ASK FATHER: Mistake about minister of Sacrament of Matrimony and validity

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

When making vows at a Catholic Wedding in a Catholic Church if a Groom genuinly beleives that the officiating priest at a wedding is the minister of the Sacrement of Matromony, and not the bride and groom (as the Chuch teaches), is it possible that the groom would \ may lack the intention to do what the Catholic Church dose rendering the marriage null and void in all but Civil Law ?

One need not be fully aware of the profundity of one’s own actions for those actions to have effect.

If Bob consents to marry Betty, but Bob does not fully understand the Church’s theology of marriage, all things being equal, he does, in fact, marry Betty.

The Church’s understanding is that the average 14 year old female, and the average 16 year old male has the mental wherewithal to consent validly to marriage.  I will add that perhaps the Church is a bit optimistic in this matter, given my conversations with young people.

Bishops Conferences have the right to set a higher minimum age, taking into consideration the cultural situation of the country.  However, the US Bishops have not done so… yet.

Failure to understand, precisely, the sacramental efficacy of one’s consent does not render that consent invalid.  Failure to grasp that the priest is not the minister does not render consent invalid.

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27 Responses to ASK FATHER: Mistake about minister of Sacrament of Matrimony and validity

  1. Jerome Vincent says:

    “I will add that perhaps the Church is a bit optimistic in this matter, given my conversations with young people.” — Fr. Z

    Had to smirk and nod at this one, as a high school teacher myself. Well said.

  2. Phil_NL says:

    “given my conversations with young people”

    I reckon we define young here is most parishes do when trying to get people for certain activitives, as in below 35?

    Joking aside, one doesn’t have to understand all its intricacies, but one can debate whether or not people understand the basics nowadays. Most outside the Church do not, for starters (especially the no divorce part), and often the situation inside isnt much better. But at least you can, from those inside the Church, require that they did some due dilligence.

  3. One of those TNCs says:

    “One need not be fully aware of the profundity of one’s own actions for those actions to have effect.”

    That’s a good thing. How many of us are fully aware of the profundity of, for example, the reception of Holy Communion? Or the fullness of the depth of the sacrament of Penance?

    Thanks be to God that He supplies what is needed!

  4. “if a Groom genuinly beleives that the officiating priest at a wedding is the minister of the Sacrement ….. dose rendering the marriage null and void”

    Thank goodness this is not the case. That would be a serious loophole. Too many people out there looking for loopholes.

  5. Charles E Flynn says:

    Perhaps the Church was thinking of Saint Thomas Moore’s daughters.

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    Perhaps the Church was thinking of Saint Thomas More’s daughters.

  7. The question is..which Catholic Church? If the groom is an Eastern Catholic, he would be correct that the priest is the minister of the sacrament instead of the bride and groom (since a priest needs to bless the marriage for it to be valid in the eastern tradition). If the groom is a Latin Catholic, Father is right in that “sacramental efficacy of one’s consent does not render that consent invalid” (I forget how it works if the groom is a Latin Catholic and the bride is an Eastern Catholic).

  8. frjim4321 says:

    Failure to understand, precisely, the sacramental efficacy of one’s consent does not render that consent invalid. Failure to grasp that the priest is not the minister does not render consent invalid.

    I would tend to agree.

    So long as the parties exchange valid consent the marriage is valid. Even if they believe the presider is a Martian.

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    “So long as the parties exchange valid consent the marriage is valid. Even if they believe the presider is a Martian.”

    Might I suggest that if the couple believes the presider to be a Martian that the marriage is, probably, invalid by reason of insanity (unless, the presider just happens to be a Martian, which would, you know, render the nuptial Mass invalid – unless the Martian were a shape-shifter and morphed into a human form and went through the ordination process. Actually, here’s a good question for Fr. Z – would that ordination be valid, seeing as how the Martian is misrepresenting his true origins? In fact, is a Martian valid matter for ordination, even if he changed back into his green-skinned form and informed the bishop before the ceremony?)

    One a separate note, recent neuro-developmental research shows that the brains of teenagers are massively screwed up (as if no one suspected). Whole subsystems are out of whack. That is one reason why judgment is impaired among younger drivers (and insurance rates are higher). The brain doesn’t really jell until about 23 years of age. Personally, except in very rare circumstances, I would not be in favor of a couple getting married until then. Also, the most probable age they fall away from the Faith is about 20 years old, so the likelihood of younger couples understanding, let alone appreciating the Faith is smaller than a couple marrying in their later 20’s.

    The Chicken

  10. Deacon Augustine says:

    But my dear Masked Chicken, if that Martian be the same Martian as the one which the Pope has allegedly recently said he would baptize, then as long as he were a male Martian, then surely he would be valid matter for ordination and could thus validly witness a marriage?

    So as Fr Jim has indicated, as long as valid consent is exchanged, the parties would need have no concern that they had validly entered the Holy Sacrament of Martianimony.

  11. Michael in NoVA says:

    “The brain doesn’t really jell until about 23 years of age. Personally, except in very rare circumstances, I would not be in favor of a couple getting married until then. Also, the most probable age they fall away from the Faith is about 20 years old, so the likelihood of younger couples understanding, let alone appreciating the Faith is smaller than a couple marrying in their later 20’s.

    The Chicken”
    —————————

    Chicken,

    I usually agree with you, but not in this case. The lack of a fully developed brain is exactly why marriage in the early 20s is to be encouraged. Once the brain develops, it is not as open to new experiences. As you go through your 20s, you become set in your ways. One becomes more resistant to opening the mind, body, and self to a new way of life. Marry in one’s late 20s and beyond, and it is work to discover a new life focused on other(s) and not oneself.

    Contrast with a couple who marries in the early 20s (or even late teens!). The final development of the brains occur as a couple. The man’s (and woman’s) final mental development occurs living life as a new creation, not as separate individuals. The identity that the brain associates with is “us,” not “me.” Yes, the couple doesn’t understand the faith fully. I’m in my mid-30s and am constantly in awe about what I don’t comprehend or know, even as I strive to keep learning.

    I am not criticizing single Catholics in their late 20s, 30s, or beyond. There are many loving, generous single Catholics of all ages who are prayerfully awaiting their future spouses and who will have very wonderful, fruitful marriages, just as there are plenty of people who marry young who have no idea of the commitment that they are vowing to keep and end up divorced.

    However, advice to wait until the late 20s has contributed to the cohabitation scourge that is affecting all young people and their marriages. We need to properly catechize our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, pupils, etc. about the real meaning of the vocation of marriage. And then when these young people have found the the spouse whom they have discerned that God has called them to marry, we need to encourage them to marry(!), not wait for some years in the future when certain milestones have been achieved (e.g. college graduation, grad school, permanent job, etc.).

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    “However, advice to wait until the late 20s has contributed to the cohabitation scourge that is affecting all young people and their marriages.”

    It is people in their early 20’s that first form the idea of cohabitation, even though they don’t follow through with it until later, when they have a job – look at the high school and college scene. The evidence is clear: the earlier the marriage, at least in modern, post-Pill times, the likelier it is to be based on impulse. This is not true in all cases – the more chaste the couple on the eve of their marriage, the likelier it is to last, but modern kids tend to be reckless in that regards.

    The Chicken

  13. If people really knew what marriage was about, NOBODY would get married. At least that’s what my mother always said. har har.

  14. “One a separate note, recent neuro-developmental research shows that the brains of teenagers are massively screwed up”

    Maybe this is a reason to get married even earlier, I mean while sense still reigns. In my experience, men don’t ‘come to’ until their mid-40s roughly. That is a long time to wait. Similarly maybe we should recommend that teaching kids to drive long before the hormones hit, the attitude is ‘copped, and the brain goes AWOL would create better drivers. Y’know, while they are still listening.

    All in good fun. hee hee.

  15. jacobi says:

    Father,

    You do right to emphasise that a full understanding of the Church’s theology of marriage is not required for a valid marriage. If it were, there would be very few valid marriages. Nevertheless this will be used to allow the divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion, by means of making annulment just routine, at diocesan or even parish level. This has to be carefully guarded against.

    All that is needed for validity is consent, freedom from fear or coercion, and an understanding that it is a commitment for life. End of story.

    Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried is specifically, expressly forbidden in 165, CCC. It should not even be discussed.

    Such people are already welcomed into the Church. Section 1651, CCC, specifically and expressly states they are to attend Mass, persevere in prayer, contribute to charity and community efforts, (presumably in the parish), bring up their children as Catholics (presumably using the parish system), implore God’s Grace. Well, what could be more specific an inclusive? It’ all there!

    An interesting side effect of all this is that from now on there will be renewed emphasis on the priest ensuring that proper conditions for a valid Marriage are there. So in future, annulment will be an exceedingly rare occurrence.

