August 23, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: The sacrament of matrimony

John F. FinkThe seventh sacrament is matrimony, the only sacrament that can’t be administered by a bishop or priest. The man and woman mutually confer this sacrament on each other. The priest or deacon accepts the consent of the couple on behalf of the Church.

It’s impossible to pretend that marriage is a thriving institution in the United States. The numbers of couples who live together without marriage, the divorce rate, and the numbers of children born outside of marriage continue to skyrocket. The concept of “marriage” between two people of the same sex is gaining ever wider acceptance.

If we can do little more than bemoan these facts, we can at least present a positive picture of marriage in God’s plan because we are convinced that it offers men and women the best chance at happiness in their lives.

The Church teaches us that God himself is the author of marriage. In Genesis, we read that, in marriage, “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). Jesus confirmed that when he said that husband and wife “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mt 19:6).

This means that these two people are a single organism. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined.”

Catholics believe that Jesus raised the human institution of marriage to the dignity of one of the seven sacraments by his presence at the wedding at Cana.

When they marry, husbands and wives establish a matrimonial covenant that by its very nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses as well as toward the procreation and education of their children—what the Church considers to be the two major purposes of marriage. Try as it might, secular society can find nothing else that better serves those purposes.

That is why the Church insists that a marriage covenant—between a baptized man and a baptized woman, both free to contract in marriage, who freely express their consent—cannot be dissolved once the marriage has been consummated through sexual intercourse. The consent of the marriage partners to give and receive each other is a bond sealed by God himself, and it cannot be broken.

Needless to say, our modern society doesn’t accept God’s plan for marriage. “Being in love” seems to be the only reason for getting married or remaining married, and that leaves no room for marriage as a covenant or a permanent bond.

Marriage is indeed part of God’s plan, not only a social construct. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (#1603).

Despite what modern society might teach, this is the meaning of marriage in God’s plan. Cohabitation, unwed parenthood, or any other modern substitute for marriage simply can’t match God’s plan. †

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