Marriage Introduction

For Catholics, the Sacrament of Marriage, or Holy Matrimony, is a public sign that one gives oneself totally to this other person. It is also a public statement about God: the loving union of husband and wife speaks of family values and also God's values.

 

Every marriage matters, because marriage comes from the hand of God. God brings a man and a woman together to love and support each other. Their love becomes visible in the children they bring into the world and in their acts of generous service.

 

In Catholic teaching, the valid marriage between two baptized Christians is also a sacrament. The love between the spouses symbolizes Christ’s love for the church.

 

According to Sacred Scripture, God instituted marriage as the peak of creation. On the sixth day, in the first creation story, the Book of Genesis tells us: "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: 'Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it'" (Genesis 1: 27-28).

 

In the second creation story, God says that "it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." (Genesis 2:18). This suitable helpmate was formed from the very rib of man and thus woman was "flesh of his flesh" (Genesis 2:22-23).

 

Woman, then, is man's equal in dignity and the one closest to his heart. Because man and woman were created for one another, "a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh" (Genesis 2: 24). Scripture teaches that marriage is not a mere human institution, but something God established from the foundation of world.

 

Christians are new creations in Christ, healed of sin and its effects. Marriage is also recreated and made new in Christ. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, husbands and wives can now truly love and honor one another. St. Paul tells us that marriage bears witness to the indissoluble love of Christ for his Church. Thus, husbands should love their wives, "even as Christ loved the church. (Ephesians 5:25-26). Wives, too, are called to love their husbands as the Church loves Christ. The Old Testament also shows how God taught his people to revere once more the institution of marriage. God's covenant with his people was an image of the exclusive and faithful love of husband and wife. The prophets helped the people see that God had not intended husband and wife to be separated (See Hosea 1-3; Isaiah 54 and 62; Jeremiah 2-3 and 31; Ezekiel 16 and 23; Malachi 2:13-17). The books of Ruth and Tobit bear witness to fidelity and tenderness within marriage. The Song of Solomon shows how the love of a man and a woman mirrors God's love for his people.

 

Because marriage is placed within the saving mystery of Jesus Christ, Catholics recognize it as a sacrament. It is a means through which husbands and wives grow in love for one another and for their children, become holy and obtain eternal life.

Marriage

While all this focus and emphasis is placed on the importance and necessity of priesthood in the existence and life of the church, our traditional teaching recognizes two sacraments of vocation. It does not claim that one is less necessary to the life of the church, or asks a lesser holiness of people, than the other. We call marriage (or matrimony) a sacrament of vocation within the church because it also asks for a total and exclusive commitment, and it also is dedicated to the fashioning of the church. It also is in a radical sense a work of the redemption of the world.

 

At the root of the sinfulness, confusion and disorder from which the whole world and each of its human beings need to be redeemed is the seizing for oneself of what belongs to God (as we learn in the story of the garden in Genesis 3). Our world and our own being are unfocused, uncentered, to the extent that they are not focused and centered on God our creator. The way we know this is in the difficulties we have in being fully at peace with one another, making common cause with one another, acting in solidarity without excluding anyone. In God’s creative design, as we learn to see it in Sacred Scripture, the complementarity of male and female in marriage and family is intended to be the basic building block for the solidarity of human society. It is supposed to make true human community possible. In the history of our world as we have experienced it, this constantly fails to happen, and we have divisions and enmities, ruthless competition, cruelties and injustices, wars and so forth.

 

As St. Paul expresses it in Ephesians 5:30-33, the marriage of Christians is at a new level of grace. It is a marriage in Christ, modeled on and participating in the union of the risen Christ with his church, his people, his body in which he is present in many places at many times. Modeled on and participating in the self-gift and self-sacrifice of Jesus for his community, Christian marriage enjoys a new power to be indeed a basis for solidarity and transformation of the human race.

 

The couple is called to discover in great depth what it is to say “we” about many things rather than always “I” and “you” and “they.” Their individual futures become one common future, their wealth, their plans, their commitments, their homes are merged. Most of all, their children are each other’s children, and they are jointly called to create a home and family environment for them. This brings into mutually supportive relationships not only these two individuals, but ideally the families from which they came. Thus eventually, through many marriages, bonds of relatedness and solidarity would be established throughout society as a basis for peace and mutual support.

