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Impediments to Matrimony

A marriage can only be concluded in the absence of all impediments to it. The impediments may be such as nullify marriage, or such as render it unlawful.
1. Those that render marriage null or invalid, are: Coercion, defect of age, consanguinity, and affinity, a previous marriage tie still existing, the greater degrees of Holy Orders, solemn vows, the prohibition concerning the marriage of Catholics with unbaptized persons.

Coercion: If undue stress is brought to bear on a man, if he is forced into marrying some one against his will by threats of personal injury, or fear of being disinherited, his marriage is invalid. Defect of age: Boys under fourteen, girls under twelve cannot enter into wedlock. Consanguinity: A Papal dispensation is required for the marriage of first cousins; in the case of more remote relationship an episcopal dispensation is sufficient. The voice of nature condemns the union of persons nearly related to one another, and their offspring are not unfrequently physically or mentally afflicted. Affinity is the result of a previous marriage; the survivor cannot espouse the blood-relations of the deceased party; that is, a man cannot marry the mother, sister, or daughter (by a former husband) of his deceased wife, and vice versa. But no affinity exists between the blood-relations of the several parties; for instance, a man may marry the sister of his brother’s wife. Previous marriage: It has already been explained that one of the parties to a marriage cannot marry again during the lifetime of the other. Should a woman, believing her husband to be dead, have married again, she must immediately leave her second husband, if she discover the first to be still living. Holy Orders and religious vows: Clerics who have received deacon’s or subdeacon’s orders, and monks and nuns who have taken a vow of celibacy, cannot enter upon the married state. Difference of creed: A Christian cannot, without a dispensation from the Holy See, be married to a Jew, a Mohammedan, or any other unbeliever. There are besides, impediments of a purely ecclesiastical nature, such as spiritual affinity, contracted in Baptism or Confirmation. These are not recognized by the State, and therefore the Church readily grants a dispensation if required.

2. The impediments that render marriage unlawful, are: The prohibition in regard to certain times, diversity of religious belief, betrothal, simple vows, complete ignorance of religious truth.

The times when marriages cannot be celebrated are from the beginning of Advent until the Epiphany, and from Ash Wednesday until Low Sunday (see the fifth precept of the Church). Diversity of religious belief: Marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics (Protestants. Old Catholics, non-uniate Greeks), can only be permitted under certain conditions. Betrothed: Any one who has pledged his troth to one person cannot marry another until the previous engagement is broken off. Simple vows: Vows which are not solemn, vows of perpetual chastity, of celibacy; the vow to enter a religious Order or become a priest, are a hindrance to marriage. Ignorance of religious truth: Those who are about to marry must, if they are ignorant of the fundamental truths of religion, place themselves under instruction for some time previously, otherwise they will be unable to teach their children the elements of the Christian religion. Hence it is usual for the priest to question those who announce to him their purpose of marrying, about the truths of religion, and if necessary instruct them in the duties and obligations of the married state.

3. Impediments of a purely civil nature, such as minority, military service, recent widowhood.

In some States minors cannot marry without the consent of their father, or if he be dead, of the magistrate. Soldiers, the term of whose military service has not expired, must have the sanction of the government officials; widows and widowers should allow a certain interval to elapse before concluding a second matrimonial alliance. The civil regulations in regard to matrimony must be observed, not from fear of the penalties incurred by violating them, but for God’s sake, since the secular powers are ordained of God (Rom. xiii. 1). This rule would not hold good if the decrees of the legislature were opposed to the commandments of God.

4. The ecclesiastical authorities are accustomed to dispense from matrimonial impediments where good reasons exist; the secular authorities do likewise.

The Pope alone can dispense from some impediments, such as near blood-relationship, or affinity by marriage; from others the bishop can grant dispensations, either in virtue of his office, or empowered by the Holy See. There are some natural impediments from which not even the Supreme Pontiff can grant a dispensation; nor is one ever granted to step-fathers and step-daughters, to fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Very rarely can a dispensation be obtained from solemn vows, or the greater Orders; nor in the case of one party being unbaptized, of spiritual affinity contracted Baptism, or in the relations of uncle and niece, aunt and nephew. Purely ecclesiastical impediments allow much more readily dispensation.

5. If a marriage to which any impediment rendering it in valid exists, should have been contracted, it must either be dissolved, or the impediment must be removed by means of a dispensation, and the ceremony performed over again.

If the invalidity of the marriage is known publicly, the nuptial contract must be renewed in the church, in presence of the parish priest and two witnesses; if not, it can be renewed privately, one only of the parties to the marriage is aware of the impediment, and if the other, should it come to his knowledge, would make use of it to dissolve the marriage, or if it would destroy the conjugal happiness of both, the Pope has power to dispense from the renewal of the matrimonial contract, and declare the union valid. It is advisable, in order to bring to light any impediments that may exist to their marriage, that the parties intending to be united in wedlock should be subjected to an interrogation by the clergyman in presence of two witnesses. It is a grievous sin on the part of betrothed persons wilfully to conceal any impediment which would annul their marriage. It is for the sake of ascertaining whether any such hindrances exist that the banns of marriage are published three times in the church.


This article, Impediments to Matrimony is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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