By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD
Three years after their wedding, a couple was navigating through rough waters in their marriage. Several small breakups happened here and there.
The last separation was a long three months. Then, they finally decided to start all over again as husband and wife. They wanted to renew their wedding vows and so they approached the same priest who had solemnized their marriage.
In another situation, approaching their silver wedding anniversary, a husband proposed to his wife that they should renew their marriage vows. The wife forthrightly responded “no” and, with a certain smile on her face, she added, “once is enough!”
Can wedding vows be renewed? Cognizant that our church is a reality so complex (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8), we can expect that there would be different viewpoints and approaches to such a question. In the perspective of the care of souls, likewise different pastors would offer different opinions.
We have to be careful as to what the term “renewal” means. Renewal is not possible in the transitive sense of the verb “renew” because such would imply “doing the vow again, or restoring it to existence, or even to replace it with something new.”
Renewal, on the other hand, is possible in the intransitive sense of the verb “renew.” The person who made the vow at some time in the past would begin again in his or her commitment.
This is the context of the approved ritual for the renewal when the husband and wife would declare: “Blessed are you, Lord, for by your goodness I took (name) as my wife/husband.” Both spouses renew themselves in the commitment they consented to in the past.
Going back to the cases above, renewal of vows for the first case may seem to veer the focus away from the real problem.
The problem is not the vows and therefore renewal of vows is not really necessary and would merely appear to be a Band-Aid solution to a more serious issue.
The more effective pastoral approach would be to address the woundedness of the spouses through counseling and, better still, through the sacrament of reconciliation for healing.
There have been many marriages solemnized for the hopes that the sacramental blessing would miraculously calm down the rough and stormy waters that they are going through.
Sacramental grace can only take effect through the right disposition and correspondence of all those receiving the grace.
The Thomistic principle will help us clarify this point: “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur” which means that “whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver.”
Applying this principle to our case, the blessings given in the sacraments would be received in the manner of the receiver. If the receiver is not receptive, the blessings would not have effects.
Precautions should be observed not to give the couples the idea that they are starting a second marriage, or third or fourth. They are just heading on to a new beginning in their same marriage.
Marriage vows once pronounced are unique and irrevocable. Any semblance of acknowledging revocation of the old and recognition of the new vows should be avoided.
The second case is a different scenario. The renewal of vows is sought not as a solution but to celebrate once again the joyful occasion of one’s wedding day.
I have witnessed other occasions of renewal of marriage vows done by couples in pilgrimage to Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine.
I can see no problem with the renewal of vows as long as they are done in the right context.
Msgr. Achacoso is the author of ‘Due Process in Church Administration’ (2018), recipient of Arcangelo Ranaudo Award (Vatican City), and Administrator of Corpus Christi Church in Woodside, NY.