Canon IV. If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; -though all (the sacraments) are not necessary for every individual; let him be Anathema.



Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder: Matt. 19-6

I join you together in marriage, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen




For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife: (Mark 10,7)

The importance if Matrimony in the Christian life is selfevident. To dwell on this importance would seem to stress the obvious. Yet it may legitimately be asked if many of those who will agree to its importance have a grasp of the profound truths that make it so. Beyond the economic, sociological and legal aspects of marriage there lie the truly radical reasons for its importance. These reasons are spiritual; they are based upon the revelation made by Jesus Christ; they are properly the province of theology.

While it is true that marriage is a many-faceted reality and that many diverse areas of knowledge make vital contributions to our understanding of it, the most fundamental realities concerned are spiritual and theological. Divorced from the theological doctrine on marriage, even a study of the cannon law which regulates marriage so minutely will fail to unfold the fullness of its meaning. As Saint Thomas points out, law is an extrinsic principle of human action: it is a guide for acting, not a principal of being Christian marriage is a sacrament. a channel of grace, and grace is an intrinsic principal of divine life in man

From the Church’s law we receive divine guidance; from grace we receive divine assistance, which works interiorly to conform men to the image of God, not only in what they do, but also in what they are.

An understanding of Christian marriage requires a synthesis of theological and canonical knowledge as a basis. Such a synthesis is herein offered within the framework of the teaching of Saint Thomas. Since the time he wrote his profound treatise there has been a certain amount of theological development and a great deal of canonical change. However, the basic principles remain unchanged, and the framework within which he developed his doctrine is grounded open principles so universal that it remains today an ideal reference for the necessary synthesis.

Most professional treatises on marriage are designed for the use of the clergy whose duty it is to safeguard the sanctity of this sacrament. Much of the technical data of these treatises is of little value to the generality of the laity under ordinary circumstances. The matter here presented will emphasize rather the role of the laity in marriage. For this reason, certain canonical technicalities will be omitted, while others will be abbreviated. On the other hand, the theological consideration to the nature and function of the sacramental grace of marriage will be developed in some detail.

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A. Its Definition and Division

(1) Normal Definition

Several different words are used to describe the fundamental idea of marriage; they express different aspects of the reality :

1) Referring to its essence, it is called conjugal union, because marriage in essentially a conjugal union, because marriage is essentially a conjunction of two.

2) Referring to its cause, it called nuptial union, because marriage is caused by the ceremony in which the bride is”veiled off from potential union with other men ” nuptial ” comes from nubere, which means (“to veil:“)

3) Referring to its effect, it is called Matrimony, from matris munus, which means “the duty of mother hood.”

(2) The Real Definition

Two distinguishable realities are expressed by the term marriage, since in the natural order it is a contract and in the supernatural order it is a sacrament of divine institution.

The classical definition of the natural contract of marriage is: the marital union of a legally competent man and woman involving of a common life. The elements of this definition are the following:

1) Its essence is found in the union of one man and one woman.

2) It is a martial union, not simply a contract of friendship, or business, or concubinage; the very term from martius, which means: (“husband“) signifies a noble union for the raising of a family.          

3) That the man and woman must be legally competent implies that not every man and woman can enter into such a contract with one another.                              

4) It involves the undivided sharing of a common life, which indicates the exchange of the mutual obligations and rights which refer to the raining of a family. Therefore, a common “bed, board, and dwelling” pertains to this natural conjunction of man and woman, as well as a loving common union of souls and sharing of goods.

The natural contract of marriage is part of the natural law in this sense: the inclination to form such a contract is provided by nature itself, even though its fulfillment is under the dominion not of nature but of man’s free will. Moreover, nature provides not only for the existence of offspring but for their necessary care until they are capable of providing for themselves. Thus nature teaches human beings the natural truth: a lifetime together is necessary for parents to provide for their children. Mother and father each have their separate and important parts to play in accomplishing this work.

Since marriage is necessary to society it is not, of course, and obligation which falls directly upon each individual. But each individual must take some part, indirect though it may be, in fulfilling an obligation which rests upon the community, unless the fulfillment of some higher purpose provides an exemption.

(3) The Real Definition of the Sacrament

By faith we know that marriage is a true sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. (1) It may be defined as:

A sacrament of the New Law in which, through the lawfully exchanged consent of the contracting parties, grace is given to them for the proper and Christian fulfillment of the duties of matrimony. The following points are included in the definition:

(a) One of the seven sacraments of the New Law.

(b) The lawfully exchanged consent of the contracting parties expresses the matter and form of the sacrament; this mutual consent, as we will see, is essential to the marriage contract. This phrase also indicates that the ministers are the contracting parties themselves.

(c) In which grace is given, etc., indicates the special bond established between the partners and the special sacramental graces bestowed to enable them to fulfill in a Christian manner the duties arising from the marriage state.

Thus it is easy to see that the essence of the sacrament of Matrimony is found in the matrimonial contract itself, which is made by the blessing of Christ a special channel of divine grace.  (Cannon 1012)

(4) The Kinds of Marriage

To discuss this great sacrament intelligently, we must make certain distinction and clarify certain terms. Thus we must distinguish between the act of contracting matrimony, and the state of matrimony which is the result of the contract. These divisions are also of great importance:

IAs to dignity marriage is called.

1) Legitimate, when baptized persons are validly married. (Cannon 1015, § 3).

2) Ratified, when baptized persons are validly married, but since the contract was made have not joined in physical union. (Cannon 1015, §)

3) Ratified and consummated, when the partners of a ratified marriage have been joined in the flesh (ibid)

(1) Cf. the Council of Trent, Session. xxiv, Cannon 1 on matrimony; Denziger 971.

IIAs to celebration marriage is called.

1) Public, when it is celebrated openly in the form prescribed by the church.

2) Secret, when it is celebrated in the form by the church, but in secret without bans being published or registration in the parish records.

3) Clandestine, when not celebrated in the form prescribed by the church.

III As to validity marriage is called:

1) Valid, when all the conditions for a true martial contract are present.

2) Invalid, when on or more of the necessary conditions are lacking. 

3) Putative, when the marriage is actually invalid, but one or both partners are in good faith.It is putative until both partners are aware of the nullity.(Cannon 1015, § 4).

These terms and divisions should be kept in mind, since the will be used in explaining the various theological and legal aspects of marriage which will be discussed.

B Nature of the Contract of Marriage

We have seen that since marriage is necessary for the continuation of society it is provided for by the law of nature. On the other hand, the obligation of matrimony does not fall upon every individual. In what, then, does this natural institution consist? This we must know so that we may determine where true marriage exist. To do this we must recall the distinction between the act of contracting marriage and the matrimonial state.

The essence of the act of contracting marriage consists in the mutual consent, exteriorly manifested, whereby a man and a woman give and accept mutually the exclusive and perpetual right over each other in regards to acts which are of themselves suitable for the generation of children.

The mutual consent is the adequate efficient cause of the marriage. This man does not have to marry this woman; but if they do marry, it is their mutual consent to this kind of a union which effects the marriage (Canon 1081 §1). If the right to the procreation of children is withheld by either party, there is no marriage.

The essence of the state of matrimony consists in the perpetual obligation of the spouses to perform those duties which follow from the legitimate matrimonial contract. The obligation to provide the circumstances in which children can be properly brought into the world and properly reared {such as the sharing of “bed, board, and dwelling”} cannot be evaded without the consent of the public authority, granted for a just cause. The obligation, however, to perform the acts ordained to the procreation of children arises when the other spouse desires to exercise the right of these acts.

