June 15, 2010
Reception of Communion After Divorce
A Catholic who is divorced is not restricted to the ‘back pew’ of the parish, simply because of the divorce. The Church recognizes that marriages fail for various reasons and does not penalize a person because of that failure. What does this mean in practice for a person who is divorced and has not remarried or is not living with someone? He/She can still receive the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance. In fact, the grace that these Sacraments provide can give some healing and wholeness to the person.
If, however, a divorced Catholic remarries outside the Church or is cohabiting with someone, that person is not in a state of grace. Thus, he/she cannot receive the Sacraments. However, a Catholic in this position is still welcome to attend Mass, without receiving Communion. If the person wishes, he/she may go up at Communion to receive a blessing – the ‘signal’ for this is to cross the hands over the chest. In order to be a fully practicing Catholic, the person would need to contact his/her diocese to explore the Declaration of Invalidity (annulment) process.
Legitimacy of Children after an Annulment
Many people believe that a Declaration of Invalidity (annulment) somehow makes the children of the marriage declared invalid to be illegitimate. This is simply not so. A Declaration of Invalidity only addresses the consent of the husband and wife at the time they take their vows. If a marriage is declared invalid, it is because one or both did not understand or were not capable of carrying out the vows they took.
Legitimacy is a legal issue which indicates knowledge of a child’s paternity. The Church presumes that any children born to a married woman are the children of her husband. Canon 1137 specifically states “The children conceived or born of a valid or putative [presumed] marriage are legitimate.” Canon 1138, §1 states “The father is he whom a lawful marriage indicates unless clear evidence proves the contrary.”
Unfortunately, when a divorce has been very contentious, and one of the spouses decides to request the Church examine the marriage for invalidity, the other parent often will tell their children that if this occurs, the children will become illegitimate. Naturally, this is extremely distressing to the children, no matter their age at the time. Parents who make statements such as this have allowed their anger at the ex-spouse to triumph over the well-being of their children.
Children born of a marriage which was subsequently declared invalid by the Catholic Church are legitimate and enjoy all the rights and privileges of the civil law. Their inherent dignity as persons is upheld by the Catholic Church.
Please contact the Office of Canonical Affairs and Tribunal if you have any questions.
Mary Tarver is a tribunal judge who was formerly employed by the Bismarck Diocese. She now works as a tribunal judge in the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas.