The liturgy was the standard, reasonably well-executed Novus Ordo mass one tends to find in major churches. A variety of lay lectors, a good cantor, a mumbling congregation that didn't sing any of the hymns. The service was extremely well-attended. There were at least a dozen people standing in the back of the Church.
As anyone who reads this blog is sure to know, the Roman Synod's meeting to discuss issues confronting the Church relating to marriage and the family began today. The readings fit the occasion—first God's creation of Eve, then the discourse on divorce from St. Mark's Gospel, in which Christ says "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
The most striking part of this mass was the homily. The celebrant priest is a canon lawyer who works in the diocesan marriage tribunal, and he launched into his homily with fervor. After about a minute he stopped himself and announced to the congregation that he was angry. "And I'm not one to get angry during homilies. That's just not in my nature."
His anger, he explained, was a result of the media distortion surrounding the Synod's meeting, relating to "communion for divorced and remarried catholics". He said that the obsession with his topic has been going on for at least a year, and that it has taken attention away from more important issues facing the Church, related to the family.
Then he proceeded to read and carefully explain CIC §§ 1055-56:
Can. 1055 §1 The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has, between the baptised, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.
§2 Consequently, a valid marriage contract cannot exist between baptised persons without its being by that very fact a sacrament.
Can. 1056 The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility; in christian marriage they acquire a distinctive firmness by reason of the sacrament.He pointed out a few basic facts:
- That marriage, including natural marriage, is a covenant, i.e. a free and complete act of surrendering oneself to another, and receiving the same act from the one with whom the covenant is made.
- That the marriage covenant is made by the two spouses, not by the Church, which is a witness to the act.
- That once we are baptized, our entire life is bound up with Christ.
- That consequently, in a marriage between baptized persons, the marriage covenant is bound to their life in Christ, and is ratified by Christ.
- That every marriage between baptized people is consequently a sacrament.
- That a sacramental marriage has two properties: unity and indissolubility.
Then he started to talk about annulment. (The man was clearly not joking when he said he was angry. He didn't come across as harsh, but was evidently stirred up.) He told us that the Church cannot dissolve a marriage. He told us that 80% of the annulments in the entire world are issued to Americans. He said that people make jokes about this in Rome. He gave two examples of grounds of nullity (defect of judgment and simulation) with examples illustrating each.
As the homily wound down, it was clear that the priest celebrant was running out of steam, and had gotten so caught up in what he had to say that he wasn't sure how to close. He lamented the fact that excessive media attention to this topic has made it harder for people who have gone through divorces to heal. He warned us again against the distortions of the media, and reminded us (ambiguously) of the passage immediately following Christ's discourse on divorce in Mark: his instruction that "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." We should be careful, he warned, not to prevent the little children of the Church from coming to receive Christ.
All in all an exceptional homily, with a really confusing ending. But not what I expected at all. I do not know who the priest was, but I would like to congratulate him on giving the most thorough homily I have ever heard about the sacrament of matrimony, despite the fact that he was clearly worked up.