The question of whether the actual exercise of the acts pertains to the essence of marriage presents itself at this point. The answer is that, like a common dwelling, the exercise of these acts pertains to the perfection of marriage, not to its essence. The answer becomes clear when we advert to the fact that these things are licit only after marriage itself is essential present. Therefore, they do not themselves belong to the essence of marriage. Adam and Eve were truly married in Paradise; Mary and Joseph wee truly married.

C The Sacrament of Matrimony

Since this is an involved question, a proper understanding of the answer requires the separate consideration of several factors. We will consider first its institution, then its matter and form, its subject, and finally the minister of this sacrament.

(1) The Institution of Matrimony

Marriage is an institution of the natural law. The specific good which this natural institution seeks to accomplish is the continuation of the human race by the procreation and rearing of children. What constitutes a satisfactory education of children varies according to conditions. Therefore, more or less is required of matrimony as more or less is required for the education of children. Since in the New Law children are to be reared in the grace and divine love which is brought into the world by Christ, and this is a supernatural work, supernatural help is especially necessary to fulfill the tasks imposed by matrimony. For this reason the natural institution of marriage was raised by Christ to a supernatural level; Christ made it a sacrament.

Three things are necessary for the sacrament of the New Law, all of them found in Christian Marriage:

1) An external sign. In Matrimony this is the expression of mutual consent. This sign signifies something sacred, namely, the union of man and wife, itself significative of the union of Christ and His Church.   (cf. Ephesians 5:23).

2) A sign which causes grace. Saint Paul says of marriage that it “is a great mystery-I mean in reference to Christ and to the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). Christian marriage is mysterious precisely because it signifies the union of Christ with the Church. Christ is united to the Church by supernatural grace, which He, as Head of the Church, causes and infuses in His members. Thus, too, Christian marriage is instituted to cause supernatural grace in the partners. 

3) A sign divinely instituted. This is implicit in the Pauline test, since only God can make purely natural things the cause of supernatural grace.

When did Christ instituted this sacrament? Christ spoke of marriage at different times, and theologians maintain that he instituted the sacrament gradually.

1) He sanctioned and consecrated Matrimony by His presence at the wedding in Cana.(John 2:11). 

2) He sanctioned the essential properties of marriage, unity and indissolubility, and restored it to its original perfection   (Matthew 19:3-9)

3) After the resurrection of Christ definitively instituted marriage as a sacrament together with the other sacraments.(cf. Matthew 28: 20;– Mark 16:15 f.).

It is defined by the Church that marriage is a true sacrament and that confers grace.

(2) Cf. the Council of Trent Sessions Vll, Cannon 1; Denzinger. 844.

(2) The Matter and Form of Matrimony

We have seen that each of the sacraments is composed of two elements, the matter and the form. Certain teachings of the Church must be noted in order to understand how these elements are found in Matrimony.

 It is the teaching of the Church that the mutual consent of the contracting parties, expressed by words of the present tense, is the efficient cause of Matrimony. (3) It also teaches that for the faithful the contract and the sacrament are one and the same thing; they cannot be separated. (4) Moreover, every marriage between Christian is a sacrament. (5) From this it follow that whatever is the matter and form of the contract will be the matter and form of the sacrament as well.

In contracts the eternally expressed willingness to exchange something is the material element. The externally expressed acceptance of this offer in the formal element. With it the contract is made. In Matrimony the groom offers to the bride dominion over himself in those things which pertain to the generation and rearing of offspring. This offering is the matter of the contract. Its acceptance by the bride is the form. Since by its very nature the contract is mutual, the bride also makes the offer and groom accepts. With this contract and the sacrament complete. From this doctrine several practical conclusions follow:

1) Whenever two baptized persons {including heretics} validly marry, they receive the sacrament of Matrimony no matter what their wish may be, since for Christians the contract and the sacrament are inseparable.

2) Since Matrimony is essentially a contract, what pertains to contracts pertains to matrimony. Thus, for {example} , it is possible to contract marriage by proxy (Canon 1088). 

3) Since Christians the contract is the sacrament, the Church alone can legislate concerning its essence. The power of the state is limited to the civil effects. (Canon 1016)                     

4) The marriage of infidels becomes a sacrament immediately on the baptism of both parties, but since it is a mutual contract it cannot be more strict or more sacred on the part of one than it is on the part of the other party. Therefore, it is never a sacrament for one and not the other. Martial consent does not have to be renewed when the second partner is baptized, but it is advisable the  nuptial blessing be sought.

(3) Council of Florence, Decree for the Armenians; Denzinger 702 

(4) Cf. the allocution of Pope Pius IX, Acerbissimum Vobiscum September 27, 1852; Dena 1640 

(5) Cf. the encyclical of |Leo XIII, Arcanum divinae, February 10, 1880, Dena 1854.

(3) The Subjects or Recipients of the Sacrament of Matrimony

Those who are to be married must fulfill certain conditions in order that the marriage be valid. These conditions being fulfilled, further conditions must be present in order that the marriage be not only valid but also lawful and its reception fruitful.

    For valid reception the subject must:

a) be baptized, and this must be true or both partners (see above).

b) have the intention, at least implicitly, of receiving and ministering the sacrament. Baptized persons could not have the intention of making a marriage contract without implicitly intending the sacrament, even though they may deny that they intended the sacrament.

c) be free from all diriment (sample invaliding ) These impediments may arise from the natural, the divine, or the ecclesiastical law.

d) be present, personally or by proxy. (Canon 1088, § 2.)

e) if either party is Catholic the marriage must take place according to the juridical form prescribed by the Church.

For lawful and fruitful reception the subject who fulfills the above requirements must also:

a) be free from prohibiting impediments, since they gravely oblige Christians in conscience.

b) to confirmed, unless unable to receive this sacrament without grave inconvenience (Canon 1021 2).

c) be in the state of grace, since matrimony is a sacrament of the living. It is not obligatory but it is strongly advised that those about to be married receive the sacrament of penance and the Holy Eucharist (Canon 1033). It is fitting that they should receive at the marriage ceremony itself. While it has been customary for members of the wedding party to receive Communion, the laudable custom is being established in many places of encouraging the guests as well to communicate together with the bridal couple.

d) observe the rites and ceremonies of the Church (Canon I 733 § ).

e) listen reverently to the counsel of their parents, especially if they are minors. In the choice of a state of life or a marriage partner obedience to parents in not required. Yet it is the better part of prudence to seek and consider well the advice of parents regarding such matters. Pastors are required to attempt to deter minors from marrying without the consent of their parents and may not assist as such marriages with consulting the Ordinary (Canon 1034) (6)

(4) The Minister of Sacramental Matrimony

Since for the baptized the contract of marriage is a sacrament, those who make the contract are the ministers of the sacrament. This must be the case the Church recognizes marriage performed, under certain conditions, with a priest (Canon 1098). The priest who officiates does as the Church’s principal witness.

Because Matrimony is a sacrament of the living, those who receive it while in the state of serious sin commit a sacrilege. Yet even though they are the ministers of the sacrament they do not commit an additional sacrilege, since they are not ministers officially consecrated for divine worship.

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The essence of the act of marriage is matrimonial consent. It requires special attention since the quality of consent is the first thing to be judge in assessing the validity of a marriage. The points of inquiry are outlined thus:

A Matrimonial Consent Considered in Itself

(1) The Definition of Consent

The code of Canon Law states: “Matrimonial consent: is an act of the will whereby each party gives and accepts an exclusive and perpetual right over the body for acts which one of themselves suitable for the generation of children”(Canon 1981.§ 2).

1) An act of the willindicates that consent must be free.

2) Each partyindicates that it is a bilateral contract.

3) Gives and accepts a right over the body indicates the essential object of the contract, which is the mutual exchange of martial rights.

