Q. If a practicing Catholic marries a non-Catholic Christian, do they have to promise to baptize their children and raise them in the Catholic faith?

A. This is a very pertinent question – particularly at a time when, in some parts of America, as many as 40 percent of Catholics marriages involve ecumenical or interfaith couples – and the answer requires some explanation and historical perspective.

Under the old Code of Canon Law, both parties to a mixed marriage had to promise (in writing) that the children of the marriage would be baptized and brought up in the Catholic faith. Pope Paul VI, though – in his 1970 apostolic letter Matrimonia Mixta – modified that guideline somewhat, and his changes made their way into the current Code of Canon Law that was published in 1983.

The present state of Catholic Church law is as follows. Normally it is the bishop of the diocese of the Catholic party who gives permission for a mixed marriage to take place. To receive this permission, the Catholic party must pledge to continue to practice the Catholic faith and must also (Canon 1125.1) “make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic faith.”

The non-Catholic party doesn’t have to promise anything; he or she simply has to be made aware of the pledge that the other spouse has made. Neither spouse is required to sign anything in writing; instead, the priest – in requesting permission for the marriage – attests with his signature that the Catholic party has made the required pledge and that the non-Catholic spouse is aware of it.

None of this guarantees, of course, that things will work out as the guidelines envision. It might happen that, with the arrival of a child, the non-Catholic spouse reevaluates and objects to a Catholic baptism and rearing.

In such a situation, the Catholic partner may be forced to choose between the harmony of the household and the religion of the child. My view is that the wording of the pledge – to “do all in his or her power” – must be interpreted within the context of the marriage.

No one can be required to do what is practically impossible, and it is the sacred and lifelong commitment to a spouse that must prevail – although the Catholic partner should continue his or her own Catholic practice and do what is reasonable to share that faith with the children.

But this is exactly why a couple ought to discuss such a matter well before the marriage – preferably in a pre-Cana session with a priest. If the issue of the children’s religion forecasts future struggles and strife, one wonders whether the marriage itself is such a good idea.

Q. When receiving holy Communion, some at our parish church stand and some kneel. Is there a “right way” to receive? 

A. It is left to national conferences of bishops to recommend the posture for receiving Holy Communion. In the United States, that suggested posture is standing.

As the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, “The norm established for the dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling” (No. 160).

The answer to your question, then, is that there is no required “right way.”

Between the editions of the general instruction published in 2003 and the current one (2011), there was an interesting modification in this regard. The 2003 version said, “Communicants should not be denied holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.”

The current version though, drops this note about “catechesis” and simply leaves individuals free to make the choice. My own pastoral inclination is to say, “Why should it matter?”

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.