Friday, March 28, 2008

Mixed marriages & dispensation from canonical form

Our son—we are an ordinary Catholic family—wants to marry a born-again Christian. Although our future daughter-in-law was baptized Catholic and is a very nice girl, her parents have embraced a fundamentalist sect and her father is even a pastor in their Christian community. Although her parents do not object to her marrying a Catholic, they vehemently object to a Catholic wedding ceremony. We don’t want a “born-again wedding rite” either. A relative has suggested just having a civil marriage. What are the acceptable options for us really?

This query brings us to two subjects: 1) the so-called mixed marriages and 2) dispensation from canonical form.

Disparity of Cult vs. Mixed Marriage

We recall that one of the impediments to a Catholic marriage is disparity of cult—i.e., a person who is baptized in the Catholic Church or has been received into it and has not left it by means of a formal act cannot validly contract canonical marriage with another person who is non-baptized (ref. c.1086, §1). Note that in this case, without the due dispensation, such a marriage would be invalid ab initio. Furthermore, the dispensation is not to be given unless the conditions mentioned in cc.1125 and 1126 are fulfilled (ref. c.1186, §2). The canons referred to for granting a dispensation—cc.1125 and 1126—precisely deal with the conditions for the granting of permission to celebrate a mixed marriage.

A mixed marriage is that which is contracted between two baptized persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism and has not left it by a formal act, and the other of whom is a member of a church or ecclesial community which is not in full communion with the Catholic Church. In other words, this involves a Catholic and a Christian with a valid baptism but not in the Catholic Church—e.g., Orthodox Churches, many Protestants, Anglicans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians; but not members of the Iglesia ni Kristo (who are not strictly speaking Christians), Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

In principle, such a mixed marriage is valid, but it is forbidden without the express permission of the competent authority (c.1124)—i.e., the Local Ordinary (c.1125)—who will only grant it if there is a just and reasonable cause and with the necessary cautions as we shall see below. In other words, without the due permission, the mixed marriage would be valid but illicit—i.e., the Catholics actively and with full deliberation involved in its celebration (the sacred minister and perhaps even the spouse) would be committing a sin.

Just and Reasonable Cause for a Mixed Marriage
and the so-called Cautions.

The validity of the permission for a mixed marriage—and not the mixed marriage itself, which would in principle be valid—depends only on the existence of a just and reasonable cause. No a priori rules are given as to what this cause might, the whole matter being left to the judgment of the Local Ordinary.

However, c.1125 categorically states that the Local Ordinary is not to grant such permission unless the following conditions have been fulfilled:

1° the Catholic party declares that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of falling away from the faith and makes a sincere promise to do all in his or her power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;

2° the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time of these promises which the Catholic party has to make, so that it is clear that the other party is truly aware of the promise and obligations of the Catholic party;

3° both parties are to be instructed on the essential ends and properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either party.

Furthermore, c.1126 states: The conference of bishops is to establish the way in which these declarations and promises, which are always required, are to be made, what proof of them there should be in the external forum and how they are to be brought to the attention of the non-Catholic party. In this regard, the CBCP has established that the cautions or declarations are to be made in writing by the Catholic party and preferably also by the non-Catholic party, according to the form issued by the CBCP, and attested to by the priest who makes the pre-nuptial interview or by his delegate.

From the foregoing, it is clear what the mind of the Church is as regards mixed marriages and—to a lesser extent—the impediment of disparity of cult. In principle they are considered as possible dangers to the faith of the Catholic party and a foreseeable difficulty to the Catholic upbringing of future children; thus they are discouraged. But if such a danger and difficulty could be obviated—at least as an intention on the part of the Catholic party, which is known and accepted by the non-Catholic party—and there is justifiable cause, then the marriage can be allowed.

Dispensation from Canonical Form

Granted that permission for a mixed-marriage has been secured, c.1127, §1 stipulates that the canonical form—i.e., the expression of consent of the contracting parties in the presence of a qualified witness (bishop or parish priest, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them) and two other witnesses—is to be observed in mixed marriages.

