Read ~ Chapter 12: The Sacrament of Marriage
Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
Marriage before the Old Testament
Pagan marriages: Before the Old Testament, polygamy was the way people got married. Many people married many others at the same time. The idea of a marriage between one man and one woman was not popular at all, even though it did exist back then.
Marriage in the Old Testament: When God chose Israel as his people, the concept of marriage changed to be between one man and one woman only: Adam and Eve are the first witnesses of God’s plan of monogamy. Jewish theology of marriage displayed a much higher respect for the marriage contract between man and woman and reflected God’s original plan of creation: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) The Catechism teaches: “In the Old Testament the polygamy of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected. Nevertheless, the law given to Moses aims at protecting the wife from arbitrary domination by the husband, even though according to the Lord’s words it still carries traces of man’s “hardness of heart” which was the reason Moses permitted men to divorce their wives.” (CCC, 1610) With the New Testament, marriage will receive its ultimate dimension and dignity.
Marriage is not a purely human institution: In the intrinsic logic of creation, God wrote the vocation of marriage in the very nature of man and woman. Marriage is not just a social institution; it is willed and planned by the creator. Therefore, we notice that marriage in all different cultures, despite their major differences, is regarded with respect and dignity (see CCC 1603). Because man and woman were created by God out of love, their mutual conjugal love reflects the unfailing love of God for them. Marriage is willed by God himself. Vatican II teaches: “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.” (GS, 48:1)
Marriage in the New Testament
Christ elevated marriage to be a sacrament and a divine institution: Jesus Christ reaffirmed the divine origin of marriage and sanctified its nature by elevating it to be a sacrament. Here marriage, even though it has a social dimension, is not only a contract anymore. The Catechism emphasizes what Jesus did at the wedding of Cana: “On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign – at his mother’s request – during a wedding feast. The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.” (CCC, 1613) Already Vatican II emphasized with an unprecedented strong tone that God Himself is the direct author of marriage.” (Gaudium et Spes 48:1)
Permanent character of marriage in the New Testament: Jesus Christ clearly pointed that divorce as established by Moses was only because of the hardness of people’s heart, not because it was intended like that by the Creator from the beginning. The love relationship between man and woman in marriage reflects the faithful love of God to his people and of Jesus to his Church. Consequently, such a love enjoys a faithful and permanent characteristics: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:8) Our entire Christian life is marked by the image of Christ’s love for his Church and such a love will never fail. The Catechism teaches: “From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament.” (CCC, 1638)
Marriage in the New Testament cannot be separated from Christ’s Incarnation: Even though the commitment for life in marriage seems to be impossible to realize, one should not forget that Jesus’ Incarnation makes everything possible. The only way to adhere to the sufferings caused by long relationships, is to look at the redemption accomplished by Christ using that suffering as a tool of salvation. The Catechism teaches: “This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to ‘receive’ the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.” (CCC, 1615)
Marriage has two dimensions, visible and invisible: This implies that marriage has two dimensions: visible and invisible. The invisible element is the grace of Christ who, just as he unites the beloved Church to himself, grants man and woman the grace to become husband and wife. The consent of the visible bride and groom to love each other forever, reflects the invisible love of Christ for his Church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
The consent between the bride and groom, at the same time has a visible dimension: it is a public exchange of vows “I do.” It is also made in the presence of the Church’s minister because it is a state of life in the Church; it is not just a commitment of a private love between two people. Therefore, “marriage introduces one into an ecclesial order, and creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children.” (CCC, 1631)
Marriage as a communion of persons: The communion between persons means that man and woman encounter and share each other as two transcendental subjects made in the image and likeness of God. Endowed with untouchable dignity, freedom, and intelligence, they start a life of communion together as two different people. Their communion is a mutual self-offering for life. Marriage, because it represents the love between God and his people and Christ and his Church, is intended to be faithful, exclusive, and eternal. It is a lifelong covenant and vocation, not just a job or a state of life. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement “until further notice”. (see CCC, 1646)
