Mixed Marriages

taken from
“The Catechism Explained”
+ Patrick 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.

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 conditions:  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! 

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 treachery. 

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 a mockery. 

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 have taken. 

Addendum from the 1958 Penny Catechism


Has the Church always forbidden mixed marriages?

A. The Church has always forbidden mixed marriages and considers them unlawful and pernicious.
Q. Does the Church sometimes permit mixed marriages?
A. The Church sometimes permits mixed marriages granting a dispensation, for very grave reasons and under special conditions.