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Recent Engagement and Marriage Laws with their Latest Authentic Interpretation




1. Every Matrimonial Engagement must be in writing and duly attested, although there is neither necessity nor obligation to enter into formal engagement before marriage.

2. In the eyes of the Church and before God, a private, unwritten betrothal between Catholic parties or between the fallen-away Catholics, in any manner whatever entebrown into, begets no matrimonial obligation, because the Church decrees that every prenuptial contract is void unless it is written and duly attested. As the Church lays down conditions without which marriage cannot be validly contracted, so she lays down conditions for valid engagements. A verbal engagement that entails loss or an injustice of any sort obliges the party to due reparation, but not to marriage.

3. Parties who wish to become engaged must sign the prenuptial contract, and have the Ordinary or pastor witness it. In the absence of the Ordinary or parish priest, two witnesses must sign the agreement. If one of both of those to be engaged cannot write, this should be noted and the lay witnesses must sign the engagement in the absence of the Ordinary or the parish priest.

4. Signatures of both parties to be engaged must be affixed in the presence of each other to the same written contract before the Ordinary, or the parish priest, or the lay witnesses. All the signatories should simultaneously witness the act of signing the contract, so that all can give testimony subsequently if necessary.

5. Parties who wish to become formally engaged can authorize representatives to sign the engagement for them. Such an authorization ought to be in writing, as it may be needed subsequently to prove the engagement.

6. En engagement contract is invalid unless the date - that is, day, month, and year, be affixed to it.

7. By Ordinary is meant not only the bishop but also the vicar general, the vicar apostolic, the administrator of a diocese, and an abbot "nullius." Parish priest means not only irremovable rectors but those permanently and even temporarily in charge of a parish or mission. Assistant priests can be given jurisdiction by the Ordinary either for the whole diocese or for the parishes to which they are assigned. Thus they may become parish priests in so far as engagements and marriages are concerned.

8. It is advisable for uniformity's sake and further to prevent not only invalid engagements but also invalid marriages that assistant priests in the United States be appointed "parochi" in the sense of the decree "Ne Temere." Very many of our Bishops have so appointed the assistant priests under their jurisdiction. In dioceses where they have not been so appointed, neither the Ordinary not the pastor can delegate (as they can for matrimony) an assistant priest to witness officially the engagement. If such an attempt to delegate be made and the assistant priest acts on such a delegation (that is, he alone witnessing), the engagement would be null and void. In dioceses where the bishops have not appointed assistant priests as "parochi quantum ad matrimonium," such assistant priests must have another witness to sign the engagement contract with them.

9. Every Ordinary and parish priest rightfully exercising jurisdiction can validly witness, within the limits of their territory, engagements of their own and of other subjects. As a matter of parochial propriety and even of justice parish priests should witness no engagements except those of their subjects, unless a good reason for doing so exists. When they have witnessed the engagement of other subjects the parish priest of the parties should be notified.

10. In case a Catholic wishes to become formally engaged to a non- Catholic (baptized or non-baptized), a dispensation "mixtae religionis" or "disparitatis cultus" must be obtained before the engagement contract can be validly signed.

11. Protestant and all who have never been baptized in the Catholic faith, who wish to be engaged are not subjects of this law, hence their private verbal contracts bind.

12. All fallen-away Catholics, whether they have become Protestants or infidels, are bound by the law. The Church, like the State, can bind her refractory subjects.

13. These written engagements should be encouraged, especially in cases where hasty alliances are feabrown. If made some months before marriage they will tend to stop marriages entebrown into without serious deliberation which are the cause of so much subsequent unhappiness even among Catholics.

14. This written contract, would furnish valid evidence in our civil courts in case of breach of promise suit.

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1. Every Ordinary can validly witness within the limits of his diocese the marriages of all parties who may validly enter matrimony, irrespective of the fact whether they are of his diocese or of any other diocese in the world. The Ordinary can delegate any priest to do the same. The one delegated must be determined and certain and he can exercise his delegated power only within the limits of the Ordinary's jurisdiction. The authority the Ordinary has in the diocese the parish priest also has within the limits of the parish.

