If you are Catholic and you have children, do you have to raise them Catholic?
The most popular phrase in our house growing up was: "Wait until your father gets home!"
But the second most popular phrase was, "While you're under our roof, you will obey our rules." That meant going to Mass, as well. But your question is an important one, here's why...
The Church asks the bride and groom several questions during the wedding Mass. The questions need to have an affirmative (yes or "I will") response if the sacrament is to be valid. These are vows being made in the house of God, in front of an altar of God, before a priest of God and an assembly of believers. (Obviously, they're pretty serious).
The questions asked are, as follows:
- Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?
- Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?
- Will you accept Children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?
Now, based upon those questions, you can see why the answer to your initial question is, most certainly and obviously, YES. Yes, if you are Catholic and you have children, you are obligated (by your own vow) to raise them in the faith.
And that does NOT mean just making sure "they get their sacraments" or "get to Mass" (although those are important things). To raise children in the faith means, first, that you model the faith to them, authentically.
Many times people might claim "Catholic" when asked of their religion, but their lives do nothing to model the faith - for some people "Catholic" is an almost cultural designation...for some people being Catholic doesn't change their life (or the manner in which they live) at all. For some people being "Catholic" is like being German or Italian or Irish - it's something they were "born with" but that rarely gets a second thought.
Now, I ask you this question:
If someone doesn't believe what the Church believes, doesn't participate in the life of the Church (Mass, Sacraments) or in the work of the Church (acts of service, speaking out against moral atrocities), or actively seek to humbly grow in the richness of the Church (study of teachings, traditions, evangelization)...are they really living the faith?
Why would someone want to be considered a Catholic if he rejects the faith or the life that comes with it?
In that case, why would they want to be married in the Catholic Church, in a Catholic ceremony that proclaims, affirms and is based within a faith that they do not embrace (or outright reject)?
From my experience, many times, it's done to make Grandma and Grandpa (or mom and dad) happy. But that's the wrong reason.
One of the reasons that the Church stipulate a couple must get married in a Church (or alternative, approved holy space) is that it's the house of God with an altar of sacrifice. It serves (in part) to remind the faithful of the sacrificial nature of what they're entering into, and the sacredness of it. (That's why some brides who don't go to Church or who don't understand the rationale get so sad that they can't get married on a beach in the middle of nowhere, instead).
Couples need to realize what they're saying "yes" to...
They're not saying yes to a joint-checking account, a white-picket fenced house on the cul-de-sac, an SUV in the garage and a dog named Rover...they're saying "Yes" to death and to life.
They're saying that they will die to their own selfish wants and live for the others' needs. They're vowing to live lives worthy of Heaven and promising to live their life in such a way that it leads their new spouse closer to God and, ultimately, to Heaven, also.
That's why those questions and the vows are so important. It's not a mere legality for the courts, it's a covenant before God that the man and woman are entering into.
Part of that covenant is to raise the children (if God sends children) Catholic, that is in the faith, as we are encouraged to do in Scripture (like Deut. 4:9 and 6:5-8).
Put very simply, if a couple doesn't want to raise kids Catholic, that pretty much means they're not living the Catholic life and if they vow to do that in the ceremony, they are not really entering into the Sacrament or the marriage with total surrender.
Further, if the rationale is "our kids should get to choose what religion they want to live". That says one of three things - either, again, the couple doesn't believe that the Catholic faith is truth (so why get married in it), they believe that salvation is a certainty for their children (which it is not) so 'who cares', or that religion is a 'club' that someone can join when they're of age or maturity to care. That last one is even sadder...as some parents are more concerned with getting their kids into Harvard than into Heaven.
Lastly, you'll notice that one of those vows is to "accept children" lovingly...which means that a couple must be open to children - you can't "accept" with a closed hand. So, here's another question: "If a couple is contracepting, are they 'open'?" No. This is yet another reason why contraception goes against the Gospel of Life.
If you're Catholic and you enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony, you are obliged (by your own vow) to raise your children Catholic. If you don't want to do that, there are FAR BIGGER issues that you need to work and pray through prior to marriage.
A sacrament is a sacred oath, a covenant with God. It's not to be taken lightly. And no matter how much love any parent has for their child...God loves the child more. God loves perfectly. And, ultimately, although God allows the couple to participate in the procreation of the child, the child is still God's child...entrusted to the care, protection and instruction of the parents.
Thanks for the question. These are tough answers that many don't like, but part of love is truth and, sometimes, truth hurts. Living a selfless life is never easy, but it's what every Christian is called to do.
Let's join together in praying for all couples - married and those preparing, that they would allow the Lord to be the Lord of their lives.
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