What God has joined, men must not divide: Reflections on Marriage

On Monday I had the joy of celebrating the Rite of Marriage within Mass for two great friends. During the homily I tried to how the love and forgiveness found on the Cross of Christ are essential to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Balzarini!

The Gospel at today’s Mass speaks of the permanence of marriage…

Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?

So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”
He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Today’s Gospel, Matthew 19:3-12, shows how important marriage is to Our Blessed Lord. Responding to the questions of some Pharisees, Our Lord quotes Genesis 1:27 (that God made male and female) and Genesis 2:24 (“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”). Next, Our Lord interprets the meaning of these verses for the Pharisees (and us): “what God had joined together, man must not separate” (verse 6). These same words are used in the Rite of Marriage after the groom and bride exchange their consent. Using today’s Gospel as a jumping off point, I would like to briefly reflect on marriage with a few things from my Canon Law courses in the Seminary and the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

Wedding Feast at Cana, Giotto

Marriage in general: As Our Lord alluded to in today’s Gospel, marriage is an institution which has existed between men and woman since the time of creation. Canon 1055 §1 of the Code of Canon Law offers the foundational definition of marriage:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.

Included in the above definition are 5 elements which must be present in any authentic marriage, Catholic or otherwise.

  1. Covenant: Covenants are a special type of contract which convey a sense of a sacred reality. Following from this juridical language are certain rights and obligations which bind the parties who enter into the contract. For the covenant of marriage, however, we should focus on the personal aspect, which highlights the role of the self-gift in marriage.
  2. Man and Woman: Every Sacrament has form and matter. In Baptism, the matter is the washing in water of an unbaptized person, while the form is the words spoken by the minister, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In marriage, the matter is man and woman who are both free to marry. Being free to marry means being unmarried and free from other impediments to marriage. The form is the exchange of consent.
  3. Establish a partnership: The spouses are joined together in a sort of consortium that entails a special type of collaboration found only in marriage.
  4. Whole of Life: This special relationship includes exclusivity and permanence. This moral union is also referred to as the marriage bond. Our Blessed Lord, in unequivocal terms, stated the indissolubility of valid marriages.
  5. Ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring: Catechetically, the goal of the marital embrace is often referred to as being unitive and procreative. I think this is a vital plank of the Church’s interest in forming strong families. People may not like to hear this, but the use of artificial contraception within marriage attacks the sanctity of the family because it undermines the self-gift between the spouses. Families are the best place to learn, live, and love the faith.

Marriage is a natural institution that has always existed, so there is an inherent value to it. Christ raised this institution to the dignity of a Sacrament when it takes place between two baptized persons. The sacramental character of marriage raises it to supernatural significance. Sacramental marriages are salvific because they are modeled after the love which Christ has for His Church. Catholics are bound to the Catholic form of marriage (Catholic nuptial Mass or service) unless they are dispensed from Catholic form for a legitimate reason.

Marriages celebrated according to the proper form with the full of consent of the will of both of the spouses cannot be dissolved. The key to marriage is consent. The consent of marriage can be summed up in the words: “I chose you.”

Marriage Preparation: Marriage is a lifelong commitment, so the Church rightly mandates some sort of preparation for those to be wed. Preparation for receiving the Sacrament is more important than worrying about the details of the ceremony, reception, or honeymoon. I highly recommend that couples preparing for marriage choose a good marriage prep program, even if it is less convenient or takes a bit more effort than others. The freshest, most doctrinal sound, most up-to-date course of which I am aware is Transformed in Love. Transformed in Love is offered throughout the Archdiocese of Boston.

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