From a reader:
Starsky and Phyllis [LOL] were married while vacationing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean last summer, and now want to have their married “blessed.” Starsky does not believe this is necessary because even though he was baptized Catholic, he was raised to believe the Church is just a bunch of rules trying to control people’s lives. But, he says, he will do whatever Phyllis wants if it will make her happy. He says he will even go to church with his wife on Christmas and at Easter. Phyllis, who claims to be a “good” Catholic, says she wants to raise their children in the Catholic Faith, “the right way.” Phyllis is due to deliver their first child in two months and wants to be married “in the Church” before the child is born. To reject their request, according to Phyllis, will both push Starsky away from the Church and ruin her life.
Whatever happened aboard the cruise ship, Starsky and Phyllis, if they were both baptized Catholics at the time, and did not receive a legitimate dispensation, were not married.
Baptized Catholics are bound to observe the Catholic form of marriage.
What we have here is a situation where an unmarried couple comes to the Church, not to get their marriage “blessed,” but rather, to get married.
Let’s track this.
The groom is reluctant. He thinks, perhaps, he is already married. He has no need to get married again. He may be reluctant to observe his Catholic faith in any regular manner. Phyllis, on the other hand, seems to be using emotional blackmail to get what she wants. It’s a common argument in many spheres: the Church MUST marry her, or it will push Starsky away from the Church even more! The Church will ruin her life.
A cruel, if honest, pastor might tell Phyllis that it was her choice to enter into a civil union despite her Catholic faith, that she chose Starsky as a mate (not a paragon of Christian manliness or the ideal husband), it was her choice to consummate that civil union despite her Catholic faith.
Who brought ruin down upon her life again?
On the other hand she may encounter a less cruel, but nevertheless honest pastor.
This priest will remember that sacraments are for people. Not only the most virtuous have the right to the assistance of the Church. Some people are led back into a regular practice of the faith because of the ministration of a kindly, but firm, priest. This priest will recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his 2011 Allocution to the Rota:
“The right to marry, ius connubii, must be seen in this perspective. In other words it is not a subjective claim that pastors must fulfill through a merely formal recognition independent of the effective content of the union. The right to contract marriage presupposes that the person can and intends to celebrate it truly, that is, in the truth of its essence as the Church teaches it. No one can claim the right to a nuptial ceremony. Indeed the ius connubii refers to the right to celebrate an authentic marriage.”
Here’s a fact: the couple came. They desire to be married (or at least one of the parties desires to get married). They demonstrate they are prepared for marriage. The fact that a child is on the way should not hasten the necessary inquiry and preparation for marriage. That fact should make the preparation more urgent.
Someone might be concerned about the “legitimacy” of the child. This is primarily a civil, not a canonical matter. Children born outside of marriage are legitimated by the subsequent marriage of the parents (can. 1139). Holy Church is more interested that the couple has a solid foundation for a true, lasting marriage than that a wedding take place quickly.
In most places, the Church requires a six-month or longer preparation time before celebrating the wedding. During this time, hopefully, there is solid catechesis about marriage, natural family planning, even professional counseling if significant issues come up. Despite what the wedding industry says the arrangement of the externals (e.g., the dresses, tuxes, reception hall, menu, and the damn photos…) are NOT IMPORTANT.
Couples should prepare for their marriage, not for their wedding.
If our aforementioned kindly, but honest pastor thinks Starsky and Phyllis are not prepared for a true marriage, he can delay their wedding.
If he deems they are not headed towards a true marriage, he has the right to say: “I’m sorry, but I can’t sanction this wedding.”
The couple would have the right to appeal to the bishop for a “second opinion” but – get this- the Church’s interest is not in having as many weddings as possible.
The Church’s interest is to celebrate as many true, valid and binding marriages as possible.