Q. I am a Protestant married to a Protestant (my first marriage was also to a Protestant), and I want to join the Catholic Church. I was told by a priest that my husband and I would have to have our previous marriages annulled before I can join the Church. (The annulment process would parallel the RCIA discussions over the next year.) I would appreciate your opinion and advice; is it true that we both need to have our earlier marriages annulled? (Milwaukee)
Q. Why does the Catholic Church ask non-Catholics to receive a Catholic annulment to a previous marriage in order to get married in a Catholic church? (I understand the requirement for Catholics, but it doesn’t seem to make sense for non-Catholics.) (Pennsylvania)
A. The two letters above are indicative of a widespread misconception: Many, many Catholics believe — erroneously — that any marriage not performed by a Catholic priest or deacon (or with the approval of the Catholic Church) does not “count” in the Church’s eyes. This is not so. Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if the Church were to declare as invalid every marriage between two Protestants, simply because no Catholic priest was there to officiate?
So the Catholic Church begins with the presupposition that a marriage between two non-Catholics is valid. But the Church has the right to determine who can get married by the Catholic Church — and to do so, one has to be free of any previous marriages and that may require an annulment process. (Some of the more common grounds for annulment are: lack of consent, intention to preclude children permanently, deep-seated psychological immaturity or instability, etc.).
For someone from another faith who wants to become Catholic, that person needs to be in “good standing” in the eyes of the Catholic Church; for a married person, this means living currently in a marriage recognized by the Church as valid. So any previous marriages on the part of either spouse would first have to be annulled.
Q. Recently, in answer to a reader’s question, you suggested that applause for a musical performance during the Mass is inappropriate and breaks the flow of the liturgy. May I invite consideration of a possible addendum to your comments?
There are faith communities in the United States where applause during religious services is not meant to thank the choir and musicians; rather it is a sign of being united in the message of the hymn and uplifted in worship. As the predominantly white and ethnically Western European congregations in the US seek out and welcome new Catholics to join our Church, new customs will follow and they will, I think, enhance our experience of joy in worshipping the Lord. (Detroit)
A. This reader’s letter makes an important point. It also serves as a helpful reminder that our focus may, at times, be too narrow. The Catholic Church is, in fact, a “big tent.” It gathers into a common faith more than a billion people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures, and liturgists do well when they seek to accommodate this diversity.