Problem with Mixed Marriages

by Rev. Fr. S. Webber

This (Matrimony) is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and His Church,” says St. Paul to the Ephesians.  From the ceremony of marriage, the considering of the doctrine of matrimony and the moral issues attached to marriage, one will get a glimpse of the noble and magnificent ideal, but also grave responsibility which the Church holds out to the couple wanting to marry.  Hopefully, dear Catholics, those who wish to marry or are already married will begin to realize or deepen their realization why the Catholic Church then “detests” a mixed marriage and that the reaction of the parish priest is a sigh and a frown when presented with one.

“…You are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious, a union which was established by God Himself.  By it , He gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race…Because God Himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self.  But Christ Our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and higher beauty.  He referred to the love of marriage to describe His own love for His Church, that is, for the people of God whom He redeemed by His own blood.  And so He gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self sacrificing love like His own…This union then is most serious.”1

This image of Christ and His Church is significant and telling of a Catholic marriage.  Christ, the head, sacrifices Himself for the life of the Church, shedding His blood for remission of sins, making possible a fruitful harvest of souls for heaven.  As we can understand from this image, the purpose of the marital union is to bring forth generations of children for eternal life.  Therefore, those who enter upon this union, the father and mother, have a sublime yet grave responsibility “to be fruitful and multiply” and bring souls back to God.  How is this done?

To quote the passage of St. Matthew from the gospel of the Nuptial Mass, we are reminded that the parties are “two in one flesh.”  Husband and wife in a supernatural manner become one body and one soul, one heart and one mind, just as Christ and His Church are intimately one body and one mind and form a unity of Head and members.  Pope Pius XI says, “The souls of the contracting parties are joined and knitted together more directly and more intimately than their bodies.”  The Pope will also say that marriage is a “generous surrender of one’s own person made to another for the whole span of life…”  This surrender, this sacrificial aspect of every marriage is the simple reiteration of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “…husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the Church and delivered Himself up for it.”  Therefore, it is necessary that this union be exclusive, that is, one man and one woman, and indissoluble due to the primary purpose and blessing of marriage which is children.  Entering upon marriage with this mindset, the spouses are on the way to follow the path paved by Our Lord and His Church for a truly fruitful and blessed marriage.2

This is the true spirit of Catholic wedlock, which clashes head on with the world in which the Catholic lives.  Now let us never forget that Truth is eternal and the Lord of Truth never changes or adapts with the times.  The times must conform with Him who is Reality and matching ones mind and life to the reality, one lives a life of truth which alone will make one free and bring one to happiness.

Regarding modern times, there are many errors, which are summarized in that of Modernism by which we are all infected to a greater or lesser degree, since this deadly disease is in the air we breathe.  It is a tendency, as Pope Pius XI says, “to neglect religion or to be indifferent towards it; for this error of the modernist, is to hold that dogmatic truth is not absolute but relative, that it changes according to the varying necessities of time and place and the varying tendencies of the mind; that it is not contained in an immutable tradition, but can be altered to suit the need of human life.”  This indeed is an error.  It is wrong to think this way.3

A mixed marriage promotes this error which will eventually break down the family, the cell of society; thereby society is destroyed and corrupted for it is tending away from God, the source of happiness, truth, order and all perfection.  This is the effect of such a union because there is a radical problem, that is, one from the very roots, that is from the cause. All men work from principles.  Catholics and non-Catholics work from different principles and if the two parties both agree perfectly in the principles then either the two will be Catholics or the two will be non-Catholics.  Husband and wife should be intimately one in mind and soul; and this is impossible where one of them is a living and visible member of Christ’s mystical body and the other knows nothing of the true life in Christ.  Marriage “as symbol of Christ’s union with His Church,” its purpose is to give new members to the Church, those who will praise, reverence and serve Him now and also for eternity as citizens of heaven.  Seeing this one can understand why the Church, far from considering a mixed marriage “very beautiful”, has always abhorred and reproved it.  Keeping divine law safe through guarantees when such marriage is tolerated…To quote from these guarantees we can see the rigor of the Church,  “…the non Catholic party swears that not only will he/she not interfere with the education of the children according to the unchanging teaching and traditions of the Roman Catholic faith, but in fact shall so act as to insure their education in this way…the non Catholic swears that he/she in no way will hinder the Catholic spouse, either by word or deed or pressure in the practice of his/her traditional Roman Catholic faith…In practice of this faith by the Catholic spouse, the non Catholic will not only not interfere but will cooperate with the Catholic and make whatsoever sacrifices are necessary to assist the Catholic.”(Can. 1061)  It should never be forgotten that the Catholic is constantly striving all the while for the conversion of the non Catholic spouse and this is a grave duty (Cn. 1062).    

