The Wrong Stuff
My previous post, The Right Stuff, referred to courage and loyalty, as contrasted with the evil of damage to family relationships by those who hurt relatives that they should love. This is on a related but more specific subject of how the Catholic Church treats Christian people who have endured the heartbreak of divorce. I call it The Wrong Stuff.
My understanding of church doctrine and policy is that a divorced Catholic may continue to go to communion unless and until that person remarries. The result is that a Christian who desires to partake in the Eucharist is excluded for the reason of entering into a committed relationship, i.e., another marriage.
The Church rationale, as it has been explained to me, is that the Church does not recognize civil divorce, which means the divorced person is still married (in the eyes of the Church) to the otherwise former spouse per civil divorce law. Such a divorced Catholic may partake in communion. However, remarrying another means that same Catholic is not “really” married to the new spouse because he or she is “still married” to the original one and thus living in sin with the present spouse. All that is not based on reality or legality. It is just a technicality, not even a rational theological reason, in my opinion.
One reason I call it a technicality rather than a deeply held religious belief is that the solution is so hokey. The Catholic trick is to get an annulment — not a legal annulment, but a special church annulment.
A legal annulment requires certain findings such as lack of capacity to marry (a minor or mental incompetent) or fraud or failure to consummate the marriage. Otherwise, a civil divorce is more appropriate rather than a legal finding of there being no marriage.
A church annulment may go much farther. Those processing the annulment often find that a marriage which was certainly consummated between two people legally able to marry, who may have lived as husband and wife for many years, and which marriage might include the birth of children, magically becomes void. By void I mean a finding that the couple was never truly married. That finding is based on hindsight.
How does one get a church annulment? By going through a process that begins with paying a fee of a couple thousand dollars. Pardon my disrespectful language, but it is intellectual “baloney” because usually the process declares invalid something that was valid in every sense. The marriage ended but that is quite different from a declaration that it never existed, that it was void ab initio. Think how the children of an annulled marriage feel. Did they not really “happen?” The Church says that these annulments do not “bastardize” the offspring. Why not? Be consistent. If the finding is that their parents were never married, by definition, the children were born outside of marriage. Truly, I cannot follow the logic. Maybe that is because the combinations of explanations are not logical.
I understand why the Church is opposed to divorce and wants to hold that marriage should be a lifetime commitment. I believe that too. However, we are all aware that a person can honestly desire to stay married but the spouse does not. That is like one hand trying to clap. We are also aware of abusive relationships and marriages in which one spouse is adulterous. A faithful Catholic can be a victim of such a situation.
Rather than support that victim, the Church does the opposite by barring her or him from communion if that Catholic finds another to love and marry; that is, unless the money is paid and the hokey process followed.
Consequently, the Church is excluding sincere Christian people whom it proclaims to love. The Church proclaims Christ’s love and the forgiveness purchased by His death on our behalf and His resurrection as victory over sin.
There is another inconsistency that defies my understanding. That is, at the Last Supper, Jesus’ words of institution, which are quoted at each Mass, included “Do this in remembrance of me.” How can the Church exclude sincere Catholics from doing what Christ invited and commanded us to do? Communion is central to the Mass, yet certain attendees, i.e., divorced Catholics who remarry without first getting the prior marriage annulled, are excluded. (Of course, Mafia members in crime families can commune as long as they go to confession and are not divorced, even if they do not stop their criminal enterprises.) The reason Catholics who remarry without an annulment are not forgiven like other sinners who can commune is because by staying married to the new spouse, one is “unrepentant.” Those “civilly married” Catholics are advised to stop living as husband and wife and instead live as brother and sister (without sex) until complying with the church annulment process.
Christ did not say eating the bread and drinking the wine as His body and blood is to be forbidden to sinners. That would be contrary to why He died for our sins. (Wasn’t Judas a participant in the Last Supper?) Why exclude divorced people who remarry or any sinners for that matter? We sinners were told to do this as a sign of faithfulness, as acceptance of his sacrifice.
The Catholic Church’s condition of excluding those who fail to go through its peculiar annulment process seems to be unfair in comparison to other sinners who are welcome to commune. Is it because divorce and marriage are public but secret sexual affairs and criminal enterprises are, well, secret? Some of the priests who celebrate Mass are themselves guilty of sexual sins, yet bar divorced Catholics who remarry without an annulment.
On the one hand, Jesus was strict about what constitutes sin, such as saying even lust is the equivalent of adultery. His point was that all have sinned. Isn’t that why He died for our sins? Isn’t that how we were redeemed into a right relationship with God, as something we did not deserve on our own?
Why exclude Christian people who long to follow the invitation of Christ to commune in remembrance of Him and who accept the meaning of the sacrament? I have raised this question on Catholic websites and in personal conversation and correspondence with priests. I have been provided no persuasive or satisfactory or even rational explanation. See inconsistent examples above.
A friend of mine made another point that I will share here. He said that it is Christ who is the Host for the Eucharist, not the Church. Christ offered His body and blood and He also gave and gives the invitation to come to His table in remembrance of His sacrifice. The Church’s rules about banning Christians seeking to respond to the invitation are perilously contrary to Christ’s invitation.
I do not believe I am a heretic. I am a searcher who loves the Lord. I trust in Him and His forgiveness for my salvation. I do not understand the exclusion of divorced Christians from communion for the reason of having remarried without the artificial annulment process declaring a prior marriage invalid (rather than simply over).
I invite comment on this post if you can present sound theological reasons. If you find any reference to annulment in the Bible, please point it out to me.