The banns of marriage, commonly known simply as the “banns” or “bans” (from a Middle English word meaning “proclamation,” rooted in Frankish and from there to Old French[1]), are the public announcement in a Christian parish church of an impending marriage between two specified persons. It is commonly associated with the Church of England and with other denominations whose traditions are similar; the Roman Catholic Church abolished the requirement in 1983.

The purpose of banns is to enable anyone to raise any canonical or civil legal impediment to the marriage, so as to prevent marriages that are invalid. Impediments vary between legal jurisdictions, but would normally include a pre-existing marriage that has been neither dissolved nor annulled, a vow of celibacy, lack of consent, or the couple’s being related within the prohibited degrees of kinship.  -WIKIPEDIA

When I was a young priest in my first parish assignment canon law required the publication of the Banns of Marriage.  In my very first preparation of a couple for marriage I dutifully published their banns by announcing from the pulpit in the usual parish announcements that “on such and such a date N. and N. would exchange the vows of marriage in a nuptial Mass in this church.”  It was following the third publication of those banns that a woman came to see me in the rectory and said “If the man you named in the banns at Mass this morning is the same man I knew back in X city then I am sorry to have to tell you that he is already married.”  Naturally I was shocked by this information and so I discreetly made inquiry of the pastor of the parish in X city and to my further shock learned that the man had indeed contracted a sacramental marriage there and that there was no record of an annulment.  I summoned the man to the rectory and he admitted the earlier marriage.  Needless to say I did not celebrate the announced wedding.  If I had done so, the marriage would have been invalid but the poor bride would have had to go to all the trouble and expense of obtaining a declaration of nullity on the grounds of fraud before she would have been able to contract a sacramental marriage in the future.  I have never approved of the abolition of the banns in 1983 and I believe that the practice of publishing the banns should be brought back.

All of that came back to mind when I read Dr. Edward Peter’s post on his Blog, In the light of the Law, which I have reproduced below.

– Abyssum


An urgent caution concerning the too-casual use of the term “second marriage”

by Dr. Edward Peters

Recently some popular articles have appeared pointing out that in the ancient Church “second marriages” were allowed. These articles quote, for example, Canon 8 of the Council of Nicaea:

“As for [certain rigorists seeking full communion] if they should wish to enter the catholic Church, this holy and great council establishes . . . before all else that they should declare openly, in writing, that they accept and follow the teachings of the catholic Church: and that is that they will enter into communion both with those who have gone on to second marriages and with those who have lapsed in the persecutions, for whom the time and circumstances of penance have been established…” (emp. add.)

These passages are being offered as evidence, perhaps even as proof, that ecclesiastical authority countenanced divorce and remarriage; incredibly, however, there is no mention that a very different interpretation may be applied to the ancient phrase “second marriage”. Here’s how. Among the controversies swirling in the early Church (yes, controversies swirling in the Catholic Church are nothing new), one particularly troublesome row concerned the correct attitude toward those who, after the death of a spouse, went on to a second marriage. Living, as we do, in an age when the possibility (even the good sense) of some widow/ers remarrying is taken for granted, it is hard for us to understand how meanly “second marriage” was scorned in certain times past. But scorned it was.

Second marriage was dismissed by some as akin to ‘posthumous adultery’ against a deceased spouse; it was taken as evidence of one’s subjection to unbridled lust; and it appeared to some to contravene the Christo-ecclesial unity to be mirrored in Christian marriage. Even some we now call saints (Jerome comes to mind) railed against “second marriages”. Unfortunately, in the hands of Christians less learned than Jerome (who always bent his irascible will to the teaching of the Church), these claims justified the shunning of Catholics in second, post-widowhood, marriages in terms indistinguishable from those living in second, adulterous, liaisons. But treating these two types of “second marriages” as morally identical was manifestly unjust. Eventually the truth that death (and only death) brings about the end of consummated Christian marriage, and that once a marriage was ended by death the survivor had the right to enter a second marriage, won out, as it should have, and those repudiating this truth of natural law and the Christian religion had to declare acceptance of it as a condition for full communion.

As time passed, fewer and fewer converts contested this kind of second marriage, and the need for a formal declaration of acceptance disappeared over time. But the lesson for us moderns is, I hope, clear: phrases plucked from ancient documents, phrases such as “second marriage”, do not necessarily carry the same connotations today that they enjoyed in times past. Caution in reading them, and in reaching conclusions of law based on them, is therefore strongly advised.

A further thought, if I may: Some disputes can echo long in the Church’s memory. As late as the early twentieth century, canon law still felt the need to uphold expressly the validity and liceity of “second marriages”, meaning, of course, marriages subsequent to widow/erhood (1917 CIC 1142). Indeed, the very first footnote to that Pio-Benedictine norm directs one to the passage in Gratian’s Concordantia (c. 13, C. XXVII, q. 2) [The Decretum Gratiani or Concordia discordantium canonum (in some manuscripts Concordantia discordantium canonum) is a collection of Canon law compiled and written in the 12th century as a legal textbook by the jurist known as Johannes Gratian. It forms the first part of the collection of six legal texts, which together became known as the Corpus Juris Canonici. It was used by canonists of the Roman Catholic Church until Pentecost (May 19) 1918, when a revised Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici) promulgated by Pope Benedict XV on 27 May 1917 obtained legal force.[1] ]wherein Gratian, following Jerome in drawing on Romans VII: 2, distinguished between second marriages following death of the first spouse and second marriages in plain adultery, defending the first and condemning the latter. Only in dicta (non-normative assertions made in some canons) did the 1917 Code so much as opine that “chaste widowhood is more honorable”. There being no question today that widow/ers could marry again, this older norm was not carried into the 1983 Code. As a result, though, some today are liable to associate the phrase “second marriage” with that which follows a divorce and not with that which follows a death. Informed Christians should avoid such errors.

+++ Dr. Edward Peters | February 8, 2014 at 11:44 am | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/p25nov-G3


In my opinion it would be good to refer to the status of a couple after a civil divorce had been obtained from a sacramental marriage as an ‘attempted marriage’ in the same way we refer to the status of a priest who has not been dispensed and has contracted a civil union is said to have ‘attempted’ marriage.

Since the Synod of Bishops will be studying all aspects of marriage in the coming October Synod, it is almost certain that the problem of Catholics who are living in an ‘attempted’ second marriage and who wish to receive Holy Communion.  At the present time they cannot do so in the Latin Church.

There is such a thing as “Permission to live as brother and sister” which includes the right to receive Holy Communion.  It is rarely granted by the Church and when granted has imposed on the couple the obligation to only receive Holy Communion in a parish other than their own so as to minimize the causing of theological scandal to the rest of the Catholic people.

– Abyssum


You might want to read my Pastoral Letter Divorced and Remarried:  http://www.ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/DIVORCE.htm

– Abyssum



About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas


  1. barbara kralis says:

    Dear Bishop: I remember well your beautiful pastoral letter re Divorced and Divorced and Remarried. I still have it. barb

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