However, §2 of the same canon states: If serious difficulties pose an obstacle to the observance of the canonical form, the Local Ordinary of the Catholic party has the right to dispense from the form in individual cases, but after consulting the Ordinary of the place where the marriage is to be celebrated and with due regard, for the validity, for some public form of celebration; the conference of bishops is to issue norms by which such a dispensation may be granted in an orderly manner.

The CBCP has issued such norms as follows:

1. The following are considered grave and serious difficulties that warrant dispensation from the canonical form of marriage, as provided for in c.1127, §2:
a) Absolute refusal of the non-Catholic party;
b) Strong opposition of most of the close relatives of the non-Catholic party;
c) Danger to the good relationship of the parties;
d) Serious economic damage to the party.

2. Whenever the dispensation of the canonical form is necessary, the Local Ordinary of the Catholic party has the right to dispense from it in individual cases, having, however, consulted the Ordinary of the place of the celebration of marriage. For validity some public form of celebration is required.

3. Once a mixed marriage is celebrated, it shall be registered in the book of marriages, in the usual manner (…). Likewise, the minister of the non-Catholic spouse shall be informed regarding the contracted marriage by the priest who solemnized the wedding or in whose territory the wedding was celebrated.

Nothing is said of the kind of public celebration that should take the place of the canonical form, or whether it should have a religious character or not. Thus, unless the Local Ordinary specifies something in the dispensation from the canonical form, we can only surmise that a wide range of possibilities would be acceptable, among which we can enumerate the following (which are in fact those prescribed by the Spanish Episcopal Conference on 25.I.1971 and confirmed by a General Decree, 26.XI.1983, Art.12, §3):

1) The religious ceremony acceptable to the non-Catholic (but Christian) party and/or his/her relatives.
2) A religious ceremony acceptable to both parties.
3) A non-religious ceremony—e.g., a civil ceremony before a civil authority.
In all these cases—we should add—the essential properties and ends of marriage must not be excluded.


From the foregoing discussion, the Catholic party (and his parents in this case) will have to reconsider the whole matter from a more fundamental starting point:

1st: They need permission from their Local Ordinary for the mixed-marriage to take place at all.
2nd: Should the Local Ordinary grant the permission, they might do well to reconsider their absolute objection to a “born-again” wedding ceremony and try to secure a dispensation from canonical form as well. Should they be granted that, then they just might opt for a “born-again” wedding ceremony, realizing that such a wedding would bring about a canonical marriage for their son just as well.

3rd: If they really cannot accept a “born-again” Christian wedding ceremony, they might opt for a civil wedding ceremony, again keeping in mind that in this case it would constitute a canonical (Church) wedding, with full canonical effects, and which—given the identity between marriage and sacrament for the baptized—would also be a sacrament for their Catholic son and his baptized Catholic (but arguably turned “born-again”) bride.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Empowerment of the laity (Part I)

Time and again, I have heard the expression “lay empowerment” in the lips of priests and our parish lay leaders. More often than not, they would be referring to the faculties now granted to some of our parishioners to act as lay ministers—to have a more active participation in the liturgical ceremonies and to be extraordinary ministers for Holy Communion—or to form part of the Parish Pastoral Council. In contrast, in a recent convention of the Council of the Laity of the Philippines that I attended in Antipolo (Oct.28-30,) I heard a very different notion from more than one of the speakers. What does the expression “lay empowerment” really mean?

Before we can understand the notion of lay empowerment, we must first understand very well the concept of lay or layman. This is important so that we understand in what way the laymen are supposed to be empowered. In order to do this, we have to first understand the fundamental equality of all the faithful; then we have to understand their diversity and the specific quality of the laity.

The Juridic Equality and diversity of all the Faithful

By baptism, all Christians possess a common juridic condition of radical equality within the ecclesial society, and thereby share an identical objective and end, which is that of extending the Kingdom of God until it reaches its fullness in the end of time (Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, n.9). By the baptismal character, and not by any posterior mandate of the Hierarchy, all the faithful are called with equal intensity to foster the common good of the Kingdom of God and to extend it.

This character constitutes all Christ’s faithful into a royal priesthood, making them participate in the priesthood of Christ, by which they are called to share in Christ’s threefold mission of teaching, sanctifying and leading all men, and indeed all creation, towards God.