 

The Christian understanding is that, in spite of the complex human heritage of feuds and rivalries, bullying and injustices, prejudices and exclusions, marriages in the grace of Christ are redemptive. They are empowered to transcend all the problems and to create families and relationships throughout society that bring health and wholeness and happiness both within their own family circle and in the wider community. This too is an essential element of building the church, the community of the followers of Jesus. This too is a sacrament of vocation, of the calling to build up the church that participates in the work of redemption.

 

It may seem that we call marriage a sacrament because it is celebrated in church with a priest of the church as a witness. However, it is the other way around. We celebrate marriage in the church with a priest as a witness because marriage in Christ is in itself sacramental. Thus, our tradition teaches that the ministers of the sacrament, those who confer the sacrament on each other, are the couple themselves in their self-gift to each other. This in itself shows that in Christian teaching there is great respect for these ministers of the sacrament. Theirs is not a lesser dignity or holiness, but a different way in which they are called to be personally holy and to contribute to the sanctification (the making holy) of the community which is the church of Jesus Christ in the world.



Marriage for Catholics

 

For Catholics, the Sacrament of Marriage, or Holy Matrimony, is a public sign that one gives oneself totally to this other person. It is also a public statement about God: the loving union of husband and wife speaks of family values and also God's values.


Every marriage matters, because marriage comes from the hand of God. God brings a man and a woman together to love and support each other. Their love becomes visible in the children they bring into the world and in their acts of generous service.

 

In Catholic teaching, the valid marriage between two baptized Christians is also a sacrament. The love between the spouses symbolizes Christ’s love for the church.

 

According to Sacred Scripture, God instituted marriage as the pinnacle of creation. On the sixth day, in the first creation story, the Book of Genesis tells us: "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: 'Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it'" (Genesis 1: 27-28).

 

In the second creation story, God says that "it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." (Genesis 2:18). This suitable helpmate was formed from the very rib of man and thus woman was "flesh of his flesh" (Genesis 2:22-23).

 

Woman, then, is man's equal in dignity and the one closest to his heart. Because man and woman were created for one another, "a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh" (Genesis 2: 24). Scripture teaches that marriage is not a mere human institution, but something God established from the foundation of world.

 

Christians are new creations in Christ, healed of sin and its effects. Marriage is also recreated and made new in Christ. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, husbands and wives can now truly love and honor one another. St. Paul tells us that marriage bears witness to the indissoluble love of Christ for his Church. Thus, husbands should love their wives, "even as Christ loved the church. (Ephesians 5:25-26). Wives, too, are called to love their husbands as the Church loves Christ. The Old Testament also shows how God taught his people to revere once more the institution of marriage. God's covenant with his people was an image of the exclusive and faithful love of husband and wife. The prophets helped the people see that God had not intended husband and wife to be separated (See Hosea 1-3; Isaiah 54 and 62; Jeremiah 2-3 and 31; Ezekiel 16 and 23; Malachi 2:13-17). The books of Ruth and Tobit bear witness to fidelity and tenderness within marriage. The Song of Solomon shows how the love of a man and a woman mirrors God's love for his people.

 

Because marriage is placed within the saving mystery of Jesus Christ, Catholics recognize it as a sacrament. It is a means through which husbands and wives grow in love for one another and for their children, become holy and obtain eternal life.


The Catholic Church

Contraception and Natural Family Planning

 

Marriage is an intimate, lifelong partnership in which husbands and wives give and receive love unselfishly. The sexual relationship expresses their married love and shows what it means to become "one body" (Genesis 2:24) and "one flesh" (Mark 10:8, Matthew 19:6). The sexual union is meant to express the full meaning of a couple's love, its power to bind them together and its openness to new life.

 

The Church believes that God has established an inseparable bond between the oneness and procreative aspects of marriage. The couple has promised to give themselves to each other, and this mutual self-giving includes the gift of their fertility. This means that each sexual act in a marriage needs to be open to the possibility of conceiving a child. "Thus, artificial contraception is contrary to God's will for marriage because it separates the act of conception from sexual union" (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 409).

 

A couple need not desire to conceive a child in every act of intercourse. But they should never suppress the life-giving power that is part of what they pledged in their marriage vows.

