Marriage is a sacrament. It is a calling, like any vocational calling, from the Lord. It is a lifelong commitment. Marriage, just like all sacraments, is not to be taken lightly. The church forbids divorced and remarried couples to receive the Eucharist unless there has been an annulment of the previous marriage by the Vatican. However, is that going to change? The latest news seems to be hinting at a change coming from the Vatican, at the request of Pope Francis, to relax (or even relent) on this sacramental requirement.
The yielding or softening of this requirement to allow divorced couples to receive the Eucharist not only reduces the value of marriage, but also diminishes the sacredness of the holy Eucharist. According to the Catholic News Agency, “the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life is preparing a document that will address divorced and remarried couples at the request of Pope Francis, according to the dicastery’s prefect, Cardinal Kevin Farrell.” The cardinal, according to CNA, mentioned the document during an April 22 meeting of the dicastery.
During his pontificate, Pope Francis has been walking a tight rope on attempting to soften the church’s enforcement and stance on remarriage. He has not officially eliminated the requirement of an annulment and restriction of those divorced and remarried to receive communion, but he has been treading the line for quite some time. In 2016, he released “Amoris Laetitia”, which is translated “The Joy of Love”. In the exhortation, he encourages the church to focus on assisting people to remain in relationships as opposed to seeking divorce. He reminds the church leaders that those who are divorced and remarried “are not excommunicated” and no one should treat them as if they are excommunicated. Anyone excommunicated is not able to receive communion and, in comparing the divorced and remarried to someone excommunicated, the pope has set the tone for his belief that there should be leniency.
“The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications.” (Amoria Laetitia)
St. John Paul II reaffirmed the restriction of holy Communion to divorced and remarried couples in his 2005 apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio.” Pope Francis, however, has stated that “we cannot reduce a human situation to a prescriptive one.” He also stated he did not believe that those who marry young understand what “forever” means and hints at reducing the restriction of the Eucharist to divorced and remarried couples because of that reason (along with others). “When young people say ‘forever’, who knows what they mean by ‘forever.’”
We are certainly unable to discern what an individual means by any word used, much less the word ‘forever’, but we can understand and know what the Lord Jesus taught about marriage and divorce. “He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)
Cardinal Farrell, during his April 22 speech, said the document requested by Pope Francis would focus on addressing the issue of divorced men and woman by helping those individuals live in their new marriages as opposed to punishing them for the failed marriage. Will the document change Church teaching? It is unclear if the pope, and the document, will cross the line that he has closely and tightly been walking. The document does not have a release date yet.