The institution of marriage was officially recognized as one of the sacraments of the Church at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Prior to this time, it had always been considered a religious reality distinctly different from non-Christian forms of marriage. St. Paul referred to marriage as a mysterion, or great mystery. Marriage was referred to by some of the early Christians writers, especially St. Augustine, as a sacrament, but the term had various meanings, all related to St. Paul's reference. Theologically, it is considered a sacrament because it images the union of Christ and His Church.
Unlike the other sacraments, marriage itself was not instituted by Christ. Since it predated Christianity, the Church teaches that Christ raised or elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. This is so because He recognized something fundamentally good in the marital institution. This good is grounded in the complementary relationship of the man and the woman. In the creation account of the Book of Genesis, the male is created first but is incomplete. Man, in the generic sense, is completed with the creation of the female.
The scriptural account states that the male could not find another creature that was fit to be his partner. This account goes on to state that the man and woman become one flesh. The "one flesh" union is a covenantal formula that refers not to the physical joining of the spouses but to the total human joining that comes about in marriage. This total relationship entails the giving of one spouse to the other for the purpose of aiding in the well-being of each other. This highest form of gift requires that the spouses be totally faithful to each other, a fidelity that is grounded in a special kind of love, referred to by St. Augustine as conjugal charity.
Marriage as an institution of nature is considered by Christian theology to be essentially good because it was founded by the Creator at the beginning of human history. It was subjected to the vicissitudes of history and experienced variations, some of which were contrary to God's plan (infidelity, concubinage, polygamy, among others).
As a sacrament, it is a means of encountering Christ in a special way and of bringing about the salvation of the spouses. The theology of Vatican II and the revised Code refer to marriage as a vocation (Canon 226.1), through which married persons work for the building up of the Body of Christ in a special way.
Marriage as a commitment or act is acknowledged in both civil society and law, and Church society and law. This is primarily because of the role it plays in the welfare of Church and society. For this reason, both secular and religious institutions have enacted laws for the regulation of marriage. These laws treat of requirements for marriage as well as standards for the way spouses relate to and treat each other.
Closely related to the effect of marriage on the community is its fundamental purpose. For the sacrament, the purpose is twofold: marriage by its nature is ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children (Canon 1055). Parents are instrumental not just in the physical procreation of children but are directly responsible for their natural and Christian nurture. This includes not simply their physical and material well-being but their training as Christians. The essential source of this training is the participation of the children in the total love relationship of the husband and wife for each other. By example, they learn the meaning of Christian charity and love of God.
The Catholic concept of Christian marriage involves much more than holding the wedding in church. What makes a marriage Christian isn't a church blessing added on to a legal contract. Christian marriage is a personal relationship of life-giving love in which two people make the love of Christ present to each other and become a sign of the love of Christ to those around them.
Couples invited to Marriage Encounter
Married couples are invited to strengthen, renew and rekindle their marriage sacrament by attending an upcoming Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend. For more information, visit www.austinme.org or contact Steve and Linda Jaramillo at (512) 667-9963 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weekend for struggling couples
Are you and your spouse struggling with communication? Are things just not what they used to be in your marriage? Retrouvaille is a program for couples undergoing difficulties in their marriage. For confidential information about Retrouvaille or how to register for the program, call 1-800-470-2230 or visit www.helpourmarriage.com.