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Questions & Answers

What is Marriage?

Tags: Generosity, Children, Church, Marriage, Responsibility, Sacraments, Love, happiness
“When a man and woman celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony God as it were is ‘mirrored’ in them; he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love.” Pope Francis, Audience, April 2, 2014.


1. What is marriage?
Painted by Marieta Quesada
Painted by Marieta Quesada
The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution, despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures.

God, who created man out of love, also calls him to love, the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes.

Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1603–1605

Contemplating the mystery
You laugh because I tell you that you have a ‘vocation for marriage’? Well, you have just that: a vocation. Commend yourself to the Archangel Raphael that he may keep you pure, as he did Tobias, until the end of the way.
The Way, 27


2. What did Jesus say about marriage?
On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign – at his mother’s request – during a wedding feast (see the episode of the wedding feast at Cana, told in John 2:1–11). The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.

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 not man put asunder” are Jesus’ words in St Matthew’s Gospel (19:6).
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1613–1614

Contemplating the mystery
Their pure and noble love is a sacred thing. As a priest, I bless it with all my heart. Christian tradition has often seen in Christ’s presence at the wedding feast in Cana a proof of the value God places on marriage. “Our Saviour went to the wedding feast,” writes St Cyril of Alexandria, “to make holy the origins of human life.”
Marriage is a sacrament that makes one flesh of two bodies. Theology expresses this fact in a striking way when it teaches us that the matter of the sacrament is the bodies of husband and wife. Our Lord sanctifies and blesses the mutual love of husband and wife. He foresees, not only a union of souls, but a union of bodies as well. No Christians, whether or not they themselves are called to the married state, have a right to underestimate the value of marriage.
Christ is Passing By, 24


3. What is the Sacrament of Matrimony?
The Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace instituted by Jesus Christ by which grace is given to our souls. They are signs that can be perceived by the senses, and that really effect what they signify, bringing about our sanctification. The Sacrament of Matrimony or Marriage is one of these seven Sacraments, and when it is received in a state of grace with the right dispositions, it gives the grace – supernatural help – to live in marriage in a Christian way.

Jesus’ unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself, through the Sacrament of Matrimony, gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.

This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says in the Letter to the Ephesians (5:25–32): “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” adding at once: “ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1615–1616

Contemplating the mystery
Matrimony is a holy sacrament. When the time comes for you to receive it, ask your spiritual adviser or your confessor to suggest a suitable book. And you will be better prepared to bear worthily the burdens of the home.
The Way, 26

I constantly tell those who have been called by God to form a home, to love one another always, to love each other with the love of their youth. Anyone who thinks that love ends when the worries and difficulties that life brings with it begin, has a poor idea of marriage, which is a sacrament and an ideal and a vocation. It is precisely then that love grows strong. Torrents of worries and difficulties are incapable of drowning true love, because people who sacrifice themselves generously together are brought closer by their sacrifice. As Scripture says, “many waters” – a host of difficulties, physical and moral – “cannot extinguish love” (Song 8:7).
Conversations, 91


4. How is marriage celebrated?
According to Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ's grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church.

The priest (or deacon) who assists at the celebration of a marriage receives the consent of the spouses in the name of the Church and gives the blessing of the Church. The presence of the Church’s minister (and also of the witnesses) visibly expresses the fact that marriage is an ecclesial reality.

This is the reason why the Church normally requires that the faithful contract marriage according to the ecclesiastical form. Several reasons converge to explain this requirement:
- Sacramental marriage is a liturgical act. It is therefore appropriate that it should be celebrated in the public liturgy of the Church.
- Marriage creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children.
- Since marriage is a state of life in the Church, certainty about it is necessary (hence the obligation to have witnesses).
- The public character of the consent protects the “I do” once given and helps the spouses remain faithful to it.

In the Latin Rite the celebration of marriage between two Catholic faithful normally (though not necessarily) takes place during Holy Mass. In the Eucharist the memorial of the New Covenant is realized, the New Covenant in which Christ has united himself for ever to the Church, his beloved bride for whom he gave himself up.

