Was I poorly advised regarding my civil marriage?

I am a new Catholic (1 year) married to a fallen-away Catholic man a mere two months ago in a civil ceremony in Guatemala, his homeland. My husband asked for a civil marriage because of his then-intense discomfort around religious figures and in church buildings, due to certain grave abuses he suffered as a child, but agreed to begin attending mass and to be married in the Church within a year’s time. I agreed to this plan because I was ignorant of the fact that a civil marriage is invalid in the eyes of the Church. I am very embarrassed and remorseful over my ignorance, but it was an honest ignorance–I never would have done this if I had known the gravity of my action.

When I was later informed that a civil marriage is invalid in the eyes of the Church, I went immediately to confession at my parish in Guatemala and explained the situation to the parish priest. I am fluent in Spanish and certain there was no miscommunication. The priest replied that I may not receive Holy Communion in his parish because I am well known there and my receiving of Communion would cause scandal among the churchgoers who know of my civil marriage. He said that I may receive Communion, however, in any other town but the one in which I was married. He added that I should pray frequently for the healing of my husband’s soul and be married in the Church as soon as possible.

Thanks to God, my husband started attending mass right afterward on his own initiative and is now eager to be married in the Church. I have been attending mass and receiving Communion in other towns as the priest instructed. However, after reading information on this very web site, I fear the priest was mistaken in giving me permission to do this.

A further complication: I have now returned to the states without my husband and may be separated from him for several more months while the visa process is finalized. I am also pregnant. Due to his not being present, we cannot at this point go about preparation for marriage in the Church.

Was this priest right to allow me to receive Holy Communion? If not, when my husband arrives, must we live in celibacy or else abstain from Communion until the sacrament of matrimony occurs?

(I’m sorry if this is sent twice. I had techinical difficulties the first time and I think it didn’t go though.)

Dear Mercy,

The priest sounds well-intentioned, but also quite uninformed. He had absolutely no authority to advise you to receive Holy Communion while living in an invalid marriage. When your husband returns, it shouldn’t take you a long time to have your marriage blessed (convalidated). But until then you would commit a mortal sin if you had marital relations with him since you are not validly married. I encourage you to wait to have relations with him until after your marriage is blessed. You may then receive our Lord in Holy Communion in the mean time. You are in our prayers.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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