Holy matrimony is a covenant “by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life…” (Cf. Can. 1055 §1). The husband and wife become partners, doing everything in common. The Bible speaks about this by saying in connection with marriage: “A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5).
This unity of the spouses is demonstrated through various means, and one concrete way is by common worship.
By common worship or faith, we are referring to both spouses believing in the same faith, such as, the two being Catholics. The Church has always preferred Catholics to marry Catholics. This is because it reduces the dangers involved in marriages between spouses of different faiths, or beliefs.
Can. 1124 states: “Without express permission of the competent authority, a marriage is prohibited between two baptized persons of whom one is baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism and the other of whom is enrolled in a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
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This type of marriage is called mixed marriage.
The key point here is that the marriage is between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic, such as Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. Since mixed marriage is not an impediment, dispensation is not needed, but rather permission from the Bishop, or his delegate.
The Church’s gravest concern is the marriage between a Catholic and a non-Christian, or a non-Baptised. This is called disparity of worship (or disparity of cult). The reality of life is that a Catholic may meet a prospective partner for marriage who may not be a Catholic. Because of this the Church has put in place certain measures to protect the faith of the Catholic partner.
According to Can. 1086 §1: “A marriage between two persons, one of whom has been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and the other of whom is not baptized, is invalid.” This means the marriage between a Catholic and a person not baptized is an ecclesiastical law impediment which binds only Catholics and those who marry them.
An impediment is an obstacle which stops a person from performing certain actions, and until that obstacle is removed there can be no way of reaching that goal. (And to remove an impediment, a dispensation is needed. And a dispensation, simply put, is the relaxation of the law.)
To remove the impediment of disparity of cult through the granting of a dispensation, certain conditions must be fulfilled by the Catholic partner. These conditions must also be fulfilled in the case of mixed marriages. (So the point is that, before a Catholic marries a baptised non-Catholic or a non-baptised, certain conditions must be fulfilled.)
According to Can. 1125, the conditions that must be fulfilled before permission (in the case of mixed marriages) or dispensation (in the case of disparity of cult) can be granted by the local ordinary are:
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 so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.”
This condition refers primarily to the Catholic party. The faith of the Catholic party is so important, the Church as a solicitous mother cannot watch her children lose their faith through marriage. It is for this reason that the Catholic party must ensure that he or she continues to remain a Catholic after their marriage with a non-Catholic partner. (This is the first condition.)
Apart from the first condition we have just discussed, the Catholic party must also make a promise to do all in his or her power to have the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.
(This is not to say that the Catholic party must do that at all cost. No, the peace and stability of the home means a lot to the Church. If the non-Catholic party is unwilling to have the children baptised in the Catholic Church, we cannot force it on them. That is why the law says, the Catholic party must “do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptised and brought up in the Catholic Church.” In other words, do your best.)
2° “the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party.” This condition refers primarily to the non-Catholic party. The promises made by the Catholic party in number one above is not to be kept secret from the non-Catholic party. He or she must be made aware of them in clear terms so that the necessary assurances can be obtained.
3° “both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude.” This condition refers to both the Catholic and non-Catholic parties. Under normal circumstances, this prescription can be taken care of during the period of counselling. It is during this period that the necessary teachings concerning marriage are brought to the fore to help the parties have a better appreciation of what they are committing themselves to.
It is therefore important that counselling before marriage is never skipped or fast-tracked.
The parties seeking to marry may sometimes put undue pressure on pastors to speed up their process of marriage, for whatever reason, but pastors must be firm to ensure that what is necessary for the marriage to be celebrated validly is done.
In line with this, the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference state: “We direct that all proximate preparations for marriage shall take normally six months in the Catholic Church in Ghana” (Annual Plenary Assembly held in Ho in the Volta Region of Ghana, November 6 – 18, 2017).