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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Marriage and Annulments But Were Afraid to Ask

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Diane Montagna - published on 04/06/16

If a wedding does not occur within the context of a Mass, is it still sacramental?

There are two valid forms of the celebration of a wedding: the first usually takes place within the celebration of the Eucharist while the second takes place using solely the rite of marriage. It is important to underline that the Mass, even though it is the highest expression of our faith, does not make marriage sacramental. Rather, it is the fact that the spouses are baptized that renders the marriage sacramental.

ANNULMENTS

Please tell us, what is an annulment? And what isn’t it?

To help us understand the concept of an annulment, it may be useful to draw a parallel with a principle from the legal world. In civil law, a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. In a similar way, when a man and a woman contract marriage in Church, a presumption is established by the law that states that the union is considered to be valid. Canon law says that “marriage enjoys the favor of law.” For this reason, should there ever be a doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven.

An annulment is not a form of divorce but rather a solemn declaration following an investigation by the Church that the marriage, contrary to what might appear, did not come into existence. This may sound strange to some ears, so allow me to paint an image for you.

Think for a moment of a series of dots that, when joined, form a circle. Each dot in this circle represents an essential element comprising the celebration of a valid marriage. One dot represents the valid marriageable age of the spouses, another represents their genuine freedom to enter marriage, a third signifies their understanding that marriage is a permanent relationship that ends with the death of one of the spouses. Others stand for the fact that the spouses intend to be faithful and exclusive to each other and so on. If one of these elements is missing — if a person, for instance, declares that he or she intends to be faithful but has no intention of being exclusive to his or her spouse — we have a strange situation. In other words, we have something that has the appearance of marriage but which could never be described as such.

In a case like this, canon law describes the action of the spouse as simulation. A flight simulator, for instance, creates the effect of flying and landing an airplane, even though the pilot never actually flies. In a similar way, a person who effectively tells an untruth and promises something that he or she is not prepared to fulfill at the moment of expressing matrimonial consent, also simulates marriage. Had the other spouse known of this at the time, he or she would never have said, “I do.”

To return to our image of the dots for a moment we can say that, should this happen, the marriage can be examined by a panel of judges. They will make a determination on the question of whether or not the circle had been completed. So it is a not a question of nullifying anything, or ending a marriage as is done through divorce, but rather of declaring that what appeared to be a valid marriage was, in fact, not ever a marriage at all. After such a declaration, both spouses are usually free to enter a new marriage.

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