Nevertheless, despite the radical equality of all Christ’s faithful by virtue of baptism, not all follow the same path (LG, 32). Among them, there exists diverse ways of life, which demonstrates a variety which enriches the Church. All this—unity and diversity—is a consequence of the action of the Holy Spirit, guiding the Church in the way of all truth, and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and he adorns her with his fruits (LG, 4).

Two Factors cause this diversity:

1) The action of grace and the charisms of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s faithful—i.e., personal vocation.

2) The individual response of every faithful—i.e., personal human freedom.

Three Principal Situations of Diversity arise:

1) The Cleric (or Sacred Minister). The condition of cleric includes all those who, on top of the fundamental character of Baptism, have received the character of Holy Orders (c.207).
This character marks an essential difference—not merely of degree—between the royal priesthood of all Christ’s faithful by virtue of Baptism, and the ministerial priesthood of the ordained cleric.

This character confers on the cleric a new mission (Vatican Council II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2), which consists in striving for the internal vitality of the ecclesial society, preaching the Word of God, administering the means of salvation (fundamentally the sacraments) and directing the course of the Church as a society in persona Christi capitis (c.1008). In short, to “serve” or “minister” to all Christ’s faithful, so that they may exercise with full vitality their royal priesthood. Hence the term: ministerial priesthood.

2) The Religious (or Consecrated Faithful). The religious is another type of faithful, whose status arises from the profession of the evangelical counsels—i.e., perfect continence, poverty and obedience—through a juridical bond of a sacred character. This constitutes a stable way of life (c.573), which even if it does not pertain to the hierarchical structure of the Church, pertains nevertheless to its life and sanctity (LG, 44; c.574, §1).

This way of life—the religious life—is characterized fundamentally by an intrinsic non-secularity, which traditionally had even been called a contemptus mundi or fuga mundi, whose theological root and purpose was to give an eschatological witness to the world—i.e., to give a stark reminder to all men that this world is not our permanent home.

3) The Christian Layman (or Lay Faithful). The lay faithful, in the strict sense of cc.224-231, refers to a constitutional situation different from the previous ones, which is specifically characterized by baptismal secularity. The layman is not just Christ’s faithful who has not been ordained, or has not embraced the evangelical counsels in an Institute of Consecrated Life. He is Christ’s faithful who has embraced the world, but without being worldy.

The specific vocation of the lay faithful is to be immersed in the world (to be secular). To the laity corresponds specifically the task—within the universal mission of the Church—to develop the baptismal charisms so as to make the Church present in those circumstances wherein it can act as salt of the earth only through them (LG, 33).

Understanding Lay Empowerment

The problem with words is that many times they are not univocal (having only one sense) but are rather equivocal (having more than one sense). This is what happens with the notion of the oft-quoted expression of lay empowerment or empowerment of the laity.

a. Loose Sense of Lay Empowerment in Daily Usage.

To my mind, this is the most unfortunate sense of the expression lay empowerment, which usually refers to those manifestations of cooperation of lay faithful in the ministry of clerics—more often than not in connection with the liturgy. This is the reason for the unreasonable exultation of the phenomenon of lay ministries as an icon or model of commitment of the lay faithful in the Church.

If I trained a fish to somehow move on muddy ground, I would not have really empowered it, because it is not proper for a fish to be terrestrial but aquatic. Likewise, if I trained a bird to walk instead of fly, again I wouldn’t have empowered it but denatured it somehow, because it could never really walk as well as it could fly, because that’s the way it was created.

While the so-called lay ministries are licit and laudable, what we cannot forget is that they are many times suppletory in nature—i.e., to supply for the lack of ordained ministers, whether temporarily or more stably (cf. c.230). They always constitute—to a greater or lesser extent—a denaturing of the lay character of being in the world.

b. Improper Sense of Lay Empowerment in the Code of Canon Law.

Improper means “not proper” or “not really pertaining to” or “not corresponding to”. This is the first sense of lay empowerment that we can find in the Code of Canon Law, referring to the manifestations of the cooperation of the lay faithful with the ordained ministers in the exercise of the sacra potestas or power of jurisdiction (or power of governance) which is really proper of the ordained ministers. This is the sacred power that Christ gave the Apostles (on Peter and the Apostolic College principally) and their successors, which they exercise with the other ordained ministers in persona Christi capitis (“in the person of Christ the Head”).