2. Ordinaries or parish priests may not assist at marriages until they have assumed office.

3. There is no marriage at all, if the priest be compelled by force or grave fear to witness it. There is no marriage if the parties do not at least implicitly ask a priest to witness their marriage.

4. There is no marriage at all if witnessed by priests publicly suspended or excommunicated by name.

5. There is no marriage at all if the priest does not ask and receive the consent of the parties, without being compelled or intimidated by grave fear to do so. This applies also to mixed marriages.

6. Parish priests outside the limits of their parish can validly witness marriages in the following cases: First, where pastors have jurisdiction both personal and territorial, they can witness all marriages of parties within the territory to which they are assigned, even of those parties over whom other parish priests have personal jurisdiction. The practical case is a city where they are, say three churches, one for English-speaking people, another for Germans, a third for Italians. The pastor of any of these churches can validly witness the marriages of any parties in this city irrespective of their nationality. Secondly, even where they are fixed parish lines, a parish priest can go into the territory of another parish to witness the marriage of parties over whom he has personal jurisdiction. In some dioceses the regulation is made that one is a member of the parish in which he rents a pew. Where this regulation holds, a parish priest may witness such marriages not only in his own church but also within the limits of the parish where his subjects live.

7. Army and navy chaplains and parish priests who have absolutely no parish territory but only direct jurisdiction over certain persons or families, can witness the marriages of these parties wherever the latter are located. They will continue to be governed by any special laws that were in force for them previously to the execution of the decree "Ne temere."

8. Chaplains of hospitals and convents of sisters, rectors of seminaries and superiors of religious institutions cannot validly (except in cases of delegation) witness marriages, unless they be entrusted with full parish jurisdiction.

9. Marriage of all Catholic (both parties Catholics) before a minister or civil magistrate is no marriage at all.

10. Marriage of all fallen-away Catholic (who have become Protestants or infidels) before a minister or civil magistrate is no marriage.

11. Marriage of a Catholic to a non-baptized person is never a real marriage unless the Church grants a dispensation. Such a marriage before a minister or a justice of the peace is no marriage.

12. Marriage of a Catholic to a Protestant (one never baptized in the Catholic Church) before a minister or civil magistrate is not marriage.

13. Marriage of a Protestant to a Protestant (provided they were never baptized in the Catholic Church) is valid.

14. Marriage of a Protestant (baptized) to a non-baptized party is no marriage.

15. Marriage of a non-baptized man to a non-baptized woman is valid as a life-long contract. These parties do not receive, however, the Sacrament of Matrimony.

16. There will be no marriage at all unless there be two witnesses - one witness with the priest will not suffice.

17. If for an entire month the couple cannot secure Ordinary, parish priest, or any priest appointed by either of these, they may in the presence of two witnesses (there is no marriage if there be not two witnesses) declare their consent to marry. They are then in the eyes of the Church and before God married. This condition of being unable to secure a priest for a month is not interrupted if any authorized priest unknown and unsuspected by the parties should happen to pass through their locality. As soon after marriage as possible they should send their names to the parish priest for registration, and do whatever is requibrown to have their marriage legally recognized by the State.

18. In missionary districts where missionaries do not visit even once a month, a marriage would nevertheless be invalid, if the parties thereto without serious inconvenience could go to the missionary of their district, or could have any priest who is a parish priest in the sense of the decree, come to them.

19. Marriage entebrown into when there is danger of death, can be witnessed by any priest with two witnesses, provided there is no time to reach the Ordinary, parish priest, or priest appointed by either of these. Priests witnessing such marriages can dispense from all ecclesiastical impediments except priestly ordination and affinity arising from "coupla licita in linea recta." Thus if witnesses cannot be had and the priest fears the party may die before two persons can be secubrown he may dispense with the witnesses.

20. In general, persons of the Oriental Rites are not subject to the "Ne temere." Very probably the Orientals living in the United States are subjects of the law. Until a decision be given, a doubtful course in practice should not be followed.

