Saturday, November 10, 2012

Do We Need New Words for Marriage?

As courts, state legislatures, and most recently ballot initiatives have moved the definition of marriage which is legally recognized by governments farther and farther from the traditional definition, which is derived from Natural Law and used by the Church, a number of people have suggested that we simply come up with a new word for "Church marriages" as opposed to "state marriages".  This really would not work, for at least 2 reasons. 

First of all, there are more than two kinds of alleged marriage.  
  • There is the sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians, which cannot be undone except by the death of one of the spouses.
  • There is the non-sacramental marriage in which at least one spouse is not a baptized Christian.  These are real marriages, but they can be dissolved by divorce. 
  • There are "irregular" marriages, which resemble real marriages (and are usually recognized by the state) but have some sort of impediment.  Most often, this involves a pre-existing sacramental marriage or occasionally a "lack of canonical form" when one spouse is Catholic but the marriage takes place without the recognition of the Church.
  • There are unnatural unions.
It is not really possible to devise 4 different words with distinct, obvious meanings to cover these 4 categories.

Secondly, even a sacramental marriage is a case of "grace perfecting nature"; it starts with nature and builds on it. We have to acknowledge the value of those real marriages which are not sacramental, but only natural.

A good analogy would be a Church funeral and burial in consecrated ground.  Burying the dead is entirely natural -- our own species does not seem to be the first to do this, as it was apparently done by Homo heidelbergensis.  Certainly something needs to be done with the dead; it is a health hazard, if nothing else, to simply allow them to rot where they fall.  Neither a Church funeral nor burial in consecrated soil is a sacrament, but they do involve grace for both the deceased and the living in addition to serving the essential, natural function.

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