St. Joachim and St. Ann, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and patron saints of
Marriage: Its Nature and Qualities
The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son.--MATT. xxii. 2.
In this parable our Lord refers to a custom, as old as the world, of celebrating joyous events with music, dancing, singing, and especially with banquets to which friends and relatives were invited. Pre-eminent among these happy occasions, which have always been the object of elaborate festivities, is marriage. And indeed it is fitting that this event should be celebrated with great joy, for among all earthly bonds there is none more sacred, none more necessary to the temporal welfare of mankind- Marriage is the one means founded by God Himself of establishing the human family and of perpetuating human society. It is therefore of highest importance that we should briefly reflect upon the nature and qualities of this great contract.
I. The nature of marriage, i. Marriage is called by various names: (a) matrimony, which means matris munus, or the duty of a mother, since a woman should marry for the purpose of having and training children; (b) conjugal union (from con and jugum) which means that the wife bears the same yoke as her husband; (c) nuptials, from the Latin, signifying veiled, because it is customary for a bride to wear a veil as a sign of modesty and of obedience to her husband. 2. Matrimony is the conjugal union of man and woman contracted between two properly qualified persons, obliging them to live together all the days of their lives. The word union indicates that which is essential to marriage, namely, the obligation and bond; the word conjugal denotes that matrimony is different from all other contracts by which persons bind themselves; the term qualified persons means that the parties must not be incapable according to law of contracting marriage; the words obliging them, etc., signify that the tie of marriage is indissoluble. 3. The internal consent by which the bond of marriage is effected between two persons must have the following qualities: (a) It must be mutual; (b) it must be expressed externally by words or signs; (c) it must refer to the present, and not to future time. 4. Marriage can be considered either as a natural union, or as a Sacrament. Under the Old Law marriage, although holy and sacred, was not more than a natural contract; but in the New Dispensation it has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament, i.e., a sensible sign capable of producing grace and holiness. Among Christians, therefore, every valid contract of marriage is a Sacrament.
II. Matrimony as a natural contract, i. Matrimony was instituted by God Himself, as our Lord testified (Matt. xix. 3 ff.).
2. It was God also that made marriage indissoluble, as our Saviour also declared (1. c.), and as the Council of Trent teaches (Sess. xxiv.). 3. The primary end of matrimony is the propagation of the human race, but the obligation of marrying does not rest on each and every individual. The words "increase and multiply" (Gen. i. 27, 28) were addressed to the human race in general, and not to individuals. 4. Virginity and celibacy are a better and more perfect state than marriage, if they be embraced, not for the sake of living a free and dissolute life, but in order to please God and arrive at higher perfection, and devote one's self more entirely to God's service. Hence St. Paul concludes that he that marries does well, and he that does not, does better (i Cor. vii. 2).
III. The ends of marriage, 1. The principal end of marriage is to beget and rear children in the service of God. 2. Secondary reasons for marriage are: (a) a remedy against incontinence which is the cause of damnation to many (i Cor. vli. 9); (b) agreeable and pleasant companionship and mutual helpfulness in bearing the burdens of life; (c) beauty, wealth, etc.
EXHORTATION, 1. Young people who do not intend to enter the religious or ecclesiastical state do well to marry, if they are fitted for matrimony and not otherwise impeded. 2. In choosing a companion for marriage young persons should seek the advice of their parents and their confessor. The qualities chiefly to be desired are, that the person be a practical Catholic, or that he or she have good health and a congenial disposition, and that there be reasonable prospect of decent support and care of the home.
3. Married persons should keep in mind the principal end of their state, and should scrupulously avoid everything unlawful that is opposed to it.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part IIAs it is the duty of the pastor to seek the holiness and perfection of the faithful, his earnest desires must be in full accordance with those expressed by the Apostle when writing to the Corinthians: "I would that all men were even as myself,"(1) that is, that all should embrace the virtue of continence. No greater happiness can befall the faithful in this life than to have their souls distracted by no worldly cares, the turbulence of passion tranquilized, the unruly desires of the flesh extinguished, and the mind fixed on the practice of piety and the contemplation of heavenly things.
THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY
A LIFE OF CONTINENCE IS TO BE DESIRED BY ALL
THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE
But as, according to the same Apostle, "every one hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that"; (2) and as marriage is gifted with many divine blessings, so much so as to hold a place among the Sacraments of the Church; and as its celebration was honored by the presence of our Lord Himself, (3) it becomes the obvious duty of the pastor to expound this subject, particularly -since we find that St. Paul and the prince of the Apostles have in many places minutely described to us not only the dignity but also the duties of the married state. Filled with the Spirit of God these Apostles well understood the numerous and important advantages which must flow to Christian society from a knowledge of the sanctity, and an inviolable observance of the obligations of marriage; while they saw that from an ignorance of the former, and a disregard of the latter, marriage must prove the fertile source of the greatest evils and the heaviest calamities to the Church of God.
NATURE AND MEANING OF MARRIAGE TO BE FIRST EXPLAINED
The nature and meaning of marriage are, therefore, to be first explained. Vice not unfrequently assumes the semblance of virtue, and hence care must be taken that the faithful be not deceived by a false appearance of marriage, and thus stain their souls with the turpitude and defilement of wicked lusts. To give them competent and correct information on this important subject, we shall begin with the meaning of the word itself.
