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Why So Many Annulments?
Q. Why are there so many more marriage annulments today than in times past? Are marriage tribunals less strict in their definition of a valid marriage? Are more couples entering into invalid marriages because fewer understand what marriage is all about? Or maybe something else?
J.G., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
There are four questions here, and each one deserves a full-length book. But I’ll try to be brief.
Definitely, there are more marriage annulments than in the past, especially in the United States, because civil divorce is more common. Given that Catholics want to validly remarry and continue to receive the sacraments, they seek a declaration of nullity for their first marriage. So there are more annulments because there are more civil divorces.
The real question is this: Why are there so many civil divorces? Because it’s legal? Because of “no-fault” divorce laws? Because of widespread use of contraception?
Because of inadequate preparation for marriage? Because most Catholics don’t go to Confession? Because of psychological immaturity?
I would answer “all of the above,” but I would especially point to contraception. Did you know that more than 50 percent of couples who use contraception get divorced, while less than 4 percent of those who do not use contraception fall apart?
In general, well-trained professionals who take their work seriously staff American marriage tribunals, and their definition of a valid marriage is what is stated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. However, Canon 1095.2 of the Code provides a ground for nullity (“grave defect of discretion of judgment”) that is frequently invoked in declaring a marriage null.
The virtue of Canon 1095.2 is also its vice: It is wide open to interpretation. Some interpret it loosely, others more strictly. One could make the case that it is too easily and too frequently invoked.
In fact, for several years, the late Pope John Paul II lectured the judges of the Roman Rota (the supreme court of the Church) on an annual basis that “difficulties in married life” are not the same as “impediments to a valid marriage.” This has led some to conclude that perhaps more annulments than necessary have been granted.
But there are many other reasons why marriages can be nullified, and these are increasingly frequent: lack of canonical form, exclusion of an essential property such as unity or indissolubility, the incapacity to be faithful, grave psychological disorders, the intention of not having children and so on. However, even if couples do not understand what Christian marriage is all about, “marriage enjoys the favor of the law,” which is to say that we always presume a marriage is valid unless proved otherwise.
Which Calendar Should We Follow?
Q. I attend the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the Traditional Latin Mass) every Sunday, now that the Holy Father’s motu proprio has made it possible for us to have the Mass weekly. Recently we had a question arise.
Like many Catholics who celebrate the Extraordinary Form regularly, we follow the traditional Church calendar. In the new calendar, certain holy days of obligation that were traditionally on weekdays (and that remain on weekdays throughout most of the Church worldwide) have been transferred to Sunday in all or part of the United States (such as Ascension Thursday). This is producing some confusion, especially with regard to the obligation of Mass attendance. Which calendar should we follow in this regard?
F.M., via email
A. Your question has arisen in other places as well where the 1962 Missal is used, so the Vatican recently clarified the matter.
After the bishops’ conference of England and Wales submitted a query to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the commission confirmed that in the Roman rite, whichever form of the liturgy is being celebrated, the holy days of obligation are to be held in common.
The commission clarified that this means that where the obligation has been removed and the holy day transferred to a Sunday, this practice is to be followed in both ordinary and extraordinary celebrations of Mass. (Note: This doesn’t apply to other special days that have not been transferred, yet are celebrated on different days in the two calendars.)
For more information about the calendar for celebrations using the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, click here.
As a side note: I coordinate the schola that provides the chants and other music for the Extraordinary Form Mass that’s celebrated weekly on Sundays at 1 p.m. in our magnificent Neo-Gothic Cathedral here in Savannah, Georgia. If you’re ever in town, come join us for worship!
To Judge or Not to Judge?
Q. It seems as if any time I note that certain behaviors are clearly against God’s will and involve grave sin, I’m told that “we must not judge,” because the Bible says so. Is this true, and if so, is this what it really means — that we must refrain from any moral evaluation of a particular behavior or way of life?
Y.G., via email
A. It’s true that in the Gospel, Jesus says: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). St. Paul also rebuked certain Christians with the question: “Why then do you judge your brother?” (Romans 14:10). Nevertheless, in the Gospel we’re told that Jesus also commands us to “judge justly” (John 7:24).
Our Lord didn’t contradict Himself here. There are actually different kinds of judgment, some of which we’re to avoid, and some of which we’re to practice. The New Testament Greek word (krino) most often translated by the English verb “judge” can have several meanings:
• to distinguish between things; also, to select or prefer among the things distinguished.
• to think over a matter in order to discern the truth.
• to express an opinion or draw a conclusion.
• to criticize, to find fault with.
• to reach a decision, to decide, to intend.
• to condemn a criminal; to dictate the punishment of a wrongdoer.
So in which sense are we to judge, and in which are we to refrain from judging? When we consider the contexts of the verses just cited, we find clues.
Jesus went on to say: “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:2-3).
Our Lord is not saying here that we are never to make any kind of negative moral evaluation of behavior. If that were the case, He would have sinned against His own command, since He often rendered a negative judgment on actions and attitudes. In fact, if that were the case, the listeners He was rebuking could rightly have fired back at Him, “Hey, man — don’t judge us!”
Rather, Jesus is saying here that we must not criticize or find fault with others using stricter standards for them than for ourselves. The kind of person He’s addressing here is not simply someone who criticizes; He’s rebuking the “hypocrite” (verse 5.) I think He’s also implying here that people who make a habit of criticizing — those for whom criticism is a “default mode” — are the ones most likely to be focused on the petty faults of others while neglecting weightier problems of their own.
The context of St. Paul’s remark is also instructive. After asking, “Why then do you judge your brother?” he asks, “Why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10). St. Paul isn’t saying we can never come to a conclusion about whether a behavior is wrong and should be avoided. Instead, he’s saying that we must avoid the kind of pride that causes us to “look down on” others because of their behavior, thinking of ourselves too highly because we aren’t like them.
In fact, the passage leading up to the Apostle’s remarks shows that he was dealing with a particular group of people: those who “despised” their Christian brothers and sisters because of “disputes over opinions” about whether certain Jewish laws were still to be observed — a matter that was still open to debate among faithful Christians of the time (Romans 14:1, 3). We can’t view this apostolic instruction, then, as some kind of blanket ban on rendering moral evaluations of behavior.
When St. Paul goes on to remind us that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he’s warning us that even if we judge a behavior, we must not condemn the person committing it (verses10–12). In other words, we must not presume to dictate how the person is to be punished by God, or what kind of final standing the person will have with God.
This insight is confirmed by St. Luke’s report of Jesus’ warning about “judging”: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned” (6:37).
Why is this kind of judgment forbidden to us? The answer is simple: We are competent to judge (evaluate, conclude, decide) only those things that are manifest to us — for example, certain kinds of behavior that clearly contradict the Church’s moral standards, given by God.
On the other hand, we are not competent to judge (discern and evaluate) things that are hidden from us: the interior secrets of a person’s heart and mind, such as unspoken motivations; the weight of a person’s past experience in shaping present behavior; the final outcome of a person’s destiny in eternity. Only God knows these things.
As an example, let’s take a situation in which the “we mustn’t judge” platitude is often misapplied by Catholics: in the evaluation of homosexual behavior.
Sacred Scripture and Tradition, as consistently interpreted by the Sacred Magisterium of the Church, judge homosexual behavior as gravely immoral. Catholics are justified, then, in affirming this judgment when necessary. Neither Jesus nor St. Paul nor any other biblical passage can be reasonably cited to the contrary.
Nevertheless, with regard to individuals engaged in homosexual behaviors, some things are hidden to us that prevent us from passing certain kinds of judgment. We can’t know all the factors in an individual’s past that have contributed to the homosexual inclination or that might make it more difficult to resist temptation: childhood abuse or trauma; incorrect formation of conscience through misinformation; perhaps even biological factors (though research about the possible influence of biology is still inconclusive).
We also can’t know the secrets of the individual’s heart, such as the extent to which the orientation has been consciously chosen, or how great an effort of will is being exercised to resist temptation.
Finally, we can’t presume to judge the individual’s eternal destiny. Because we don’t know the other hidden aspects of the situation, we can’t know the degree of culpability. And we certainly can’t predict what changes might take place in a person’s life before he or she dies and appears before the Lord in judgment.
With regard to such “hidden” matters, St. Paul puts it this way: “I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then everyone will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5 RSV).
Q. Why does the Catholic Church usually recognize the validity of baptism or matrimony entered into by someone outside the Church, but not the other sacraments?
R.S., New York, N.Y.
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Baptism and matrimony are the two sacraments that can be administered by a person not in Holy Orders (that is, who is not ordained). In case of necessity (such as that of a newborn about to die), anyone can administer baptism — even a non-Christian, if he intends to do what the Church intends in baptism and uses the correct form (the proper words) and matter (water). In matrimony, the bride and groom are ministers of the sacrament. Of course there can be no sacrament if neither the bride nor the groom is baptized.
