In a recently published document on the reciprocity between faith and the sacraments, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission (ITC) poses an admittedly controversial question: can two baptized persons who lack “personal faith” enter a natural, non-sacramental marriage? Canon Law teaches that a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being a sacrament. Pope Saint John Paul II warned against evaluating the level of faith of those who seek marriage in the Church, because it could risk making unfounded judgments. He further emphasized the supernatural reality to which the baptized belong, even if they don’t fully comprehend its significance. While the ITC suggests there may be cases where a complete rejection of faith after baptism could possibly render the marriage “non-sacramental,” it seems one must tread very cautiously in this regard. Surely, someone who does not practice the faith—or flat out rejects Christianity—is not prepared to live out the fullness of married life and should be instructed accordingly. But faith is not merely subjective. Faith is a theological virtue given through totally unmerited, gratuitous grace in the sacrament of baptism, which enables the baptized to believe in God, the object of faith (CCC 1266). Because baptism imprints an indelible character, it can never be “erased”—not even by mortal sin. Even if personal faith aids a believer, God’s grace is primary. Adjudicating whether or not the baptized contract sacramental marriages is a precarious path. The Church’s ministers should take seriously the primacy of grace in a baptized person’s life and not risk inappropriately judging their subjective experience of the same.
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