 

Serious circumstances financial, physical, psychological, or those involving responsibilities to other family members may affect the number and spacing of children. The Church understands this.

 

Helping couples to deepen conjugal love and achieve responsible parenthood is part of the Church’s total pastoral ministry to Catholic spouses. Fulfillment of this ministry includes both education and pastoral care. This means offering practical help to those who wish to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way.

 

When there is a sufficient reason to avoid or postpone pregnancy (the Church does warn against selfishness in family planning.) Natural family planning is a way of following God’s plan, it consists of ways to achieve or to avoid pregnancy using the physical means that God has built into human nature. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman's cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.

 

The best way to learn NFP is from a qualified instructor-one who is certified from an NFP teacher training program. Our Diocesan ( Respect Life Office) NFP Consultant can help you to find an NFP class in your area. (http://www.diogh.org/RespectLife/index.htm)

 

We are enormously grateful to the Church for her constant teaching that sexuality must be open to the transmission of life.

 

Resources used:

"Used with permission from the NFP Program, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved."

Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of Pope John Paul II

Marriage and Cohabitation

It's no secret that many couples are cohabiting, that is, living together in a sexual relationship without marriage. But, fewer than half of cohabiting unions end in marriage and on average, 46% are more likely to end in divorce.

 

Social science studies point out cohabitation puts children at risk. Forty percent of cohabiting households include children. After five years, one-half of these couples will have broken up, compared to 15% of married parents.

 

Many couples mistakenly believe that cohabitation will lower their risk of divorce. This is an understandable misconception, since many people are the children of divorce, or have other family members or friends who have divorced. Other reasons for living together include convenience, financial, companionship, security, and a desire to move out of their parents house.

 

The Catholic Church teaches every act of sexual intercourse is intended by God to express love, commitment and openness to life in the total gift of the spouses to each other. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage cannot express what God intended. Total commitment is possible only in marriage.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses that human love is not compatible with "trial marriages." Rather, “it demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another."

 

A cohabiting couple who has chosen to marry, the Catholic Church welcomes your decision to marry. Since cohabitation can have an effect on the marriage, couples are encouraged to explore with the pastoral minister certain questions about living together, decision to marry in the Catholic Church and marriage.

 

Pastoral ministers may encourage cohabiting couples without children to separate for a period before marriage as a sign of their free, loving decision to follow the Church's vision of marriage and sexuality. Couples are also encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

 

People have a right to marry; therefore, cohabiting couples cannot be denied marriage in the Catholic Church solely because they are cohabiting. However, cohabitation may raise questions, about the couple's freedom to marry, that need to be explored.

Divorce/Annulment

Many couples wonder what, exactly, the Catholic Church teaches about important moral issues. Or perhaps you know some of the points but don't understand why the Church teaches as it does.

 

The Church believes that God, the author of marriage, established it as a permanent union. When two people marry, they form an unbreakable bond. Jesus himself taught that marriage is permanent (Matthew 19:3-6), and St. Paul reinforced this teaching (see 1 Cor 7:10-11 and Eph 5:31-32). The Church does not recognize a civil divorce because the State cannot dissolve what is indissoluble.


Although the Church does not recognize a civil divorce, divorced people still are full members of the Church and are encouraged to participate in its activities. Divorced Catholics in good standing with the Church, who have not remarried or who have remarried following an annulment, may receive the sacraments.

 

The Church understands the pain of those caught in a divorce. When divorce is the only possible recourse, the Church offers her support to those involved and encourages them to remain close to the Lord through frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. Many dioceses including ours offer programs and support groups for divorced and separated persons. The North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics and The Beginning Experience also offer networks of support. (For information e-mail: beinfo@juno.com or see http://www.beginningexperience.org)

 

A divorced Catholic who would like to remarry in the Catholic Church, unless your former spouse has died, will need to obtain an annulment. A divorced Catholic not married in the Catholic Church needs to obtain an annulment before he/she can marry in the Catholic Church.

 

The Catholic Church respects all marriages and presumes that they are valid. The Catholic Church, for example, considers the marriages of two Protestant, Jewish, or even nonbelieving persons to be binding. Any question of annulment must come before a Church court (tribunal). This may be difficult to understand, especially if you come from a faith tradition that accepts divorce and remarriage. Couples who find themself in this situation have found it helpful to talk with a priest or deacon.

