Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum University.
Q: Can Mass be celebrated at disparity-of-cult marriages? If not, can a thanksgiving Mass be celebrated after the rite of marriage? Can the readings and Mass prayers (modified to remove the word “sacrament”) and the Prayer of the Faithful and final blessing be taken from the regular Mass for Marriages? Or should the readings of the day, etc., only be used? — J.A., Bangalore, India
A: According to the Catechism:
“1633. In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a nonbaptized person) requires even greater circumspection.
“1634. Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.”
Canon law also deals with this theme in several places:
“Canon 1086 §1. A marriage is invalid when one of the two persons was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not by a formal act defected from it, and the other was not baptized.
“§2. This impediment is not to be dispensed unless the conditions mentioned in Canons 1125 and 1126 have been fulfilled.
“Canon 1108 §1. Only those marriages are valid which are contracted in the presence of the local Ordinary or parish priest or of the priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who, in the presence of two witnesses, assists, in accordance however with the rules set out in the following Canons, and without prejudice to the exceptions mentioned in Canon. 144, 1112 §1, 1116 and 1127 §§2-3.
“§2. Only that person who, being present, asks the contracting parties to manifest their consent and in the name of the Church receives it, is understood to assist at a marriage.
“Canon 1124. Without the express permission of the competent authority, marriage is prohibited between two baptized persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism and has not defected from it by a formal act, the other of whom belongs to a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
“Canon 1125. The local Ordinary can grant this permission if there is a just and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it unless the following conditions are fulfilled:
“1. the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
“2. the other party is to be informed in good time of these promises to be made by the Catholic party, so that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and of the obligation of the Catholic party;
“3. both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either contactant.
“Canon 1126. It is for the Episcopal Conference to prescribe the manner in which these declarations and promises, which are always required, are to be made, and to determine how they are to be established in the external forum, and how the non-Catholic party is to be informed of them.
“Canon 1127 §1. The provisions of Canon 1108 are to be observed in regard to the form to be used in a mixed marriage. If, however, the Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of oriental rite, the canonical form of celebration is to be observed for lawfulness only; for validity, however, the intervention of a sacred minister is required, while observing the other requirements of law.
“§2. If there are grave difficulties in the way of observing the canonical form, 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 the marriage; for validity, however, some public form of celebration is required. It is for the Episcopal Conference to establish norms whereby this dispensation may be granted in a uniform manner.
“§3. It is forbidden to have, either before or after the canonical celebration in accordance with §1, another religious celebration of the same marriage for the purpose of giving or renewing matrimonial consent. Likewise, there is not to be a religious celebration in which the Catholic assistant and a non-Catholic minister, each performing his own rite, ask for the consent of the parties.
“Canon 1128. Local Ordinaries and other pastors of souls are to see to it that the Catholic spouse and the children born of a mixed marriage are not without the spiritual help needed to fulfill their obligations; they are also to assist the spouses to foster the unity of conjugal and family life.
“Canon 1129. The provisions of Canons 1127 and 1128 are to be applied also to marriages which are impeded by the impediment of disparity of worship mentioned in Canon 1086 §1.”
With respect to the celebration of a wedding Mass we can say that under normal circumstances there would be no Eucharistic celebration. This is true even for Catholics marrying other Christians as stated in the Ecumenical Directory:
“159. Because of problems concerning Eucharistic sharing which may arise from the presence of non-Catholic witnesses and guests, a mixed marriage celebrated according to the Catholic form ordinarily takes place outside the Eucharistic liturgy. For a just cause, however, the diocesan Bishop may permit the celebration of the Eucharist. In the latter case, the decision as to whether the non-Catholic party of the marriage may be admitted to Eucharistic communion is to be made in keeping with the general norms existing in the matter both for Eastern Christians 152 and for other Christians, taking into account the particular situation of the reception of the sacrament of Christian marriage by two baptized Christians.
“160. Although the spouses in a mixed marriage share the sacraments of baptism and marriage, Eucharistic sharing can only be exceptional and in each case the norms stated above concerning the admission of a non-Catholic Christian to Eucharistic communion, as well as those concerning the participation of a Catholic in Eucharistic communion in another Church, must be observed.”
Therefore, with all of this in mind it falls upon the bishop to determine what is to be done in the concrete case and the bishops’ conference to establish common criteria for a country or region.
The bishop has powers to dispense with the canonical form in special cases, although in practice this is only done if the wedding is to be celebrated in a non-Christian ceremony. On the other hand, just as he can for non-Catholic Christians, for grave reasons the bishop could also authorize the celebration of Mass. However, it is usually better to avoid any difficulties and celebrate these weddings outside of Mass.
If such marriages are common, the bishops’ conferences usually prepares a rite of marriage that is suitable for the occasion. If such a rite does not exist, the usual rite of marriage outside of Mass is used. Since the couple know they are getting married according to the Christian rite, there is no need to modify the specifically Christian prayers although, as our reader suggests, the word “sacrament” would be omitted.
Some adaptations may be made for the non-Christian partner. For example, there is a moment in the rite when each partner invokes the Trinity. A non-Christian could substitute “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” for “in the name of God” or even omit the invocation altogether, as it would not affect the validity of the natural marriage.
At the celebration outside of Mass any suitable readings from the wide selection offered by the Rite of Matrimony may be used for the wedding ceremony.
If desired and possible, a thanksgiving Mass could also be celebrated afterward, although this would depend very much on the circumstances such as what to do with the non-Catholic guests in the meantime. If the Mass is considered of such importance to the Catholic family, it remains possible to request permission from the bishop for the usual nuptial Mass while taking the necessary steps to inform and instruct the non-Catholics regarding Catholic belief and practice and thus avoid anything improper.
A thanksgiving Mass following immediately would not be the ritual Mass and hence would have a lower liturgical rank. Therefore the use of other readings and formulas would depend on the usual rules with respect to the liturgical calendar and on whether such changes would be permitted on that specific day.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.