The Real (and Imaginary) Pagan Roots of Halloween
By Brian Saint-Paul
THE FIRST THING I NOTICED ABOUT JAY was that he was dressed like a woman. I also saw he was wearing combat boots and carrying a bag full of candy. But then I went back to that part about him being dressed like a woman.
Jay had always been a curious fellow. Like the time he lost his pet tarantula, sending the neighborhood kids into an arachnophobia that would last for generations. But Jay had outdone himself this time, standing at our door, dressed in what appeared to be an army nurse’s uniform, and slathered in enough makeup to make Tammy Faye Bakker wince.
Being a sensitive 9-year-old, I tried mightily to stifle my laughter (key word: tried), as I handed him a Snickers bar. Nevertheless, Jay was unfazed, marching off satisfied into the night, his candy bag a little bit fuller.
For many of us, Halloween is an anomaly: a celebration without a discernible purpose. Other holidays make sense. Labor Day offers some respite for workers, Veterans’ Day honors those who fought for their land, Presidents’ Day recalls those who have led our nation. Yet Halloween seems to do nothing more than guarantee a steady clientele for children’s dentists and give folks like Jay an outlet for exotic behavior.
A brief glance into the history of the celebration, however, raises a troubling question. Many Christians, when confronted with the pagan background of Halloween, wonder if it’s the kind of thing in which they should be getting involved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that Christian bookstores (usually Fundamentalist) are full of inaccurate, sensationalistic accounts of the origins of the celebration.
Jack Chick, author of numerous anti-Catholic tracts, and hysterical Fundamentalist par excellence, gives his version of Halloween’s history in his tract, The Trick:
“[Halloween] came from an ancient Druid custom set up for human sacrifices on Halloween night. Druids offered children in sacrifices. They believed that only ‘the fruit of the body’ offered to Satan was for the ‘sin of the soul.’ The trick or treat custom was created by the Druids. “When they went to a home and demanded a child or virgin for sacrifice, the victim was the Druids’ treat. In exchange, they would leave a jack-o’-lantern with a lighted candle made of human fat to prevent those inside from being killed by demons in the night. When some unfortunate couldn’t meet the demands of the Druids, then it was time for the trick. A symbolic hex was drawn on the front door. That night Satan or his demons would kill someone in that house.”
There are about as many errors here as there are vowels. First, human sacrifice, despite the shrill claims of some, was rare if not nonexistent in Druid practice, and played no part in the Halloween tradition (Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, “Druids”). This goes for the candles “made of human fat,” as well.
Second, the Druids didn’t worship Satan. Theirs was a nature religion centered around the seasons, similar to modern day Wicca. Satan is a figure in Christianity, not paganism.
Third, the popular use of jack-o’-lanterns had absolutely nothing to do with the human sacrifice exchange program that Chick describes here.
So, with the fantasy aside, what’s the real history of the celebration? Halloween comes from the pagan feast of Samhain. From the evening of October 31 to the end of November 1, the ancient Celts would celebrate the beginning of winter and the conclusion of the harvest. During this time, it was believed, the curtain between the living and the dead was temporarily lifted, and the spirits of the past would roam the countryside, getting into mischief (Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, Jack Santino, University of Tennessee, 1994, XV). These supernatural creatures could be placated with edible treats or frightened off with bonfires and carved turnips. All the while, the people paid homage to Samhain, the god of the dead.
As time passed, the feast lost its religious significance and became the secular holiday we have today. It’s true, some of the old vestiges remain. Kids dress up like ghosts, goblins and Power Rangers, and go out looking for candy. The carved turnips have become pumpkins, and the bobbing for apples, an ancient method of divination, has become a popular party game. Nevertheless, October 31 is no longer widely held to be a day of religious observance.
So, how did the feast of Samhain become Halloween?
For hundreds of years, Christianity was persecuted by the pagan officials of the Roman Empire. Catholics were routinely rounded up and killed or tortured for the Faith. Over time, the persecutions ended and Christianity was recognized as a legal religion with the Edict of Milan in 313. A few years later, Catholics actually gained the upper hand, becoming the official state religion near the end of the fourth century.
With this new situation, the Catholic Church sought to demonstrate in a dramatic way the victory of Christ over the false gods of paganism. The old shrines were emptied of their statues of pagan deities, replaced with symbols of Christian worship. The temples became churches and the practices of the former religion either discontinued or Christianized. Finally, the holidays and feasts celebrating pagan gods were replaced with days recognizing the victory of the True God. One well-known example of this is Christmas, where the feast of the sun god on December 25 was replaced with a celebration of God the Son.