As a communion of persons, marriage is the nucleus of society and the human family. Since marriage and the family are the ‘first Church’, as Saint Pope John Paul II teaches, the entire world and the future of the Church depends on a healthy family. Already Vatican II stated: “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family.” (Gaudium et Spes 47:1)
Marriage as a communion of persons is analogical to the communion of Persons within the Blessed Trinity: The communion of persons between husband and wife is analogical to the life of communion between the Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The difference resides in the fact that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been there, and their communion is eternal. Husband and wife enter into a communion that was not there before their marriage. This communion is the essential component to maintain the deepest love and a mutual respect promoting an increased awareness of their dignity. It starts here on earth and is intended to become an eternal communion in heaven. Husband and wife are called to sanctify each other through the sacrament of marriage. The Catechism teaches: “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: ‘so they are no longer two, but one flesh.’ They ‘are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.’ This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.” (CCC, 1644)
Marriage as a communion of persons has a physical dimension: The Communion of persons between husband and wife has a spiritual level and a physical level because we are made as a unity of body and soul. This communion is expressed on the physical level through sexual relationship. When they make love to each other, they celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage and express the love Christ has for His Church. When they consummate the Sacrament of Marriage, they act just like a priest who is celebrating any of the other sacraments. Saint Pope John Paul II teaches: “Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter – appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.” (Familiaris Consortio, 13)
Love and life are instrinsically connected: The love between husband and wife, since it is a reflection of Christ’s love for his Church, must always be opened to new life. The love of Christ generates new life through Baptism for his bride, the Church. The love of the husband must also be generating children for his wife: The intrinsic goal of love is life. Also, life is the genuine result of the mutual love between husband and wife. This was God’s original plan reflected in both Old and New Testament: ” God blessed [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28) The Second Vatican Council says in this regard: “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.” (GS, 48:1 and 50)
Sexual intimacy should always be reserved for the bond of marriage. As such it is both an expression of mutual love and a tool to extend God’s family in the world. Children, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, are “the supreme gift of marriage.” (CCC 1652) This does not mean that husband and wife are allowed to have a sexual relationship only in order to procreate. In fact procreation should not diminish “the other ends of marriage.” (CCC, 1652). They are still invited to express sexually their mutual love using the natural family planning: they can celebrate this sacrament of love without necessarily generating children during the time in which the woman cannot get pregnant. Most of the marriage in which some kind of abstinence is not exercised, are doomed to fail.
How about those who cannot have children or those who are single? Their marriage is valid and a great blessing from God. Also, they contribute to the Church and the society in way that married couple cannot. The Catechism teaches: “Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” (CCC, 1654)
Those who live a single life, whether they chose it or not, have their own proper vocation. They contribute to the family of the Church what the married couples contribute, but in a different way. It is so true what Saint Pope John Paul II says that “no one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone.” (Familiaris Consortio, 85)
Marriage is threatened by sin: The relationship between man and woman is negatively influenced by the evil of sin. The nature of man and woman is very good, but sin disturbs their relationship to each creating jealousy, discord, and conflicts that could escalate into separation. We see the first results of sin in the book of Genesis where Adam and Eve started accusing each other (Genesis 3:12), changing their mutual innocent attraction into a relationship of domination and lust (Genesis 2:22 and 3:16), and creating a painful childbirth that was supposed to be a beautiful cooperation to bring lives into our world (Genesis 2:22 and 3:16).
Validity of the Sacrament of Marriage
Mutual, total, free consent between man and woman: What makes the marriage a valid sacrament? For the marriage to be valid it should be a mutual, total, and free consent between one man and one woman in the presence of the Catholic Church’s minister: “The consent consists in a “human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other: ‘I take you to be my wife’ – ‘I take you to be my husband’…The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid. “ (CCC, 1627). If the couple exchange the vows validly, the sacrament of marriage cannot be dissolved.
It is not easy to identify the validity of marriage: It is easy to identify if any of the other 6 sacraments is valid or not. In the case of marriage, the situation is much more complicated because proving total consent is not always easy.
