First Trilateral Agreement on Interchurch Marriages
between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church 

Since the Second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church has been in dialogue with a number of other Christian
churches and communions at world level; the best­known of these international bilateral dialogues, at any rate in
English­speaking countries, is probably ARCIC ­ the Anglican­Roman Catholic International Commission.

Although ARCIC produced in 1975 a Report on the Theology of Marriage and its Application to Mixed Marriage entitled
Anglican­Roman Catholic Marriage, it has not yet achieved an agreement on interchurch marriages which can be
approved by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. 

The first official agreement on this subject is the fruit of the "Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Malankara
Syrian Orthodox Church on Interchurch Marriages"; this dialogue was undertaken "because of the urgency of problems of
a pastoral nature", and the agreement has "been definitively approved by the authorities of both Churches". It has
recently been published in the Information Service of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican City,
no. 84, followed by some "Pastoral Guidelines" agreed by some of the Catholic and Syrian Orthodox members of the joint
commission and approved by the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Conference.

We give here the text of the agreement, which was published on the final day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Agreement Between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church on Interchurch marriages 

This agreement between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church on interchurch marriages has
been prepared taking into account the following elements of the Common Declaration of Pope John Paul II and the Syrian
Orthodox Patriarch Zakka I Iwas of Antioch, dated 23 June 1984:

1 The common profession of faith between the Pope and the Patriarch on the mystery of the Incarnate Word;

2 the common affirmation of their faith in the mystery of the Church and the sacraments;

3 the possibility given by the declaration for a pastoral collaboration including the mutual admission of the faithful
belonging to both churches to the reception of the sacraments of penance, eucharist and anointing of the sick for a grave
spiritual need.

Having considered the above mentioned events and declaration, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church and the Catholic
Church agreed on the following considerations and norms. 

As our two churches believe in and confess the mystery of the Church and its sacramental reality, we consider it our duty
to specify the areas of agreement in cases of marriages between the members of our two churches.

Man and woman created in the image of God (Gen. 1: 26­27) are called to become sharers of the eternal divine
communion. The sacrament of marriage is an image of this divine communion. Marital intimacy and self­effacing sharing
are reflections of the deepest inter­personal sharing within the Trinitarian communion. Hence this intimate marital
communion is divinely confirmed by Christ with the seal of unity and of indissolubility, and ordered toward the good of the
spouses and the generation and education of the offspring.

He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For
this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh?" What
therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder. (Mt. 19: 4­6)

Marriage is a great sacrament of divine communion and St Paul compares the mutual relationship of the husband and
wife to the mystery of communion between Jesus Christ and his Church (cf. Eph. 5: 21­26; Tit. 2: 3f.; I Pet. 3: if.; Rev. 18:
7, 21: 2). St Paul calls it a great mystery: "This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the
Church" (Eph. 5: 32). Hence we believe that the sacrament of marriage bearing the image of the eternal divine
communion is also an image of the most intimate communion between the Risen Bridegroom with his Bride, the Church.

The Church is the primordial sacrament of the eternal divine communion and, through the celebration of her sacramental
mysteries, she deepens her communion with the divine Spouse and enables her members to participate in the divine life.

Our two churches accept the sacredness and indissolubility of the sacramental bond of marriage and consider the
conjugal relationship as an expression of the above communion and a means to achieve self­effacing mutual love and
freedom from selfishness which was the cause of the fall of humanity. 

In this theological perspective, taking into account the question of the marriages between the members of our two
churches, we consider it a matter of our pastoral concern to provide the following directives.

Our two churches desire to foster marriages within the same ecclesial communion and consider this the norm. However,
we have to accept the pastoral reality that interchurch marriages do take place. When such occasions arise, both
churches should facilitate the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony in either church, allowing the bride/bridegroom the right and freedom to retain her/his own ecclesial communion, by providing necessary information and documents. On the occasion of these celebrations, the couple as well as their family members belonging to these two churches are allowed to participate in the Holy Eucharist in the church where the sacrament of matrimony is celebrated. We consider it also the great responsibility of the parents to pay special attention to impart to the extent possible and in mutual accord proper ecclesial formation to their children in full harmony with the tradition of the ecclesial communion to which they have to belong.

25 January 1994

Pastoral Guidelines The "Pastoral Guidelines" which follow the text of the Agreement state that "the pastors of both
partners are bound in conscience to provide continued pastoral care to interchurch families in such a way as to contribute
to their sanctity, unity and harmony."

The couple are "allowed to participate jointly in the eucharistic celebration on special occasions when this joint
celebration is socially required".

A Note on Communion at the Wedding In two respects interchurch couples in the West will regret that similar possibilities
as those envisaged in this Agreement are not yet open to them. 

1 Reciprocity The Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church is an autonomous church under the authority of the Syrian
Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. It is thus one of those Eastern churches which the Roman Catholic Church recognises as
close in faith to itself

and "in possession of true sacraments, notably the priesthood and the eucharist" (Decree on Ecumenism, n.14, 15). For
this reason the bride and groom are allowed to receive communion together, whether the wedding and wedding eucharist
takes place in a Catholic church or in a Malankara Syrian Orthodox church.

With regard to other (non­Eastern) churches and ecclesial communities, this kind of reciprocity is not envisaged, since
Catholics "may ask for the sacraments only from a minister in whose church these sacraments are valid or from one who
is known to be validly ordained according to the Catholic teaching on ordination" (1993 Directory, n.132). Thus the
admission of another Christian to Catholic communion at the wedding mass is envisaged (Directory, n.159), but not the
other way round. 

2 Family members This document makes explicit provision for the wider family to receive communion together at the
wedding, not simply the bride and groom.

Where non­Eastern Christians are concerned, the 1993 Directory makes no mention of family members, but "because of
problems concerning eucharistic sharing which may arise from the presence of non­Catholic witnesses and guests" a
wedding mass is not encouraged (Directory, n.159). Many couples will judge that if family and guests are unable to share
in communion at the wedding, then it is better to celebrate the wedding without a eucharist; other couples will decide

It is noteworthy that the "Pastoral Recommendations for Mixed Marriages between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in
France" of June 1980, approved by the French Catholic Bishops, stated that at a wedding "eucharistic hospitality can be
requested for the Anglican fiance and family".

Source: Published by the Association of Interchurch Families, England
Association of Interchurch Families

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