An attentive reading of c.129 of the Code throws a lot of light on this matter:

Can. 129 — §1. In accord with the prescriptions of law, those who have received sacred orders are capable of the power of governance, which exists in the Church by divine institution and is also called the power of jurisdiction.
— §2. Lay members of the Christian faithful can cooperate in the exercise of this power in accord with the norm of law.

Note the difference between §1 and §2: Clerics are capable of the power of governance, as something proper to them. Lay faithful can only cooperate in the exercise of that power, meaning that the principal subject who operates that power are the clerics, while the laymen may only co-operate it.

There are not a few instances of this cooperation of the lay faithful in the exercise of the power of jurisdiction provided for by the Code of Canon Law. For example, laymen can be appointed judges in ecclesiastical tribunals (c.1421, §2); laymen have a consultative vote in the different councils at the parochial and diocesan levels, and can even be consultors in the Holy See (c.228); laymen can dedicate themselves in an organic way in the apostolic work of a Personal Prelature (c.296).


Up to this point, we can make the following preliminary conclusions.

1) The ordinary notion of lay empowerment—which refers to the greater participation of laymen in the liturgical celebrations—is an unfortunate impoverishment of the concept and may even be qualified as a denaturing (more than empowering) of the laymen to assume roles that are not that secular.

2) Another notion of lay empowerment—which refers to the cooperation of laymen in the exercise of the power of governance in the Church—may be more canonical (in the sense that it is in the Code of Canon Law), but can still be classified as improper, since it still represents a mere cooperation in the exercise of the power of jurisdiction which Canon Law really invests on sacred ministers. We still need to arrive at a deeper meaning of lay empowerment—one which would really reflect an intensification of the nature and role of the layman in the Church community.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Empowerment of the laity (Part 2)

Time and again, I have heard the expression “lay empowerment” in the lips of priests and our parish lay leaders. More often than not, they would be referring to the faculties now granted to some of our parishioners to act as lay ministers—to have a more active participation in the liturgical ceremonies and to be extraordinary ministers for Holy Communion—or to form part of the Parish Pastoral Council. In contrast, in a convention of the Council of the Laity of the Philippines that I attended in Antipolo (Oct.28-30, 2004) I heard a very different notion from more than one of the speakers. What does the expression “lay empowerment” really mean?

The proper sense of empowerment of the laity in Canon Law is enshrined in a set of canons contained in Book II: The People of God, Title II: The Obligations and Rights of the Lay Christian Faithful, covering cc.224-231. These canons, in fact, positivized and formalize a set of rights and duties which are really proper and specific to the lay faithful—not something they have in common with clerics and religious as lay faithful, as covered by Title I: The Obligations and Rights of all the Christian Faithful, cc.208-223—and therefore constitute a proper empowerment of the laity as laity.

Rights of Lay Christian Faithful.

The Code enumerates two rights and a capacity of lay faithful:

1) Freedom in temporal affairs: Can.227. Lay Christian faithful have the right to have recognized that freedom in the affairs of the earthly city which belongs to all citizens; when they exercise such freedom, however, they are to take care that their actions are imbued with the spirit of the gospel and take into account the doctrine set forth by the magisterium of the Church; but they are to avoid proposing their own opinion as the teaching of the Church in questions which are open to various opinions.

2) Right to decent remuneration for special service to the Church: Can. 231, §2: [Except for the stable ministries of lector and acolyte] they have a right to a decent remuneration suited to their condition; by such remuneration they should be able to provide decently for their own needs and for those of their family with due regard for the prescriptions of civil law; they likewise have a right that their pension, social security and health benefits be duly provided.

3) Capacity to cooperate in the governance of the Church: Can.228 — §1. Qualified lay persons are capable of assuming from their sacred pastors those ecclesiastical offices and functions which they are able to exercise in accord with the prescriptions of law.