It’s difficult for us nowadays to appreciate the powerful statement this Christian-ization process communicated. Imagine if, in the most frigid days of the Cold War, the United States had been invaded and defeated by the Soviet Union. Destroying the Statue of Liberty certainly would’ve been a blow to the American people, but the Soviets had a still more dramatic action available: they could bedeck the statue in the red and yellow of the Soviet flag, replacing American symbolism with that of the USSR. What stronger way to demonstrate the victory of one system over the other? Such was the case with the Church’s conversion of pagan shrines, temples and holidays.
And so it was with Samhain. As Christianity spread throughout the British Isles, it encountered this strange celebration of the dead. Following in the tradition up to that point, the Church chose to replace it with a Catholic holiday.
So, by the ninth century, All Saints Day had become a feast-day to be celebrated by the entire Church. Instead of honoring the dead spirits of pagandom, All Saints Day was a time to remember the faithful Christian departed of past ages. In fact, according to Pope Urban VI, the day was intended to make up for any deficiencies in the celebrations of the various saints’ feast days throughout the year (Catholic Encyclopedia, “All Saints Day”).
The night before All Saints was known as All Hallows Evening, which became shortened to Hallowe’en. While Christians took part in the festivities of the evening before, the primary focus of the celebration was November 1, the feast of the saints. In this way, the pagan core of Samhain was stripped from the event, and replaced with solid Christian practice.
The conversion of pagan holidays is actually quite biblical. The Jews, under the direction of God, appropriated numerous pagan feasts: feasts of the New Year, combined with the harvest (Numbers 29:1-6; Leviticus 23:23-25), the feasts of the New Moon (1 Kings 20:4-29; Numbers 28:11-15; Nehemiah 10:33-34), grain and fruit harvest feasts (Deuteronomy 16:9-12; Exodus 23:14-16, 34:22) and the rite of new branches (Nehemiah 8:14-15). The people of God have often planned their Jewish and Christian celebrations to coincide with pagan feast days. Obviously, as the verses mentioned above indicate, God didn’t think this was corrupting true worship, or giving into paganism. So the Christian who takes part in Halloween and All Saints Day is just following in the footsteps of God-approved practice. No problem there.
A few objections are often raised at this point. A claim is sometimes made that Halloween is the most important day of the “Satanic calendar,” and that Christian participation is tantamount to taking part in the Devil’s high holy day. In fact, Jack Chick, in another one of his tract masterpieces, Boo!, says, “to Satanists and witches, Halloween is no joke. It’s their most solemn ceremony of the year.”
Bob (1951-2003) and Gretchen (1953-2014) Passantino, Evangelical Christians and experts on Satanism, reject this argument, pointing out that the Satanist’s own birthday is, to him, the most un/holy day of the year (“What About Halloween?” a paper produced by their ministry, Answers in Action).
Next, we’ll hear that Halloween so trivializes evil, demons and the devil, that they are reduced to mere fairy tales — imaginary beings used to frighten and titillate children. While the danger of this is certainly present, it nevertheless can be remedied by a good Catholic upbringing. We ignore the real existence of Satan at our own peril, for he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality of evil forces should be foundational in the catechesis of every Christian. We can hardly blame Halloween if it isn’t.
Far from being a threat to the Christian faith, Halloween actually provides an excellent opportunity for witnessing to it. On what other day is one’s attire the subject of so much attention? Imagine a group of kids going out not as Barney or some sports hero, but as their favorite characters from the Bible or Church history. An army of Davids, St. Marys and St. Josephs can make an awfully big impression at a costume party. Another possible avenue for evangelization is at the doorstep itself. Try handing out a good Catholic tract along with the candy (just don’t forget the candy part, or there might be rioting). As Catholics, we are called to use every opportunity to share the Gospel, “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
In the end, the issue of whether or not to let one’s kids participate in Halloween comes down to personal discretion. The celebration in itself is fairly harmless: kids go out (under supervision, hopefully) dressed up as their favorite superhero/monster/politician and gather candy. Obviously, things can get out of hand. If a child wants to go trick-or-treating dressed as the Antichrist, it’s probably time to draw the line. This is where the parents’ guidance is essential. Nevertheless, whatever meaning Samhain used to hold as a pagan observance, it has no longer. Time has turned October 31 into a secular event, and Christians can take part with a clear conscience.
