On January 22, the Pope gave his address and it can serve as a corrective to a couple erroneous notions that might be cropping up here and there. After the Pope's changes to the nullity process were made known, I expressed some surprise at how the issue of a "lack of faith" made its way into the discussion of the "brief process" used for cases of "obvious nullity." This inclusion can lead some to think that the baptized have to have a certain "level" of belief or practice the faith a certain amount in order to contract a valid marriage. If they don't, the marriage will be obviously invalid. It can also lead some to think that Christian marriage (i.e., the Sacrament of Marriage) is essentially different from natural marriage (marriage among two unbaptized persons, for example). In other words, two "non-believing" Catholics might be able to form a natural marriage but their lack of faith prevented a Sacramental union.
According to CNA, the Pope said:
"It should be clearly affirmed that the quality of faith is not an essential condition for matrimonial consent”.... Consent – the typical basis for a tribunal investigating the validity of a marriage – “according to the longstanding doctrine, can be undermined only at a natural level,” Pope Francis reminded the judges.Marital consent "at the natural level" is what tribunals are concerned with: there is no investigation of the "sacramentality" of marriages. There is no investigation of a person's religious fervor. If a person "lacks faith", that deficit is relevant only in the measure that it makes marital consent "at the natural level" ineffective. For example, a Catholic can have "faith" that is so perverted that he actually rejects the notion of the Sacrament of Marriage. When Tom the Apostate married Suzy Pious, he didn't really know what a Sacrament is. All he knew was that he did not want a Sacramental marriage. In rejecting the Sacrament of marriage, he actually rejected marriage itself. This is "simulation" of consent.
Pope Francis continued:
“The lack of formation in faith and also an error regarding the unity, indissolubility and sacramental dignity of marriage may vitiate matrimonial consent only if they determine the will. It is precisely for this reason that errors regarding the sacramental nature of marriage must be evaluated very carefully.”Here, he addresses another way in which a "lack of faith" can make a person's marital consent "at the natural level" ineffective: through an error which determines the will. For example, Elizabeth Protestanta was baptized but raised in a rather anti-Catholic environment. Nevertheless, she even went to a Catholic school (...to make it more believable, let's say it was C.T.U. in Chicago) and was exposed to the idea of the Sacrament of marriage but concluded that the Catholic position is wrong.
In fact, she is the one who is in error. Her error is so deep-seated that when she married Joe Catholicus, her error "determined her will." She desired a marriage that was not Sacramental: in her mind, there is no such thing as a Sacrament of marriage and she wanted nothing to do with the Catholic view on marriage between the baptized. This error impacted her marital consent at the natural level. As was the case with Tom the Apostate, what she chose was not marriage.
Why is it Tom and Elizabeth's rejection (in different but related ways) of the Sacrament amounts to a rejection of marriage itself? Christ the Lord has raised marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament, for the baptized (CCC #1601, Code of Canon Law, c. 1055). There is no essential difference between a "natural marriage" and a "sacramental marriage"--both have the same essential properties and elements. Pope Leo XIII said:
Let no one, then, be deceived by the distinction which some civil jurists have so strongly insisted upon - the distinction, namely, by virtue of which they sever the matrimonial contract from the sacrament, with intent to hand over the contract to the power and will of the rulers of the State, while reserving questions concerning the sacrament of the Church. A distinction, or rather severance, of this kind cannot be approved; for certain it is that in Christian marriage the contract is inseparable from the sacrament, and that, for this reason, the contract cannot be true and legitimate without being a sacrament as well. For Christ our Lord added to marriage the dignity of a sacrament; but marriage is the contract itself, whenever that contract is lawfully concluded.
Marriage, moreover, is a sacrament, because it is a holy sign which gives grace, showing forth an image of the mystical nuptials of Christ with the Church. But the form and image of these nuptials is shown precisely by the very bond of that most close union in which man and woman are bound together in one; which bond is nothing else but the marriage itself. Hence it is clear that among Christians every true marriage is, in itself and by itself, a sacrament; and that nothing can be further from the truth than to say that the sacrament is a certain added ornament, or outward endowment, which can be separated and torn away from the contract at the caprice of man (nn. 23-24; emphasis added).For further, better, smarter, reflections on the Pope's address, here is an interview with a Rotal Judge.