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The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony


Lino Serrano




Introduction to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and Catholic Marriage


The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or Marriage is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, and is grouped within the sacraments of Service to Communion. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Two other Sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God." (CCC 1534) So these Sacraments of Service to Communion are primarily based on the service that they provide to someone other than oneself. Furthermore, the Catholic Church considers that the persons who chooses to be united to another in Holy Matrimony, have done so through a special vocation to the Church. This vocation, or way of life, has been specially ordered by God the Creator, and further clarified and instituted to the level of Sacrament by our Lord Jesus Christ. The perfection of this sacrament culminates when a child is produced by this holy union. And the most sublime example of the family unit is the Holy Family: Saints Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. They are our examples for purity, love, and commitment. They should be consulted in prayer often, to receive their assistance during times of trial within our families.


The Institution of the Marriage Union


In the Old Testament book of Genesis, after the seventh day of creation, "The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.’ So the Lord formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. So God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman,’ four out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken." That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." (Gen. 2: 18-24) The Bible also says, "God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion of the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.’" (Gen. 1: 28)


From these two scripture citations, we can see that it was the will of God at the time of His Creation, and with the cooperation of the first man, that humankind should be united in a marital bond (man and woman) which is of service to one another. Also, it was God’s will that this union should be a "fruitful" one, with children being the product of this union.


Marriage as a Sacrament


During the Old Testament period until the coming of our Lord Jesus, the marital union had many variations and the norm of monogamy, wasn’t completely understood. The Catechism states, "Moral Conscience concerning the unity and indissolubility of marriage developed under the pedagogy (the teaching) of the old law. In the Old Testament the polygamy of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected." By the time of the New Testament the norm of monogamy had already found its way into the family of man, on the most part. This is especially true in the teaching of the Apostles. (See 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12; and Titus 1:6.) Also at this time, the union between man and wife in marriage began to understood as a sacrament. Let’s look at an example, Ephesians 4: 21-33. In verse 33, St. Paul uses the words "great mystery" (Greek mysterion) which is the equivalent to the Latin use of the word sacramentum. In English we use the word sacrament. Notice that this "great mystery" is understood in the context to Christ and His Church. Meaning that the marriage union between man and woman can be understood to be a microcosm of the relationship of Christ (the Bride Groom) and the Church (the Bride). This great mystery will be ultimately realized at the end of time when the Bride Groom returns to receive his Bride. (See Rev. 19: 5-9) The Catechism states, "The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for "the wedding-feast of the Lamb." (CCC 1612)


Marriage as a Covenant


What is a convenant? And how does the Catholic Church understand it? To put it simply, a covenant is a formal promise to do something that the parties involved have agreed upon. The promise or promises are binding to the parties who make the agreement. God made a covenant with the Israel. (see Gen. 28: 13-15) When a couple decide to get married, they do so by making vows, or promises. These vows are binding to the couple who are making them. The Catholic Church understands this covenant as the marriage bond. The Catechism states: "The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. From their covenant arises ‘an institution, confirmed by the divine law,... even in the eyes of society.’ The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: ‘Authentic married love is caught into divine love.’" (CCC 1639) The covenant bond of marriage is understood by the Catholic Church to be a subset or integration of the convenant between God and man, through Jesus Christ. Therefore this covenant is not only a covenant between a man and woman, but also a covenant between man, woman, and God. This marriage bond is a permanent one while the parties are still living, and is not intended to be dissolved. (See St. Matt. 19: 1-9) The Catechism also states, "In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning: permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts. The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it: ‘what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’" (CCC 1614)


Sins against the covenant bond of marriage


There are several sins that can injure this bond of Holy Matrimony. Let’s look at a few:


Divorce: God the Creator willed that the marriage bond be indissoluble, or unbroken. We sin against this bond and against God when this bond is broken by human means.

The Catechism states, "The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble. He abrogates (abolishes) the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law. Between the baptized, ‘A ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.’" (CCC 2382)


Infidelity: Man and woman are made "one flesh" by this sacrament and have made a vow to remain faithful to each other. Any conjugal act outside this union is considered a serious sin against the union. The Catechism states, "Adultery is an injustice. He who commits adultery fails in his commitment. He does injury to the sign of the covenant which the marriage bond is, transgresses the rights of the other spouse, and undermines the institution of marriage by breaking the contract on which it is based. He compromises the good of human generation and the welfare of children who need their parents’ stable union." (CCC 2381)


Artificial Contraception: God willed that humankind should "be fertile and multiply". When we purposely thwart the will of God, this is an inherently evil act and is considered serious sin. (See CCC 2370) Also refer to the document, Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, for a full understanding of the Church’s teaching on this subject.


Teachings of the Early Fathers on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony


St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110AD)


"It is proper for men and women who wish to marry to be united with the consent of the bishop, so that their marriage will be acceptable to the Lord, and not entered upon for the sake of lust. Let all things be done for the honor of God."


Tertullian (c. 200 AD)


"How shall we suffice for the telling of that happiness of that marriage which the Church arranges, which the sacrifice strengthens, on which the blessing sets a seal, which the angels proclaim, and which has the Father’s approval?"




St. Clement of Alexandria (c.202 AD)


"That Scripture counsels marriage, however, and never allows any release from the union, is expressly contained in the law: ‘You shall not divorce a wife, except for reason of immorality.’ And it regards as adultery the marriage of a spouse, while the one from whom a separation was made is still alive. ...’Whoever takes a divorced woman as wife commits adultery,’ it says; for ‘if anyone divorce his wife, he debauches her;’ that is, he compels her to commit adultery. And not only does he that divorces her become the cause of this, but also he that takes the woman and gives her the opportunity of sinning; for if he did not take her, she would return to her husband."


Origen (c. 244 AD)


"Certainly it is God who joins two in one, so that when He marries a woman to a man, there are no longer two. And since it is God who joins them, there is in this joining a grace for those who are joined by God. Paul knew this, and he said that just as holy celibacy was a grace, so also was marriage according to the Word of God a grace. He says, ‘I would that all men were like myself; but each has his own grace from God, one in this way, another in that.’"