No faith no sacramental marriage

Questions about the validity of sacramental marriage in the absence of faith have been raised in a new International Theological Commission document.

These questions have been raised repeatedly since the 1970s and Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have all tried to answer them.

“The existence today of ‘baptised nonbelievers’ raises a new theological problem and a grave pastoral dilemma, especially when the lack of, or rather the rejection of, the faith seems clear,” says the Commission’s document on “The Reciprocity Between Faith and Sacraments in the Sacramental Economy”.

Although the document doesn’t claim to resolve concerns about the validity of Catholic marriage, its authors are clear on Catholic education.

More care must be taken to educate Catholics in the meaning of faith, the significance of the sacraments and the meaning of marriage, they say.

The authors note the word “reciprocity” – as in the document’s title – refers to Catholic teaching that a person must have a degree of faith to validly receive the sacraments. Reciprocity is also about how the sacraments strengthen and enrich faith.

Another topic the document discusses is the relationship between faith and the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

In these sacraments, complete or perfect faith is never requested for sacramental validity, the authors say. Faith is something that is meant to grow.

The sacraments are always celebrated in the faith of the church “since they have been entrusted to the church. In each and every sacrament, the faith of the church precedes the faith of the singular faithful,” the document says.

Because the faith of the church itself is at work in the sacraments, “the personal faith of the contracting parties does not constitute the sacramentality of matrimony,” while at the same time, “the absence of personal faith compromises the validity of the sacrament.”

Quoting Francis and his predecessors, the document says the practical impact of the faith-sacrament relationship is the strength, love and commitment that sacramental grace gives a couple to live their vows.

Nonetheless, when updating rules for marriage tribunals in 2015, Francis formally acknowledged “the defect of faith” can be a motive for nullity.

Although there are few situations where validity can be questioned, “baptised nonbelievers,” are among those, the document concludes.

“This category includes two types of people. Those who received baptism in infancy, but subsequently, for whatever reason, have not come to perform a personal act of faith involving their understanding and their will”.

There are also “those … who consciously deny the faith explicitly and do not consider themselves to be Catholic or Christian believers.”


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