— §2. Lay persons who excel in the necessary knowledge, prudence, and uprightness are capable of assisting the pastors of the Church as experts or advisors; they can do so even in councils, in accord with the norm of law. N.B. This is not a right, but just a capacity.

In these cases, the Code properly empowers the lay faithful in three ways:

1) By acknowledging such rights of the lay faithful—the Code empowers them to exercise those rights effectively.

2) By giving the lay faithful the right to action—i.e., the right to demand from the competent Church authority the redress of any violation of those rights by any party.

3) By obliging the hierarchy to guarantee the effective exercise of those rights of the lay faithful—through proper formation, coordination and supervision. This is a great field of actuation by the hierarchy: e.g., more serious doctrinal formation of the laity as to their obligations to imbue temporal realities with the Gospel, more constant spiritual direction so as to open horizons of sanctity and apostolic zeal, more intense delivery of the means of salvation (the Word of God and the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist).

Duties of Lay Christian Faithful.

The Code enumerates the following duties:

1) To sanctify marriage and family: Can.226, §1. Lay persons who live in the married state in accord with their own vocation are bound by a special duty to work for the upbuilding of the people of God through their marriage and their family.

2) To acquire appropriate formation for ecclesial tasks: Can.231 — §1. Lay persons who devote themselves permanently or temporarily to some special service of the Church are obliged to acquire the appropriate formation which is required to fulfill their function properly and to carry it out conscientiously, zealously, and diligently.

In these cases, the Code properly empowers the lay faithful in two ways:
1) By establishing such obligations on the part of the lay faithful, the Code empowers them for those acts which the fulfillment of such obligations entails.
2) By establishing such obligation on the part of the lay faithful, the Code also indirectly obliges the hierarchy to make the fulfillment of such obligations feasible.

Right-Duties of Lay Christian Faithful.

In some cases, what the Code establishes are rights which are at the same time duties. In these cases, the mode of empowerment is even more encompassing:

1) To do apostolate in the world: Can. 225 — §1. Since the laity like all the Christian faithful, are deputed by God to the apostolate through their baptism and confirmation, they are therefore bound by the general obligation and enjoy the general right to work as individuals or in associations so that the divine message of salvation becomes known and accepted by all persons throughout the world; this obligation has a greater impelling force in those circumstances in which people can hear the gospel and know Christ only through lay persons.

§2. Each lay person in accord with his or her condition is bound by a special duty to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the gospel; they thus give witness to Christ in a special way in carrying out those affairs and in exercising secular duties.

2) To access and teach Christian doctrine and sacred sciences: Can.229 — §1. Lay persons are bound by the obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine, announce it, defend it when necessary, and be enabled to assume their role in exercising the apostolate.

§2. Lay persons also possess the right to acquire that deeper knowledge of the sacred sciences which are taught in ecclesiastical universities or faculties or in institutes of religious sciences by attending classes and obtaining academic degrees.

§3. Likewise, the prescriptions as to the required suitability having been observed, lay persons are capable of receiving from legitimate ecclesiastical authority a mandate to teach the sacred sciences.

3) To educate one’s children: Can.226, §2. Because they have given life to their children, parents have a most serious obligation and enjoy the right to educate them; therefore Christian parents are especially to care for the Christian education of their children according to the teaching handed on by the Church.


From the foregoing, it becomes clear that the juridic notion of empowerment of the laity goes much farther than the participation of lay faithful in properly ministerial functions (much less merely liturgical ones), or even in the pastoral work of the Church. Even in this latter case, the Law only gives the faithful the capacity to cooperate in the governance of the Church, but not a right to such power of governance.

The proper sphere of lay empowerment has to do more with the mission of the lay faithful to be leaven in the world, ordering temporal affairs according to the Gospel.

To the extent that the lay faithful are given the adequate doctrinal and spiritual formation, support of an intense sacramental life, and a healthy autonomy to fulfill their role in the world responsibly, they are by that same measure empowered to be what they are: Christian lay men and women, and not lay ministers or brothers, and much less secularized versions of religious men and women.

Paraphrasing the Apostle to the Gentiles, the world is groaning for the revelation of the sons of God! Christian lay men and women need to be empowered to be themselves: to be Christ in the middle of the world!