When we baptize a child with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is easy to identify the visible element of water. In the Eucharist it is easy to make sure we have an ordained minister consecrating bread and wine. In marriage, how can we be sure of the total consent between the couple that validates it? When the priest asks them to exchange their vows, when both consent, their ‘yes’ expresses accepting that person the way they present themselves at the time of the vows. There should be no lying, cheating, or misrepresentation of any kind. The ‘yes’ reflects understanding who they are and the entire history of their relationship.
Examples of invalid marriages: Let me illustrate a few examples concerning the validity of marriage. Suppose my daughter meets a man I like. I push her to marry him with the threat of not including her in my will. They get married and ended up being very happy with children and a good life. Is the marriage valid? No. The marriage is objectively invalid because at the moment of exchanging the vows she was forced to marry him. However, God will grant the children the grace as if the couple were in a valid marriage because it is not the fault of the children. They need to “renew” their vows to have a valid marriage in the eyes of God and the Church.
An invalid marriage does not make the children ‘bastards’: Suppose a lay person, John, puts on a collar and somehow convinces a pastor of a Catholic Church that he is an ordained priest. When he says Mass, does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? No, it doesn’t. But God will give the faithful communicating the grace as if it were the Body and Blood of Jesus because it is not their fault. The same happens when two people get married without even being aware that their marriage is invalid. God will give them the grace and gift of children as if they were married: the children are and will always be God’s ultimate gift of life to humanity.
If a couple agree before marriage not to have children, their marriage is invalid: Yet one more example: Two people preparing for marriage agree they will not have any children. After getting married, they change their mind and they have children. Is their marriage valid? It’s not valid. The reason is love and life are intrinsically intertwined. Not wanting children at the time when they exchanged the vows invalidates the marriage.
Annulment proves that the marriage never existed; it does not dissolve a valid marriage: These examples make us realize how many invalid marriages take place in the Church. The marriage annulment does not separate two people that are lawfully married (CCC, 1640). It proves that marriage never took place to start with. That is why marriage is a very unique sacrament because its validity depends on many factors that must be present at the time of exchanging the vows. Keep in mind that annulment is a good process of healing for many people in the Catholic Church. Unlike divorce that claims to end a marriage, annulment is a statement that a valid union never existed (CCC, 1629).
Dating, sexual relationships, and Marriage
Dating, marriage and sexual relationships: Dating and sexual relationships nowadays is a challenging phenomenon. As all of us know, people date and they are expected to have a sexual relationship on the first, second, or third date. Otherwise, they assume something is wrong with the relationship. The biggest problem is the fact that our entire culture is like that. I may call it a ‘social sin’ because everyone is doing it and those who are not are considered ‘anti cultural’. That is what we call rationalism today.
Dangerous Rationalism that degrades the human body: Rationalism is the most dangerous approach in anthropology, philosophy, and theology. Rationalism eliminates the spiritual dimension of the human person reducing us to a mere object like anything else in the world including animals and things. The human body, in the philosophy of Rationalism, is totally separated from the spiritual soul and is therefore like the body of animals. Rationalism creates a false freedom of thinking in terms like this: “It is my body and I can do with it whatever I want to.”
Dangerous Rationalism that separates the human body from the spiritual soul: The actions of the human person are the result of the unity of body and spiritual soul. Unlike angels who act only spiritually or animals who use instinct (they have biological souls), the human person is very unique because their actions involve both worlds, the physical and the spiritual. Therefore, it is against God’s Divine Revelation to consider the body separately from the spiritual soul as far as the actions of the human person are concerned. As a result of this false separation of the human body from the spiritual soul, people claim to be close to God (they call themselves ‘spiritual’), even though they perform in their bodies actions that are totally against the values of the Gospel and God’s revelation of right and wrong.
The Catholic Church’s answer to Rationalism: The Catholic Church emphasizes that the human person is in the image and likeness of God in their totality, as a unity of body and soul. Not only the soul, but also the body is in the image of God. In this sense, St. Paul states that “the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:19) According to the teachings of the Bible, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, the human person can never be allowed to use their body as they wish. We don’t own our body: we belong to the Lord, St. Paul said, and we are God’s creation and therefore the functionality of our body should be according to God’s plan.
