What is a Catholic Marriage?

Marriage - Man's hand & Woman's hand with wedding rings on

The word Marriage brings up different images depending on who is doing the imagining. A naive young girl may dream of Prince Charming and living happily ever after while a jaded, under appreciated old woman many be so overcome by marital regret she can’t remember any fairy tale dreams she once held dear. Ask a tired mom somewhere in the middle what Marriage means and she may not pause long enough to give you an answer.

Today, Marriage is under attack with people spewing beliefs of what they imagine Marriage should be, but what if we all stopped thinking about ourselves and instead thought about the Creator? What did God imagine when He created the Sacrament of Matrimony and how does that apply to society today?

Marriage is more than a social institution based on sexual desires and longing for intimacy, both physical and emotional, of the parties involved. It is more than a convenient arrangement between two people. It is based on more than feeling and finances. It is more than a series of parties in destination bachelor parties, over the top weddings, and fancy honeymoons. Marriage is more than a contract between photographers, DJ’s, caterers, and travel agents. Marriage is more than a contract between two people.

Marriage is a Covenant Not a Contract.

A contract is made between two people and involves an exchange of services. A covenant is made with two people and their creator and involves an exchange of selves. While a contract says, “I’ll trade you x if you give me y,” a covenant says, “I give you x, y, z, and all I have,” without asking for payment. A covenant is a free will donation of one’s heart, trust, intimacy, vulnerability, work, finances, possessions, and more.

A contract can be torn up or renegotiated. It has a starting point and an ending point. It is valuable only as long as it benefits both parties involved. A covenant does not work this way. It cannot be torn up or renegotiated. How the covenant develops changes over time as children arrive and life circumstances change, but you cannot undo a covenant. You cannot undo a giving away of one’s self or a taking of another.

While a covenant has a definite starting point, it is impossible to have an ending point because there is no way to get back what was given to the other party. The very nature of intimate sharing within the context of a covenant means the other person has forever access to one’s deepest vulnerabilities. There is no way an injured party can demand the spouse un-know what he or she does about those vulnerabilities. Both parties must continue to trust that the other uphold the covenant and innermost secrets told in private. Both parties must trust that the other person can be trusted with a piece of him or herself that can never be returned. Contracts do not ask this of the parties. Covenants are thus deeply more beautiful because fo their giving nature than cold contracts of convenience.

The Evolution of Marriage

Marriage is a thing of beauty. It is a sacrament and a gift. It is God’s Word telling us it is not good for us to be alone and giving us His Blessing to join with another in a way only male and female who choose to love can join. It is an answer to His call to go out and multiply, but Marriage was never meant to be easy or fun, self-seeking or feeling based. Marriage was intended so two could be helpmates by getting work done together and building off each other’s unique traits and strengths.

In the Old Testament, we see life begin with Adam and Eve. The first sin resulted in a breakdown in the perfect communion Adam and Eve had shared. It also resulted in a breakdown of their communion with God. Suddenly, understanding the Will of God was more difficult as it was more difficult for Adam and Eve to understand each other. The sin of eating the fruit was not so terrible. The sin of putting oneself first was. Putting oneself first was also the beginning of divorce, divorce from God, divorce from them as a trusting, intimate couple, divorce from true happiness.

After the forbidden fruit incident, mistrust arose between the male and female, childbirth included pain, and humanity had to toil to work the land. Sexuality, which is a selfless gift rewarding both participants, became increasingly depraved, innocence was lost, chastity was mocked, and love expressed in a covenant became lust expressed for one’s own pleasure.

During the Old Testament, polygamy was a norm in many places. Women needed men to support them financially in the fallen world. Men needed women for sexual gratification, household tasks, and continuing family lines. There was little understanding of how men and women should selflessly love one another. There was little understanding of sacrificial love and more about mutual agreement of benefits. Marriage during Old Testament times was perhaps often more a contract than a covenant.

It was a harsh reality. Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of man’s heart so that a woman would not be subject to a man’s cruel depravity. In that fallen twisted time, women were often considered possessions. “No fault” divorce then was very different from the abomination it is today. God permitted Moses to allow divorce as an escape for women. This showed God’s Mercy and Love, even as fallen children of Eve, for women dominated by the hard hearts of their husbands.

God’s heart was not hard however. He knew Marriage should be far more than a contract. He knew divorce and polygamy and spousal abuse were not as He intended them to be. He had a plan, a fulfillment of His Covenant.

Jesus changed Marriage.

Jesus came to restore the Love that original existed between God and man. He also came to restore the love that originally existed between mankind, especially between God’s creation of Adam and Eve in modern man and woman. He came to restore the original order of creation that had since been disturbed by sin (CCC 1615). Through the example of Jesus Christ, we see Love in action. We discover how to love God and one another, by renouncing ourselves, taking up our crosses, and receiving the original meaning of Marriage.

Jesus does not give Marriage as a thing of convenience for as long as convenience lasts. Nor does He give Marriage a platform based on feeling; He knows firsthand how fickle human feelings are. Marriage is designed as an eternal love between parties involved and God Himself. Jesus knew He was coming to conquer sin but not to wipe sin from the face of the earth. He knew humanity would continue to dwell in sin and be sinful. While it is human nature to love, it is the nature of sin to corrupt human love.Jesus knew mere feelings alone could not overcome the corruption of love.

