This weekend’s reading about divorce got me thinking. My father’s parents divorced when he was twenty, and annulled so they could both remarry as Catholics. I grew up thinking annulment means that the marriage never happened. If this is true, what does that make my father and his sisters?
The way it was explained to me when my marriage was annulled is that, at the time of the marriage, something was lacking that would have made the marriage sacramentally valid in the eyes of the Church.
You can’t make a valid commitment if you don’t understand the commitment in the first place. For instance, if a marriage tribunal determines that either party was unable to understand the commitment due to immaturity, psychological issues, etc., that marriage may be found to be invalid because the person wasn’t able to make a sacramental, lasting commitment. There are other reasons, too, but that’s one of the biggies. So, in a certain sense, the marriage never happened because the commitment itself wasn’t real.
However, the Church recognizes that the civil marriage was valid until dissolved and the children are not “illigitimate” as some people fear about church annulments.
This was the case of my wife and her previous marriage in which her former husband was not a baptized Christian. When my wife and I met, she talked to our parish priest about her situation and good thing it was about a year and a half before we got married. It took quite awhile before her paperwork came back from the marriage tribunal in our diocese and her previous marriage was annuled. Then we had to attend parish marriage mentoring classes before we could even apply for our marriage license. It was seven months before our wedding date. From what I hear about annulments today they are being more scrutinized and taking much longer than before toward approval sometimes in cases of close to two years. Also Catholic credentials about their sacramental completion, Baptism,Holy Communion, Confirmation. I had to sponsor my wife at RCIA so she could receive Confirmation. A month later I had to sponsor her oldest daughter for Confirmation. Our parish on occasions have in their bulletin topic about mass attendance and use of church envelopes. Many people don’t understand that this is vital to their parish and diocese to keep record of their mass attendance especially when comes time for sacrament of Matrimony,sponsoring for people to complete sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, and Catechumens entering Catholic Church through RCIA classes. For Catholics with children, get all their sacramental prep completed as early as permitted by your diocese/parish. Try to get all their sacramental documents in multiples if permitted so if they jump ship from the Catholic Church and then want to get married later in the Catholic church,sacramental sponsoring etc. the complexities and anxieties will be so far less otherwise it’s like starting all over and then they need RCIA to try to resolve these issues.
I used to get hung up on the same thing, thinking annulment made the children of a marriage somehow, 'illegitimate". I was happy to discover that I was wrong in this thinking.
FickleFreckled is correct. Annulment does not mean that a legal, civil marriage did not take place. In fact, a (presumably) legal civil marriage did take place so there is no question about what your father and his sisters are. They are all completely legitimate offspring.
The issue with annulment, as FickleFreckled points out, is whether a sacramentally valid marriage took place. A civil marriage is merely a legal contract. A sacramental marriage is a covenant. One that involves God.
An annulment determines whether or not, at the time of the marriage, a sacramental covenant was made between the parties. If it is determined that, at the time of the marriage, no valid sacramental covenant occurred (perhaps because one or both parties was incapable of making a sacramental covenant), then a decree of annulment can be made. This does not mean that a legal, civil marriage did not occur. It merely means that, a sacramental “marriage never happened” (your original wording).
Peace and God Bless,