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DEAR FATHER | The sacrament of marriage finds its source in the eucharistic mystery

Why does the Church force people to get annulments and not simply bless the new marriage? And what does this have to do with not receiving the Eucharist?

The American Psychological Association estimates that 40-50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce. There is often great heartache for all involved in this process: The initial dreams of a beautiful, lifelong relationship seem to evaporate like breath on a cold day. Given the heartache, many are naturally hesitant to revisit this painful story and simply want to move on with life and sometimes to a new romantic relationship. This is a deeply human response and must be approached with reverence.

An annulment is different than civil divorce. Divorce is the legal dissolution of the civilly recognized contract of marriage, such that the state no longer sees the man and woman as bound to one another. However, in the eyes of God and the Church, the vows create a lifelong bond that cannot be sundered by a civil authority. Those civilly divorced, yet who have not obtained an annulment, are still bound by their vow of fidelity to the original spouse (fidelity, in this case, does not require sharing life with the original spouse, but it does require not seeing someone else romantically).

For a marriage bond to take effect, both spouses must freely with sufficient understanding enter into the covenant of marriage. Catholics must also obey the law of the Catholic Church regarding marriage. It sometimes happens that in marriages with much hardship, some lack of understanding or lack of freedom was present prior to marriage, so the bond did not actually occur. In some cases, such as a Catholic who did not marry in accord with Church law, the Church can establish the facts with a simple investigation. In other cases, the Church must proceed more carefully.

What does this have to do with abstaining from receiving the Eucharist? The bond of marriage, like every sacrament, finds its source in the eucharistic mystery: It is sealed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each marriage is intended to reflect the love of Christ and the Church (see Ephesians 5:21-33), so when a person chooses to pursue a romantic relationship without first having the prior bond investigated and declared null, they are living in a way contrary to the eucharistic mystery that is the seal of marriage.

There are many false understandings of annulments, such as “an annulment means there was nothing good in my first marriage.” Or “my children will be illegitimated.” These fears are natural, but they are not grounded in truth. If you or someone you love could benefit from an annulment, do not hesitate! Reach out to your local parish to get the process started. It is so often in doing the hard thing that we find greatest freedom and happiness.

Father Charlie Archer is associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.

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