But we’re not done yet. Our brief look into the history of Halloween has uncovered some interesting dirt on the methods of some anti-Catholics. Numerous enemies of the Church charge that the Catholic Faith as a whole has been corrupted by paganism. Loraine Boettner, author of the odiously inaccurate Roman Catholicism, writes:
“After Constantine’s decree making Christianity the preferred religion, the Greek-Roman pagan religions with their male gods and female goddesses exerted an increasingly stronger influence upon the church . . . Many of the people who came into the church had no clear distinction in their minds between the Christian practices and those that had been practiced in their heathen religions. Statues of pagan gods and heroes found a place in the church, and were gradually replaced by statues of saints. The people were allowed to bring into the church those things from their old religions that could be reconciled with the type of Christianity then developing” (Roman Catholicism, Grand Rapids: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964, p. 136).
Fundamentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others argue similarly today in trying to demonstrate the alleged pagan corruption of Catholicism. In looking at the methods by which they reach their conclusions, three prominent errors are found again and again:
1. Their scholarship is often poor, making their conclusions largely or even completely inaccurate.
2. They assume that if a Catholic doctrine or practice is similar to a pagan one, the Catholic Church must have taken it from paganism.
3. They neglect the fact that some pagan practices (like Halloween) can be Christianized and used in the service of the Cross.
Let’s look at examples of each error.
Fundamentalists like Jack Chick aren’t exactly known for their academic excellence. Too often, they begin with a conclusion and then go looking for historical or Biblical confirmation. We saw an excellent example of this earlier with Chick’s history of Halloween. Critics of the Church will often misrepresent Her beliefs in order to show a connection between Catholicism and paganism.
Alexander Hislop, author of The Two Babylons: The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife (Loizeaux Brothers, 1959), does this very thing with the Catholic understanding of justification. In order to link the Catholic Gospel with that of paganism, he wrongly claims Catholicism teaches one is justified by works in the chapter entitled, “Justification by Works”). Not content to merely misrepresent Catholic belief, he also lapses into some rather amusing blunders:
“Will any one after this say that the Roman Catholic Church must still be called Christian, because it holds the doctrine of the Trinity? So did the Pagan Babylonians, so did the Egyptians, so do the Hindoos [sic] at this hour, in the very same sense in which Rome does” (Ibid, 90).
Anyone with even a light familiarity with the pagan triads Hislop alludes to knows that they consisted of three different gods, not one God in three persons. The various pagan religions held a position very similar to modern day Mormonism, that there are three primary gods, distinct from one another in being, but joined in purpose. This is a form of polytheism, a view the Catholic Church has always condemned. Hislop’s statement that pagans held to the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity is laughable. This claim would, incidentally, also condemn as pagan the Trinitarian doctrine of Evangelical Christians and the mainline Protestant churches. Oops.
One error that occurs over and over again is the faulty assumption that a similarity between Catholic and pagan practices implies a connection between the two. Ralph Woodrow’s book, Babylon Mystery Religion, is full of such “parallels,” one of which links the roundness of the Eucharistic host to the roundness of the sun, which pagan Mithraists worshipped. Add to this the apparent sun beams shooting out of some monstrances and you have a fine example of Catholics inadvertently worshipping the sun god. (Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern, Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1966, p. 121).
(Note: Interestingly enough, Woodrow has recently come out with a new book, The Babylon Connection, wherein he recants much of his former material, showing the inaccuracies in the first book. For this, he should be given much credit.)
This method of finding parallels, if followed consistently, ends up coming back to haunt those who use it.
For example, among some of the ancient pagan tribes of the middle east, there was a fascinating ceremony performed by the nomads. They would slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on their tent posts, so that those who slept inside would be protected from the destroying angel who came in the night (A Feast in Honor of Yahweh, Fides Publishers, Inc., 1965, p. 37).
Sound familiar? Of course, this ceremony bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Passover, where the blood of the pure lamb would be poured onto the door posts of the Jewish homes, so the angel of death would pass over onto the homes of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:1-13). According to the methodology of our Fundamentalist friends, this must mean the ancient Jews stole their Passover ceremony from the pagans. If Passover is corrupted by its apparent pagan origins, then down comes the whole notion of Jesus as the perfect Passover sacrifice. You see where faulty methodology takes us?
