The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
Made to Love - Made for Family
God is the source of love and so his role in the family is irreplaceable. In fact, “man would not exist were he not created by God’s love and constantly preserved by it.” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 19) What is a family? More importantly what is the Christian family? It is the loving union of one man and one woman with the purpose of the procreation and upbringing of children. In the Christian view marriage is a sacrament, instituted by Christ.
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?’ He said in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’ They said to him, ‘Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?’ He said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” -Matthew 19: 3-9
The purpose of marriage serves not only the care of children, but also the “communion and good of the couple.” (Compendium of the Catechism, 338) The institution of the family has been the foundation of society throughout human history. The family passes on culture, customs and faith to each generation. Put simply, where the family goes, there goes society. Members of the modern family face an uphill battle to remain faithful to the sacred trust they have received from God to be a living school of love. As Vatican II emphatically stated: “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of… marriage and family.” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church, 47).
The Catholic Family and Fidelity
The Church is God's family in the world.” -Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 25
In this family there are four units. The largest unit is the universal Church led by the pope. Then there is the diocese with the bishop as its head. Next is the parish with the pastor as its ‘father’. The smallest unit is the domestic church; the Catholic family led by the mother and father who work together to lead each other and their children in striving for holiness. “Christians and all men who hold [the family] in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by which men today find help in fostering this community of love and perfecting its life, and by which parents are assisted in their lofty calling” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church, 47). Support for family life is of highest importance for Catholics.
Marriage requires mutual fidelity for life. The permanence of the marital bond gives spouses the freedom of marital life lived without fear of abandonment and helps them to persevere in fidelity to one another and to God.
The key to understanding the indissoluble (permanent) character of marriage is not to see it as a rule imposed from the outside, but instead as an essential promise which flows from the vows and nature of marriage. “To opt for marriage in this way expresses a genuine and firm decision to join paths, come what may. Committing oneself exclusively and definitively to another person always involves a risk and a bold gamble.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of Love, 132) In this sense marriage may be the riskiest thing one can do in the course of one’s life. However, it is worth the risk because, “this ‘yes’ tells them that they can always trust one another, and that they will never be abandoned when difficulties arise or new attractions or selfish interests present themselves.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of Love, 132)
Common Questions about Holy Matrimony
When Jesus elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament he was building upon the existing natural reality that man and woman were made for union with one another in marriage. God made them male and female and from the beginning the institution of marriage has been for the benefit of the spouses and the loving care of their children. It is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love that is open to children and is the most basic unit of human society.
Because marriage is a vocation that involves both the help of grace from God and the cooperation of the spouses with one another, the Church has required various amounts of preparation for the engaged to help them be well equipped for their new life together. Marriage preparation takes many different forms throughout the world because the needs of couples are different according to culture and circumstances. Once entered, marriage is a permanent state of life which requires sacrifice and commitment. For this reason the Church seeks to help the engaged not only learn useful skills and grow in their relationship with one another and with God, she also assists them in making a good decision to marry so that they can be ready to say "I do" and commit to living out the full expression of married love. Couples who make the most of the time of their engagement find themselves more ready for the challenges that lie ahead for them in the exciting adventure of marriage and family life.