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Friday, April 25, 2014

Is Biblical Submission Applicable Even to Those Married "Only" in Civil Rites? (For Filipino Catholics)

Mr. and Mrs. Dong Alejar  -- April 17, 2004

More and more Filipinos are getting married, but NOT in church.

According to the National Statistics Office, of the more than 90 million Filipinos, 45% of those who got married in 2011, did so via civil rites or via 'huwes'. Only 38% got married in the Catholic Church. (In the Philippines, there are roughly 70M Catholics.) If one includes those who got married outside of the Catholic Church (other religions), around 62% are estimated to have exchanged their "I do's" in front of a judge/mayor/government official. 

What is a civil marriage or "kasal sa huwes"?

According to Wikipeda, a civil marriage is  "a marriage performed, recorded, and recognized by a government official."  In the eyes of Man and the State, the man and woman who got married civilly, are husband and wife. All the material rights accorded to each spouse as a married couple are binding (ex. inheritance, insurance benefits, etc.), since it is a legal union. 

However, (and this is a BIG revelation that I only learned very, very recently upon my research) the Catholic Church DOES NOT recognize such a union. For those couples NOT MARRIED in CHURCH, sorry sisters, but those marriages are not only considered "illicit" but also "invalid."  :(   

To the Catholic church, a civil marriage is nothing more but a mere "formality" prescribed by the (civil) law to give and insure the civil effects of the marriage to the spouses and their children. :(

Marriage, you see, is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. As such, it is a supernatural institution, as well as a natural one

The Church does not recognize a civil wedding ceremony as valid when one or both people are Catholic. 

If a couple is married in a civil ceremony, they are asked to refrain from receiving the Eucharist until the marriage is recognized as valid by the Church. The reason for this, in a nutshell, is that the Church recognizes marriage as a spiritual reality, not just a piece of paper or a legal formality. 

On the other hand, the Catholic Church believes that marriages entered into by non-Catholics in their particular church, or wherever they may take place, are valid

In the eyes of the Church, even two atheists or agnostics who are married civilly before a judge or magistrate enter into a valid marriage.

Catholics, however, are bound to observe a certain form of marriage ritual in order that their marriage be valid. Canon law—the law of the Church—requires that Catholics enter into marriage by free mutual consent that is witnessed in a church by an authorized bishop, priest, or deacon and at least two other witnesses. Marriages in which one or both parties are Catholic and which are not witnessed by an authorized bishop, priest, or deacon, or which do not receive proper permission to take place in another forum, are considered invalid in the eyes of the Church.

For a Catholic Christian, it is not sufficient to get only the civil contract, because it is not a sacrament, and therefore not a "true marriage." Spouses who would live together united by only a civil marriage would be in a "habitual state of mortal sin", and "their union would always be illegitimate in the sight of God and of the Church". 

To the Church, "it is a sacrilege  to contract marriage in serious sin, or in disobedience to the laws of the Church, and, instead of a blessing, the guilty parties draw upon themselves the anger of God". :(

Just to summarize.
 According to the Catholic Church, if a couple is only married in civil rites....

  • Their marriage is not valid in the eyes of God and the Church.
  • Their marriage though legal, is not sacramental.
  • The couple is living in a habitual state of mortal sin.
  • The couple could not take in Holy Communion.
  • The couple should refrain from marital relations (READ: Do not have sex; or much "worse", have babies!) till such time that they can get the Church's blessing or dispensation. They can have a convalidation ceremony though, to make things right.

Yikes. :(

I am a Catholic -- a Catholic Christian by birth and by choice --  and finding out about all this now was quite shocking to me!!! 

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, and although most people in my circle of family and friends had Church Weddings, there are a handful of people I personally know who opted to have a "simple" civil wedding, for one reason or another. 

Most of the poor people in our country for that matter, opt for the civil wedding because it is far cheaper (just a few hundred pesos) as opposed to a church wedding (that can go to the high thousands). They would rather spend their already very meager resources on their "marriage", rather than on their "wedding". Spending for a church wedding, which to every Filipino is just equated to expenses or 'gastos'seems too "outlandish" and "wasteful". Not 'practical' at all in these hard-up times...
A Mass Wedding is the answer to having a sacramental marriage if one has no money.