 

Once consent to marriage is exchanged, Church law presumes that the marriage is binding and valid. A declaration of nullity, commonly referred to as an "annulment", is an official declaration of a Catholic tribunal (court) that, according to Church law, a given marriage was not actually valid (and therefore not binding).

 

An annulment means conditions were present that made the marriage invalid according to Catholic Church teaching at the time a couple spoke their marriage vows.

 

A declaration of nullity does not affect the legitimacy of children. The laws of the Church state that children born of a presumed valid union are legitimate.

 

If you are divorced and want to consider the possibility of obtaining an annulment, contact the pastor or deacon. They can give you the necessary forms and explain how the process works in our archdiocese.

Same-Sex Unions

After much research and contemplation on the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and scholars, we continue with the moral aspects of marriage. This article by no means is intended to be judgmental, it simply states the position of the Catholic Church on how she sees marriage.

  

Respecting the dignity of homosexual persons does not conflict with upholding God's intent for marriage in which sexual relations have their proper and exclusive place. Christians must give witness to the whole moral truth and also oppose as immoral both homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons.

 

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church urges that homosexual persons “be treated with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (No. 2358). It also encourages “chaste friendships" (USCCB, Statement, 6). Such friendships, whether between homosexual or heterosexual persons, are a great good benefit to society (See CCC, 2347).

 

Today, attempts to redefine marriage and questions about same-sex unions have originated a national debate on the nature and purpose of marriage. Many people believe that same-sex marriage will become available to all loving, committed adult couples throughout North America and western Europe sometime in the next few decades.

 

We have an obligation to see that civil laws reflect the proper moral order. Just because something is legal does not make it moral. Homosexual unions simply do not conform to the definition of marriage. Even if recognized in civil law, they are not true marriages. In God's plan, human history and experience, a man and a woman come together to form a permanent life-giving union and at the same time to become a family. Civil law cannot legitimately redefine this human reality.

 

"Marriage is a gift to be cherished and protected", proclaims the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a statement issued at their November 2003 meeting on the sanctity of marriage, "Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-sex Unions". Largely in reaction to recent court rulings that potentially redefine the institution of marriage in the United States, the bishops took a bold stance in defense of the institution.

 

Marriage, as both a natural institution and a sacred union, is rooted in God's plan for creation. The truth that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman is woven deeply into the human spirit. This truth has been confirmed by divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture. Jesus Christ made marriage a symbol of His love for His Church (Eph 5:25-33). This means that a sacramental marriage lets the world see, in human terms, something of the faithful, creative, abundant, and self-emptying love of Christ.

 

In marriage, husband and wife give themselves totally to each other in their masculinity and femininity (see CCC, no. 1643). They are equal as human beings but different as man and woman, fulfilling each other through this natural difference. This unique complementarity makes possible the conjugal bond that is the core of marriage.

 

Marriage is about more than just the feelings of two people. Feelings are important, but they aren't the whole of it. We all know that feelings change and that any marriage has its ups and downs. A good marriage has more ups than downs. Emotions change from one day to the next. Sometimes they're very loving, and sometimes they're very negative.

 

Marriage does involve very personal feelings, but this does not mean that it is merely a private matter. Whether it succeeds or fails, a marriage has a huge impact on the couple, their children, those around them, and the entire society. As an institution, marriage is the business of everyone in society. It takes more than emotion to hold a marriage together.

 

Marriage is the foundation of the family. The family, in turn, is the basic unit of society. Thus, marriage is a personal relationship with public significance.

 

Marriage is the fundamental pattern for male-female relationships. It contributes to society because it models the way in which women and men live interdependently and commit, for the whole of life, to seek the good of each other.

 

Same-sex unions contradict the nature of marriage. It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female; it cannot cooperate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a same-sex union. Persons in same-sex unions cannot enter into a true conjugal union. Therefore, it is wrong to equate their relationship to a marriage.

 

When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution of marriage is devalued and further weakened.

 

Marriage is a basic human and social institution. Though it is regulated by civil laws and church laws, it did not originate from either the church or state, but from God. Therefore, neither church nor state can alter the basic meaning and structure of marriage.