Questions Answered – June 2019

Attending a Greek Orthodox Wedding

Question: Is it permissible for a Catholic to attend either the ceremony or reception of a Catholic marrying a Greek Orthodox at a Greek Orthodox Mass without a Catholic priest present?

Answer: The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the validity of the sacraments conferred in the Greek Orthodox Church. Interestingly, it also recognizes marriages between Protestants as sacramental. Catholic theology holds that the baptized couple are the ministers of marriage. The Orthodox rather look to the priest as such a minister. In any case, the Catholic Church regards all the sacraments in the Greek Orthodox Church as valid.

There is a difference, however, in the Catholic view of Protestant marriage and Orthodox marriage, and this is based on the general understanding of the separation of the Orthodox Churches not in union with Rome (Greek Orthodoxy is one) and the Protestant sects. Vatican II expressed: “These Orthodox Churches, although separated from us, possess true sacraments above all by apostolic succession, the priesthood, and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in the closest intimacy” (Unitatis Redintegratio, no. 15). Vatican II distinguished between the Orthodox Churches and the Protestant sects which they called “ecclesial communities” based on the lack of apostolic succession, priesthood, and Eucharist. Catholics also are bound to the Catholic form of marriage, so they would need a dispensation to be married according to an Orthodox or Protestant form with no priest present. In the Orthodox case, the marriage would be valid with no dispensation, though not in the Protestant case. Under the former canon law, even Orthodox marriage without dispensation was deemed invalid, but Paul VI changed that to bring canon law into a consistent line with Catholic theology on the subject. In 1967 the decree Crescens matrimonium states:

Our Holy Father Paul VI . . . graciously permits everywhere on earth, in order to prevent invalid marriages between faithful of the Latin rite and faithful Christian non-Catholics of the Oriental rite, in order to provide for the firmness and holiness of marriage, and to encourage charity more and more between faithful Catholics and non-Catholic Orientals, whenever Catholics . . . contract marriages with faithful non-Catholic Orientals, the canonical form of celebration for these marriages is of obligation only for liceity; for validity, the presence of the sacred minister is sufficient; observing the other requirements of law. (165)

This is implemented in the present canon law also: “The prescripts of Canon 1108 are to be observed for the form to be used in a mixed marriage. Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, the canonical form must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of the law are to be observed” (c. 1127, 1). One further point in such cases the canon law of both Churches must be observed, and the Orthodox do not recognize marriages witnessed by deacons.

Presumably the weddings you are asking about involve those who have received dispensations, but even if they did not you could still participate, as they are illegal but not immoral. If there is a dispensation, they are fine.


Saint Paul and Spousal Submission

Question: How would you approach explaining the text of St. Paul regarding “wives be submissive to their husbands”? I am coming across more than a few Catholics who happily interpret this as some kind of enslavement.

Answer: I will not go into the scriptural exegesis of the passage you are asking about as I am not an expert in exegesis. Theologically, however, this is an important question to clarify. First, let it be clear that wives are never slaves to their husbands. This is not only against the natural law, it is unchristian. The answer to this question requires returning to understand the way social order was carried out before the Original Sin, in the state of Original Justice.

In this state, man was created in grace and rightly ordered within with special gifts of integrity. He possessed infused knowledge, loving obedience, spontaneity in his passions, and there was no suffering and death. This was due to the unique nature of man. In Genesis chapter one, this unique character regarding the rest of nature is simply expressed by saying man was created “in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them” (1:27).

The nobility of man is portrayed as being made in the image of God and traditionally this is expressed in his rationality. Chapter two, however, fills out this simple statement with some important clarifications about the implications of this simple objective statement. Adam demonstrates that this rationality involves a will of choice because he is presented with a choice of realizing his destiny by obedience to God’s command about the fruit of the tree. This is further clarified when the animals are brought to him to be named, which demonstrates his intellect. When he names them, he finds none like himself.

John Paul II teaches in Theology of the Body that for Adam to fully realize what is entailed in being a person, he must have another person to whom he can give himself freely in love, for “it is not good that the man be alone” (2:18). From his rib, God creates Eve. In the mythical language of Genesis, Eve comes from his rib because, had she been from his head, she would be his superior; from his foot, his inferior. When Adam sees Eve for the first time, John Paul II says he gives the first great cry of joy in the history of the human race and he speaks the first words of love and names her by the closest identification: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she has been taken out of Man” (2:23). Then the two are: “naked but not ashamed” (2:25). This denotes that since they are both in the state of grace and there is no moral weakness, there is no manipulation or domination in their relationship, which is pure gift and reception in love. This is first realized in the soul and then in sexuality in the body.

Several conclusions follow from this. First, there would have been authority in Genesis because it is natural to man and is not a creation of sin. Yet this authority is also exercised as a service in a disinterested way because it would always be exercised by the best person. Second, there is an order of authority in marriage. The man names the woman, who receives it and returns the recognition silently. Third, this authority is in NO sense that of master to slave, but, as Aquinas would have it, “of wise governor to free citizen.”

This all comes into question as a result of the Original Sin. In losing grace, Adam and Eve also lose integrity. The new state of Fallen Nature is characterized by what Augustine calls in the City of God the “desire to dominate,” which is at the source of all concupiscence. This is seen in many areas but especially in marriage and in the family. God says to the woman that one of the punishments for the sin is: “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” (3:16). This is implemented in the woman trying to manipulate the man to gain power, and the man trying to dominate the woman through force. What had been a relationship of wise governor to free citizen now is perverted into master to slave. The couple are now naked and ashamed. It should be noted that this does not entail any negative judgment that the body is evil. Rather, the shame here results from a desire to preserve one’s freedom to love and be loved without force.

Christ redeems the body and a part of that redemption is clearly seen in marriage. In Ephesians, one finds a beautiful description of the redemption wrought by the sacrament of marriage and the statement you ask about must be viewed in the whole context of the passage.

First, the passage begins with: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Then the passage about submissive wives follows. This is, however, presented in the context of the relation of love of Christ for his Church. Christ/Church; husband/wife; Christ/body. The husband proves his love by dying on the Cross for his wife who is the Church. The husband must love his wife as his own body. This is completely contradictory to a master-slave relationship based on a kind of submissive obedience like a servant or a dog. This is why it is completely contrary to Christianity. Each must die for the other and seek to grow in selfless self-love and union with the other. Though there is an order, it is one of mutual help, friendship, and respect. In this, the couple come to resemble both Christ and the Trinity by a communion of service. As St. Paul says: “This is a great mystery” (5:32).

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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