4) For acts which are of themselves suitable for the generation of the children indicates that the contract is limited and does not grant absolute and unqualified rights over each other.

5) An exclusive and perpetual right the essential properties of matrimony: unity and indissolubility.

(2) Its Necessity

The Code of Canon Law states: “The consent of the parties, lawfully expressed between persons who are capable according to law, makes the marriage; and no human power can supply this consent“(Canon 1981, § 1). Since the consent makes the marriage, and since consent is a free rational act or it is nothing, it is obvious that a free rational act of consent must be expressed by both parties or there is no marriage. The parties must, of course, be free to consent to such a contract. A marriage without such a consent is as impossible as a square circle.

(3) Its Qualities

Valid matrimonial consent must be:

1) True and internal, {example}, both parties must sincerely intend to accept matrimonial obligations.

2) Free, {example}, consent must be given with sufficient knowledge and deliberation, and without error, violence or grave fear.

3) Mutual and simultaneous, {example}, it must be the consent of both parties expressed at the same time.

4) Present. Consent regarding the future causes engagement, not marriage.

5) Externally manifested. A bilateral contract cannot be purely internal. If possible the consent should be expressed in words since this is the normal manner of manifesting one’s mind.

     B Conditions Which Affect Consent

A condition to a contract is a circumstance upon which one or both of the contracting parties desired the validity of his consent to depend. Since matrimony is both a sacrament and a contract no condition can be placed which is not in accord with its nature as either sacrament or contract. A condition contrary to its essence clearly invalidates matrimony. Matrimony may never be celebrated lawfully under a condition unless

(1) there is a serious reason for doing so, and

(2) the Ordinary has granted his permission. If any condition is contemplated in marriage, it is imperative that the matter be discussed well in advance with the priest who is to officiate at the wedding.

It is well to remember that a condition mat express the will not to accept an obligation; in this case, if the obligation is essential to Matrimony, the sacrament is invalidated. On the other hand, a condition may express the will not to make use of the martial right; since this would place no obligation on the other party, the contract would not be invalid. Of course, it is never permitted to keep a condition secret from the other party, since marriage is strictly bilateral. Nor, since it is a legal contract, can a condition be placed which cannot be proven in a court of law.

C. Vices Opposed to Consent

There are six factors which can destroy matrimonial consent. These, called the vices of opposed to consent, are lack of a) reason,b) ignorance, c) error, d) violence, e) and fear f) and deceit. Many of the suits brought in the matrimonial courts to have marriages declared null are based upon on or more of these vices. They often present intricate canonical problems and can be treated here only in brief summary.

(1) Lack of Reasoning Power

Since consent is a lack human act, and since the making of a human act requires reasoning power, those who are actually deprived of the use of reason for any cause are unable to contract marriage. This includes those who are completely intoxicated, drugged, hypnotized, or insane. Those who have temporary fits of insanity or who are mentally defective only in some respects may be able to consent to marriage, but in practice it is considered that there is no room for doubt in such cases as to the validity of such consent.

(2) Ignorance

Since ignorance is a lack of required knowledge, ignorance invalidates marriage only when it concerns what is essential to the marriage contract. The minimum knowledge required is that marriage is a permanent union for the procreation of children . (Canon 1082 § 1), and that the children are begotten by physical co-operation between spouses. The minimum knowledge is presumed in those who have reached the use of puberty, but like other legal presumptions it give way before proof to the contrary.

(3) Error

Error is a false judgment which affects matrimonial consent. In this matter the most useful division of error distinguishes:

{ Error of fact a false judgment about a fact relevant to the marriage.

{ Error of law a false judgment about the nature, properties, or essential goods of marriage itself.

1) Error of fact. If this false judgment is about the identity of the person, it renders the marriage invalid by natural law (Canon 1083 § 1). However, when the error is about some personal quality which does not affect the substance of the contract (example), nationality, race, etc.) it does not invalidate consent (Canon 1083 §2). On the other hand, there are personal qualities which can effect the substance of the contract, and error of this kind would be invalidating. Such a situation is, however, exceptional

2) Error of law. When this error concerns the essence of Matrimony, it is the same as ignorance. When it is about the properties of marriagesuch as unity, indissolubility, the sacramental character of marriage-it does not invalidate the marriage unless one of these goods is positively excluded   (Canon 1084)

(4) Violence

Violence is an external force repugnant to the recipient. By natural law marriage which results from physical violence is invalid. It excludes the freedom necessary for consent.

(5) Fear

Fear is mental anxiety caused by an imminent or future danger. Contracts are not usual invalid as a result of fear, but in the case of marriage the public authority which is the Church has legislated that a marriage entered as a result of grave fear unjustly caused by an intelligent agent is invalid (Canon 1087 § 1). Note that the fear must be grave, at least as far as the one who suffers it is concerned; it must be unjust, (example). caused by one who has no right to do so by means he has no right to use; it must be cause by an intelligent agent and not by a natural force such as a bolt of lightning; and there must be no alternative except marriage. Lesser fear would not invalidate marriage even if it should be the cause of the contract  (Canon 1087 § 2).

(6) Deceit

Deceit is a simulation of true and internal consent to marriage and can occur in three ways:

1) By expressing consent which is not really intended; this excludes true consent and so invalidates the contract. (Canon 1086 § 2)

2) By intending not to assume the essential obligation of matrimony; this invalidates the contract, which cannot be separated from its essential obligations. (ibed).

3) By intending not to fulfill the obligations; while this is a grave sin and an unjust deception of the other party; it does not invalidate the contract.

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The goods of of Matrimony are the benefits to the partners which result from lawful marriage. Principally they are children, fidelity and the sacrament. Other secondary goods, such as the preservation of the family name, economic advantages, peace and friendship among families, etc., may also result from marriage. The same goods, viewed as advantages, peace and friendship among families, etc., may also result from marriage.

A The Goals or Ends of Matrimony.

The goals of matrimony may be outlined thus.       (Canon 1013 S 1):

The intrinsic goals of marriage are those which in the redeemed state of mankind belong to marriage of its very nature. They are not subject to any human control, including that of the parties themselves.

The Church has recently condemned the errors of those who teach that anything other than the procreation and education of children is the primary end of matrimony, since this is established by Almighty God Himself. (7) The Book of Genesis makes clear that, subordinated to the primary end, mutual help and solace for the partners is also intended in matrimony (Genesis 2:18). Nature and God intend man and wife assist one another by mutual love, by help in household affairs, and by the co-operative division of labor in providing for the needs of the family and the training of children.

Since marriage was instituted before the fall, before concupiscence had come into the world, it is clear that the relief of concupiscence is not the primary end of marriage. Yet Saint Paul tells us that in the present state of mankind this important subordinate effect is one of the goals of Matrimony. (I Corinthians 7:29). Concupiscence is relieved both by the grace of Matrimony and by the ennobling of carnal desire which takes place as a result of this holy union.

It is not wrong to desire other goals as a result of Matrimony, but they must never be opposed to the intrinsic goals which are essential to this state.

(7) Cf. Genesis 1:28 the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, Deceber 31, 1930  Canon 1013. 1; Acta Apostolicae Sedis, XXXVI (1944), p. 103

B. The Goals or Benefits of Matrimony

The Instruction before Marriage in the Roman ritual tells those about to be married that “if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can except the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears.” This wonderful promise is fulfilled in; the goods or benefits of Matrimony.

Marriage requires the same regulation as ever other virtuous undertaking.

The first requirement is the intention of the right end, and thus children are listed as the first good of marriage.

The second requirement is the right use of the means to the end, and so fidelity, by which the spouses are true to one another, is the second good of marriage. Third Finally, since marriage is a spiritual, reality by which the spouses work out their salvation in union with one another, it has been a “sacrament,” a source of grace, which is the third good of matrimony. Each of these goods deserves individual attention.

