Hey, did any of you out there ever convince your spouse to allow you to use these wedding vows?
On the impossible to one chance someone answered yes, you might want to check into getting your marriage convalidated, because I’m pretty sure it’s not recognized by the Church. As the Catechism notes, “The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that ‘makes the marriage.’ If consent is lacking there is no marriage. The consent consists in a ‘human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other’: ‘I take you to be my wife’ – ‘I take you to be my husband.’ This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two ‘becoming one flesh.’ The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.”
Even in most arranged marriages where the spouses have never met, there is still an element of consent. For example, all the way back in Genesis 24, when Abraham sent his servant to arrange a marriage between Isaac and Rebekah, the girl’s father Bethuel was quick to insist, “Let us call the young woman and see what she herself has to say about it.” Only after Rebekah agreed to the arrangement was the marriage contract finalized.
But is consent all that is needed to make a marriage valid? Maybe you noticed or maybe you didn’t, but a few weeks ago A&E rebranded their Biography channel with the name FYI and introduced a new lineup of reality TV shows (because just what the world really needed right now was more reality TV shows). Of the handful of new titles introduced, the closest FYI has to a breakout hit is the American version of Married At First Sight. Just as the title implies, this show is a “social experiment” in which a small group of people agree to marry, sight unseen, a spouse chosen for them by a panel of psychologists, sociologists, and something called a Humanist Chaplain (basically an atheist with priest envy). After they tie the knot, the three couples are given one month to see how things work out, at which point they may continue on in their arranged marriage or be granted a divorce.
There is no doubt that the couples on Married At First Sight have consented to their arranged marriages. That’s the whole premise behind the show. But if you’re like me, you probably still feel like something is a bit off about the whole deal.
On the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, For Your Marriage, we find the following: “A valid Catholic marriage results from four elements: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they freely exchange their consent; (3) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; and (4) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.”
Yep, there it is right there. Number three is the problem. I’m not a bishop or canon lawyer or anybody else in a position of authority, but since the marriages on the show have a built-in test period, I don’t see how they qualify as valid given condition number three. I mean, think about the three questions asked of each party in a Catholic wedding. (1) Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage? (2) Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives? (3) Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?
The only possible answers to these questions on Married At First Sight would have to be (1) yes, (2) well, at least for the next month, and (3) quit rushing things, we may be divorced before the wedding cake even gets stale. Heck, they may as well use Ming’s vows from Flash Gordon. At least he made his intentions clear up front.
In short, the marriages on the show may be valid from a civil standpoint, but in the eyes of the Church, they aren’t worth the paper the licenses are printed on. That doesn’t mean they can’t be at some point, but for the moment, they are invalid, and certainly not sacramental.
Truthfully, I hope things work out for the couples and that, over time, they will all come to have a deeper understanding of what marriage really is. But as for the “experts” behind the show who think marriage is just another thing to be experimented upon, maybe they deserve a little scorn. With all the hits the institution of marriage has taken over the past half century, it really doesn’t need garbage like Married At First Sight heaped on top of it as well.