    This will mean the rate of Catholic Marriage will decrease even more than at present, that there will be fewer Catholic children, and the Church will shrink even faster than at present!

    The Law of Unintended Consequences or something?

  16. Ed the Roman says:

    Tina,

    One of the things that being a foster parent taught me is that sometimes a ten year old is to be preferred for reliability to a 14 year old.

  17. Joe in Canada says:

    Catholic Tech Geek: in my experience, is one of the affianced is Eastern Church, and the marriage is to take place in the Latin Church, permission is granted by the Eastern authority on the condition that a priest (and not a deacon) preside.

  18. Elizium23 says:

    The matter of ordination is the laying on of hands. The subject of ordination is a baptized male. Thus all the concern about valid matter is actually concern for a valid subject.

  19. chantgirl says:

    I have often wondered about the large gap between sexual maturity and mental maturity. It seems to be a cruel joke that humans are able to bear children in their early teens, but are expected to wait until they have finished college, become established in a career, and bought a house until they get married- with a reproductive drive that is second only to the urge to breathe ;) The timeline seems a little out of whack, or our culture unnaturally prolongs adolescence.

    Chicken, have you seen the musings that the reason that the human brain becomes so impulsive and begins to prefer peer company is to propel the teenager from the home and seek out new experiences, new people, and a mate? Biologically, it looks like our brains become very impulsive in the years before they “set” around 25 in order to get us to brave the crazy world and form a new family. In earlier human history, it probably would have taken a good deal of courage to leave the stability of a home and form a new family. By age 25, people are less likely to take risks, and more likely to value stability over adrenaline. Marriage takes a lot of courage; it is one of the ultimate risks. If we encourage people to wait until their late 20s, I wonder if they would be less inclined to take the risk?

    In the interest of full disclosure, I got married when I was 19 and my husband was 21. We had our first child when I was 21. I was plenty stupid, and so was he, but we were somehow able to avoid killing each other and grow up together. We just celebrated our fifteenth anniversary, and, God willing, will celebrate many more. There’s something to be said for marrying before one is completely jaded about the opposite sex, when the world still holds some wonder and idealism is still present. One of my most fervent prayers is that God would preserve the purity of my children so that whichever vocation God calls them to, they would be able to say yes with an undivided heart.

  20. Gerard Plourde says:

    CCC §1650 concerning the state of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics has language that highlights the importance of the annulment process. “The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid IF the first marriage was.” (Capitals mine). Engaging in the annulment process would determine whether the first marriage was indeed valid, thus erasing all doubt and, for couples whose first marriage is found invalid, allow them full reentry into the Sacraments and blessings on their union. For couples whose first marriage is found to be valid thereby objectively confirming that their status violates Church Law, sympathetic support can be provided to help them live in accordance with Church Law by exercising total continence, thus allowing them to regain access to full life in the Church, including the Eucharist.

  21. JPK says:

    Great points. I am thankful that I do not have to fully understand every technicality of the Sacraments in order to receive them. I would be in deep trouble, otherwise.

    Concerning marriage, I always thought it would be a great idea for the parish priest to interview the couple a month or so before they are married in order that they do understand the obvious tenets of the Sacrament. That way, he can correct any glaring misunderstandings concerning marriage’s indissolubility, the prohibition against artificial birth control, the demands to remain faithful – even if it means that personal “happiness” must be sacrificed. So many couples leave their marriage because they claim they are unhappy in it. Finally, the priest should stress that the spouses should never pose an impediment between God and their fellow spouse.

  22. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear JPK,

    Re: “Concerning marriage, I always thought it would be a great idea for the parish priest to interview the couple a month or so before they are married in order that they do understand the obvious tenets of the Sacrament.”

    In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (and in other American Dioceses), couples are required to participate in an instructional program called Pre-Cana which clearly teaches the Church’s position on those points. Additionally, in Philadelphia and the other dioceses with which I am aquatinted couples are required to meet with and inform the pastor of their intent no less than six months before their planned wedding date.

