Saint Luke Church

     Westport, Connecticut

    Catholic FAQ



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What is an "annulment"?

Let's first say what an "annulment" is NOT:  contrary to popular usage, a declaration of nullity (the correct term) does NOT mean "that there never was a marriage."  Nor is it, as sometimes crudely stated, a "Catholic divorce."

Why not say "annulment"?

The term "annulment" implies making void something that was at one time considered valid.  "Declaration of nullity," by contrast, is a finding by the tribunal (church court) which declares that the conditions necessary for a valid sacrament were not present from the very beginningAmong these lacking conditions are (1) sufficient understanding of what the sacrament of marriage entails as a vocation to a permanent, faithfully exclusive, life-giving union between a baptized man and woman ordered toward procreation and holiness and (2) the requisite maturity and deliberate intent to make such a commitment that is to last "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health [in other words, 'no matter what'], until death."

Our Catholic theology of marriage teaches that a marriage between baptized persons exists in two "dimensions": as a civil reality (that is, recognized and regulated by the laws and institutions of secular society) and, most importantly, as a sacrament.  The laws of the state also provide that the civil dimension of marriage can be undone through divorce.  The sacramental dimension cannot be undone because, as a gift of God, the sacrament of marriage is a permanent reality that mirrors the irrevocable, self-sacrificing love of Jesus for his Church. A declaration of nullity does not "undo" the sacrament of marriage; the declaration, rather, based on the evidence presented to the tribunal, establishes that the sacrament aspect of marriage was never validly contracted from the start.


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What is a “holyday of obligation”?

A holyday of obligation is a special feast day which celebrates one of the foundational beliefs of our Catholic Faith.  Because the truths of our salvation being celebrated on these days are so important to our life of faith, the people of the Church have always felt compelled (“obligated,” “obliged”) to join together for Mass:  to hear the Scripture readings which point to these beliefs and to celebrate the Eucharist in thanksgiving for the gift of our salvation in Christ.  In addition to our weekly observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, Catholics have the obligation to attend Mass on these days as part of the bare minimum necessary for participation in the liturgy of the Church.

The holydays of obligation for the Catholic Church in the United States are:

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God   January 1*
Solemnity of the Ascension   Thursday of the  6th Week of Easter †
Solemnity of the Assumption   August 15*
Solemnity of All Saints   November 1*
Solemnity of the
Immaculate Conception
  December 8 ‡
Solemnity of the
Nativity of our Lord
  December 25


*    The Bishops of the United States have determined that when any of these three holydays fall on a Monday or a Saturday, Catholics are dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass.  The Church, nonetheless, still considers these to be days of special observance and Catholics are encouraged to attend Mass.

†    In some dioceses of the United States, particularly in the West, the Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on the Seventh Sunday of the Easter Season.  If you are traveling at that time of year, be sure to call the local parish or check its parish bulletin for the date and times of their observance.

‡    Because Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is honored as the Patroness of the United States, this holyday does not come under the Monday and Saturday exception as described in the first footnote above (*).  In other words, December 8 is always a holyday which obliges Catholics to attend Mass.


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What is required of Catholics in Lent?

ABSTINENCE from meat is to be observed by all Catholics 14 years old and older on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and on all of the Fridays of Lent.

FASTING is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59.  Those who are bound by this rule may take only one full meal.  Two smaller meals are permitted if necessary to maintain strength according to one's needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted.

All Catholics are encouraged to make Lent a time of increased prayer and works of charity, each according to one's own abilities.


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