But there’s more. The famous comparative religionist, Sir James George Frazer, in his classic work, The Golden Bough, found some interesting similarities between Christianity and paganism. Apparently, numerous pagan religions have a god who dies and is resurrected. One notable example is the Egyptian god, Osiris, who is murdered, buried and resurrected from the dead (The New Golden Bough: A New Abridgment of the Classic Work, Sir James George Frazer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961, pp. 183-185). Does this mean the Christian Faith derived its belief in the death and resurrection of its God from the pagan religions of Egypt? Of course not. Despite what some anti-Catholics would tell us, just because two beliefs are similar doesn’t mean there is any relationship between the two.
Another excellent example of this is the symbol of the swastika (also known as the gammadion). This symbol has been found to exist in the ancient cultures of India, Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Tibet, Gaul, Macedonia and just about anywhere else where people had hands with which to write. However, in each place, the symbol was understood differently. The meaning behind the swastika of the Third Reich is vastly different than that understood in ancient Tibet. Just because these cultures share the same symbol doesn’t mean they’re interrelated. Nazi Germany had very little to do with ancient India. We cannot, then, assume that just because Catholicism shares some symbol or practice with paganism, that the thing necessarily has a pagan beginning.
Still, while it’s true that some Catholic practices do have pagan precursors (we’ve already seen how the early believers Christianized the pagan holidays and temples, just as the Jews did in the Old Testament), this was born out of Christian victory over paganism, not compromise with it.
Additionally, there are other Biblical precedents for God endorsing the use of some pagan practices. Among the Jewish people, we see the casting of lots (1 Chronicles 25:8; 1 Samuel 14:40-45; Nehemiah 10:34) and the offering of water libations (1 Kings 18:33-36), both prominent in the paganism of the time (Maertens, 28, 72-74). If indeed God frowned upon any practice that was pagan in origin, He wouldn’t have prescribed them for His people. But, as the Bible proves, He did prescribe them.
For Christians, paganism is a dirty word, and it should be. Any religion that denies the One True God in favor of idols, nature-worship, or self-worship is a religion to be avoided. But this is all the more reason to bring paganism to the foot of the Cross. Jesus has won the victory over the false gods of this world, and so their practices and traditions should be brought into service for Him. Those who disagree do so in the face of the Scriptural and historical evidence. It’s time to let God use whatever means He wishes to further His own glory. Our God is sovereign, and He can do whatever He wants.
[N.B.: This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 1998 edition of Envoy Magazine and is reposted here with permission of the editor of Envoy, who happens to be me.]
On my Thursday broadcast of the EWTN “Open Line” radio show, I am often asked by callers questions pertaining to their marital status.
The twin issues of divorce and remarriage are extremely common today, and many people, including many Catholics, find themselves confused and unsure about what God and the Church require from them in this area.
This uncertainty has various causes, such as failure to seek answers from the competent authorities in the Church (e.g., canon lawyers) out of a lack of realization that they should do so (i.e., the result of poor catechesis), or because they were given erroneous information by well-meaning but ignorant fellow Catholics, or even because they are simply afraid of discovering what the Church’s answer to their situation might be and prefer instead to live in an “ignorance is bliss” cloud of unknowing. There are other reasons why many divorced Catholics don’t really understand what the Church requires, but the three just mentioned seem to me to be among the more common ones.
To help clarify these issues, I asked two canon lawyers, Jacqueline Rapp, JD, JCL, and Pete Vere, JCL, to write an article for Envoy Magazine that would cut through the ambiguity and confusion and answer the more common questions Catholics have about divorce and remarriage. Their article, “Do I Need an Annulment?” appeared several years ago in Envoy’s 6.2 issue, and I post it here as a service to all who may be wondering about that very issue, whether for themselves or for someone they care about.
As a Judge and a Defender of the Bond within our respective dioceses’ Catholic marriage Tribunal, we encounter misunderstandings every day about the declaration of nullity (or annulment) process. Often, the people who come into our offices question the need for an annulment before approaching a new marriage. Their misunderstandings commonly arise from misconception as to what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage, and consequently, why the Catholic Church judges some relationships not to be marriages.
What is a Christian marriage according to the Catholic Church?