The spouses should be properly prepared to receive the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is therefore appropriate for the bride and groom to prepare themselves for the celebration of their marriage by receiving the Sacrament of Penance.

In this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1621–1634

Contemplating the mystery
Love which leads to marriage and family, can also be a marvellous divine way, a vocation, a path for a complete dedication to our God. What I have told you about doing things perfectly, about putting love into the little duties of each day, about discovering that 'divine something' contained in these details, finds a special place in that vital sphere in which human love is enclosed.
Conversations, 121


5. What is the essential part of the celebration of marriage? What is matrimonial consent?
The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent. “To be free” means:
- not being under constraint;
- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law.

The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that “makes the marriage.” If consent is lacking there is no marriage.

The consent consists in a “human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other”: “I take you to be my wife” – “I take you to be my husband” (Rite of Marriage, 62). This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfilment in the two “becoming one flesh.”

The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1625–1628

Contemplating the mystery
To love is... to cherish but one thought, to live for the person loved, not to belong to oneself, to be happily and freely, with one’s heart and soul, subjected to another’s will... and at the same time to one’s own.
Furrow 797

You have never felt so absolutely free as you do now that your freedom is interwoven with love and detachment, with security and insecurity; for you do not trust yourself at all, but trust in God for everything.
Furrow 787


6. Can a sacramental marriage be null? What makes a marriage null?

In cases where free consent was lacking (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed.

So that the “I do” of the spouses may be a free and responsible act and so that the marriage covenant may have solid and lasting human and Christian foundations, preparation for marriage is of prime importance.

The example and teaching given by parents and families remain the special form of this preparation.

The role of pastors and of the Christian community as the “family of God” is indispensable for the transmission of the human and Christian values of marriage and family, and much more so in our era when many young people experience broken homes which no longer sufficiently assure this initiation.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1625–1632


Contemplating the mystery
As long as we walk on this earth, suffering will always be the touchstone of love. If we were to describe what occurs in the married state, we could say that there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand, there is the joy of knowing that one is loved, the desire and enthusiasm involved in starting a family and taking care of it, the love of husband and wife, the happiness of seeing the children grow up. On the other hand, there are also sorrows and difficulties – the passing of time that consumes the body and threatens the character with the temptation to bitterness, the seemingly monotonous succession of days that are apparently always the same.
We would have a poor idea of marriage and of human affection if we were to think that love and joy come to an end when faced with such difficulties. It is precisely then that our true sentiments come to the surface. Then the tenderness of a person’s gift of him or herself takes root and shows itself in a true and profound affection that is stronger than death.
Christ is Passing By, 24

Husband and wife are called to sanctify their married life and to sanctify themselves in it. It would be a serious mistake if they were to exclude their family life from their spiritual development. The marriage union, the care and education of children, the effort to provide for the needs of the family as well as for its security and development, the relationships with other persons who make up the community, all these are among the ordinary human situations that Christian couples are called upon to sanctify.
Christ is Passing By, 23


7. What are the effects of the Sacrament of Marriage?
The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself (cf. Mk 10:9). The marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

The grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.”

Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Saviour, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of heaven.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1639–1642


Contemplating the mystery
It is important for married people to acquire a clear sense of the dignity of their vocation. They must know that they have been called by God not only to human love but also to a divine love, through their human love. It is important for them to realise that they have been chosen from all eternity to cooperate with the creative power of God by having and then bringing up children. Our Lord asks them to make their home and their entire family life a testimony of all the Christian virtues.
I shall never tire of repeating that marriage is a great and marvellous divine path. Like everything divine in us, it calls for response to grace, generosity, dedication and service. Selfishness, in whatever shape or form, is opposed to the love of God which ought to govern our lives. This is a fundamental point which one must always bear in mind with regard to marriage and the number of children.
Conversations, 93


8. Marriage for life? What is married love?
Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter – appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.

The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.

By its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses. This is the consequence of the gift of themselves which they make to each other. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement “until further notice.”

The deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of Matrimony the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it. Through the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper meaning.

