greatest possible protection to the husband and wife.
Follow the laws of Christ and His Church on marriage, and happiness will be yours in this world and in the next.