Agreement on Interchurch Marriages
between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church
January 25, 1994
This agreement between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church on interchurch marriages has been prepared taking into account the following elements of the Common Declaration of Pope John Paul II and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Zakka I Iwas of Antioch, dated 23 June 1984:
- The common profession of faith between the Pope and the Patriarch on the mystery of the Incarnate Word;
- The common affirmation of their faith in the mystery of the Church and the sacraments;
- The possibility given by the declaration for a pastoral collaboration including the mutual admission of the faithful belonging to both churches to the reception of the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick for a grave spiritual need.
Having considered the above mentioned events and declaration, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church agreed on the following considerations and norms.
As our two churches believe in and confess the mystery of the Church and its sacramental reality, we consider it our duty to specify the areas of agreement in cases of marriages between the members of our two churches.
Man and woman created in the image of God (Gen. 1: 26,27) are called to become sharers of the eternal divine communion. The sacrament of marriage is an image of this divine communion. Marital intimacy and self-effacing sharing are reflections of the deepest interpersonal sharing within the Trinitarian communion. Hence this intimate marital communion is divinely confirmed by Christ with the seal of unity and of indissolubility, and ordered toward the good of the spouses and the generation and education of the offspring.
He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh?” What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder. (Mt. 19:46).
Marriage is a great sacrament of divine communion and St Paul compares the mutual relationship of the husband and wife to the mystery of communion between Jesus Christ and his Church (cf. Eph. 5: 21-26; Tit. 2:3f; I Pet. 3: if; Rev. 18:7, 21:2). St Paul calls it a great mystery: “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32). Hence we believe that the sacrament of marriage bearing the image of the eternal divine communion is also an image of the most intimate communion between the Risen Bridegroom with his Bride, the Church.
The Church is the primordial sacrament of the eternal divine communion and, through the celebration of her sacramental mysteries; she deepens her communion with the divine Spouse and enables her members to participate in the divine life.
Our two churches accept the sacredness and indissolubility of the sacramental bond of marriage and consider the conjugal relationship as an expression of the above communion and a means to achieve self effacing mutual love and freedom from selfishness, which was the cause of the fall of humanity.
In this theological perspective, taking into account the question of the marriages between the members of our two churches, we consider it a matter of our pastoral concern to provide the following directives.
Our two churches desire to foster marriages within the same ecclesial communion and consider this the norm. However, we have to accept the pastoral reality that interchurch marriages do take place. When such occasions arise, both churches should facilitate the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony in either church, allowing the bride/bridegroom the right and freedom to retain her/his own ecclesial communion, by providing necessary information and documents. On the occasion of these celebrations, the couples as well as their family members belonging to these two churches are allowed to participate in the Holy Eucharist in the church where the sacrament of matrimony is celebrated. We consider it also the great responsibility of the parents to pay special attention to impart to the extent possible and in mutual accord proper ecclesial formation to their children in full harmony with the tradition of the ecclesial communion to which they have to belong.
The agreement was drafted in November 1993 and released on January 25, 1994, after approval from Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Zakka I.
The Pastoral Guidelines which follow the text of the Agreement state that “the pastors of both partners are bound in conscience to provide continued pastoral care to interchurch families in such a way as to contribute to their sanctity, unity and harmony.”
The couples are “allowed to participate jointly in the Eucharistic celebration on special occasions when this joint celebration is socially required”.
Communion at the Wedding
Reciprocity. The Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church is an autonomous church under the authority of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. It is thus one of those Eastern churches, which the Roman Catholic Church recognizes as close in faith to itself and “in possession of true sacraments, notably the priesthood and the Eucharist” (Decree on Ecumenism, n.14, 15). For this reason the bride and groom are allowed to receive communion together, whether the wedding and wedding Eucharist takes place in a Catholic church or in a Malankara Syrian Orthodox church.