In the law of the Church, many ingredients make up a Christian marriage. First, marriage is a covenant. The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides the following insight about the word covenant: “The theology of the covenant in the Bible is consistently a theology of divine promise. Whether in a profane or a sacred sense, the sacred authors utilize the berit [Hebrew for “covenant”] to trace the line of salvation history toward its divinely willed goal.” In short, the idea of covenant in the Bible is one of a strong pact between humans or between God and humans, in which each promises to assist the other towards a common goal.
In marriage, the covenant is between a man and a woman. The spouses establish this covenant through their marital consent, by which they intend to establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life. This means each spouse will assist and support the other in all areas of their common life, the best he or she is able, so long as the other spouse is alive.
Marriage is permanent and exclusive (monogamous). The goal of this covenant, by its nature, is the mutual welfare of the spouses (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) as well as openness to the procreation, welfare, and education of children. The Church commonly refers to the good of the spouses and the good of children as the two elements of marriage. All genuine marriages, whether Christian or non-Christian, must contain these elements. Such a partnership is commonly referred to as a “natural marriage.”
We base this understanding of natural marriage on the text of Genesis 2:18-25, which teaches that God’s will has established all marriage. True marriage is heterosexual (between a man and a woman); it is monogamous (one man and one woman); it is exclusive (the two form a new and unique relationship; the two become one); and it is permanent (if the two become one, this new union cannot be divided; a conclusion Christ confirms in Matthew 19:3-12).
The purposes of marriage are also taught in Genesis. First, we read there how God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:27-28). Thus marriage is about “fruitfulness,” or bringing children into the world and raising them to maturity (procreation and education).
In addition, we read in Genesis 2:18-25 that God created all the animals and brought them before Adam to be named. But a “suitable partner” was not found for him among them. So God created the woman, and Adam responded: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23).
This passage confirms what the Church teaches about marriage: that it involves the partners being suitable for each other through the sharing of strengths and weaknesses. When Adam says, “bone of my bone,” he is saying “this one is strong where I am strong.” And when he says, “flesh of my flesh,” he is saying, “this one is weak where I am weak.”
Thus canon law defines natural marriage this way: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its very nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children” (Canon 1055, § 1).
When both the husband and the wife are baptized Christians, this natural marriage takes on the element of sacramentality. A marriage between baptized persons is a sacrament, a visible sign of God’s love in the world. This means that the couple finds in their relationship a source of God’s grace, and through their partnership they assist one another in coming closer to God.
By the very fact that both the husband and the wife are baptized, their marriage becomes a sacrament. It is not a matter of where the wedding takes place or who officiates at the ceremony. Whether marriage is a sacrament is completely based upon the baptismal status of the parties.
When does a marriage come into being?
Marriage comes into being through lawfully manifested consent – that is, there must be a taking of the other as spouse in a way recognizable to the community. When two people give themselves to one another in order to create a partnership of life and love (marriage), and they do so in a manner recognized by the community, they marry. For two unbaptized people, this can be in front of a justice of the peace in the middle of a field. For a baptized Christian, this can be wherever their faith community recognizes the marriage.
For Catholics, as a faith community, when at least one of the parties is Catholic, the Church requires the parties to express their desire to give themselves in marriage before a priest, deacon, or designated minister, with two witnesses. We call this the canonical form of marriage. If a Catholic desires to enter marriage with a non-Catholic, a dispensation (relaxation of the law) may be granted, allowing the parties to exchange their consent in another manner. Nevertheless, this kind of dispensation is the exception.
What is an “annulment”?
A Catholic annulment, also known as a declaration of nullity or invalidity, is a statement of fact by the Catholic Church. After carefully examining the couple’s broken relationship, the Church states that a valid marriage, as the Church defines marriage, never existed. It is not “Catholic divorce,” as some have called it, since divorce looks at the moment the relationship broke down and says, “A marriage existed, and now we are ending it.” The annulment process says, on the other hand, “From the very beginning, something was lacking that was necessary for this relationship to be called a marriage.”
Quite often, what is lacking at the time of the civil contract is one of the essential elements or properties of marriage we have noted. The mature consent of the spouses in undertaking the marriage covenant may also be lacking.
Of course, the Church recognizes the couple’s initial love for one another. It also realizes that this love led to some form of relationship. In addition, the Church acknowledges that there was a valid civil contract and recognizes that the spouses were lawfully married in the eyes of the state. Therefore, all children born of this valid civil contract are legitimate, according to the Catholic Church. In keeping with canon 1137, they are known as the legitimate children of a “putative marriage.”