(1) Children

In the fulfillment of this primary essential end of marriagethe procreation and education of children-marriage is brought to its perfection. To communicate for the great sacrifices involved in raising a family. Almighty God has granted the unique joys of parenthood, which none but parents can experience. Sharing in this way divine work of creation and providence brings a satisfaction, a wholeness and completeness, to a mother and father that the unmarried and childless can never know. Our Lord Himself remarks that the pains of childbirth are swallowed up and forgotten in the joy that fills a mother’s heart as a result of the knowledge that she has brought a child in the world. (8)

(8) (Cf. John 16: 220)

(2) Fidelity

Fidelity means the faithful keeping of the marriage promises. It is the root of martial security and trust. As a contract marriage involves the virtue of justice, by which rights and duties are properly ordered. Fidelity is the keeping of the contract by which exclusive right over the body’s powers of generation is granted by each spouse to the other. This contract is kept by making use of these powers only in union with one’s partner, and by granting to one’s partner the use of these powers whenever it is reasonably requested by word or sign. The deep personal union of marriage is symbolized and expressed by the exclusive co-operation of the partners in marriage in performing the acts which of their nature are ordained to the generation of children An ancient ritual of marriage indicates this, calling forth these words from the bride and groom: …”with my body I thee worship.” Worship implies complete subjection, reverence, and tribute. In this sense the body is offered in worship not to another body, in the manner of an animal, but to a person. The holy beauty of sexual union in marriage is found in the deep spiritual union between two persons symbolized and expressed by the physical union of bodies.

(3) The “Sacrament”

The justice expressed by fidelity is the foundation of Christian marriage, but the union is perfected by charity. The profound spiritual reality signified by fidelity is themysteryor thesacramentality” of marriage. The term“sacrament” in this sense- of one of the goods of Matrimony-is used in quotation marks to indicate that it does not refer to the fact that matrimony is one of the seven sacraments. Rather is it a more primitive meaning of the term, signifying mystery, as in the text of Saint Paul. (9) Saint Augustine sees the absolute in dissolubility of Christian marriage as an immediate consequence of its mysterious sacredness. Quoting Saint Paul’s assertion that Christian marriage is a symbol of the unbreakable union between Christ and the Church, he says: “Without doubt the effect of this symbolism is that man and wife, when united in marriage, preserve an inseparable union.” (10)

Just as fidelity refers to the unity of marriage, so the “sacrament” has reference to its indivisibility and to whatever results from marriage’s signifying the union of Christ with His Church. Sacramentality is the most excellent good of marriage because it is the direct effect of divine institution, and because it pertains to the order of grace.

(9) Cf. Ephesians 5:32 Saint Paul also seems to insinuate here to the elevation of marriage to the rank of a sacrament of Christ.

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Now we must consider unity and in indissolubility from another aspect, namely, as properties of marriage       (Cf. Canon, S 2).

A The Unity of Marriage

Unity signifies that one man is united to one woman. Polygamy is completely excluded from Christian marriage since it is destructive of family peace, destroys the equality of partnership in conjugal relations, and destroys the image of the union of Christ and His Church. Polygamy is of two types:(11)

Polyandrythe union of one wife with many husbands-is absolutely contrary to the natural law. For one man can provide a woman with as many children as she can bear; furthermore, paternity would be uncertain in such marriages.

Polygynythe union of one man with several wives-is, on the other hand, contrary not to a primary but to a secondary precept of the natural law. It admits of dispensation by God, a dispensation granted to the Jews; by the Mosaic Law before Christ restored marriage to its original unity and purity. Polygyny is not contrary to the primary end of marriage (namely the procreation and rearing of children) , but it is contrary to the secondary ends mentioned above under the generic term, polygamy.

(10) On the Nuptial and Concupiscence, Book I, Chapter 10,

(11) The terms are given here according to modern usage, as found in the dictionary

B The Indissolubility of Marriage

Indissolubility consists in this, that the marriage bond is not broken until the death of one of the partners. Since it pertains to the natural law, it is a property of all marriages. Christians and natural. By a dispensation of God, the Mosaic Law tolerated divorce and remarriage, but this was revoked by Christ (Cf. Matthew 19:5 f.). No man that a bare outline of the teaching of the Church on this important matter can be attempted here. (12)

(12) It must be remembered that the application of this teaching is a complicated procedure of which only experts are capable. Applying marriage legislation is no do-it-yourself project.

(1) The Dissolution of Marriage

The Church is given the power by God to dissolve certain marriages in some cases. But an important distinction must here be recalled: to dissolve a marriage is something quite different from a declaration of nullity. In the latter case the Church declares that, because of some impediment or defect in the original contract, no marriage ever took place. Sin may have been committed, scandal may have been given, but these things have nothing to do with whether valid marriage was contracted or not, and it is the determination of this last point which is the concern of the marriage court. Catholic are sometimes heard to complain when they hear of some prominent person, who has been “married,” perhaps several times , being married in the Church. But one should realize that their sins do not disqualify them from marrying validity. If they have not been married validity married they cannot be refused valid marriage no matter what their past life has been.

Here our concern is not with invalid marriage but with the dissolving of a valid marriage. Three points must be made:

a) Valid marriage which is ratified and consummated (refer to the definition in Section 2, A above)can be dissolved by no human power and by no other cause than death (Canon 1118) Contrary to the misunderstanding of the words of Christ by certain Protestant churches and by the Orthodox church, the Church by its infallible authority teaches that not even adultery renders possible the  dissolving of such a marriage, “What God has joined together,no man put asunder”   (Matthew19:6)           

b) Marriage between two baptized persons or between one baptized and one unbaptized person, provided it has not been consummated, is dissolved by solemn religious profession or by a  dispensation from the Holy See (Canon 1119). This implies legally acceptable proof that the marriage was never consummated and a grave reason for the dissolution. Since a married person cannot be accepted by a religious order without dispensation, in either these cases the Holy See must act.

c) Legitimate marriage between unbaptized persons, even if consummated, can be dissolved  in favor of the faith by virtue of the Pauline privilege (Cf. Canon 1120; I Corinthians 7:12-15). The application of this privilege is highly technical and can only be made by qualified expert.

(2) The Extent of Indissolubility

The living of a common life together by the married couple is a serious and essential obligations of their marriage. Only a just cause can possibly excuse the married partners from the fulfillment of this obligation. The degree of their separation from one another-total and perpetual, total but temporary, partial separation-will require proportionately more serious justifying reasons in the eyes of God and the Church as their apart is more complete.

Unless it is clear to all concerned that separation is the lesser of two evils, no effort should be spared to reunite the disaffected couple. Since the supervision of marriage has been placed by Christ in the hands of His Church (for marriage is a sacrament and a sacred thing), the Ordinary (usually the local bishop or his representative) must always be consulted and his approval obtained. In certain extraordinary cases, this may be anticipated. This is a delicate and complicated matter, and common sense dictates that those who are considering separation consult their pastor, his assistant or another priest before taking up the matter (as they must) with the competent ecclesiastical authority.

(3) Civil Marriage’s

Although in modern times the state often exceeds its authority in making legislation concerning marriage, the Catholic should be well aware of the fact that only the Church has authority over what is essential in marriage. The powers of the state are limited to civil effects. Catholics are permitted to do what the state requires for achieving the civil effects of marriage (in some European countries this requires going through a civil ceremony before a civil official), but they must be aware that for Catholics true marriage is not effected by the civil authority. Since such a requirement has never been made in the United States the problem does not arise here; the officiating priest acts also as the civil official and signs the civil documents, which are returned to the civil authorities to be kept on record.

