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 CNS Story:

VATICANII-MARRIAGE Oct-21-2005 (800 words) With photo to come. xxxn

Council changed concept of marriage, including views on non-Catholics

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Before Louise Cook married her Catholic husband in 1945, the Kansas-born Methodist decided to become a Catholic too. She didn't want to be excluded from a Catholic nuptial Mass or to be viewed with suspicion about whether she would raise her children as Catholics.

After being widowed in the 1970s, she married again -- this time to a Presbyterian who was strongly committed to his own faith. That 1974 wedding took place in a Presbyterian church, with his minister and her Catholic priest as equal participants.

The changes to Catholic marriage brought about by the Second Vatican Council went far beyond how and where an interfaith marriage could take place, but for many they were the most visible sign of the church renewal and openness brought by the council.

Many of the adaptations began long before the council, said Father Joseph M. Champlin, whose 1970 book, "Together for Life," is still used by four out of five couples planning a Catholic wedding.

In his own family, Father Champlin saw interfaith weddings move from a service in the rectory (his mother and non-Catholic stepfather, in the 1940s) to inside the church, but outside the Communion rail (his brother and non-Catholic sister-in-law, later in the 1940s) to within the church sanctuary and in the context of a Mass in the 1950s.

"It eased a lot of those hurts" and the feelings of rejection sometimes felt by the non-Catholic partner, said the priest, who serves as sacramental priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Warners, N.Y.

After Vatican II, the church eased another requirement for interfaith couples -- that the non-Catholic partner sign a pledge to raise the children as Catholics. Beginning in the late 1960s, the non-Catholic needed only to make such a pledge verbally.

"It was a source of irritation that people were not taken at their word," Father Champlin said.

A key change in Catholic weddings after the Second Vatican Council was the couples' participation in planning the ceremony.

Pre-Vatican II, elements of the wedding ceremony were "rather rigid and the same for everybody," Father Champlin said. But afterward, "the church, as with all liturgical rites, urged participation in the liturgy," the priest said. Couples could now select their own Bible readings and music and otherwise personalize the wedding ceremony.

"This immediately resonated with young Catholics," said Father Champlin, whose "Together for Life" and its various revisions over the years have sold 9 million copies. The Spanish-language version of the booklet still appears frequently on the Catholic Book Publishers Association best-seller list for publications in Spanish.

Beyond the ceremony itself, Vatican II changed the very concept of marriage in the Catholic Church, according to H. Richard McCord, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth.

In "Gaudium et Spes," the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the council said marriage was not only for procreation and "reached back to the biblical understanding of covenant" to define the sacramental bond between husband and wife, McCord said.

"Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses ... grow and ripen," the pastoral constitution says. "Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking."

The idea of marriage as a covenant also emphasized "the radical equality of persons" at a time when some still saw women as the property of their husbands, McCord said. Each marital partner was to fully contribute his or her gifts and abilities to the other spouse and receive the same in return, he said.

"Lumen Gentium," the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, also contributed "a key idea that continues to play itself out in the pastoral ministry of the church" -- the concept of the Christian family as domestic church, McCord said.

This "new way of understanding the role of the Christian family" was an ancient idea first articulated by St. John Chrysostom (347-407), but "rediscovered by the council fathers," he added.

As heads of the domestic church, parents are the "first evangelizers of their children" and "the first school of life and faith," Pope Benedict XVI said in a recent talk to a group of Mexican bishops.

The council's pronouncements on marriage still play a major role in helping present-day Catholic leaders articulate why they oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, McCord said.

"The defining element of marriage is the conjugal love that is only possible between a man and a woman," he said. "It's not just custom. It's not just tradition."


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