All these civil and legal realities the Church recognizes. But the annulment process looks at an entirely different realm – the spiritual – which falls within the Catholic Church’s domain of competence to judge.
Why is an annulment necessary?
The Church teaches that marriage is permanent. If a sacramental marriage is created, no human power can separate what God has joined together (see Mt 19:6). According to the Church, not even a civil government with the power to end the civil contract (which the state calls “marriage”) can terminate a sacramental marriage.
For this reason, once two people stand in front of God and contract a marriage, if they enter into a marriage covenant as defined by the Catholic Church, this covenant cannot be dissolved so long as both parties remain alive. The marriage bond is in place until death. As a result, no new marriage covenant can be created with someone else.
Any person who has entered a genuine marriage remains bound to that spouse. The spiritual bonds of marriage, if formed, cannot be ended by civil divorce. In the eyes of the Church, divorce ends the various civil, financial, and legal bonds previously contracted between spouses, but not the spiritual bonds.
For this reason, the Catholic Church investigates, through the annulment process, whether an actual marriage, as defined by the Church, came into being. In carrying out this investigation, the Church examines various facts presented to the marriage tribunal by those seeking the annulment and their witnesses. If the Church then determines that no genuine marriage came into being, these individuals are free to marry someone else if that person is also free to marry.
Why do I need an annulment if I’m not Catholic?
If you’re not Catholic, but plan to marry a Catholic, you might be asked to go through the annulment process. This seems odd to most non-Catholics because neither person from the first union is Catholic. Therefore, why should the Catholic Church investigate this marriage?
The Catholic Church presumes the validity of any marriage between two people who are free to marry at the time of their wedding. (They must have no previous marriages.) Basically, if the non-Catholic religious community of either spouse recognized the marriage, so does the Catholic Church. Since marriage, as God created it, is permanent, then the Catholic Church must also investigate these marriages. Because the non-Catholic wishes to marry a Catholic, the Church’s law applies to the proposed marriage, since canon law still binds the Catholic whom the non-Catholic wishes to marry.
In short, the Catholic Church believes her teachings concerning the essence and the properties of marriage bind all people, regardless of whether they are Catholic, as part of God’s natural law.
Are there options for working with previous marriages other than the annulment process?
Yes. For a person who was either Catholic or married to a Catholic, and did not marry according to the canonical form of marriage (in front of a Catholic priest or deacon with two witnesses), and if the Catholic Church’s permission was not obtained for this marriage (called a “dispensation from canonical form”), then the Church could process this case as a “Lack of Form.” The Church calls this an administrative process.
In this case, the individual must prove that one of the former spouses was Catholic, that the couple attempted marriage outside of the Catholic form without first obtaining the proper dispensation, and that the marriage is now irreparable. The individual must also establish that this marriage was never subsequently convalidated (commonly, and mistakenly, referred to as “blessed” by the Church.) Most marriage tribunals accept as sufficient proof of these circumstances the Catholic’s baptismal record, a copy of the marriage license, and the couple’s divorce decree. Nevertheless, depending upon particular circumstances, more evidence may be necessary.
If one of the spouses was not baptized during the first marriage, and the lack of baptism can be proven (provided the person applying for this process did not cause the marital breakdown), then a “Privilege of the Faith” case (or “Petrine Privilege” case) can be sent to the Holy See. If the Holy See approves, the non-sacramental marriage may then be dissolved in favor of a new marriage.
If neither of the spouses was baptized during their marriage, and now one of the spouses wishes to become baptized and marry a Catholic, provided one can prove the non-baptism of each former spouse, a Pauline Privilege is possible. In this situation, the diocesan bishop or his lawful representative, having established the non-baptized status of both parties, allows the non-sacramental partnership to be dissolved in favor of the new marriage. Of course, the spouse desiring baptism and the new marriage must first receive baptism.
A Basic Rule
If you are trying to determine whether you need an annulment, these explanations may be helpful. In any case, keep in mind one basic rule as you approach the process: If either you or your intended attempted a previous marriage, be sure to tell your priest. Before you attempt another marriage, the Church must address the previous marriage in some form or another, either by a documentary case, a privilege case, or a formal annulment process.
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