Family members. This document makes explicit provision for the wider family to receive communion together at the wedding, not simply the bride and groom.
Pastoral Guidelines on Interchurch Marriages
between members of the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church
January 25, 1994
The pastoral guidelines for interchurch marriages accompany the agreement between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, dated 25 January 1994. The guidelines were prepared by the two churches separately, but accepted mutually.
- These guidelines are framed on the basis of the common declaration of His Holiness Pope Paul John Paul II and His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas (on 23 June 1984).
- Commissions were appointed by both Churches to explore ways and means to foster the existing common affirmation of the faith and sacramental unity between the Churches.
- Having considered the above mentioned declaration and the unity that exists between the two Churches in faith and sacraments, both Churches have agreed to accept the reality of interchurch marriages taking place between their members.
- The two Churches desire to foster marriages within the same ecclesial communion and consider this the norm. However, accepting the reality that interchurch marriages do take place at times, the two churches have decided to facilitate the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony in either Church, allowing the bride/bridegroom the right and freedom to retain his/her own ecclesial communion, by providing necessary information and documents.
Preparation for Interchurch Marriages
- When the parties apply for an interchurch marriage, they should be told that marriage within the same faith is better for the harmony of the family and the upbringing of the children.
- If they insist on conducting the interchurch marriage, they should be instructed properly about the Agreement reached between the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church on interchurch marriages.
- It should be stressed that, while each partner holds his/her ecclesial faith as supreme or paramount, he/she should respect the ecclesial faith of his/her partner.
- A pre-marriage preparatory course and a pre-marital counseling session are highly recommended.
- The bride/bridegroom shall produce his/her baptismal certificate.
- The priest must ensure that the bride/bridegroom is eligible for marriage.
- The priest should ensure that the bride/bridegroom has paid the church donations in connection with marriages according to the practice of the Churches.
- The bride and bridegroom, after mutual consultation, may select the church in which the marriage is to be celebrated.
- Written permission for interchurch marriage from the respective bishops should be obtained by the bride/bridegroom.
- Banns should be published in the respective churches, which also announce that it is an interchurch marriage.
- Once the permission is obtained from the bishops, the respective parish priests are expected to issue the necessary documents for the conduct of marriage.
- Marriage in the Lent or Advent seasons is only to be conducted with the permission of the bishops.
Celebration of Interchurch Marriages
- The liturgical minister should be the parish priest of the church where the marriage is celebrated, or his delegate from the same ecclesial communion.
- There is to be no joint celebration of marriage by the ministers of both Churches. The marriage is to be blessed either by the Catholic or by the Syrian Orthodox minister. However, there could be some kind of participation at the liturgical service by the other minister, who could read a Scriptural passage or give a sermon.
- On the occasion of these celebrations, the couple and any members of their families who belong to these Churches are allowed to participate in the Holy Eucharist in the Church where the sacrament of matrimony is being celebrated.
- Proper entries must be made in the Church registers, and marriage certificates should be issued for a record to be made in the register of the other Church.
Pastoral Care of Catholic-Syrian Orthodox Interchurch Families
- The Syrian Orthodox partner is to be reminded that he or she has to commit him/herself to imparting to their children proper Orthodox formation, to the extent possible and in agreement with his/her partner. Such formation should be fully in harmony with the Orthodox tradition to which he/she belongs.
- The pastors of both partners are bound in conscience to provide continued pastoral care to the interchurch families in such a way as to contribute to their sanctity, unity and harmony.
- Each partner is to be advised to attend the liturgical celebrations of his/her respective Church, but the couple may be allowed to participate jointly in the Eucharistic celebration on special occasions when this joint participation is socially required.
- Any declaration of the nullity of such marriages is only to be considered with the consent of the bishops concerned from both Churches.
The funeral service should as far as possible be conducted according to the rite of the dead person’s Church, even though he/she may be buried in either of the cemeteries, especially if the other partner is already buried there in a family tomb.