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 | Father Len Plazewski

Sacramental Marriage, God's Grace at Work

February 7, 2023 | It is not unusual this time of year for couples to announce their engagement. An engagement is a moment of great happiness for couples and their families. At my parish, I not only celebrate many weddings throughout the year, but also spend time working with couples to help prepare them for sacramental marriage. There are several issues connected with marriage, marriage preparation, and even sadly when there is divorce that should be clarified.

The Sanctity of Marriage

The Church invites us to always view marriage as a good.  Unfortunately, too often in our society marriage is not viewed that way. It is lampooned as “old fashioned,” made fun of in TV shows, and often seen as unnecessary. As Catholics we should see marriage in a completely different way. We view marriage as a sacrament in which the person of Christ is present in a real and true way. None of us are perfect, but God’s grace is far more powerful than our own imperfections. We receive Holy Communion, not because we are perfect, but rather because we want to become the person that God calls us to be.

Likewise in marriage, neither party will ever be perfect, but God’s grace can work through them in a beautiful and wonderful way.

Catholics are required to get married in the Catholic Church.  This is a serious moral obligation.  Catholics who do not get married in the Church should refrain from receiving Holy Communion until this situation can be rectified. Getting married is not about scenic vistas or lovely photo ops, but rather about sealing one’s love in the presence of the Lord in His Church. Getting married in the Church need not be elaborate as a simple ceremony would suffice.  Obviously, most couples want to celebrate and make special the day they are joined in Holy Matrimony. Most parishes do everything in their power to make weddings as beautiful as possible!

While one’s wedding day is one of the most important days in most people’s life, it is not the summation of marriage.  As the expression goes, “A wedding is a day, but a marriage is a lifetime!”  I think we lose sight of this in two ways. The first is when we focus solely on the wedding itself and all our energy is spent making the “perfect day.” A lot of this is Hollywood’s fault and often people think if the wedding isn’t “picture perfect” in every way, somehow it is a disappointment.

The other danger is when a couple thinks they must have everything resolved before getting married. Because of this, we see people today delay marriage for years! Now I am not in favor of running out and getting married after just a few dates, but delaying marriage indefinitely is not a good idea either. Couples today often want to have their career set, student loans paid off, a house purchased, etc. In such a view marriage is often the “last thing.”  What about inviting God into your relationship now? Everything does not have to be solved before marriage. The vows themselves are not promises everything will always be perfect in life, but rather a commitment to stay together whatever comes their way, good or bad.

Marriage Preparation and Enrichment

For decades the Church has required at least 6 months of marriage preparation (we recommend you start the marriage preparation a year in advance). The preparation is not about putting up hoops for couples to jump through, but rather to take the time to reflect on various issues present and the things that likely will be part of their lives in the future as a married couple. It makes good sense to take the time to do this. After all, “marriage is not a state to be entered into lightly.” To start marriage prep simply contact your parish office.

Marriage is not always easy. Life can be hard and often has unexpected twists and turns.

These things impact one’s marriage. It is important for couples to continue to give time to each other to continue to grow in their relationship with one another. I strongly encourage couples to take a proactive stance such as taking advantage of opportunities for marriage enrichment.

Unfortunately, many couples don’t take advantage of these opportunities or, even worse, put off  addressing problems which may have developed in their relationship. Too too often we are afraid to seek help. This is often true in marriage. There is nothing wrong with seeking some outside help. Our priests are here to help you and we also have several counselors who we can refer you to. Don’t wait before it is too late! 

Catholics and Divorce

Lastly, I want to address the question of divorce. Sadly, this sometimes is unavoidable. Most often this is the case when one person wants to remain married while the other doesn’t. One can feel powerless in such a situation and again we are here to help you. I think there is some confusion about divorce.

Divorce, does not exclude someone from receiving Holy Communion.

Divorce is a civil proceeding which divides up assets and provides for the care of minor children. Divorce has no impact on the sacramentality of marriage. If one gets remarried while one’s previous spouse is still alive (and that previous marriage has not been declared null by the Church) then one must refrain from receiving Holy Communion as they would be in a state of serious sin. If there is divorce, one has two options.  The person can decide to pursue an annulment through the Church and if granted, would permit a future marriage in the Church, or one can chose to embrace a holy single life, recognizing they are not free to enter marriage at this time.  Whatever the case, we your priests, and your parish are here to help and support you, for in the end, we are all called to holiness!

Father Len Plazewski is the pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa, Fl.