The CORPSE BRIDE promotion really has nothing to do with this article, although the film did remind viewers about sacrifice and “until death do we part,” albeit in a morbid way.
The post is an OPINION piece for me, and maybe I am wrong, but here are my two cents worth.
I recently read an article where a renown and orthodox philosophy professor argued that Catholic priests should not perform marriages as civil officials of the state. Right now in the United States, a wedding witnessed by a priest is both recognized by the Church and by the civil authorities. The couple must have a license and the priest signs it after the service, giving the couple their segment, keeping a copy for Church records, and sending the third page back to the courthouse for formal registration. The professor argues that given the disparity in how the State and the Church defines marriage, the priest taints himself and undermines the sacrament.
- Obviously, the divorce culture has compromised the notion of marriage, and the absurdity of homosexual marriages has definitely complicated matters; however, should the Church isolate herself as an ideological, cultural and civic ghetto or safehaven?
- Would this not surrender the public institution of marriage to secular humanists and hedonists?
- Would we forfeit our right to enter into the national debate on marriage?
The priviledge of a priest witnessing legal marriages is not just a sign of overcoming past prejudices, but remains a steadfast witness that legal marriages reflect the natural law and that couples are called to holiness and fidelity. The priest and the Church offer preparation classes on marriage, the state does not. There is also a safeguard in the two-tiered program in that State and Church records help to confirm the freedom of people to marry.
The good doctor says that Catholic priests should witness sacramental marriages only. He adds that if the newlyweds want to get a civil law marriage certificate as well, that is left to them.
- Does a priest really compromise his office by witnessing marriages that are recognized both by the State and the Church?
- Given that such a statement were true, would this not mean that “every” priest and bishop would be compromised and guilty of serious sin?
- If we permitted sacramental weddings that were not licensed by the state, would we not endanger the permanence of marriage further?
- Would our married people be stamped with the stigma of cohabitation and lewd conduct in the eyes of non-Catholic believers and secular persons with high morals?
- Since the state would not recognize such marriages, and common law marriages are no longer recognized in most places, could not such couples easily separate (even more so than with No-Fault Divorce) with little if any civil recourse?
Some countries require two ceremonies, a civil one before a judge or notary public and a ceremony before a priest and two witnesses. This is a possible eventuality, although it increases the likelihood that some couples would dispense with the Church service entirely. If the couple attempted to consummate the civil contract before engaging in the marital covenant, then they would commit mortal sin. Every such marriage would become a validation. Giving the Catholic minister the faculties to perform both a civil and an ecclesial wedding is a small insurance that this eventuality need not happen. I do not even want to imagine what the implications would be for inheritance, health insurance, pension and other benefits. Critics would contend that the problem is not the priest and his role for the Church and State; the trouble is that Catholic couples, who are the true ministers of the sacrament, are not keeping their promises. There is also an “intentional” difficulty with Catholics going to a hall or court after the Church wedding. First, it might undermine the full reality of the sacrament, as if there is something constitutive that is missing. Second, given whatever ritual that may be used, it may constitute “simulation” which is forbidden regarding the sacraments. (Marriage renewals must always adjust the vows to recognize that there is a distinction with the original and true marriage.) Remember, that while the notion of permanence has been compromised by divorce, the vows used by civil officials are often the same used at Church weddings, and stipulating “until death do we part”. Schizophrenic or not, such is the situation. For the Catholic there is no such thing as a parallel marriage, once the deed is done, it is done. Two ceremonies tends to harm this appreciation.
If one argues that state marriage is an entirely different species from Church weddings, then what about the marriages of Protestants and other non-Catholics by civil magistrates? Not bound by Catholic law, we always considered those marriages valid. However, by extension, the professor’s argument would seem to infer that such marriages, even between men and women, would have no more reality and substance than that of gays and outright fornicators. Of course, I am probably wrong here, and he would likely contend that “properly disposed” people would still be able to confect a suitable bond, even if only a natural one.
As a postscript, I have a priest friend (on the faculty of a seminary) who vehemently disagrees with me. He thinks that the Church should get out of the marriage business completely and hand the whole mess over to the state. Obviously, I would very much object.
Here is a recommended book that continues the discussion about the tension and disconnect between Catholicism and contemporary American society, particularly the Democrat Party:
Agree or not with it, the book makes interesting reading and will surely inspire lively discussions!