The suggestions for canonical legislation on marriage which the council has sent to Pope Paul VI for his own consideration take up little more than two pages of printed text.
But if accepted and enacted, they could give the Church’s matrimonial laws a much milder countenance.
All so-called “minor” impediments to marriage would be suppressed.
Future legislation on marriage between Catholics and baptized non-Catholics, or between Catholics and unbaptized persons, would be oriented along the council’s guidelines on ecumenism.
The legal procedure in marriage cases would be streamlined. All persons would be assured the help of a qualified lawyer without cost.
The original schema on marriage was drawn up in 1963 during the interim between the council’s first and second sessions. The Commission on Discipline of the Sacraments prepared this document by synthesizing the extensive studies on marriage carried out by its predecessor, the preparatory commission.
However, in January of 1964, the Coordinating Commission decided to reduce the schema to a simple series of suggestions for reform of the Church’s law on marriage. Such reform would be determined by the demands of the care of souls, or what is called the pastoral ministry.
Marriage as a sacrament is not treated in detail by this set of suggestions. However, the sacrament of Matrimony is touched upon by the council’s documents on the nature of the Church, on the apostolate of the laity, and on the Church in the modern world.
The present text is divided into three parts:
The first part recalls a number of basic principles, such as Matrimony’s sacred character and holiness of marriage contracted between two baptized persons as members of Christ. Their union can be closely related to Christ’ s union with His Church, it says.
It touches on the Church’s competence in safeguarding the integrity of the sacrament of Matrimony and its consequent right to make laws on marriage.
The second part offers guidelines for a revision of Church law in view of the needs of our times, especially those created by more fluid emigration and the emergence of new states.
It suggests suppression of minor impediments, among which are consanguinity in the third degree of the collateral line, affinity in the second degree of the collateral line, and spiritual relationships arising from sponsorship in Baptism or Confirmation.
It recommends simplification of the formalities required for marriage in the presence of a priest authorized to bless the marriage. The local bishop will have closer control over the so-called extraordinary form of marriage, that is, when the presence of a priest is impossible.
The third and last part urges pastors of souls to regard preparation for marriage as a serious duty of their ministry.
Pastors should seek the collaboration of other priests or competent lay persons, both men and women, in this instruction and preparation for marriage. They should try to know the engaged couple personally in order to strengthen them in Christian faith and Christian living.
Pastors should carefully carry out the required premarriage investigation and never permit a marriage unless they are fully convinced that both parties have given full consent.
They should make sure the marriage ceremony reflects the deep meaning of the sacrament, allowing those at the ceremony to participate actively in the liturgy.
Pastors should continue their interest in the couple even after their marriage, counseling them on new problems that will arise in the education of their children.