There are those few wonderful instances when we hear of a mass wedding sponsored by a kind soul, such as the one that happened in February last year (2013) where 34 couples had the opportunity to be mass-wed in Cebu City, thanks to the sponsorship of The FREEMAN chairman Dr. Jose “Dodong” R. Gullas and his wife Nena on the occasion of his 79th birthday. But those sponsored mass weddings for the poor, are few and far in between. 

A more glaring reality is of Filipinos not getting "married" at all, whether via "huwes" or in the church. They resort to living in, cohabitation or "common law marriages". Much "simpler" that way, they say. No money involved, no strings attached, but with the "perks" of being (legally) married (that is, having a partner in life and children). 

If being civilly married is a mortal sin in the eyes of the Church, what more this kind of setup?!


I will not delve anymore into the Canonical rules of the Catholic church. It is what it is, and if one is a Catholic, one must abide by its rules. After all, even Jesus said for us to obey authorities... 

Romans 13:1-2

13 All of you must be willing to obey completely those who rule over you. There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God. So when you oppose the authorities, you are opposing those whom God has appointed. Those who do that will be judged.

I am blessed though to have been wed in Dela Strada Parish to my loving boyfriend, (now husband Dong) in the simplest of rites. :)
Flanked by my sister Erica and Papa at Dela Strada Parish (Apr 17, 2004)

I am blessed too to have been convicted by our Lord Jesus Christ last September 1, 2013; and after having repented, He gave me a new life and a new me, after I let go and let God rule in every area of my life, including and most especially, my marriage.

Ever since I submitted to the Lord, and then Biblically submitted to my husband Dong, I have been experiencing much peace and joy that was missing when I was busy controlling him and our marriage and going after my worldly pursuits.

I used to think we had a "good marriage" because despite our marital conflicts in the past , due in most part to my dominant personality and his passive personality, we were really the best of friends. But, ever since I started respecting my husband and focusing on being his helpmeet, our marriage has gone from good to better, and I am looking forward to it reaching its best, as the Lord continues to mold us and our marriage every single day.

Our marriage, having been officiated by a priest inside a Catholic church is as valid and legitimate and sacramental as can be, and my Biblical submission to my husband has made it even more fulfilling, since we are patterning our lives on God's Design for marriage as it is written in Ephesians...

Ephesians 5:22-33

Wives and Husbands
22 Wives, follow the lead of your husbands as you follow the Lord. 23 The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. The church is Christ’s body. He is its Savior. 24 The church follows the lead of Christ. In the same way, wives should follow the lead of their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives. Love them just as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her. 26 He did it to make her holy. He made her clean by washing her with water and the word. 27 He did it to bring her to himself as a brightly shining church. He wants a church that has no stain or wrinkle or any other flaw. He wants a church that is holy and without blame.
28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives. They should love them as they love their own bodies. Any man who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, people have never hated their own bodies. Instead, they feed and care for their bodies. And that is what Christ does for the church. 30 We are parts of his body.
31 Scripture says, “That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. The two will become one.” (Genesis 2:24) 32 That is a deep mystery. But I’m talking about Christ and the church.
33 A husband also must love his wife. He must love her just as he loves himself. And a wife must respect her husband.

But, how about those who were not married in church? Those who are "just" civilly married? Will they not benefit from Biblical submission in their state-legitimized unions, just because according to the Catholic Church, their marriage though legal was not "moral"?

I am not a marriage counselor, not a Catholic apologist, not a theologian, and not an authority on all things Catholic or even on all things that pertain to marriage. But, I have a decade of experience as a wife and a mother of four little kids; I love God; and I have seen for myself and for many other wives, the wonderful miracle that occurs when a wife humbles herself and biblically submits to her husband, as unto the Lord. 

