Q. My Catholic nephew has been going with a girl for 12 years; recently they sold their individual homes and moved into a new house together. She has wanted to get married for some time, but he is not interested in marriage. They live in the northern United States, while my wife and I live in the South.
They plan to visit us soon and expect to stay in our home. I am concerned that they will want to sleep in the same bed and am wondering whether I would be doing something wrong if I allowed it. (I consider their situation sinful, and this creates problems for faithful Catholics like myself.) Can I consider that they are actually already married by common law? (Tabb, Virginia)
A. Why not take a stand? Why not be the faithful disciple Christ calls you to be, even if it takes some courage (which Jesus said that it would)? Have an honest “heart-to-heart” with your nephew. Tell him that you look forward to seeing him and his girlfriend but that to host them as a married couple, sharing a bedroom, would create for you a moral dilemma.
Explain to him that you are committed to the Catholic view of marriage as a public and lifelong commitment and that you would feel guilty for supporting an arrangement you consider to be morally wrong.
Who knows? He might say, “I can understand that, and thanks for being honest. Do you have two bedrooms we can use?” Your conversation might even prompt him to reconsider their relationship and think about getting married. Or, on the other hand, he may say, “Forget it then!” and be angry at you for a long, long time. In any case, his reaction is beyond your control. Your only responsibility is to be faithful to your principles, and you can take comfort in having have done that.
As to whether they might already be married by common law, probably not. Common-law marriage — which allows persons who live together as man and wife for a sufficient time, with no formal religious or civil ceremony but with the intent of having a permanent and exclusive relationship, to be granted the legal rights of married couples — is recognized in only nine states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia.
Besides, it’s irrelevant in the context of your question since the church requires that, for a Catholic, marital consent be exchanged formally before a priest or deacon and two witnesses (or, with the proper dispensations, before another official authorized by the state.)
Q. As a cradle Catholic (and a survivor of 12 years of Catholic schools), I am fairly rigid — not only in my Catholic beliefs but also in the etiquette of the Mass. So I was quite shocked last Sunday when our pastor told the congregation at the start of the 5 p.m. Mass that he would be shortening the Mass so that he could make the 6:30 p.m. performance of the play “Wicked” at a downtown theater.
He began the Mass two or three minutes early, and his homily was less than five minutes. Also, he did not recite the Nicene Creed but instead recited a shorter prayer and then jumped right into the petitions. I feel sort of cheated and would like to know whether this is acceptable. Does it really count as a Sunday Mass when we did not recite the profession of faith? (Atlanta)
A. Not to worry. It did “count” as a Sunday Mass. But just a couple of observations: It’s never a good idea to start a Sunday Mass early. Many people seem programmed to arrive precisely at the hour scheduled (and some, a few minutes later).
Next, the length of the homily is not regulated by law. There’s a lot to be said for a five-minute talk — so long as it relates the Scripture to the daily life of the worshipers.
As for the creed, the Apostles’ Creed is specified as an acceptable alternative to the Nicene Creed. (It is also considerably shorter and, in my mind, easier to understand.) So that, no doubt, was the option taken by your pastor.
And, finally, the phrase “too much information” comes to mind. Did the congregation really need to know that the priest was rushing downtown to make the opening curtain?
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.
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