August 14, 2021 Column Father De Celles

Assumption of Mary. Today, August 15, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption
of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Normally Sunday is a Feast of the Lord’s Day, celebrating
the Resurrection, but today is one of the rare times that that celebration is replaced by the
celebration of another important event in the life of the Church.
The Solemnity of the Assumption recalls the day in history when, as Pope Pius
XII infallibly declared in his 1950 Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus: “the
Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her
earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This, of course, is a great
day in the life of our Blessed Mother so we rightly celebrate it as such. But it is also a
great day for the life of the Church and for each Christian. Because, as we pray, “where
she has gone, we hope to follow.” Our Lord Jesus has given to His Mother the heavenly
rewards of her faith and love on earth, rewards that we hope to share in when we die.
But it’s important to remember that this feast is not just about Mary going to heaven: it is
about her having her body with her in heaven, just as Jesus has His Body in heaven. This
reminds us that at the end of time all the souls who go to heaven after death (including by
way of the cleansing of Purgatory) will be reunited with their glorified bodies in the
Resurrection of the Dead.
This, in turn, reminds us that all of us are created to live bodily in heaven, that we
are not souls imprisoned in bodies, nor are we souls using an outward shell (the body)
that we can manipulate or abuse as we choose without affecting or damaging our souls.
Our body is part of us, that part that communicates to others. And so what we do with our
bodies expresses us and who we are. This is important in these days when so many
people seem to think the body means nothing—you can abuse it with drugs or deviant
sex, or you can even mutilate it with senseless surgeries. The Assumption reminds us, no!
The human body—ours and everyone else’s—has a fundamental dignity. It is US. It is, in
some fundamental sense, created in the image of God. And is destined for the glory of
So let’s celebrate the Assumption this year, giving glory to God through our
devotion to His Mother Mary, giving Him thanks for the gift and dignity of the human
body, and expressing our hope in the Resurrection of the Body!
Divorce and Remarriage in Canon Law. Following up on last week’s column, I’d like
to discuss another aspect of Catholic Church law, called “canon law,” on marriage. In
particular I would like to discuss divorce, “remarriage” and annulments.
Divorce. Once a valid marriage (“in the eyes of God”) is entered into, it is
permanent, or indissoluble. While the state may allow a couple to divorce, that does not
end the marriage in God’s eyes, so that the couple is still married.
Sadly, sometimes the relationship between spouses disintegrates and they need to
live separately (e.g., spousal abuse, abandonment, etc.). In many cases they may then
morally pursue what the Catechism calls a “civil divorce,” if that is “the only possible
way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of
inheritance” (2383). So that civil divorce is not itself sinful.
But there is also “the sin of divorce,” that is, the willful attempt to break-up/ end a

valid marriage. For example, if a husband civilly divorces his wife in order to marry
another woman, that husband commits the sin of divorce, while his abandoned wife is not
guilty of any sin. As the Catechism teaches: “Divorce is a grave offense against the
natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live
with each other till death…” (2384). (See below for discussion of repentance).
Divorce and Remarriage. But even when there is a civil divorce, neither spouse
is free to marry anyone else, and to attempt to do so would be an act of public adultery
and bigamy. By “attempt to do so” I mean undergoing a civil or non-Catholic religious
ceremony, with another “spouse.” This is not a real marriage in Church law, even if other
non-Catholic religions might recognize it as valid. As Jesus clearly teaches in Matthew
19: “whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another
commits adultery.”
Note Jesus says, “unless the marriage is unlawful.” Some marriages, from their
very beginning, lack something so essential that they are invalid. A clear example of this
might be when either of the “spouses” is already previously validly married to someone
else or was forced to marry against their will. (I’ll leave other grounds for another
column). In those cases, the Church has formal procedures, including a whole court
system of judges, lawyers and experts, to justly ascertain the true status of the marriage.
If those procedures determine that there was no valid marriage from the beginning, the
Church declares the marriage null from the beginning (“annulment”) and the “spouses”
are free to marry someone else.
But if an annulment is not obtained, the Church must assume that the couple did
what they stood up and declared before God and society: that they were validly married.
Some Consequences. There are no direct canonical consequences to a Catholic
who receives a civil divorce, although, they should repent any sins related to the break
down of the marriage (and go to confession) and make necessary amendments. They
should also make a true effort to restore the marital relationship, if this is possible.
However, canon law prohibits those who (attempt to) remarry without an
annulment from receiving the Eucharist, since they “obstinately persist in manifest grave
sin” (Canon 915). Marriage is a persistent and manifest act, so that these Catholics who
continue to publicly live in a way that is objectively contrary to the meaning of Holy
Communion, i.e., radical communion with both God and other Catholics, effectively
exclude themselves from the Eucharist. (This rule extends also to Catholics who are
merely civil married).
Solutions. What should Catholics who find themselves in “irregular marriages”
do? First, of course, they can cease to live in the invalid marriage, although many find
this extremely difficult to do, especially those who were not aware of Church teaching
previously. Second, they can work with their priest to try to validate their “irregular
marriage”; a divorced/remarried Catholic might pursue an annulment so that they would
be free to marry. Third, if for grave reasons it is not possible to either leave the “irregular
marriage” (e.g., there are minor children, etc.) or to obtain an annulment, then couples
may sometimes, working with a priest, commit to live forever as “brother as sister,” i.e.,
in separate bedrooms with no sexual relations (although care must be taken to reduce any

moral confusion this might cause others).
Remember. I am not writing to chastise, but to teach the truth. Let us continue to
show charity and kindness to each other, especially those among us who find themselves
in difficult and trying circumstances.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles