By: Nathan Ledoux
What is marriage? At first glance it may seem like an odd question since we see married couples everywhere and so we all have some familiarity with what it entails but it is still a valid question because in today’s time there are two different answers. On one hand there is marriage in the state. A couple signs a certificate and then receives various financial, tax and healthcare benefits. On the other hand, there is marriage in the Church which is considered a Sacrament.
So what makes sacramental marriage different from a legal marriage? There are four main characteristics that set the two apart: unity, indissolubility, openness to children and commitment to the spouse’s welfare. Sacramental marriage is a covenant, not merely a legal deal, between two people who seal themselves together in love before God and the Church. It is brings Christ into the marriage and fosters unity and love between the two who become one in the Sacrament. The graces communicated through marriage help bring the man and wife closer together intellectually and spiritually and gives them the strength to work the the difficulties that arise. In a legal marriage, if problems should arise one of the members can file for a divorce but in sacramental marriage it cannot be dissolved. In the vows, the bride and groom promise to be with and love one another “in sickness and in health…until death do [they] part” (see Mark 10:1-12 to see what Jesus says) not only since it is a representation of the unbreakable love Jesus has for His people but also for the good of the family. The family itself is a representation of the love between the members of the Holy Trinity, and so the Church teaches that the couple must be open to having children as the fruit of the love that is part of marriage. This gift of children is an integral part of the couple sharing in the fruit of God’s creation and are a physical representation of the love shared between a husband and wife.
To be called to share in this sacrament is beautiful and holy. It is a ceremony that is rich with symbolism and tradition of the Church. One amazing part of marriage is that the Sacrament is conferred by the bride and groom onto each other, the priest (celebrant) does not confer it! The marriage ceremony taking place in a Catholic Church is preferred because the Church celebrates Sacraments in places that are closest to God. The ceremony itself is a representation of the couple desiring the Lord to come into the marriage and guide the them. There are cases in which dispensation can be given to have the wedding ceremony out of a church, but usually the Sacrament is administered in a church.
Want to know what differentiates a covenant from a legal contract? Interested in a better explanation of how the family represents the Holy Trinity? Anything still unclear? Let us know if you have any questions!