76. Church marriage and customary marriage in Nigeria—the reality
76. Church marriage and customary marriage in Nigeria—the reality

76. Church marriage and customary marriage in Nigeria—the reality

Today’s post examines marriage in both canon law and customary law. Two challenges call for the need to inculturate marriage.

The first is that baptised Catholics who have not married in the Church should not receive communion. This argument stems from the juridical dimension of baptism. Baptism makes one a member of the Church and, therefore, subject to the laws of the Church. One such law is that marriage validly contracted between two baptised people is a sacrament (Canon 1055 §2).

Therefore, if two baptised people contract marriage without it being a sacrament, they should not receive communion because they are living in sin. As I wrote last week, people marry in various legal systems for recognition in that legal system. Yet, as a people with a legal system foreign to Christian tradition, this poses a big problem.

First, natural law governs marriage. Natural law here entails that this is how God willed it. Jesus says: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:6-8).

Therefore, marriages contracted under customary law are as valid as marriages contracted under canon law.

It only differs because the Catholic Church requires Catholics to contract their marriages according to the canonical form. The reason is for liceity and validity under canon law and not for liceity or validity under customary law. Since Christianity is a new religion in Nigeria, it is absurd to say that marriages contracted before Christianity arrived were invalid or illicit.

The cultural reawakening fuelled by social media is the second reason for urgent action to inculturate marriage in Nigeria. In the recent past, people desired to celebrate canonical marriage as they converted to Christianity. Today, baptised Catholics are opting not to marry in the Church. The reasons go beyond cultural reawakening to include childbearing, divorce, and remarriage concerns. This reality is even more true in western countries where canonical marriages celebrated annually have plummeted. More people now opt only for civil marriages or cohabitation.

In response to this need for inculturation, there have been several proposals for merging elements of canon law and the customary legal system. The aim is to develop a single marriage ceremony rite that is valid in both legal systems, as in canonical marriage and statutory marriage. This combination also reduces the socio-economic burden of celebrating marriage according to two rites.

How practical are these proposals? We will continue next week.

May God continue to help us🙏🏾


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