Every area of life has its own language. When we talk about a specific field, we use appropriate language. There is also a language we use when we talk about marriage. Certain changes can be observed in the language used today, indicating that today thinking about sacramental marriage is different than it used to be. What we say is what we think and vice versa – what we think is what we say.
I. Changes in marriage-related vocabulary – everyday language
In the language that we use when talking about marriage, most important are the words: “husband”, “wife” and “marriage”. In the past those words stood for endurance and uniqueness. If somebody had an extramarital affair then nobody called the other person a “wife” or a “husband” but used other words: “lover”, “mistress”. An exception was a situation when somebody was a widow(er) and remarried after the spouse’s death – then it was said that they had a “second husband” or a “second wife”.
- Increased divorce rate and the related divorce culture caused changes in everyday language; the names of “second husband” and “second wife” are now used to identify people who are remarried by somebody after divorce rather than death of a spouse. This way the name “marriage” ceased to stand for a unique and permanent union. Nowadays “marriage” means a relationship that can be repeated: you can be a wife or a husband multiple times, you can marry many times, even while your spouse is still alive.
- Another process that can be observed in the everyday language is replacing the notions of “husband”, “wife” or “marriage” with terms that are not associated with permanent union and exclusivity, but with temporariness and repeating. Those words are for example “relationship”, “partners”. One can have many relationships and be involved with multiple partners.
II. Language effects of departing from the truth on the indissoluble nature of a sacramental marriage – the language of the Catholic Church
Language is not only vocabulary that we use but also the style of the narrative. It is specified by what the topics of the conversations are, the way it is handled and what is omitted.
- Currently in catholic church there is almost no mention about marriage vows, about the responsibility for breaking marriage vows, that it relates to all sacramental husbands and wives to equal extent: both those hurt and those who were the offenders. Church mentions little or not at all – e.g. during sermons – that sacramental husbands and wives are still obliged to obey their marriage vows towards the sacramental spouse who betrayed, abandoned and entered another union.
- There is a false belief that a sacramental marriage exists with all its obligations only until the time of divorce. After divorce marriage is treated as if it ceased to exist, as if it was dead. Surprisingly, that change relates not only to the everyday language but also to journalism and religious statements. Traces of that we can also find in the letter of Argentinian bishops from the Buenos Aires region, which has been recently widely discussed. They issued instructions to the faithful based on the Amoris Laetitia exhortation. Section 8 of the letter reads: It is always important to guide people who live in irregular situations to stand before God with their conscience. And for this the “examination of con¬science” proposed by Amoris Laetitia (AL 300) is very helpful, specifically in relation to “how did they act towards their children” or the abandoned partner. Where there are unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly scandalous. (https://cvcomment.org/2016/09/18/buenos-aires-bishops-guidelines-on-amoris-laetitia-full-text/). It may seem that there is nothing inappropriate here. However, at a closer reading, questions appear: Why the injustice mentioned towards the abandoned spouse and children is in the past tense? Is it meant that the injustice mentioned here has been done and does not continue? To think and write this way one must first assume that the abandoned spouse ceased to be a spouse and that the family ceased to be a family – thus the sacramental marriage needs to be mentally killed. If one assumes that because of the fact that there was a divorce and somebody remarried nonsacramentally – their sacramental marriage ceased to exist – then one may believe that the injustice is discontinued, because the moral obligations disappeared towards the sacramental marriage and towards the offspring from that marriage. Nevertheless as long as the sacramental spouses live, their marriage is still alive before God and if a sacramental spouse lives in another, adulterous union, then there can be no mention about God’s or man’s justice – as the betrayal and infidelity towards the sacramental spouse continues and the covenant with God is constantly violated. An injustice like betrayal and breaking marital covenant with God can only be repaired when a will develops to break up with sin and one opens to the return to the sacramental husband or wife.
- It is a common practice to use false notions and sentences that kill sacramental marriage, such as: “ex-husband”, “ex-wife”, “irrevocably destroyed marriage”, “but this marriage has broken apart and ceased to exist”, “irreversible cases/examples”. The term “irreversible situations” can be found in the document entitled Relatio Synodi on the extraordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops from October 2014, whose item 52 contains the following sentence: Others proposed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering”. (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20141018_relatio-synodi-familia_en.html). The statements: “destroyed a valid canonical marriage” and “marriage destroyed irreversibly” suggest that a sacrament can be destroyed – it is like it was possible to destroy the sacrament of holy orders, baptism or Eucharist. It is impossible to destroy a sacrament as sacrament means that Jesus is present within it! How would be possible to destroy the presence of Jesus Christ in a sacrament?
- The word of “adultery” is avoided – both the word itself and the notion it stands for have become a kind of a taboo. It is puzzling why such a widespread phenomenon which is hurting emotionally and spiritually so many people, both the betraying and betrayed, is so carefully omitted in statements, including in sermons.
- Leading an adulterous life is excused by the fact that a child from the nonsacramental union needs both parents, regardless of the explicitly put God’s will – expressed by the testimony of John the Baptist and Jesus’ with the words: “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt 19,6) – that sacramental spouses should not be parted.
III. Talking about marriage in compliance with the Gospel
Change of the current way of thinking about marriage in Church into a way of thinking that is in agreement with the spirit of the Gospel requires changes in the way marriage is spoken about::
- Avoid the disadvantageous changes in language as described in here, return to former, clear terms and meanings.
- Remind that a sacramental spouse is always bound with marriage vows and that nothing releases them from this commitment: neither infidelity nor departure of the other spouse.
- Say that it is the will of Lord Jesus to heal the sacramental marriage, not only before divorce but also after divorce, also when a sacramental spouse is in another union, with children.
- Preaching that the fundamental, although a difficult purpose of nonsacramental unions’ ministry is to encourage the individuals that they return to their first and only marriage. In each situation, at every stage of spiritual care all spouses in second unions – under the power of sacramental vows they are bound with – should be prepared to reunite with their sacramental spouse, regardless whether or not there is offspring in the other relationships and even in the situations when the sacramental spouse is also in another union. Also he or she can repent – with the help of the attitude of the repenting husband or wife. Then the reconciliation of the sacramental spouses can become real with the help of God’s grace as it is the will of Jesus Christ to heal every sacramental marriage.
- A widespread application in the pastoral practice of the individual rite of marriage vows renewal for the spouses who want to remain faithful in spite of being abandoned by their husbands or wives. Currently that rite is only intended for happy couples celebrating their golden wedding or other important anniversaries. A renewal of marriage vows for spouses in crisis could take place e.g. during an anniversary Mass in a parish – the believers who have their wedding anniversary in a given month could after that Mass individually renew their vows before the priest. That would be a sign that Church blesses that sacramental marriage in the name of Jesus Christ, regardless of the fact if the husband and wife are together in church on not.
What decides on using or not using the language that supports existence of sacramental marriage after divorce is first of all the belief in the presence of Jesus in the sacrament of marriage. With the absence of that belief a sacramental marriage is perceived in a purely human way, lacking a supernatural dimension. When we return to the evangelical belief in indissolubility of a sacramental marriage, not only the way we speak changes. It also influences our attitudes and our salvation: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18,21).
Testimonies of married people who await the return of their spouses from non-sacramental relationships in which there are children – http://en.sychar.org/witnesses
The Drawing – http://en.sychar.org/drawing
Can every difficult sacramental marriage be saved? – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLobUwltc9GBapMKTiBKNZOo5uOi-RByIJ
Home page – http://en.sychar.org/