** * * * * * **

The following thoughts are purely my own opinion:

On one hand, although a couple may have been wed inside the Catholic Church (with God as Witness), it does not necessarily follow that this couple will live up to their holy callings as husband and wife; or as Christ was to His Church and vice versa.
On the other hand, although a couple may have been wed outside of the Catholic Church (with a magistrate/government official as witness) it does not necessarily follow that this couple will not live up to their holy callings as husband and wife to be loyal to each other, to love each other, and to cherish each other till death do they part.

Before (Mr. and Mrs. Cesar Montano)
I honestly do not think a church wedding is an assurance of a joyful and peaceful married life. Here in the Philippines alone, among our local celebrities who got married in church (and most extravagantly at that!), we have witnessed for ourselves that after just a few short years, they have already headed for Splitsville! :(
After (Sunshine Cruz vs Cesar Montano)  :(

From my own circle of family and friends too, I have witnessed some church annulments and separations, despite having had the loveliest and most solemn church weddings. And so, my point is that, a church wedding is not a magical potion for a blissful married life.

                   A CHURCH WEDDING does not always equate to a HAPPY MARRIAGE.

So, to the question: Is Biblical Submission Applicable to Those Married In Civil Rites?
(It goes without saying that by this, I mean man and woman.)... 

I dare say, YES!

Mainly because God, our Manufacturer, created Man and Woman according to His Own Image and Likeness. And so, if the couple follows His Manual, even if they are not married inside the Catholic Church, but live as Christ commanded, that is, that the husband is the head of the wife, and the wife submits to her husband... they can experience much peace and joy. 

If the husband and wife (though not married inside the Catholic church) live with their eyes and hearts directed towards God and follow Christ's commandments for them as His followers, they can still experience much joy and freedom. 

If the husband and wife (though married only civilly) practice loyalty, faithfulness and selfless service towards each other because they love God and love one another, who is to say that they are "cursed" in the eyes of God? :( 

If the civilly married husband loves his wife like Christ loved the Church...

If the civilly married wife respects and submits to her husband like the Church submitted to Christ...

In my heart of hearts, I do not believe God will draw His ire on such genuinely loving servants and followers of Christ, just because they were not married inside the Catholic Church, and were not officiated by a priest. :(

      Genesis 1:27-28 
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 2:24

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.

Hebrews 13:4 
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

Actually, even if it is just one spouse who is a believer in Christ (while the other one is not), the Lord had commanded to not separate from the husband/wife, because it is through the believing spouse's faith in God that the unbelieving spouse (and the subsequent offspring that may come from the union) can be "saved".

1 Corinthians 7: 12-14

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 

* * * * *

As I have mentioned above, if one is a Catholic, it would be best, (as  a way too of submitting to spiritual authorities) to adhere to the Church's Catechism on Holy Matrimony. It also calls for much humility to obey the Church's Teachings (even when one feels defiant at times towards its many rules). This is still the IDEAL. It clears the conscience of any guilt and wrong-doing and makes us dutiful members of the Church we belong to. This pleases God too.


In the end, I believe that God will show His Mercy to those couples who through no grievous fault of their own, could not get married in Church or have not yet gotten married in Church, if they sincerely seek Him and ask for His Mercy, for whatever wrongs they may have committed from their supposed "illicit" union. In time, only God Who could read hearts, will judge if their marital unions were "valid" representations of Christ's Love for His Church, and the Church's submission to Jesus Christ. 

                                                                Hosea 2:19 
And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.

My hope and prayer is that every marriage be lived by every couple as a covenant, and not be treated like just a "piece of paper" or a "contract" that has an expiration date, that can be broken anytime.

Marriage is for keeps. It should last for a lifetime. Matrimony was instituted by God Himself in the Garden of Paradise, and was raised to the dignity of a sacrament by Jesus Christ in the New Law. 

Matthew 19:6

6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

* * * * * * * 
I end this post with a beautiful piece (by Michael Sean Winters) on Pope Francis' remarkable showing of grace to those whom the Catholic Church would probably "condemn" for not adhering to its rules. I found a most precious ally in our current and popular Pope, who reminds me so much of Jesus, because of his gentle manners, out-of-the-box Christian attitudes and godly behavior. 

