Catholic Answers Press has come out with a new (and temporarily free) booklet called Divorce, Marriage, Communion: A Guide To What Is Happening And How You Can Help—and its timing is critical. Not only is the information in this easy-to-read booklet relevant to what is going on today inside of the Church, but also it provides an important foundation of knowledge to help us meet the great marriage-related problems being faced within our current cultural landscape.
Marriage today is in crisis. Our modern culture, suffering from religious indifferentism and moral relativism, is raising many important questions that challenge our traditional understanding of what a marriage is. Many people have been left confused and ready to submit to popular opinion on these issues without really thinking about them. The dangerous effects of such haphazard moral acceptance has not left members of the Church unaffected.
Traditionally, true marriage has always been understood by the Church as “indissoluble” until the death of a spouse. This belief is based on the words of Jesus. For example in St. Matthew’s Gospel:
“I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matt 5:32)
“Except on the grounds of unchastity” is not permission to divorce in certain cases; it means if the spouse was unfaithful at the time the vows were made, there may be no validity to the marriage in the first place. Jesus renders the dissolution of a sacramental marriage impossible:
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (see Matt 10:1-9)
From the earliest days of Christianity, this was the doctrine—the teaching of the Church: that divorce can never be permitted between any two people who have been validly married. In The Shepherd of Hermas around A.D. 80, we read:
“What then shall the husband do, if the wife continue in this disposition [adultery]? Let him divorce her, and let the husband remain single. But if he divorce his wife and marry another, he too commits adultery” (The Shepherd 4:1:6 [A.D. 80]).
For this reason, those who have been validly married, and have later left their spouse and entered into a second (sexually active) civil marriage while their first spouse is living, are considered to be living in adultery. Because adultery is a mortal sin and mortal sin removes a person from the state of grace necessary to receive the Eucharist, these people are not free to receive Communion until they have repented and received absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Today, this is being challenged by some in the Church. Some members of the Catholic Church—including top ranking clergymen such as Cardinal Kasper of Germany—are proposing that divorced members should be permitted to receive Communion, even in their state of ongoing, non-valid marriage. This brings up big questions, and the crucial need for good answers. This is where Catholic Answers’ booklet, Divorce, Marriage, Communion, can really help.
I found this booklet really helpful in, first, clearly defining the current state of the issue, and second, how to move forward.
The booklet outlines the main problem with this proposed change: it would mean a change to unchangeable Church teaching. The teachings at stake include:
1. The gravely sinful nature of sexual relations with someone that you are not married to
2. The need to repent of one’s sins, including “the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future”, to be validly absolved in the confessional
3. The need to be in the state of grace to receive Communion
As you can see, this issue is not a small matter. This is why St. John Paul the Great met this issue head-on during his papacy, emphasizing the pastoral concern and responsibility to love people in this situation, while maintaining doctrinal integrity in faithfulness to the teachings of our Lord (more about what St. JP II had to say in the booklet!).
With this issue so immanent, and with the discussion ongoing until the bishops meet again in October 2015: What can you do? Ask questions and seek answers. Get to know the issue and what it means for you, your family, your parish and the Catholic Church. Learn how you can reach out to the divorced members of your local parish; or how you can seek support if you are a divorcee yourself (Rose Sweet has great resources here as well).
I cant think of a better resource to get you started than Divorce, Marriage, Communion: A Guide To What Is Happening And How You Can Help. It’s a quick read, and I think you’ll find the booklet answers many of the big questions (and more) that are at the tip of your tongue on this issue.
Now click here for your free e-book!