Based on God’s plan in regards to the human body, marriage is valid only between one man and one woman. Even though in a country like the Unites States where many cultures make up our one American cultures, the US Bishops never failed to emphasize the sacredness of marriage between man and woman. You can check their statements regularly on their website: US Bishops
Misunderstanding of love and sexual relationships: From a theological, philosophical, and anthropological point of view, the Church has always taught that the intrinsic goal of sex is love. The act of sexual relationship is naturally geared towards love. It is a part of the constituted elements of our nature to be like that. In today’s culture, people meet and date. They immediately have a sexual relationship, and soon after few dates, one says to the other without thinking “I love you.” The other person reacts negatively to this statement “what do you mean you love me, I want to take it slow.” Such a false statement. How can they take it slow if they have already completely offered themselves to each other through intercourse?
Why does the Church asks couples to wait till marriage before having sex: The intrinsic goal of that sexual relationship is love. If a sexual relationship takes place before the dating couple are in love with each other, a big problem is created. On the one hand, sex orients them toward love; on the other hand, that love is not sanctified yet by the sacramental grace of Christ. There is a reason why the Church teaches the values of Jesus’ Gospel by asking the couple to wait until there is a commitment of love and marriage before they mutually offer themselves in a sexual relationship.
Couples should not live together before marriage: Because the relationship between couples starts before marriage, and because chemistry takes over before they get to know each other as persons, many couples really never had a chance to know each other the way God establishes the relationship. But the clock is ticking and, before you know it, they get married despite all the differences between them. Chemistry is way too strong for them to separate from each other despite the ongoing fights and disagreements.
Why and when do they get divorced? After many years of marriage, the sex could become not as interesting, and children are in the picture. With all the pressures of life, they start fighting not even knowing why. You hear them saying to each other “I don’t even know who you are anymore.” True statement because they haven’t known each other to start with. Now the children are gone, and the couple only have each other. Most of the time because they have always been incompatible (a fact that was suppressed by the chemistry of sex), they ended up in divorce. Living together before marriage is detrimental to all relationships without denying of course that in many cases couples were compatible.
The excuse of not being able to know each unless they engage in a sexual relationship is false and misleading. People will never really get to know each other when they engage in a sexual relationship before marriage. That is when they really don’t ever to get to know the real person because hormones make them attached to each other without knowing if they are meant to be for each other or not. Many cultural, social, personal qualities are essential for two people to be together. A quick sexual relationship ignores all the personal, anthropological, and cultural traits because of the chemistry caused by the sexual relationship. Sex is the result of love not the foundation for it.
Even though our culture in the United States often looks at living together as the norm of life, the Catholic Church will not condone such a decision. There is still Catholic networks who promote nothing but life of chastity. EWTN broadcasts outstanding television shows that focus on chastity before marriage. Check their website how consistent they are with the true teachings of the Catholic Church: EWTN
Sexual Compatibility: The claim to live together in order to be sure that they have sexual compatibility is false. When two people fall in love with each other and decide not to have a sexual relationship until they are married, they will have a clear mind to get to know each other e.g. they go to a movie, hold hands, talk constantly. If they continue to be in love after they know each other (they get along, they have a lot in common, etc.…), the chances of a successful marriage are greatly enhanced. Now they get married and love each other sincerely. Now their whole being is involved in the relationship and expresses this love sexually. Because the love for each other is the foundation of the sexual relationship and not the other way around, their love will be eternal and wholesome until the end of their lives. They will learn and discover together the beauty of sacramental sex. A healthy sexual relationship is about knowing the other person and discovering them on a lifelong journey. This marriage is founded on the rock and will last forever.
Marriage is just a contract on paper? Many dating couples get along together just fine and therefore think why they shouldn’t even bother getting married. They look at it as just a contract on paper that will add nothing to what they have right now. Such a conviction goes against God’s plan for people to sanctify their relationship in marriage. Marriage is not a random decision for people ‘to be together’. It is a part of the destiny that the Creator established when our first parents came into existence. Removing the divine dimension of marriage leads our society into self destruction. Envy, jealousy, chaos, and confusion are often the best friend of those who ignore the purpose of their relationship and union.
Reference: Scott Hahn: The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order