Pope Francis makes me honored to be a Catholic Christian! :)

"There is a still deeper issue. When our pastors keep themselves busy enforcing fine-tuned rules, we invite a contractual understanding of grace... The people of God have a right to the sacraments, which is true in one sense but woefully wrong-headed in another. Vis-à-vis a minister of the sacraments, yes, the people of God have a right to them. No priest can deny baptism or communion to someone because he does not like them. But, no one has a right to grace vis-à-vis God.
Grace is God’s freely given gift to us and, in the normal life of God’s faithful people, the sacraments are the principal means of conferring grace.
We talk a lot about the symbolism of baptism, the water, the candle, the holy oil, but when a priests pours that water on that baby’s head and pronounces the baptismal formula, something greater than symbolism occurs. That baby IS baptized. When the priest speaks the words of consecration, that bread and that wine IS transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. These sacraments are as real as the laptop I am typing on at this second. I think this sense of the reality of grace has been lost in recent years.
Which leads to the deepest issue... 
It is not so much that we have a right to the sacraments as that we have need of them. We need God’s grace.

The Pope rides the public commute.
When Pope Francis said, “I am sinner,” this was no throwaway line. Neither did this acknowledgement of his own sinfulness seem to overwhelm him. None of us, Pope Francis included, could feel anything but overwhelmed by our sins when standing before God. Think of all the blessings we have received, yet we dare to sin. Can’t even help ourselves. We learn to like our sins, even to cherish them, shielding them from God’s impassive gaze (of course, it is not impassive but we can make it seem that way), we rationalize our sins, we grow quick to forgive ourselves no matter how reluctant we are to forgive others. This is our human nature and, when we are honest, we know it. We should feel overwhelmed by our sins when we stand alone before God.

But, we do not stand alone before God. We have been justified by Jesus Christ and stand with Him. He makes intercession for us. In one of my favorite arias in Handel’s Messiah, the soprano sings,
“If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:31,33-34)
Pope Francis probably knows this great piece of music, but whether he does or not, clearly he knows the scriptural passage and is trying to make it effective again in the life of the Church.

This is what has been lost in the culture wars – an appreciation for the fact that God’s superabundant grace has been made available to us by Christ and is offered to us in the sacraments.
When we are busy fighting about the rules, we lose sight of this foundational teaching of the Church.

The Pope baptizes a newborn baby.
Pope Francis did not weaken anything the other day when he baptized that child of a civilly married couple. Instead, hopefully, that couple came away realizing that no one has greater need of God’s grace than a newly married couple and perhaps they should, now, get married in the Church too.
By not “enforcing” any rule, by making God’s grace available to their child, by reaching out with open arms rather than a clenched fist, Pope Francis did more to teach us all about the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of marriage than any sermon I have heard in many years.

He reminded us that God’s superabundant mercy is greater than any of our sins, His love is greater than any of our troubles, and that if the Church is to be truly the Church of Jesus Christ, this “rule” of grace trumps all others in the pastoral care of the flock entrusted to the Church." 

May we all be richly blessed! :)

Here are the numerous articles and websites that helped me with my research on Civil Marriages and the Catholic Church's Stand On It. For those with further questions on this very controversial matter, please click on any of the following links. It may enlighten you. :

1. :  A Zenit Daily Dispatch: Civilly Married Couples
2. GMA :   "Palitan ng "I Do's" sa Pilipinas, Mas Madalas Gawin sa Huwes"
3.  : " Filipino Catholic Church Expanding, Say Church Officials"  
4. : Simple Guide to Philippine Civil Marriage 
5. National Catholic Reporter: Pope Francis and Civil Marriage for Catholics
6. : How The Church Convalidates Civil Marriages
7. : God Made Marriage
8. Blessings and Convalidation
9. Can We Get Married By a Justice of the Peace in a Civil Wedding and then have a Catholic wedding?
10. Can I Get Married in the Catholic Church?
11. Marriage: A Short Catechism
12. Civil Marriage and Living in Sin
13. : "34 Couples Tie Knot in Mass Wedding"
14. : A Convalidation Ceremony in the Catholic Church 

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