But it should clearly notedCatholics are sometimes found to be under a false impression in this regardnon Catholics , who are free from invalidating impediments and have the intention of contracting true marriage, do contract valid marriage before a civil official. In this country nonCatholic ministers act in this capacity just as Catholic priest do. NonCatholic marriages are presumed to be valid unless proven otherwise.

(4) Civil Divorce

Civil divorce is certainly not what it pretends to be, namely the dissolution of a marriage so that a new marriage may be contracted by the parties involved. But the immediate object of such a legal action is to dissolve the civil effects of marriage, and in certain circumstances this may be desirable. Hence a judge, a lawyer and even spouses may legitimately involve themselves in such a process. The obligations of each may be briefly noted.

1. The judge. The Catholic judge may pronounce a civil divorce in cases where the marriage is certainly invalid. But ordinarily, if he can do so without grave inconvenience, a Catholic judge should seek to be relieved of trying divorce cases. If this cannot be done, he should make it as clear as possible that his judgment is limited to civil effects when, according to law, he must pronounce a divorce in regard to a valid marriage. His co-operation is then remote and material, and when necessary such co-operation is then given, lest Catholics be excluded from an office in which much can be contributed to the common welfare. Since the divorce laws in this country are generally not enacted out of hatred for the Church, the judge’s remote and material co-operation should not usually give rise to scandal. In all cases, however, the local directives of the Ordinary must be observed.

2. The petitioners for divorce. The Catholic who petitions for a civil divorce must always have the consent of the Ordinary. This consent may be given when marriage has been declared null in the ecclesiastical courts by the authority of the Church. Sometimes it is also given when separation has been approved by the Ordinary. This is done for the sake of the legal effects and the custody of children. To seek a divorce for any reason without the consent of the Ordinary is gravely sinful.

3. The lawyer. As a general rule, a lawyer acts legitimately when his clients are acting legitimately. A lawyer may never take a case court for Catholics who do not have permission of the Ordinary to file a petition for divorce.

Since the lawyer enjoys greater freedom than a judge in refusing a case, he may take a case for non–Catholics only in the following instances:

1) If the client’s marriage is manifestly invalid.

2) If there are real reasons for separation and the only practical method of securing it is through civil divorce.

3) If the client wishes merely to file a cross–petition to prevent the divorce or to protect his rights.

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A Marriage Preparations

Numerous books have been prepared on this subject, one whose importance is, fortunately, becoming more and more to be recognized. We are concerned with the subject here, however, only from the point of view of what is strictly necessary according to teachings of theology and Canon law.

From this restricted aspect, the preparations for marriage are three :

a) betrothal,                                         b) prenuptial investigation,                          c) and the publications of banns.

(1) Betrothal

We are not concerned with the simple engagement which usually precedes marriage, but with solemn engagement according to the form prescribed by law. This practice is becoming more common; it has the approval of the Church; in many cases it is so recommended. However, those who enter such an agreement should be clear as to what they are undertaking.

Betrothal is a mutual promise, legitimately given, of future marriage, exchanged between persons who are legally capable. It must be made in writing, dated and duly signed by both parties and by the pastor or Ordinary, or, in the absence, by two witnesses. It creates a grave obligation in justice to live up to its terms and makes marriage with another party unlawful. It makes betrothal with another party invalid.

The parties may freely agree to end the agreement, or it may be dissolved as a result of some important circumstance coming in existence or becoming known which would have prevent the original making of the contract. If one party seriously offends against chastity with another or unduly defers marriage, the other party is free of the contract. The Holy See may dispense at the request of one party or one party may dissolve the contract by choosing a more perfect life, even if that should be simply a private vow to chastity.

(2) Prenuptial investigation

These investigations, concerning freedom of the parties to marry, must be conducted by the pastor who has jurisdiction in regard to the marriage. In order to allow sufficient time for those investigations he should be approached at least one month in advance of the desired time for the wedding.

(3) Publications for the Banns

Unless dispensed by the Ordinary, public announcement of the proposed marriage must be make in the parishes of the parties who intend to marry on three successive Sundays or holy days of obligation. The banns are not published for a mixed marriage. What is important to note here is the grave obligation on the part of anyone who knows a reason why the marriage should not take place to make the reason known to the parish priest of the Ordinary. This obligation holds unless it is know that the pastor is already aware of the matter, or unless it would result in grave harm to the person making the revelation or other innocent parties, or it known only through a sacramental or professional secret. Even if a promise confirmed by oath has been made to keep the matter secret it must be revealed.

B) The Impediments to Marriage

A matrimonial impediment is any external circumstance affecting the persons of the spouses which, by a disposition of law, hinders them from validly or licitly contracting marriage. If an impediment arises only from ecclesiastical law it does not bind the unbaptized. Impediments are either invalidating or prohibiting. The former render marriage impossible, the latter make it illegal through valid. The impediments need not be discussed at length here, though they will be mentioned to the extent necessary to warn against company-keeping with one with whom marriage would be illegal or invalid.

(1) Invalidating Impediments

According to the present legislation of the Church, there are thirteen invalidating impediments. Some of them flow from the natural law or from divine positive law and, therefore, can never be dispensed from. Others are ecclesiastical, and dispensation from them are given under certain conditions.

From the natural law itself it follows that impotency {lack of ability to perform the martial act}, blood relationship in the direct line or in the first degree of the collateral line, and the bonds of an already valid marriage eliminate the possibility of contracting a valid marriage. They cannot be dispensed from. (13)

By ecclesiastical law the impediment of blood relationship is extended to the third degree of the collateral line. Other relationships from which marriage is excluded: blood relatives in the direct line and to the second degree of the collateral line of a deceased wife or husband; blood relatives in the first and second degree of the direct line of a partner in an invalid marriage or notorious concubinage; spiritual relationship established by baptizing or acting as sponsor for baptism; legal relatives as a result of adoption where this is civil impediment.

Furthermore, by ecclesiastical law a baptized Catholic cannot contract marriage with and unbaptized person. Nor can sub-deacon or a religious in solemn vows contract a valid marriage. If a woman has been abducted for the purpose of marriage , marriage cannot take place. People who have committed adultery with a promise of marriage {even civil}, or who have co-operated in the murder of the valid marriage partner of one of them, are impeded from contracting valid marriage. Girls under fourteen and boys under sixteen are not able to enter valid marriage.

All these ecclesiastical impediments are sometimes, dispensed, though some of them only very rarely. Good reasons must always be present for such a dispensation.

(2) Prohibiting Impediments

Prohibiting impediments make marriage illegal through valid. The only ones we need consider are mixed religions and simple vows. Any simple vowwhether a private vow or taken in a religious communitywhich contrary to entering the married state makes a marriage a grave sin and illegal. The existence of such a vow must be made known during the prenuptial investigation.

1.Mixed marriage’s. We have seen that a baptized Catholic cannot contract marriage with an unbaptized person. A baptized Catholic can contract marriage with a baptized non-Catholic, but such a contract is illegal and a grave sin.

(13) See the exceptions for valid but not consummated marriage in Section 5

The Church detests mixed marriage’s. (14) They imply {when both are baptized} a communication int the administration of a sacrament with a non-Catholic. They are always in grave danger to faith–successful and harmonious mixed marriage is, in the long run, often a worse danger to the faith than an unsuccessful one. The faith of the children is bound to be weaker than it would be if both parents were Catholic; it may well die out in the second or third generation. To be sure, examples of cases in which this did not happen can be easily given. But so can those people who have taken arsenic and lived; yet on one would propose these exceptions as an argument for deliberately eating arsenic.

