“The Catechism Explained”
J. Hayes, D.D.
Archbishop of New York
October 18, 1921
1. Mixed marriages, by which is
understood the marriage of Catholics to non-Catholics, have always been
disapproved of by the Church.
Even in the Old Testament mixed marriages were prohibited; the Jews were
not permitted to make marriages with the Canaanites (Deut. vii. 3), nor
indeed with the Samaritans, although they kept the law of God and had the
books of Moses, because of the heathen ceremonies they observed. In like
manner in the present day the Church discourages the marriage of Catholics
to non-Catholics, who, though they call themselves Christians, hold doctrines
which are at variance with the teaching of Christ. The Church warns her
children against such alliances, just as a loving father might warn his
son against undertaking some journey which he knows will expose him to
great perils. In early times parents who gave their daughter in marriage
to a heretic were subjected to a five years' penance.
Because in such marriages the proper training
of the children is a matter of great difficulty, if not altogether
Because such unions are productive of no
concord, no true happiness;
Because the Catholic is in great danger of
losing his or her faith;
And besides, the non-Catholic may at any time obtain a divorce, leave his
or her Catholic partner, and contract another marriage.
The dangers attendant on mixed marriages are these: The non-Catholic
party, whether a Protestant or not a Christian, far from assisting in the
education of the children, will be an obstacle to it, and will perhaps
throw scorn and ridicule on Catholic faith and practice. And even if this
is not the case, the example of the unbelieving parent will have the worst
consequences for the children. And not unfrequently it happens that the
non-Catholic, urged by the ministers of his religion, or by his relatives,
who represent that it will be prejudicial to their temporal interests if
his children are brought up as Catholics, yields to their persuasions,
and departs from his promise that they should be so brought up.
And what becomes of the children if their Catholic parent dies, and
the other espouses a member of his or her own religion? A Catholic cannot
do his children a more cruel wrong than by marrying one who is not of his
own religion. Moreover, true happiness can hardly exist in such a marriage,
where there is not union on the most important of all matters. Heart-felt
affection and confidence between husband and wife are scarcely possible
if they differ on a point which is all-important, namely religion.
Mixed marriages are, moreover, fraught with no slight danger to the
salvation of those who contract them. The wise and enlightened King Solomon
took to himself heathen wives in his old age, and they prevailed over him
so far, that from a worshipper of the true God he became an idolater, and
allowed temples of the false gods to be erected in his kingdom. The influence
of heretics who call themselves Christians is often more perilous than
that of open unbelievers. If reading heretical books is apt to mislead,
how much more is continual and close contact with heretics to be dreaded!
Besides, we are far more ready to adopt the opinions of one to whom we
are attached, for we are blinded by affection.
The Holy Father declares that mixed marriages have the effect of obliterating
the distinction between truth and error, and fostering the idea that all
religions are equally good. Furthermore mixed marriages are most unfair
for the Catholic party. The non-Catholic may at any time obtain a divorce
and marry again; whereas the Catholic is bound not to take a second partner
as long as the former lives. What an equivocal position is that of a divorced
woman! She is married, and yet she has no husband; she has the mortification
of seeing her rightful husband with another wife, while she is condemned
to live a lonely life, looked down upon perhaps by the world; and worst
of all, to be separated from some, if not all, of her children. Well then
may the Church exhort Christian people to beware of entering into matrimony
with those who are aliens to the faith they hold!
2. The Church tolerates mixed marriages on three
By tolerating or permitting mixed marriages the Church does not approve
them; on the contrary she strongly disapproves of them and she insists
so forcibly on the children being brought up in Catholic faith, because
this is the main object of matrimony. It has already been shown that the
chief end of marriage is to train up children in the knowledge and fear
of God; the aim of the Christian parent should rather be to leave behind
him inheritors of the kingdom of heaven than heirs of his earthly possessions.
Consequently it is the first duty of a Catholic, who has wedded one who
does hold the faith, to insure his child's salvation in as far as he can.
How deeply is that parent to be commiserated who destroys the soul of her
offspring, by allowing the poison of error to be instilled its mind!
Both parties must promise that their children
shall be brought up as Catholics;
The Catholic must promise to endeavour to bring
the non-Catholic to the knowledge of the truth;
The non-Catholic must promise to allow the Catholic liberty for the free
exercise of his or her religion. Without these three conditions the Church
will not sanction a mixed marriage.
When the first glamour of an ill-regulated affection fades away, and
conscience again makes its voice heard, the path of wedded life is beset
with thorns. The birth of the first child, which ought to be an occasion
of glad rejoicing, is a source of anxiety to the mother for she fears that
it will be taught to regard the true faith with hostility. How her conscience
reproaches her! And each successive child, which ought to be welcomed as
a blessing from the hand of God is a fresh accuser, calling to mind her
The Catholic party is also bound to bring the non-Catholic to the knowledge
of the truth, not by coercion or persuasion, for proselytising only adds
to number of nominal Catholics, not of the loyal children of the Church,
and is abhorrent to the Catholic Church, who only desires the erring to
be brought to her fold of their own free will, and through full conviction.
Let them be won by prayer and good example: “Let the unbelieving husbands
be won by the conversation of the wives” (1 Pet. iii. 1). If the Catholic
wife is seen to be modest, yielding, patient, faithful, etc., the non-Catholic
husband will be led to reflect, and consider whether he may not judge of
the tree by its fruits. At any rate he will gradually divest himself of
all his former prejudices against our holy religion. He must not be pressed
with arguments and instructions, but rather every word should be carefully
avoided that might wound his susceptibilities. For those who are outside
the Church are not to blame because they have not had the privilege of
being born and brought up in the true faith.
Furthermore the Catholic party must fearlessly observe his or her religious
duties; the other will respect such observance. A man who is not devoid
of good feeling will have no wish to oppose the pious practices of his
wife; he will know himself to be a gainer, not a loser by them. Some times
Protestants assert that they agree with Catholics on the fundamental truths
of religion, and only differ in non-essentials; this is utterly false.
What the Catholic holds most sacred, the Protestant despises; witness the
holy sacrifice of the Mass, which Protestants regard as an act of idolatrous
worship. In the face of differences so deep-rooted all idea of unity is
3. The Catholic who contracts a mixed marriage
before a minister contracts no marriage at all, commits a mortal sin and
cannot be admitted to the Sacraments.
Catholics who act thus are declared to be guilty of mortal sin, because
they sin through disobedience, by refusing to conform to the precepts of
the Church; they give great scandal, and deny the faith; they turn their
back upon the sacraments of the true Church and receive the rites of an
heretical sect. Thus they give the preference to a false Church, or at
least allow its equality with the true one. They cannot be re-admitted
to the sacraments unless they manifest sincere contrition on account of
their sinful union, and are ready to comply with the requirements of the
Church. Many a one takes a just view of his conduct on his death-bed. Conscience
often slumbers, like a volcano, which for long years shows no signs of
activity, then suddenly bursts into flame; so conscience awakens at last,
and the unhappy soul is consumed by the flames of remorse and despair.
No one who firmly believes the Catholic to be the only true and saving
faith will be content to see his children brought up in soul-destroying
error; and it may safely be affirmed, that in the majority of cases, those
who contract mixed marriages sooner or later heartily regret the step they
Addendum from the 1958 Penny Catechism
Has the Church always forbidden mixed
The Church has always forbidden mixed marriages and considers them unlawful
Does the Church sometimes permit mixed
The Church sometimes permits mixed marriages granting a dispensation, for
very grave reasons and under special conditions.