“It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5, 31 & 32
“He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19, 8 & 9
It is pretty clear from scripture that Jesus said that under certain circumstances that divorce was ok. Why then won’t the Catholic Church allow me to divorce and still receive the Eucharist if Jesus allowed it? The answer may surprise you.
Can a divorced Catholic receive the Eucharist during Holy Communion? The answer is ‘yes’ as long as the divorce is biblical.
As Catholics we are encouraged to read our bibles and to gain inspiration from them. What we are not to do is to try to interpret scripture for ourselves. This is a prime example as to why. We moderns read scripture with a modern understanding and modern definitions of words. We see the stories through our modern cultural understanding. We are also reading a translation of scripture from its original language. Original intent and meaning is often lost in translation.
In Jesus day women were considered possessions. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t testify in court. They went from their father’s house to their husband’s rule. The word betrothed to us means “engaged”. In Jesus day betrothed meant that the man and woman were married but not yet living together. Once the woman moved into the man’s house she was his property and responsibility.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” Matthew 1, 18 & 19
In other words, Mary was married to Joseph, her husband, but had not yet moved in with him – betrothed. She was pregnant with a child that was not his – unchastity or immorality. According to the Law of Moses Joseph was going to issue her a certificate of divorce and send her away quietly so not to disgrace her. According to Jesus’ own words in the first passage Joseph had every right to do this.
The problem is that biblical divorce does not mean the same thing as modern divorce. Biblical divorce does not undo the Holy Sacrament of Marriage. That can be undone by no man.
“And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19, 4 – 6
Biblical divorce is akin to a legal separation. There are reasons when a man and woman can no longer live together. Infidelity, immorality, and abuse are examples of these. A man was responsible for his wife as long as they resided in the same house. A woman could not move out of her husband’s house unless he issued her a certificate of divorce. If a man and woman were legally “divorced” they were living apart but still considered married. Neither could marry again. If they did they were considered to be in an adulterous relationship.
Modern divorce effectively ends the contract of marriage and frees the two people up to marry again. For a Catholic, marriage is not a contract but a covenant. A contract is the exchange of goods or services for a set period of time. A covenant is the total giving of self for life. The Catholic understanding of divorce is in the biblical context that Jesus described it and not in the modern understanding we have today.
So, can a civilly divorced Catholic receive communion? Yes, if that Catholic has not moved on to another sexual relationship. If they have moved on into another sexual relationship, either pre-marital or through a second civil marriage, they are considered to be living an adulterous life, in mortal sin, and therefore cannot receive our Lord in the Eucharist. They have forfeit their life when they reneged on their oath to the death that being the Sacrament of Holy Marriage.
So what is an annulment? Isn’t that just a Catholic divorce?
No. It’s not.
An annulment in the Catholic Church is a very serious matter. The Church is basically ruling that a conferred sacrament was never really conferred in the first place. This is something they have to be absolutely sure about. If your first marriage was indeed a validly sacramental marriage and they allow you to remarry the sin is on the person who allowed it. I am sure there is no honest priest who wishes his soul be damned to hell just to let a couple he will likely never see again unknowingly commit adultery.
Because of this the Church has a very arduous, thorough and legalistic process that must be completed. Each spouse is appointed an advocate. Something a kin to a deposition must be completed by the person seeking the annulment as well as at least four witnesses who knew the couple before and after the marriage. The other spouse is given a chance to give their side of the story and contest the annulment if they so desire. The couple must also be civilly divorced before starting this process.
Once all of the paperwork is complete the advocates go over it and it is brought before a tribunal for review. If the tribunal feels that there are grounds to proceed the petition for annulment is then sent to a judge for a ruling. If the judge finds just cause to issue the annulment it is automatically sent to the court of second chance. There everything is reviewed once again and a final decree is then issued. If both judges come to the same conclusion a decree of nullity is issued and both parties are free to marry again. The original marriage was never valid and therefore did not happen.
Like I said, this is serious stuff. The Church has to make sure that it gets this right.
Anonymous rightly points out that the annulment process did not exist at the time of Jesus. At the same time the Sacraments as we understand them today didn’t exist at the time of Jesus either. If the annulment process is a sham because it was made up by man sometime after Jesus ascension to heaven doesn’t that make the Sacraments a sham as well? The concept of a sacrament was borrowed from the Roman army. It wasn’t a Jewish concept.
Jesus knew that as the Church progressed through time she would face new problems for which she had not received direct instruction on. Jesus gave His authority to the twelve, who passed on His teaching to their successors. He made the Church His authority on earth. We believe that the Pope is infallible when he teaches on faith and morals from the teaching chair of Peter when in union with his Bishops.
“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3, 14 & 15
Anyone who teaches something in contrary to official Church teaching is either led astray or is not Catholic at best and a heretic at worst. We are called to believe 100% of Church teaching when it comes to the faith and morals. We have been assured by Jesus Himself that His Church will not err in this arena. If we do not agree with Church teaching we are to repent, a word with the Greek origin (metanoya) meaning to change one’s mind to that of God.
We are to believe first, then accept and finally seek to understand. We are never to put of own opinion before official Church teaching. Official Church teaching is the teaching handed down from God himself. To be opposed to it is to be opposed to God. This is nothing more than human arrogance and a tool the devil uses to separate us from God.