It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God’s faithful love.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1643–1648


Contemplating the mystery
With regard to chastity in married life, I can assure all married couples that they need not be afraid of showing affection for each other. On the contrary, this inclination is at the root of their family life. What our Lord expects from them is that they should respect each other and that they should be loyal to each other; that they should act with refinement, naturalness and modesty. I must also tell them that the dignity of their conjugal relations is a result of the love that is expressed in them. And there will be love if those relations are open to fruitfulness, to bringing children into the world.
When there is chastity in the love of married persons, their marital life is authentic; husband and wife are true to themselves, they understand each other and develop the union between them. When the divine gift of sex is perverted, their intimacy is destroyed, and they can no longer look openly at each other.
Christ is Passing By, 25


9. What about children?
Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: “It is not good that man should be alone,” and “from the beginning made them male and female”; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Saviour, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day.

Parents are the principal and first educators of their children. In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life.

Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1643–1648

Contemplating the mystery
I am moved that the Apostle should call Christian marriage sacramentum magnum – a great sacrament. From this, too, I deduce the enormous importance of the task of parents. You share in the creative power of God: that is why human love is holy, good and noble. It is a gladness of heart which God in his loving providence wants others freely to give up. Each child that God grants you is a wonderful blessing from him: don’t be afraid of children!
The Forge, 691

Listen to your children. Give them your time, even the time that you have reserved for yourselves. Show them your confidence; believe whatever they tell you, even if sometimes they try to deceive you. Don’t be afraid when they rebel, because at their age you yourselves were more or less rebellious. Go to meet them half-way and pray for them. If you act in this Christian manner, they will come to you with simplicity, instead of trying to satisfy their legitimate curiosity by taking it to some shameless or brutalized friend. Your confidence, your friendly dealings with your children, will receive an answer in their sincerity in talking to you. Then, even if there are quarrels and lack of understanding, they will never amount to much; and this is what peace in the family and a truly Christian life mean.
Christ is Passing By, 29


10. What is a “domestic church”?
Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than “the family of God.”

In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica, the “domestic Church”. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are by word and example the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.

It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way “by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.” Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one's life.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1655–1657

Contemplating the mystery
The virtues of faith and hope are exercised by facing serenely all the great and small problems which confront any family, and persevering in the love and enthusiasm with which they fulfil their duties. In this way they practice the virtue of charity in all things. They learn to smile and forget about themselves in order to pay attention to others. Husband and wife will listen to each other and to their children, showing them that they are really loved and understood. They will forget about the unimportant little frictions that selfishness could magnify out of proportion. They will do lovingly all the small acts of service that make up their daily life together.

The aim is this: to sanctify family life, while creating at the same time a true family atmosphere. Many Christian virtues are necessary in order to sanctify each day of one's life. First, the theological virtues, and then all the others: prudence, loyalty, sincerity, humility, industriousness, cheerfulness.... But when we talk about marriage and married life, we must begin by speaking clearly about the mutual love of husband and wife.
Christ is Passing By, 23

I still pray aloud the bedside prayers I learnt as a child from my mother’s lips, and I say so with the pride and gratitude of a son. They bring me closer to God and make me feel the love with which I learned to take my first steps as a Christian. And as I offer to God the day that is beginning, or thank him for the day that is drawing to a close, I ask him to increase, in heaven the happiness of those whom I especially love, and to unite us there forever.
Conversations, 103


11. Does the Church allow spouses to separate?
There are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation. The Christian community is called to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble.
See further: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1649

Contemplating the mystery
While understanding the suffering of separated spouses, I would tell them that they can also see in their situation God’s Will, which is never cruel, for God is a loving Father. The situation may be especially difficult for some time, but if they go to our Lord and His blessed Mother, they will receive the help of grace.
The indissolubility of marriage is not a caprice of the Church nor is it merely a positive ecclesiastical law. It is a precept of natural law, of divine law, and responds perfectly to our nature and to the supernatural order of grace. For these reasons, in the great majority of cases, indissolubility is an indispensable condition for the happiness of married couples and for the spiritual security of their children. Even in the very sad cases we are talking about, the humble acceptance of God’s Will always brings with it a profound sense of satisfaction that nothing can replace. It is not merely a refuge, or a consolation, it is the very essence of Christian life.
Conversations, 97


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