In an expose of the primary end of marriage we will see why the Church frowns on such “unions” between non Catholics and Catholics.  The difference of view point between Catholic and non Catholic is today increasing on all questions bearing on true happiness of married life, such as birth control, abortion, the need of religious life, the true Christian revelation, the existence of God, etc.  We are reminded in our catechism that Matrimony is a sacrament instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, which creates a holy and indissoluble union between a man and women and gives them grace to love one another holily and to bring up children as Catholics.  The Church spells out more thoroughly the meaning of marriage by clearly stating in her law the purpose of marriage and its essential characteristics in Canon 1013 of the 1917 code of Canon Law: “The primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children.  The secondary purpose is to furnish mutual aid and remedy for concupiscence.  The essential characteristics of marriage are its unity and indissolubility, which obtain a special stability in Christian marriage by virtue of the sacrament."  Still further in the law of the Church founded by Christ it is stated that “parents are under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children, as well as to their physical and civic training, as far as they can, and moreover to provide for their temporal well being."  Now the principles brought to a marriage by a non Catholic and a Catholic clash and where there is a clash, there is proximate danger to the faith of the Catholic.  A mixed marriage falls short of full union in Christ just in that which should be the strongest bond of such union and which is the most precious possession of the Catholic soul-their holy religion.  This union is objectively not a good thing.4

According to Pope Pius XI’s encyclical letter Casti Canubi children are the first end, and purpose of marriage “increase and multiply” (Genesis 1, 28); and I Timothy 5, 14 “I wish young girls to marry, to bear children, to be mothers of children."  Now God not only wishes men to be born that they should live and fill the earth, but that they may be worshipers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him forever in heaven.  Both husband and wife, however, receiving these children with joy and gratitude from the hand of God, will regard them as a talent committed to their charge by God, not only to be employed for their own advantage or for that of an earthly commonwealth, but to be restored to God with interest on the day of reckoning.  The blessing of offspring, however, is not complete by mere begetting of them, but something else must be added, namely education of offspring.  Parents have the power and the right to educate their children and they are forbidden to leave unfinished this work and so expose it to certain ruin and the Church has safeguarded this begetting and educating by reiterating and enforcing the indissolubility of the union instituted by Christ.  “What God hath joined together let no man be asunder.” But when mom and dad do not agree to the essentials of religious education and the primary importance it has in ones existence how will the healthy education of children be procured?5

There are vices opposed to Matrimony, which are held by Protestants, which are contrary to Catholic belief and never allowed.  Firstly, contraception, as the tradition of the Church says and the Popes have always taught from the house tops, is never allowed.  “But no reason, however grave can be put forward by which any thing intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good.”  All contraceptive methods are wrong because they involve destruction of the final causality of the marriage act.  They render null and void what the persons intend to do.  Nothing can render them morally lawful.  Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.  To the argument based on financial difficulties the Pope shows himself sympathetic.  He insists on the family wage, but he cannot change the law of God.  Either the alternative of more children must be accepted, or such measure of continence must be practiced – aided by divine grace i.e. the sacraments, which Catholics believe in and non Catholics repudiate – will remove the difficulties.  These are the means that will strengthen character and draw down the blessings of God.

Secondly, abortion is an issue which Catholics and non-Catholics do not agree.  Some wish it to be allowed and left to the will of the father and the mother; others say it is unlawful unless there are weighty reasons (who decides?).  However much we may pity the mother whose health and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless, what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent?  Life of each is equally sacred and no one has the power, not even public authority, to destroy it.  St. Augustine calls parents wicked who seek to remain childless and who are not ashamed to put their offspring to death.  Those who act in this way are at fault in loosing sight of the fact that men are begotten not for earth and time, but for heaven and eternity.6

Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical on Christian marriage warns us why mixed marriages should not be considered lightly for these reasons: firstly when minds do not agree as to the observances of religion, it is scarcely possible to hope for agreement in other things, secondly that they give occasion to forbidden association and communion in religious matters endangering the Catholic's faith and thirdly they are a hindrance to education of the children, for there is confusion to what is true and what is false which leads to the belief that all religions are equal.  The first duty of parents is to see that their child is properly instructed in religious knowledge and habituated from his earliest infancy to the practice of his religious duties.  This cannot possibly happen when the parents are at disagreement with regard to the practice of religion.  Whence it comes about not infrequently, as experience shows, the deplorable defections from religion occur among the offspring, or at least a headlong descent into that religious indifferentism which is closely allied to impiety.  Finally there is this also to be considered that in these mixed marriages it becomes much more difficult to imitate by a lively conformity of spirit the mystery of which We have spoken, namely, that close union between Christ and His Church and therefore the Church frowns on such unions.7

They, therefore, who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriage, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuade her children for sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation.  This attitude of the Church to mixed marriage appears in many of her documents, all of which are summed up in the Code of Canon Law: “Everywhere and with the greatest strictness the Church forbids marriage between baptized persons, one of whom is a Catholic and the other a member of a schismatical or heretical sect; and if there is added to this the danger of the falling away of the Catholic party and the perversion of the children, such marriage is forbidden also by divine law.”  If the Church occasionally does not refuse to grant a dispensation from these strict laws for a mixed marriage (provided that the divine law remains intact and the dangers above mentioned are provide against by suitable safeguards), nevertheless it is unlikely that the Catholic party will not suffer some detriment from such a marriage.8

Hence my dear Catholics let us examine once again our faith and know that we are made for eternal life and that everything we do on this earth is simply a means to that end.  Our faith teaches us that to get to heaven we must practice virtue and avoid sin and never put ourselves voluntarily into the occasion of offending God.  Understanding this we will be like minded with the Church and stand in the truth if we avoid mixed marriages for they endanger the faith of a Catholic and one’s eternal beatitude.  This, dear Catholics, we do not wish.

1. Collectio Rituum; ceremony of marriage

2. Christian Marriage in our day, Pop Pius XI p150.

3. On Fostering True Religious Unity, Pope Pius XI p 25.

4. A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Rev. Stanislau Woywood p 700

5. Christian Marriage, Pope Pius XI p151

6. Ibid. p152.

7. Christian Marriage, Pope Leo XII p81.

8. Ibid. p 153.