Because the Church grants a dispensation for marriage with a non-Catholic for a just and grave cause, a Catholic can be excused for keeping company with a non-Catholic, but only if there be a just and grave reason for doing so. Many young Catholics seem to think that there is no objection to keeping company with a non-Catholics. This does not make sense. Company keeping is always at least remotely ordained to marriage, and they are forbidden by the Church to marry a nonCatholic.

When a dispensation is granted for a mixed marriage, the nonCatholic must provide promises in writing, both not to interfere deliberately with the faith of the Catholic party and to rear the children in the Catholic faith. There must be moral certainty that these promised will be kept or the dispensation will not be granted.

Catholics who enter a mixed marriage are excommunicated:

1) if they participate in a religious marriage ceremony before a non-Catholic minister either before or after their marriage in the present of a priest.

2) if they agree, even implicitly, that some of the children will be educated outside the faith;

3) if they knowingly have their children baptized by a nonCatholic minister or educated or enrolled in a non-Catholic religion.

(14) The remarks which follow apply both to the marriage of a Catholic and an unbaptized person and to the marriage of a Catholic and a baptized non-catholic, the first invalidated by law, the second prohibited by law.

2. Other prohibiting impediments: Catholics are also forbidden to marry Communist, notorious apostles, or member of a secret societies. Priest are forbidden without grave reason to officiate at the marriage of a public sinner who refuses to confess before the marriage.

3. Practical procedure: If there is any suspicion that one of the impediments might be present, a priest should be consulted. It would save much grief if such a consultation were made by one of the parties well before the question of marriage comes up. These impediments are established by God and the Church to guard the happiness and well-being of the faithful. Happiness could not conceivably be found in a union impeded by divine or natural law. Where an impediment arising from ecclesiastical law is found, the wisdom of the Church attests that public and private welfare is not served by such a union, and that would normally lead to unhappiness. When a dispensation is granted it is because evidence is present that it is the lesser of two evils to do so.

C.The “Form” of Marriage

By natural law it is sufficient for the martial contract that the parties manifest mutual consent. However, since marriage is a matter of great concern to the common welfare, those who have the care of the common welfare have the right and duty {in accord the kind of care that belongs to them to exercise} to legislate concerning marriage in such a way as to protect the rights of the community.

For her own children the Church has prescribed a particular way in which the marriage must be performed. This juridical form must be observed by them in order that they may enter into a valid marriage. It requires the presence of official witnesses to the contract–the pastor or Ordinary {or a priest delegated by one of these}, and at least two witnesses possessing the use of reason (Cf. Canon 1094). It is unlawful {unless for a grave cause the Ordinary judges otherwise} for non-Catholics, the excommunicated, persons declared infamous by law, adolescents, and militant Communists to act as witnesses. This form binds all who have ever been baptized Catholics or received into the Catholic Church, even though they have since left the Church. It binds them even should they contract marriage {with or without a dispensation from impediments of mixed religion or disparity of cult} with a nonCatholic.

NonCatholics, when they contract marriage among themselves, are not, of course, bound to this form. As far as the form is concerned, marriage of nonCatholics, whether civil or religious, is recognized by the Church as valid. On the other hand, those bound to the form cannot contract valid marriage in civil court or before a non-catholic minister. If they attempt to do so they are living in concubinage, their children are illegitimate, and they are reputed as public sinners. If the attempt at marriage is made before a non-catholic minister acting in a religious capacity, they are excommunicated.

Except in cases of necessary, Catholics are also bound to the liturgical rites, for marriage is a sacrament, a sacred ceremony. These ceremonies are usually completely excluded for mixed marriages. The nuptial blessing is ordinarily excluded during Lent and Advent.

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We shall first consider the obligations of married people to one another, then their obligations toward their children.A The Duties of Spouses to Each Other

(1) The Conjugal Debt

The principal duty of spouse to spouse is to render the conjugal debt when it is reasonably asked. There is a matter strict commutative justice involved here. To refuse the request on rare occasions would not seem to be serious in justice {unless there is a danger of incontinence}, but to render the debt habitual in a grudging or unpleasant manner is equivalent to denial. If husband and wife freely and mutually agree for the sake some real and bodily or spiritual advantage to abstain from this relationship for a time, there is no sin involved; such abstention may well be virtuous. If the request is unreasonable, it may of course, be refused. If there is doubt in the matter the advice of the confessor should be sought.

Conjugal intercourse is a holy and meritorious act as long as the following conditions are fulfilled:

a) There is true penetration and deposit and retention of the seed.

b) the primary purpose namely conception, is not efficaciously excluded {though, if there be a good reason, it does not have to be desired}; and

c) it be under circumstances which will not be an occasion of scandal to children or others.

Minor acts, such as looks, touches, kissed etc., are legitimate to the spouses as long as the are ultimately ordained, not simply to venereal pleasure, but to the marriage act and the expression of mutual love and affection. Ordinarily they are venially sinful if ordained only to venereal pleasure. To seek complete satisfaction outside the normal marriage act is gravely sinful.

(2) Marital Chasity

Sins of incontinence with a third party or with oneself are sins against justice as well as against chastity. Sins of birth prevention {often incorrectly called birth control} with one’s partner are gravely sinful, whether artificial means are used or not. By such sins God is excluded from the family and matrimonial grace is cut off. Society, family life, children and spouses themselves are gravely harmed. What was intended by God as the supreme expression of mutual love, of mutual self-giving, becomes an act selfishly ordained to personal pleasure. What was intended as a tender tribute to the spouse {“With my body I worship“} becomes a sordid use of the one for venereal pleasure who should be dear above all others.

A false and unwarranted notion exists that “rhythm” or “periodic continence” is the “birth control method of the Church.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Church neither recommends nor approves the practice, indeed she councils against it. Under certain conditions it seems not to militate essentially against marital chastity and is, therefore permissible .

A premarital agreement to limit the conjugal rights to periods during which the wide is naturally sterile would invalidate the marriage, thought an agreement to so limit the use of the right would not. The limitation of the use of the right to the sterile period is, at least, not seriously sinful {and may not be without sin} if the following conditions are present:

1) There is a serious reason for avoiding the fecundity of the union while at the same time continuing to engage in the union.

2) There is complete mutual agreement to this practice.

3) It is no serious way an occasion of sin for either party.

4) The danger of frustrating the secondary ends of marriage, such as mutual aid and love, is not significant and proximate.

Rhythm is only a last resort alternative to keep unmarried people from serious sin. When the conception of children is inadvisable the Church counsels abstinence, not without realizing that it can easily demand true heroism. The Church knows that, to the extent that they depend upon God, her children are capable of great heroism.

(3) Other Duties of the Spouses to One Another

The spouses are to live together and share one anther’s life. Where the husband fixes his home, there the wife’s home ought to be. The husband must rule his family without bossiness, but with good example, friendly persuasion and counsel. Only rarely should it be necessary for him to use full authority towards his wife, but when authority is necessary he neglects his duty if he does not use it. His duty, also, is to provide to the extent of his ability for the necessities of life according to the social status of the family.

The wife must remember that next to God she must love here husband above all others, and that she must be loyal to him in every way. The care of the household and the training of the children in virtue is in a special way her province. To desert these duties for work outside the home which is not absolutely necessary {however gainful it might be}, or for special activities, manifests a childishly selfish failure to measure up to the nobility, dignity and responsibility that is hers as a Christian wife and mother.

B. The Duties of Parents to their Children

 This book is not a manual for handy methods for the rearing of children; obviously only the most general principles can be set down here. The parents who brought children into the world must provide for those children physically and spiritually until they have reached the degree of maturity necessary to provide for themselves. It is not simply a waiting period. They must be trained by the parents to assume the responsibilities of maturity. The physical needs of children are obvious, but they are less important than their spiritual needs. Parents must remember that their work is never done until their children are in the kingdom of heaven. When their children are mature they can do little more than pray for them. During their childhood they must provide truly Christian atmosphere in the home so that children can grow with habitual love and reverence for what is holy and good. They must provide for their children a Catholic schooling to the fullest extent possible. This includes the college and university. Parents must, however, realize that they have no right to dictate to their children in the matter of choice of a state of life or of a marriage partner.

In the rearing of their children excessive indulgence must be avoided as well as excessive harshness. Nor should parents be unduly ambitious for their children, for this too often results in leaving them rich in the world’s goods but spiritually impoverished.

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Having studied the moral and canonical aspects of marriage, we must now state precisely the manner in which Christian marriage differs from marriage among the unbaptized. What does it mean to the Christian man and wife, as man and wife, that their marriage is a sacrament and not merely a natural contract ?

A The Sacrament of Matrimony

The very purpose of the sacraments is to give grace, to unite man to God. Since this union must be effected in various ways depending on the various states or conditions normal in human life, the special sacramental grace of each sacrament unites man to Christ in a special way and for a special purpose. The sacrament of matrimony unites a man to Christ through the very union established with his wife in marriage, and the wife through the union with her husband. Their very union becomes symbolic of Christ’s union with the Church. Together man and wife must live their life {in a very real sense there is but one life between them}, and the purpose of life on this earth is to work out salvation. Therefore, together man and wife work out their salvation. Since the purpose of their union is so sacred, it is fitting that Christ should have raised it to the supernatural order so that it might itself be a principal means of attaining salvation.

The vast difference between natural and supernatural marriage is apparent, even when expressed in these general terms, but if we recall a distinction in Chapter Nine concerning the sacraments in general, we will be able to make more specific out study of the effects of the sacramentalizing of matrimony in the lives of the spouses. Any sacrament, we have seen, can be considered in three ways:

1) Sacramentu the sacrament only, external signifying rite.

2)Res et sacramentum reality and sacrament, the reality immediately caused by the sacrament which itself signifies the ultimate reality.

3) Res tantumthe reality only, the ultimate effect signified and produced by the sacramentum tantum together with the res et sacramentum.

We shall consider the sacrament of matrimony under each of the aspects.

(1) The “Sacramentum Tantum” of Matrimony

When a man and a woman marry, they do so by expressing mutual consent to exchange the rights to one another s body in regard to the acts of generation. The unique natural union thus created has been raised by God to the dignity of a sacrament. That means it has been given supernatural powers of signification and it has been enabled to achieve supernatural effects. By the institution of Christ this natural union symbolizes the mystical union between Christ and His Church. the redemptive Incarnation. The human love which effects this union becomes a wonderful symbol of divine love. The baptized man and woman,in effect, celebrate the nuptials of God and man, express in their mutual acts of love of immortal love of Christ toward his Bride.

The very ceremony by which this is achieved becomes a religious sign, a liturgical action. In their expression of consent true and supernatural worship is offered to God by the spouses and by the Church. The sublimity and dignify of this Christian action as compared with a pagan exchange of consent is recognized immediately by all who look with the eyes of faith. But this figure, sublimely significative of the union between God and man, is not itself holy, it is effective of holiness. For the sacraments are God’s instruments as well as God’s signs, and through them he showers upon man the copious blessings of the life and death and resurrection of the God-man.

(2) The “Res et Sacramentum” of Matrimony

The natural bond created by a natural exchange of consent is the inseparable union of souls in which the essence of matrimony is to be found. This union, primarily for the benefit of offspring, is also ordained to the perfection of spouses themselves. This matrimony is primarily a social or common good, rather than a matter of private private advantage.

Since God does not provide less for the order of grace than he does for the order of nature, and since a more noble cause will achieve a more noble effect, sound theology leads to the conclusion that the first effect of sacramental union is a sacramental bond, intrinsically superior to the natural bond, because it is supernatural. This sacred union can provide for the birth and education of children in a holy and supernatural society , the Christian family.

This bond is both res et sacramentum, both reality achieved by which is sacramentum tantum {the sacramental exchange of consent}, and in turn itself the symbol of something more, a further reality, res tantum. In this sacramental the union is immeasurably stronger, more holy, more than in the natural bond. It is a practical sign, and together with the sacramentum tantum it produces the sacramental grace by which marriage daily approximates, and increasing perfection imitates, the union it symbolizes.

(3) The “Res Tantum” of Matrimony

The grace by which man can fittingly accomplish all the works that a marriage “contracted in faith of Christ” requires, is the final effect produced by this sacrament. By divine institution man and wife receive power over one another to secure the ends of matrimony; consequently the receive the graces without which the fitting execution of martial functions would be impossible.

B The Effects of Matrimonial Grace

Each sacrament rightly received either begins the life of grace in us or intensifies it. Not essentially differing from sanctifying grace, the sacramental graces realize in a special way, determined by the end of the particular sacrament, the common end of man’s sanctification and his imitation of Christ.

What, then, is matrimonial grace? We may answer this question by asking : what is the sacred symbolism of matrimony? It is visible manifestation of the union of Christ and His Church. The special modification in sanctifying grace wrought by the sacrament, therefore, is a grace of conjugal union, a grace that will enable the spouses to live a life together which will make visible the sacramental bond symbolic of Christ’s bond with his Bride. Beyond the union of each spouse to God {a common effect of all sanctifying grace}, the sacramental grace of matrimony effects the union of the spouses to one another and of the man and woman so united to God. As Saint Thomas states: “Grace is conferred by this sacrament by which they belong to the union of God and the Church; this is most necessary for them, for they must so deal with carnal and worldly matters as not to destroy their union with Christ and His Church.”

(15) Summa contra Gentiles, Book IV, Chapter 78

Matrimonial grace, then, supernaturalizes the love of the spouses for each other; in addition, it supernaturally orders them to the practice of those particular virtues which will perfect their union, which make of their married life a living image of Christ and His Church. This will mean, on the one hand, the overcoming by grace of the disorders inherent in man since the fall which are obstacles to so perfect a union. On the positive side, this grace will bring special increase of infused virtues and gifts and a right to the actual graces which divinely inspire and direct the virtuous action demanded of the sacramental union.

We will discuss each of these aspects of matrimonial grace in detail.

(1) The Healing of the Wounds of Sin

The sacraments are special remedies for the defects left by past sins, original and actual, defects which are obstacles to the promptings of grace and virtuous action. Christ’s power works in the sacrament to heal and expiate, to subdue the rebellion of the lower powers against reason and restore power order among them. By this sacramental healing the soul of the Christian becomes apt for further increase of grace and sensitive to the impulse of the Holy Ghost.

The special obstacle to grace which Christians marriage must face and overcome is that sexual concupiscence. Even natural marriage, by providing; the opportunity for the legitimate use of sexual pleasure, provides some remedy for the disorder so frequently found in this great human drive. But it merely touches the surface of the radical disorder consequent upon sin. It cures that acts of concupiscence but leaves concupiscence itself untouched. Sacramental marriage penetrates to the very root of this disorder. While it does not completely repress the rebellion of the lower powers, it appreciably reduces it. Thus the married Christian is more capable of resisting temptation of acting virtuously; he is freer of the impediments to actual grace and to the workings of the virtues and the gifts.