The Church cannot recognize baptism administered by Christian institutions that are not Trinitarian. For example, one of the Pentecostal denominations uses the baptismal formula “I baptize you in the name of Jesus” because they reject the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Their baptism is not accepted by the Church as valid because a person must be baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” affirming Trinitarian belief.
Not long ago, in response to an inquiry, the Vatican stated that baptism administered by the Mormon traditions is not valid Christian baptism.
Ordinarily, baptism administered by any of the so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations is valid Trinitarian baptism. Once, however, in my days as an Episcopal clergyman, I encountered a Methodist church whose pastor was very sentimental. When he baptized infants, he used rose petals rather than water, noting: “It seems like such a sweet thing to do.”
It may have been sweet, but it was not baptism.
Puzzled About the Holy Spirit
Q. I have some confusion regarding the Holy Spirit. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 243) it says that the Holy Spirit has been “at work since Creation.” The Creed says that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” And in today's Gospel reading from John in Mass, Jesus tells His apostles” “I will ask the Father, and He will send you another Advocate” (see John 14:16).
How do all those statements fit together? It isn’t that I don’t accept all of them, but I don’t know how to explain them to myself, let alone to anyone else.
C.B., Port Orchard, Wash.
A. Entire books have been written about the Holy Spirit, and His role within the Blessed Trinity, but we’ll focus on the statements you’ve quoted. If I understand your question correctly, it’s unclear to you how the same Spirit who was sent by the Father and the Son after Jesus’ ascension into heaven could have already been at work in the world since its creation.
God is present in His world in different ways and at different “levels,” we might say. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit, who is God, was active in the creation of the world (see Genesis 1:2). He has remained present in the world as the One who renews His creation (Psalm 104:30) and who inspires human creativity (Exodus 31:3; 35:31) and other gifts (Judges 3:10; 6:34).
On certain occasions throughout history, God the Holy Spirit has been present in what we might call a more “focused” way, when He has prompted people to speak on His behalf (for example, 2 Samuel 23:2), most especially the prophets (see Isaiah 61:1-3). On these occasions, Scripture speaks of His “coming upon” someone or “filling” someone.
God the Holy Spirit was present in a unique way at the incarnation of God the Son. In a mystery we don’t fully understand, the Spirit came upon Mary so that she conceived Jesus “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” and in time gave birth to a Son who was both God and Man. The same Spirit spoke through St. Elizabeth (Luke 1:41–45) and her husband, St. Zechariah (vv. 67–79) and prompted St. Simeon to come to the temple to meet the Holy Family (2:27).
Years later, the Spirit “descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21) at His baptism, so that Jesus was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (4:1). This doesn’t mean that before His baptism, Jesus did not have the Holy Spirit present with Him. It simply refers to a different kind of presence — one more intense, focused, “concentrated,” so to speak, and more clearly discernible to others.
In the same way, when Jesus promised to ask God the Father to send the Spirit to His followers, He wasn’t saying that their lives up until that time were void of the Spirit. Instead, he was saying that the Spirit would be present to them and in them, would inspire them and work through them — we might say, would possess them — in a new way. They would be clothed with the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, baptized (that is, immersed) in the Spirit (Luke 3:16, 24:49; John 14:16–17; Acts 1:5, 2:4). The initial fulfillment of this promise, of course, took place on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts chapter 2).
Here’s an admittedly imperfect analogy: Human persons, who are made in the image of the three divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), can similarly be “present” to others in various ways.
For example, I can be “present” to my wife at different levels. I can be present physically, so that she’s able to touch me. I can be present in a different way through a phone call, so that even though I’m physically distant, she can hear my voice. I can be present through a letter or email, so that she knows my thoughts. And even if I haven’t contacted her in these ways, I can be present in her memory, so that she recalls my appearance, voice, past actions and thoughts.
Best of all: If death should separate us, I hope to die in friendship with God so that I can be present to my wife in a whole new and marvelous way, through the communion of saints.
Finally, we should note (as in your quote from the Creed) that from before all time, the Holy Spirit has eternally “proceeded” from the Father and the Son. This is a technical theological term to describe the relation of the divine Persons within the very nature God Himself. Again, entire books have been written about this mystery, but one way to summarize it is to say that the eternal love between the Father and the Son is so real, so substantial, that this love is itself a third divine Person who “comes forth” from them — the Holy Spirit.
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