Is Remarrying after Divorce a Sin?
The Beauty of Catholic Marriage
Is remarrying after divorce a sin? To answer this question from a Catholic viewpoint, we must first understand what marriage is.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines marriage as “the matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life … ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”
Few things make people happier or more excited than pledging a lifelong love to someone and beginning a life together in holy matrimony. God created us out of love to know, love, and serve Him. He gave us marriage as a gift—and through that gift we help our spouse and future children to know, love, and serve Him. We know that Christ holds marriage as a sacred bond, as it was at a wedding that Jesus performed His very first miracle. Indeed, the unending love between a husband and wife mirrors the love that God has for us.
A Catholic marriage is not simply a contractual obligation to another person signed in the office of the Justice of the Peace. Marriage is a sacrament meant to be faithful, fruitful, and lifelong. During the sacrament of matrimony, the couple makes a vow in the presence of God, their families, and friends to love, honor, and cherish each other until death. The Church, and Christ Himself, takes this vow—this sacrament—very seriously. The Catechism teaches us that the “matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined [that] ‘what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’”
No one ever claimed that marriage would always be easy or fun. Because we are all imperfect human beings, marriage—just like life itself—comes with struggles, pain, difficulties, sadness, and tragedy. But it also comes with joy, love, and happiness. Couples who have been married for 40, 50, or 60 years say that their success lies in taking the bad times with the good and weathering them together, as a team. Furthermore, they know that a marriage is not just a man and a woman. A strong marriage needs Christ. It craves His presence and His guidance.
In short, Catholic marriage is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.
Is Remarrying after Divorce a Sin?
Despite the beauty of marriage, the reality is that too many of them end in divorce. According to the Catholic Church, divorce is “immoral . . . because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.” These are reasons why Christ and His Church uphold the sanctity of marriage and desire for us to do the same. Broken families lead to a broken society.
So, what is a Catholic who finds himself or herself divorced to do? The shame can be unbearable, not just for the divorced person, but for the children as well. Though our society claims to be “modern” and accept all kinds of families, many divorced people feel embarrassed, shunned, and isolated. To make matters worse, many Catholics erroneously think that the Church alienates divorced people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Catholic Church grieves with divorced couples. The Church wants you to know that you still have a home with your Church family and that you are deeply loved. Christ does not want you to leave the Church. He does not want you to stop receiving the sacraments.
And is remarrying after divorce a sin? When a divorced Catholic gets remarried without first receiving a declaration of nullity for the first marriage, he is in fact committing a mortal sin.
Why is this so? This is so because, according to the Church, the original couple is still married. If one or both parties remarry, they are committing adultery. According to the Catechism: “Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery.” Jesus Himself was very clear about the issue of divorce and remarriage: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).
A declaration of nullity, often called an annulment, is a statement from a Catholic tribunal stating that the marriage was never a sacramental marriage. In order for a tribunal to declare this, one or both parties must provide evidence as to why they believe they never had a sacramental marriage. The tribunal reviews the evidence and makes a decision. If an annulment is granted, the couple is then free to remarry and receive the sacraments.
If a divorced person marries another without receiving a declaration of nullity from the Church, the person is living in mortal sin and therefore cannot receive Communion.
Just as parents love their children, even though they may sin, so God loves us. He will never turn His back on us. If you are remarried and have not yet gotten an annulment, continue to go to church. Stay close to Christ. Pray. While you cannot receive Communion, you can still partake in the Mass itself. God wants you there. He beckons you. And when you do come, He will be there with open arms, welcoming you home.
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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. Since 2003, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials, and website content. Fourteen of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of its Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program, an educational nonprofit program for k-12 students.