The Sacrament of Matrimony

By Carlos Cornejo

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Sacrament of Matrimony as, “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”  (CCC 1601) The twofold purpose of marriage is companionship or the love between a man and a woman that satisfies loneliness and second, for procreation of children.  Marriage is a natural longing for a man and woman to be together and to make that bond official and sacred.  That’s why other religions outside of Christianity have marriages solemnized too and made official with a ceremony.

Another reason marriage is a part of natural law or a natural calling of humans is due to children.  By nature, animals don’t stay together to take care of their offspring because there are offspring of animals that are able to seek food on their own immediately after birth, or are sufficiently fed by their mother alone (no need of a father) as St. Thomas Aquinas would say in his book Summa Theologiae.  In man, however, the child needs the parents’ care for many years, thus the tie between male and female is natural and necessary.

God thus raised the natural calling of marriage in humans to a sacrament.  God spiritualized it or supernaturalized it or made it holy.  In fact, it is the very first sacrament among the seven sacraments of the Church that God has instituted through Adam and Eve.  God specifically has clear rules on marriage such as its indissolubility, or that the marriage bond cannot be broken except by the death of either husband or wife through the Gospel passage: “What God has put together let no man put asunder.”  (Matthew 19:6) Likewise, marriage is also exclusive or in Church’s term “unity of marriage” which means the covenant established is between one man and one woman only or the husband cannot marry another woman during the lifetime of his wife, nor the wife marry another man during the lifetime of her husband through the Gospel passage: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.”  (Mark 10:11) Thus, divorce and polygamy (many wives or husbands at the same time) are against the laws of God.

The graces received in the Sacrament of Matrimony are an increase in sanctifying grace, or the grace to be holy; second, the indissoluble bond of marriage; and third, the special help of God for husband and wife to love each other faithfully, to bear with each other’s faults, to bring up their children properly, and to cooperate in the sanctification of other souls, especially those other members of their household and other families with whom they have close ties.

Chris Evert, a famous American inspirational speaker on chastity and marriage, says that any successful marriage is always a miracle.   With the rate of divorce happening in the Western countries nowadays, his statement sounds very much indisputable.  Like the Blessed Bishop Fulton Sheen, Mr. Evert wants to emphasize that it always takes three to have a successful marriage: husband, wife and God.  Unless the husband and wife have close ties with God in their marriage, it’s going to be tough if not impossible to have a happy and faithful married life.

Aside from closeness to God, the key to a successful marriage is the strength of love between spouses.  If a couple got married because of the attraction and romantic feelings they have for each other only, it could be a recipe for disaster.  Romantic feelings and attraction are very fleeting and don’t last.  Pleasant feelings of romance are important at the start but couples have to graduate from feelings because true love is willing or choosing.  Remember that love by definition is to choose what is good for the beloved.  It is thinking and doing what is best for your spouse and not yours. It is doing the right thing even if the nice feelings are not there. That’s why I always equate love with sacrifice.  If this idea of sacrifice or self-giving is not clear between partners upon entering marriage, their union will have problems.  “In sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, till death do us part.”  This is the pledge of marriage that can be summarized in one word: sacrifice.  Or you want another word for it:  love.  That’s why love is sacrifice.