the bride and groom to prepare themselves for the celebration of their marriage by receiving the sacrament of penance" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1622).
It should be noted that absolute moral rectitude is not demanded for sacraments to be celebrated. Familiaris Consortio offers this guidance: ''The faith of the person asking the church for marriage can exist in different degrees, and it is the primary duty of pastors to bring about a rediscovery of this faith and to nourish it and bring it to maturity. But pastors must also understand the reasons that lead the church also to admit to the celebration of marriage those who are imperfectly disposed" (68). The document further points out that the baptized couple, by their right intention, have already accepted God's plan regarding marriage and, at least implicitly, consent to what the church intends to do when it celebrates marriage. It cautions: "As for wishing to lay down further criteria for admission to the ecclesial celebration of marriage, criteria that would concern the level of faith for those to be married, this would above all involve grave risks" (68).
7. Is It Possible for Cohabitation to Scandalize the Community?
Many diocesan marriage-preparation policies note the possibility of scandal. Scandal is a multifaceted reality. In society as a whole, cohabitation neither carries the stigma nor causes the scandal that it did just two generations ago. As the bishops of Kansas point out, "As society no longer adheres to traditional moral values and norms, scandal becomes less and less a concern to many people" ("A Better Way," p. 9). The burden of scandal falls not just on the cohabiting couple, but on our sexually permissive society.
The cohabiting couple is living contrary to the church's teaching on marriage and sexual love. By acting as if they are married when they are not, they risk scandalizing the believing community. It is also possible to cause scandal, however, through a lack of understanding and compassion for couples in irregular situations. Whether and how couples are welcomed can mean the difference between alienation from the church or renewed involvement.
Moreover, parents and pastoral ministers may have a different opinion of how scandal occurs. Parents who are deeply distressed by their children's cohabitation are relieved when the son or daughter approaches the church for marriage. They believe the scandal is easing. At this point, however, priests and pastoral ministers fear that the scandal is about to start. Both viewpoints have some merit and point to the need for understanding different perspectives on scandal.
8. Is a Simple Wedding Ceremony Most Appropriate for Cohabiting Couples?
A few diocesan policies suggest that a simple wedding ceremony is most appropriate for cohabiting couples. (Those policies that explain simple usually do so in terms of number of people in the wedding party.) This is the most common consequence of a failure to separate. One policy states that since the couple is choosing to appear as husband and wife to the community, then their wedding ceremony should reflect this choice and be small and simple. Others (e.g. Memphis) state that a large wedding raises the possibility of serious scandal.
The Code of Canon Law gives no special consideration for marriages of cohabiting couples. The general norm states that the pastor and the ecclesial community are to see that the couple has a "fruitful liturgical celebration of marriage clarifying that the spouses signify and share in the mystery of unity and of fruitful love that exists between Christ and the church" (Canon 1063.3).
The catechism states, "Since marriage establishes the couple in a public state of life in the church, it is fitting that its celebration be public, in the framework of a liturgical celebration, before the priest (or a witness authorized by the church), the witnesses and the assembly of the faithful" (No. 1663).
Some pastoral ministers are concerned that a simple celebration hinders the couple's ability to understand the communal dimension of the sacrament. They point out that cohabiting couples are the least likely to realize the involvement of the Christian community in their marriage. Having a wedding with only immediate family and witnesses simply underscores their impression that marriage is a private event. They need to appreciate the reciprocal commitment between the couple and the Christian community.
The Archdiocese of Omaha points out that even for cohabiting couples the celebration of marriage is an act of the church's public worship. It states: "The same liturgical principles and norms apply for a cohabiting couple as for any other couple. Marriage preparation for cohabiting couples should not begin with or be based upon a decision about the kind or size of the wedding ceremony that will be allowed."