A review of the timeless, unchanging truths of the Magisterium of the Church concerning the Sacrament of Marriage.
As reported earlier this week, four cardinals— American Raymond Leo Burke, Germans Walter Brandmueller and Joachim Meisner, and Italian Carlo Caffarra—addressed a letter and series of dubia to Pope Francis seeking clarity concerning certain controversial passages from the Apostolic Exhoration Amoris Laetitia. Throughout the documents, the cardinals make reference to various portions of the magisterium which appear to be at odds with some of the contents of Pope Francis’s exhortation.
In order to assist the faithful looking what the Catholic Church, up until recent times, taught firmly concerning the admittance of the (civilly) divorced and remarried to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, we are providing the following citations and quotes which clearly restate the Church’s constant magisterium on this grave matter.
References to the Recent Magisterium
John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, November 22, 1981, §84.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples’.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1992, #1650.
Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’, the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.”
Along the same lines: John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et pœnitentia, 1985, §34.
Basing herself on these two complementary principles, (Ed. note: mercy and truth) the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions.
For all those who are not at the present moment in the objective conditions required by the sacrament of penance, the church's manifestations of maternal kindness, the support of acts of piety apart from sacramental ones, a sincere effort to maintain contact with the Lord, attendance at Mass and the frequent repetition of acts of faith, hope, charity and sorrow made as perfectly as possible can prepare the way for full reconciliation at the hour that providence alone knows."
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful, September 14, 1994. No. 4:
In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognized as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists."
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful Who Are Divorced and Remarried, June 24, 2000.
In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful."
Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2005, #349.
What is the attitude of the Church toward those people who are divorced and then remarried?
The Church, since she is faithful to her Lord, cannot recognize the union of people who are civilly divorced and remarried. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). The Church manifests an attentive solicitude toward such people and encourages them to a life of faith, prayer, works of charity and the Christian education of their children. However, they cannot receive sacramental absolution, take Holy Communion, or exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities as long as their situation, which objectively contravenes God's law, persists."
Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, February 22, 2007, §29.
The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church's practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist."
As can be seen, as recently as the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the Church demonstrated no official hesitation in reaffirming her perennial teachings on not only the indissolubility of Marriage, but the necessary requirements for receiving the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Those interested in further reading on the confusion sown by Amoris Laetitia should consult not only the aforementioned dubia of the four cardinals, but also the following documents.