From time-to-time Catholics enquire, and are not sure where they stand in
relation to the Church, with regard to their personal circumstances such as Divorce and a second Marriage. For a Marriage to be valid in the eyes of the Church, it is necessary that a Catholic be married – even if to a non-Catholic
– in the presence of a Priest using the Catholic form of Marriage; any other form
is invalid for a Catholic (unless a Dispensation has been granted by the Bishop). Divorce is not in itself a bar to receiving Holy Communion and the Church accepts that in some circumstances Catholics may need to initiate proceedings to protects their rights in civil law. However, the Church presumes that all marriages are valid and bind until death, unless and until nullity is proven on specific grounds. However, Register Office Marriage does bind non-Catholics. Consequently, the Church cannot bless a Marriage which She regards as invalid, and those who are in a Marriage the Church regards irregular are not free to receive Holy Communion or Absolution. A recent Decree from the Congregation of the Faith in Rome states
In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly they can find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.
This document also recognises that this is a heavy burden, one that needs the support of the Catholic community. The sadness of Marriage breakdown now affects many families. Those who cannot receive Holy Communion can, and should, still participate in weekly Sunday Mass. At the moment of Communion it is possible to ask the Priest to give you a blessing: if you cross your arms he will know to do this. Anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, wishing to enquire about
the possibility of a declaration of nullity, or wanting to discuss their situation further, should contact their local Parish Priest in the first instance.