This is a fact of tremendous importance in the daily lives of the married faithful, and a most potent and practical motive for their preserving themselves in the state of grace–or recovering that state, if they should unhappily fall, as quickly as possible. Let us repeat. only matrimonial grace produces this radical suppression of concupiscence. And it should be recalled that that grace will be restored to the truly penitent and contrite sinner through the sacrament of penance. (Denziger Brothers 2193)

(2) The Special Increase of Graces

Christian marriage must be worked out in a set of concrete circumstances bewildering in variety and varying in difficulty. Through the sacrament, habitual grace is special adapted to achieve Christian virtue in the circumstances of married life.

I The virtues of Christian marriage

1) Primary among all virtues is charity toward God and neighbor. The natural love of spouses is perfected in conjugal charity whereby their mutual love will be best expressed in their concern to be help one to another in the practice virtue.

2) The virtue of hope by which they count of God not only for “eternal life” but for “the means to attain it” will be their safeguard in every crisis in the life of their family.

3) They will live by faith, an example to all deep realization of the true goals of life.

4) Domestic prudence, differing in husband and wife according to their respective duties, will help to make right decisions and rule their family for the best good of all.

5) The virtue of justice will be theirs, by which selfishness is suppressed, obligations cheerfully accepted and faithfully fulfilled.

6) The virtue of religion will create a Christian atmosphere in their home by common family prayers and devotions, by the reverent presence of religious images and customs in the home.

7) The patience needed to live a common life–to understand one another deeply, and their children, so that what could easily be causes of irritation become their occasions of virtue–is a small but very important virtue for harmonious family living. Slow to anger, quick to forgive, disinclined to bickering and quarrels, harsh words and unnecessary criticism, the patient spouse indeed witnesses to the grace of matrimony.

8) Conjugal chastity will permit the spouses to give an example the world badly needs.

II The gift of the Holy Ghost.

Over and above these special marital virtues, the special help of the gifts of the Holy Ghost will make the wedded life of the Christian spouses more truly divine. We have seen that these gifts are necessary for salvation, for they dispose the Christian to receive inspirations of the Holy Ghost, and by means of these impulses divine action even in worldly matters becomes second nature, as it were, for the husband and wife. In God’s design for married life the gifts will have special and essential part.

1) Wisdom will lead to an appreciation of the divine nature of their sacramental life together.

2) Understanding gives them a deep penetration of the truths of faith, especially those which are most necessary to perfect their life together and the direction of their family.

3) Counsel provides the assistance to handle with divine ease and assurance the innumerable domestic difficulties which are inevitable, especially in large families. 

4) Piety is of special importance because of the necessity {and difficulty} of exercising parental authority. 

5) Fortitude fills the spouses with confidence in divine wisdom and power, so that they are enabled to do God’s will, knowing that he will provide where their sources fail.

6)Through fear of the Lord the married couple will appreciate their need for full co–operation with God’s grace, at the same time they realize their right to His all–powerful assistance.

III The actual graces of Christian marriage.

Habitual grace and the infused virtues and gifts make us ready to act supernaturally. But actual grace, the grace of the moment, moves us from the capability of supernatural action into actual performance. Though they remain free to reject it, the spouses know the matrimonial grace insures that God’s help will be forthcoming for any of the actions which their state of life requires. Knowing that God, their Father, is with them, they may say to Saint Paul : “If God is for us, who is against us ? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ ?“) (Romans 8:31)

C Conclusion

When the faithful give their sincere matrimonial consent, they open up themselves a treasury of sacramental grace from which until death they may draw the supernatural strength to fulfill their duties and offices with fidelity, with holiness, with perseverance.

This sacrament not only increases the permanent principle of supernatural life, sanctifying grace, in those who place no obstacle, but it also gives them special addition gifts; good inspirations, seeds of grace, together with the augmenting and perfects of natural faculties. Thus spouses many appreciate interiorly {and not know in an abstract manner} all that pertains to the state of matrimony, its goals and its duties with firm conviction and efficacious will they may thus proceed to fulfill these goals and duties. Finally, this sacrament gives them the right to ask and receive the help of actual grace as often as the fulfillment of the duties of their state demands it. (16)

Thus will they find the blessings of marriage to be daily increased by an abundance divine grace; and living in the pursuit of piety, they will not only spend this life in peace and tranquility, but will also rest in the true and strong hope of reaching and possessing, through the goodness of God, that life which is eternal. (17)

For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall be one flesh.This is a great mystery I mean in reference to Christ and to the Church. (Ephesus 5:31)

(16) Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Casti Conubii, Dec. 31, 1930 Denzinger 2237                             (

17) Catechism of the Council of Trent, Book II, Chapter 8.

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Christ the Lord, the Institutor and Perfecter of the sacraments, by raising the matrimony of the faithful to the dignity of a true sacrament of the New Law, made it a sign and source of that peculiar internal grace by which it perfects natural love, it confirms an indissoluble union, and sanctifies both man and wife.

And since the valid matrimonial consent among the faithful was instituted by Christ as a sign of grace, the sacramental nature is so intimately bound up with Christian wedlock that there can be no true marriage between baptized persons without being by that fact a sacrament.

Nevertheless, since it is a law of divine providence in the supernatural order that men do not reap the full fruit of the sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless the parties exercise these supernatural powers and cultivate and develop seeds of grace they have received. If, however, doing all that lies within their power, they are docile to grace, they will be able to bear the burdens of their state and fulfill their duties. By such a sacrament they will be strengthened, sanctified and in a manner consecrated, For as Saint Augustine teaches, just as by baptism and holy orders a man is set aside and assisted, either for the duties of Christian life or for the priestly office and is never deprived of the sacramental aid, almost in the same way {although not by a sacramental character}, the faithful once joined by marriage ties can never be deprived of the help and the binding force of the sacrament. Indeed, as the holy Doctor adds, even those who commit adultery carry with them that sacred yoke, although in this case not as a title to the glory of grace, but for the ignominy (20) of their guilty action, as the soul by apostasy, withdrawing as it were from marriage with Christ, even though it man have lost its faith, does not loose the sacrament of faith which it received at the laver (21) of regeneration.

(18) Encyclical of Pope Pius XI Casti Connubii December 31, 1930; Dezinger 2237

“These parties, let it be noted, not fettered but adorned by the golden bond of the sacrament, not hampered but assisted, should strive with all their might to the end that their wedlock, not only through the power and symbolism of the sacrament, but also through their spirit and manner of life, may be and remain always the living image of that most faithful union of Christ with the Church, which is to be venerated as the sacred token of most perfect love.

“All these things, venerable brethren, if considered attentively and with a lively faith, it the extraordinary benefits of matrimony–offspring, conjugal faith and the sacrament–are viewed in their true light, no one can fail to admire the divine wisdom, holiness and goodness which, while respecting the dignity and happiness of husband and wife, had provided so bountifully for the conservation and propagation of the human race by a single, chaste and sacred fellowship of nuptial union.” (18)

A few conclusions can be added to this summary of the doctrine on Christian marriage.

I Many of America’s divorce problems can be traced back to a false notion of obedience. The subjection that a wife owes to her husband does not consist in a kind a martial slavery. She does not lose her liberty as a human person: rather she finds a new liberty a consummate dignity, founded upon her role as wife, mother and companion to her husband. However, the so-called social equality of the modern man and woman has had tragic repercussions in family life. Woman, in an attempt to free herself from the duties of marriage, has enslaved herself by the chains of immodesty, negligence and personal sorrow. If woman would recognize the importance of true obedience, obedience to the will of the divine plan, she would find peace of conscience in a confused world.

II ” The Lord cast a deep sleep on Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. And Adam said: “This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because was taken out of man.” Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in flesh.”(19)

III The exemplar for every Christian marriage is the marriage of Mary, the Mother of God, and Joseph the carpenter. Their marriage, truly made in heaven, was characterized by the virtues of charity, humility and patience. What more is necessary for perfect companionship ?

(19) Genesis 2:21-24



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