  23. The Cobbler says:

    O Masked Chicken,

    Give me a call when they’ve isolated for cultural and social factors and intellectual and emotional habits. Some reasons:
    1) It’s barely actually science unless they do. (You know what I mean.)
    2) Anyone going through growing pains, physical or mental, surely has a harder time with it if the only general solution offered to them is to pretend the growth isn’t there until it is complete (assuming it ever is!).
    3) While things that affect the brain clearly influence the mind (emotions, chemicals, presumably neurology), there’s a difference between influence and the determination of the intellect or the will; too much drink, for instance, can deprive man of his sanity, and too much anger can deprive him of his free will, but both drink and anger can also influence a man without actually depriving him of his self-control — I would expect something similar to hold true for pretty much anything that influences the mind.
    4) There’s also been relatively recent research strongly suggesting that, while the chemistry going into the brain won’t be changed by it, neurology can be deliberately shaped by mental habits. (I am thinking specifically of something I read about research on treating OCD — I think the doctor working on it was Jeffrey Schwartz.)

    With that said, for the average youth in western society today, I’d agree with the basic assessment that most people aren’t ready to marry at, say, twenty. What concerns me is why — because why it is so has grave ramifications for what we have to do about it. I have this hypothesis… admittedly, I haven’t done (and don’t anticipate having the resources and time to do) the research in medical and social history to verify that the evidence I take for it is actual and not a false impression of anecdotes, but here it is for what it’s worth.

    In a saner time, young men were sent out into the world to learn how to work as if they were adults (albeit adults with little experience) more or less when they hit puberty; and the Church’s law holds, coincidentally or not, that they are most likely not ready for marriage until at least a few years later — not the several that seems common in society today. Now, I seem to recall that not long ago — a few generations, perhaps — men were expected to be adults at age eighteen or so. But then people noticed that until about twenty-one most men are partying drunkenly in college, or something, and they moved the expectation back a few years. You’d think with college partying out of the way it would have ended there, but some time later the same thing happened — only then men (most of them anyway) supposedly weren’t mature at twenty-one, and it had to be pushed back a few more years — some say twenty-three, some say twenty-five. Of course, nowadays some people who think themselves social experts have noticed that most men aren’t mature at that age yet, and are recommending that nobody get married till at least twenty-seven. If the pattern holds, it will be thirty before we know it, because most men of the next generation won’t behave as though they were mature at twenty-seven either.

    But if we looked, not at the age at which men are still not mature, but at the age when they finally acted like they are over the course of these generations (and back in those times when the Church fixed her law at a few years later than peasant boys would be expected to get peasant jobs), it would seem that — and indeed, the gradual shift backwards of a few years every generation or so, if I haven’t completely imagined it, is as far as I can tell impossible to explain in any other way — most men mature (at least morally speaking rather than neurologically) after a few years of being treated as though they should be, need to be, mature.

    Yet at the same time, while it’s also obvious that the majority of neural development takes place in younger years rather than later ones — or, to put it more statistically, on the whole neural development decreases over time — what are we to make of apparently corresponding discoveries that the brain wasn’t finished maturing when those men weren’t behaving as though mature? I’ve heard many people take this as proof that we needed to move the expectation of maturity back — because, see, brain science validated the impression that these men still aren’t mature. But this simplistic conclusion misses the implications of the few-years-back slide described above. There are only two possibilities: that even when men started being dealt with as adults at puberty and only managed to live up to it by around age sixteen, their brains were not done developing for several more years (till twenty-something, or maybe later for all I know at this point), in which case the neurological development is not necessary for the moral maturity; or else that the neurological maturity has been sliding back along with the moral maturity, in which case, for lack of any other reason it would change, the most plausible explanation I can see at this point would be that the moral maturity causes the neurological maturity rather than the other way around (which, as I may have alluded to initially, wouldn’t surprise me in the least, since I believe in free will and habits and the only research I’ve ever heard into how they relate to neurology leant rather strongly toward them shaping it rather than it shaping them).

    Of course, even if adulthood is more or less the prerequisite for maturity rather than the completion of it (to perhaps oversimplify my own hypothesis), we do need some way to know when a person’s an adult. We need, call me old-fashioned, a definition of adulthood. And I’m here to point out the inconvenient truth that if the modern world can’t come up with a better definition of adulthood than “when you’re done growing, including your brain,” they may as well abandon the concept of adulthood altogether — because in one way or another everyone alive is always growing, since the other name for cessation of growth is “death”. I didn’t refer to the days when boys were expected to act as men once they hit puberty and received full acceptance as men a few years after that as saner only because by doing so they fixed the otherwise-undending backwards slide of the age of maturation. Once upon a time, before the modern philosophers laid waste to the intellectual landscape of the masses, before Martin Luther tore faith from reason, it would have been possible for people to define adulthood in terms of man’s nature — not “Animal Planet” nature, but “what type of being is this” nature, in case any onlooker still reading this far isn’t familiar with the old usage of the term. Curiously, I’ve never actually heard how adulthood was defined by the leading thinkers of those times, but seeing as the ability man becomes capable of using in puberty is usually his last for him to become capable of using (point of interest for this discussion, the age of reason is, or so I’ve been told, traditionally presumed to be reached before age ten!), if I had to guess at a good definition myself I’d say it would correspond to coming into use of all the powers proper to his nature. In any case I can’t imagine they would have taken just any sort of growth, however helpful or important, as being necessary for adulthood, only growth toward whatever adulthood was defined as.