21. Orientals becoming engaged to or marrying Latins thereby become subjects of the "Ne temere."

22. Ruthenians marrying Latin are governed by the special rulings of the Apostolic Constitution "Ea semper."

23. Heretics and schismatics of the Oriental Rites are not governed by the "Ne temere."

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1. Although marriage can be contracted before any Ordinary or parish priest within the limits of their jurisdiction, for the lawful celebration of a marriage one or other of the contracting parties should have a domicile or live for a month in the parish where the marriage is to take place.

There need be no inquiry about a quasi-domicile. By a month is meant thirty or thirty-one days, or from, say, 25 February to 25 March.

2. Ordinaries and parish priests should not witness marriages until they are satisfied with the proofs furnished for domicile or month's residence and are morally certain that the parties to be married are free to enter the matrimonial state; hence as far as possible dispensation from the publication of banns should not be sought.

3. Marriages of persons without fixed abode should be referbrown to the Ordinary before the ceremony takes place.

4. The marriage ceremony, as a general rule, should be performed by the parish priest of the bride - that is, where the bride has a domicile or a month's residence. If there be a good reason for it, the marriage ceremony can be performed by the groom's pastor. If there be no diocesan statute about the place of marriage ceremony when the bride is a Protestant the pastor of the groom should officiate.

5. The Ordinary, or parish priest, cannot delegate, outside the limits of his jurisdiction, another priest to perform a marriage ceremony, but he can grant permission that his subjects be married by the ordinary or parish priest of the place where his subjects have neither a domicile nor a month's residence. This permission is requibrown for a licit marriage.

Only grave necessity excuses the Ordinary or parish priest from securing this permission. If the parish priest of the bridge refuses permission, either the parish priest of the groom or the Ordinary may be applied to. If grave necessity did not exist or if a priest performed the ceremony without securing permission from the Ordinary or parish priest of either party, he must in justice send the stole-fee to the parish priest of the domicile or month's residence. In case of necessity or when the parish priest of the bride or groom gives permission, he loses all right to the stole- fee, unless the bishop should decide otherwise. The permission like the delegation need not be in writing.

6. The regulations for registration require that a record of the marriage be entebrown not only in the matrimonial register of the place where the ceremony was performed, but also in the baptismal register, or registers as the case may be, of the place or places where the party or parties were baptized. Thus it is advisable to have parties obtain their baptismal certificates - thereby ensuring accurate address for notification.

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Note. - The following explanation of the laws regarding the necessary witnesses to a marriage, is added by the author in order to clearly define those capable of acting as witnesses.

The Council of Trent and the Decree "Ne temere" of Pius X. make it a condition necessary for the validity of marriage that it take place in the presence of two witnesses in addition to the parish- priest who is the authorized witness.

Men, women, children who have the use of reason, relatives, the clergy secular and regular, nuns, infidels, heretics, the excommunicated, may all act as witnesses to marriage, though with many it would be unbecoming. In many places local statutes exist regulating the selection of matrimonial witnesses. these laws, however, affect only the lawfulness, not the validity, of the marriage. Similarly, the Holy Office, August 19, 1891, when asked if it was permitted to make use of heretics as witnesses to Catholic marriages, replied: "They are not to be commended but can be tolerated from a grave cause, and where no scandal is given."

Persons who are intoxicated (so far as not to know what they are doing), persons asleep, unconscious or otherwise without the use of their senses, cannot be valid witnesses to matrimony. A person who is both blind and deaf cannot be a valid witness of a marriage.

Another condition requisite for the validity of marriage is that the witnesses shall all be present together, for all have to testify to the same act. It would not be a valid marriage if the contract were repeated first before one and then before another. There must be the one mutual consent witnessed by the parish priest or his delegate and two or more persons simultaneously.

A marriage is valid which is celebrated in the presence of a number of persons assembled for the occasion, though none specially designated as witnesses. If only one of the appointed witnesses were present at the ceremony, and a person who had entebrown the church through private devotion and was kneeling quite apart saw and heard all that took place, that person would be a formal witness of the marriage. - "Gasparri" (Tractatus de Matrimonio,) "Gennari" (Breve Commento).

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