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288 • Part II. The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated

Thus they are encouraged to participate in the life of their parish

communities and to attend the Sunday Eucharist, even though they can-

not receive Holy Communion.


The marriage of two baptized persons celebrated according to the norms

of Church law is always presumed to be valid. When a marriage has

broken down, this presumption remains in effect until the contrary is

proven. The examination of the validity of a marriage is undertaken

by a Church tribunal or court. When a Church court issues a declara-

tion of nullity, it does not mean there was no civil, sexual, or emotional

marital relationship, nor does it mean that the children of the union are

illegitimate. The declaration means that no sacramental bond—or, in

the case of one party’s being unbaptized, no natural bond—took place

because at the time of the wedding, the standards for a valid marriage

were not met. Grounds for a declaration of nullity (annulment) include

flaws in the rite itself, in the legal capacity of the parties to marry (i.e., an

“impediment”), or in the consent they gave—whether they were lacking

in discretion or maturity of judgment or were marrying due to force or

fear or with an intent to exclude fidelity or the commitment to a life-

The consent of the spouses must be an act of the will, free of

coercion or external threats. If this freedom is absent, the mar-

riage is invalid. For this reason (or other reasons that render the

marriage null and void), the Church, after an examination of the

situation by a competent Church court, can declare the nullity of

a marriage, that is, that the sacramental marriage never existed. In

this case, the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the

natural obligations of the previous union are discharged (cf. CCC,

nos. 1628-1629; CIC, can. 1095-1107).