    As an afterword, I want to put it out there that I’ve offered this hypothesis less as a critique of your comments and more as something I think worth kicking around, so to speak, if the age of maturity is worth discussing at all. There are several parts of it that are based on critiques of modern views, and I don’t intend to imply that you hold any of the views critiqued; were I offering an argument against your comments, I’d leave anyone else’s views out of it. And, of course, as I alluded to before, I haven’t exactly gone and researched the impressions that led to the formulation of this hypothesis (aside from the fundamentally philosophical point that adulthood and growth both need to be examined in the context of man’s nature); so if there are factual problems with the information it attempts to explain… then I should hope I find the time to notice if anyone replies with any sources for corrections on the facts!

    And my apologies to our awesome host if this is too long-winded and/or off-topic, though I think I shall submit it in hope that it isn’t. ;^)

  24. jhayes says:

    Gerad Plourde wrote sympathetic support can be provided to help them live in accordance with Church Law by exercising total continence, thus allowing them to regain access to full life in the Church, including the Eucharist.

    Not much help to the wife whose spouse will leave her and the children if she will not have sex

    That’s probably why the Lineamenta asks the bishops to consider:

    The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).

    Which suggests that a divorced a civilly remarried spouse may be living in a state of venial or no sin depending on the circumstances – and thus not excluded from the Eucharist.

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Cobbler,

    You wrote:

    “Give me a call when they’ve isolated for cultural and social factors and intellectual and emotional habits.”

    Actually, we both have a point (how’s that for diplomacy :) ). There are two subcategories to consider. The media critic, Neil Postman, wrote a famous book in 1982, “The End of Childhood.” Its central thesis was that before the printed book, there was very little distinction between children and adults. Children were, essentially, “little adults.” From early on, they were trained in adult ways. Thus, marriage at 12, 14, or 16 was practically no different, in terms of cultural expectations, than marriage at 30. This was the days of one-size-fits-all humanity.

    Then came the printing press. Adults found that they could hide certain aspects of, “adult life,” in a secret language away from children, who would not learn to read until much later. This crystallized out a separate region of time for humans called childhood. This became a time of initiation, of neotony, to borrow a term from biology, where there was a longer and longer latency period before adulthood was recognized. Children stayed in childhood for increasingly longer periods as more and more of the adult mysteries were gradually revealed to them.

    In the modern era, with age restrictions to media breaking down, childhood is, once again, disappearing, but, this time, there is no monoculture of expected adult-like behavior controlling the children. Children are free-running.

    In case one (your case), society and culture dominate.
    In case two (my case), biology dominates.

    We are seeing the slow transition from case one to case two in modern society. Evidence for this is the increasingly early onset of menses in young girls. As biology comes to dominate childhood, neurobiology will come to dominate the moral processing of children. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be that way, but I doubt we can put the genie back in the bottle without a major cataclysm.

    I highly recommend Postman’s writings, some of which can be found for free, on-line. He is very much in line with your thinking and it helps clarify the two modes of childhood development that are at odds, today. Yes, there is room for both nature and nurture, but they have not always been in harmonious balance. A 16 year old can be very wise (St. Therese of Liseaux, for example), but they can also be very reckless. It all depends on the constraints imposed. As a general rule of thumb, the faster the need to react, the more training dominates. The problem with young marriages, today, is that there is little training.

    The Chicken

  26. The Cobbler says:

    Chicken, well said, and quite fascinating — I hadn’t considered the role of writing, though I have a vague sense of deja vu about it now that you mention it; I will have to look up Postman’s work, thanks!

  27. Fr. Thomas says:

    Perhaps the young man in question is a Byzantine Catholic, then he would be correct in assuming that the priest is the Minister of the Mystery of Matrimony.