Jesus’ first miracle is performed at the Wedding of Cana. Here, He takes the humiliation of the bride and groom and, at the urging of His Mother, creates a thing of deliciousness the couple could not have achieved on their own. By being bodily present in their Marriage, Jesus strengthens the vows the couple makes. He gets them started on the right foot and shows them how, by turning to Mary and the Lord, they can receive the Grace to overcome even very public difficulties. He shows Love is an action, not an emotion.

It is Jesus as He is truly present in the Eucharist who shows how to remain faithful to our spouses and our vows. The Eucharist is why we celebrate Marriage with a Mass. It is during the Mass that the Holy Spirit comes to us in a special way to strengthen vows and give Graces that could not be present without Him. It is in the receiving of Christ’s Body and Blood that we honor His bond to the church despite its failings, and it is in Christ’s Body that we unite ourselves as husband and wife, as one body joined together as one flesh.

It is Jesus’ calling us to speak our covenant with certainty in the indissoluble unity of the sacrament we honor by saying “I do.” Marriage, with Jesus Christ as example of bridegroom to His Bride the church, is understood to be a selfless commitment to be a selfless helpmate in a spouse’s journey to Heaven. Marriage is a covenant based on laying down one’s temporary desires and picking up one’s crosses and one’s spouse’s crosses too.

Jesus shows us that it is in loving, not in turning away in difficult times, that we grow. Jesus shows us that there should be love and laughter and dancing and celebration and even drinking of fine wine during our Marriages. He also shows there will be times of discord as we continue to plod through the Marriage Under the Regime of Sin (CCC 1606). He shows us that all humanity is created in Love to Love. He shows us that while universal disorder threatens Love, Love wins when we see sacrifice as God’s Mercy to be embrace rather than God’s disapproval and our ticket out.

Love wins when we see pain as limiting the damaging effects of sin. Jesus shows us the sacrifices one is called to make in Marriage. Marriage teaches us to overcome self-absorption, egoism, and pursuit of one’s own pleasure while simultaneously teaching us to be open to others, provide more from mutual aid, and to be more self-giving.

Marriage, as Jesus established it in the New Covenant, is a sharing of one’s most intimate self with a trusted partner. It is knowing there is someone to lean on when times are tough. Marriage is choosing someone you will willingly carry the cross for when their burden is too much. Marriage is shared secrets, special looks across crowded rooms, and private jokes no one else would get. Marriage is God’s reassurance that you are never alone. Marriage is all the beautiful things we claim to want.

Marital Consent:

Marriage is the only sacrament, the participants deliver to themselves. The priest and deacon are there as witnesses. They ask for special blessings on the couple and use their power to bring Christ into the Host at Transubstantiation, but they do not confer the sacrament on the bride and groom. This is done only by the bride and groom themselves. Jesus made Marriage that intimate a giving of self, that intimate a covenant.

Jesus knows the value of free will and how difficult it is to offer oneself up for another. Yet He asks nothing less than for men and women discerning Marriage to freely offer themselves up. He wants to be sure this beautiful sacrifice is freely and generously given and openly received. He wants the both husband and wife to see the gift that is presented as the couple comes to the altar and agrees to lay down individual lives in exchange for one new life existing for God and the betterment of one another and children gifted to them. It is during this sacrament that the spouses give of themselves to the other. It is in this moment that their “Authentic married love is caught into divine love” and the bond is sealed by the Holy Spirit.

It is in Marriage that a man and woman can give of themselves body, mind, and heart. It is with Jesus’ display of sacrifice and unbreakable Love that the couple learns what commitment and honor looks like. It is with absolute trust in one another’s fidelity that spouses can expose their innermost thoughts, dreams, fears, and longings. It is within the garden the Married couple finds themselves in that they lay down physically and emotionally naked, exposed, and vulnerable before the other and know that doing so is right.

Marriage has come a long way since Adam and Eve, but Marriage and it’s commitment to an openness of life, selfless love, and absolute trust and fidelity are not to be taken for granted. Marriage is not a thing we can change to fit our will, feelings, sexuality, or self satisfaction. Marriage is a gift we must treasure, both in our homes and in our societies, or we will lose it forever. Marriage means continuously trying again after falling. It is a never ending call to do and be better and to see the other as better. It is a commitment to never give up. It is a mirroring of the way we are Loved by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Marriage is also a focus on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are called to love and honor our spouse, but not above God. The Covenant that Marriage is based on is Jesus’ design for Marriage. It is He who brings Love and restores order. We must remember that it is to Him that we turn even more frequently and more intimately, more trustingly and more lovingly than we do to our spouse. We become fearless in our Marriages and in our parenting when we truly embrace the New Covenant before we embrace the Marital Covenant.

Marriage is a covenant gifted to us by Jesus. Loving as Jesus did in good times and bad, sickness and health, richer or poorer, until death do you part, selflessly, sacrificially whether your spouse deserves it or not is where you grow, find beauty, and peace. It is in Marriage that you learn you really are gifted with the power to love unconditionally and to find Joy in all things.

God Bless…

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