VARIOUS NAMES OF MATRIMONY
The word matrimony is derived from the fact that the principal object which a female should propose to herself in marriage is to become a mother; or from the fact that to a mother it belongs to conceive, bring forth, and train up her offspring. Marriage is also called wedlock (conjugium) from the conjugal union of man and wife, because a lawful wife is united to her husband, as it were, by a common yoke. It is called nuptials because, as St. Ambrose observes, the bride veiled her face through modesty--a custom which would also seem to imply that she was to be subject to her husband. (4)
DEFINITION OF MATRIMONY
Matrimony, according to the general opinion of theologians, is defined: "The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life."
In order that the different parts of this definition may be better understood, the pastor will teach that, although a perfect marriage has many conditions, namely, internal consent, external compact expressed by words, the obligation and tie which arise from the contract, and the marriage debt by which it is consummated; yet the obligation and tie expressed by the word "union," alone have the force and nature of marriage.
The special character of this union is marked by the word "con- jugal." This word is added because other contracts, by which men and women bind themselves to help each other in consideration of money received or other reason differ essentially from matrimony.
Next follow the words "between qualified persons," for persons excluded by law cannot contract marriage, and if they do their marriage is invalid. Persons, for instance, within the fourth degree of kindred, a boy before his fourteenth year, and a female before her twelfth; the ages established by law, (5) cannot contract marriage.
The words, "which obliges them to live together throughout life," express the indissolubility of the tie, which binds husband and wife.
IN WHAT MARRIAGE CONSISTS
Hence it is evident that marriage consists in the tie spoken of above. Some eminent theologians, it is true, say that it consists in the consent, as when they define it: "The consent of the man and woman." But we are to understand them to mean that the consent is the efficient cause of marriage, which is the doctrine of the Fathers of the Council of Florence; because, without the consent and contract, the obligation and tie cannot possibly exist.
THE KIND OF CONSENT REQUIRED IN MATRIMONY
It is most necessary that the consent be expressed in words denoting present time. Again marriage is not a mere donation, but a mutual contract; and therefore the consent of one of the parties is insufficient, while the mutual consent of both is essential. To declare this consent words are obviously the medium to be employed.
If the internal consent alone, without any external indication, were sufficient, it would then seem to follow as a necessary consequence, that were two persons, living in the most separate and distant countries, to consent to marry, they would contract a true and indissoluble marriage, even before they had mutually signified to each other their consent by letter or messenger--a consequence as repugnant to reason as it is opposed to the decrees and established usage of the Church.
Rightly was it said that the consent of the parties to the marriage contract must be expressed in words which have reference to the present time; for words which signify a future time, promise, but do not actually unite in marriage. Besides, it is evident that what is to be done has no present existence, and what has no present existence can have little or no firmness or stability. Hence a man who has only promised to marry a certain woman acquires by the promise no marriage rights, since his promise has not yet been fulfilled. Such promises are, it is true, obligatory; and their violation involves the offending party in a breach of faith. But he who has once entered into the matrimonial alliance, regret it as he afterwards may, cannot possibly change, or invalidate, or undo the compact. As then the marriage contract is not a mere promise, but a transfer of right, by which the man yields the dominion of his body to the woman, the woman the dominion of her body to the man, it must therefore be made in words which designate the present time, the force of which words abides with undiminished efficacy from the moment of their utterance, and binds the husband and wife by a tie which can never be dissolved, but by death of one of the parties.
Instead of words, however, it may be sufficient for the validity of the marriage contract to substitute a nod or other unequivocal sign of tacit consent. Even silence, when the result of female modesty, may be sufficient, provided the parents answer for their daughter. Hence the pastor will teach the faithful that the nature and force of marriage consists in the tie and obligation; and that, without consummation, the consent of the parties, expressed in the manner already explained, is sufficient to constitute a true marriage. It is certain that our first parents before their fall, when, according to the holy Fathers, no consummation took place, were really united in marriage. (6) Hence the Fathers say that marriage consists not in its use, but in the consent of the contracting parties--a doctrine repeated by St. Ambrose in his book on virginity.(7)
MARRIAGE IS TWO-FOLD, NATURAL AND SACRAMENTAL
Having explained these matters, the pastor will proceed to teach that matrimony is to be considered from two points of view, either as a natural union (it was not invented by man but instituted by nature), or as a Sacrament, the efficacy of which transcends the order of nature. And as grace perfects nature, and as "that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual," the order of our matter requires that we first treat of Matrimony as a natural contract imposing natural duties, and next consider it as a Sacrament.
MARRIAGE AS A NATURAL CONTRACT WAS INSTITUTED BY GOD
The faithful, therefore, are to be taught in the first place that marriage was instituted by God. We read in Genesis, that "God created them male and female, and blessed them, saying: "Increase and multiply';" and also: "It is not good for a man to be alone: let us make a him a help like unto himself. Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon 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 is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she 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 one fiesh.'"(9) These words, according to the authority of our Lord Himself, as we read in St. Matthew, prove the divine institution of Matrimony.(10)
MARRIAGE IS INDISSOLUBLE
Not only did God institute marriage; He also, as the Council of Trent declares, rendered it perpetual and indissoluble.(11) "What God hath joined together," says our Lord, "let not man separate."(12)
Although it belongs to marriage as a natural contract to be indissoluble, yet its indissolubility arises principally from its nature as a Sacrament, as it is the sacramental character that, in all its natural relations, elevates marriage to the highest perfection. In any event, dissolubility is at once opposed to the proper education of children, and to the other important ends of marriage.
MARRIAGE NOT OBLIGATORY ON ALL
The words "increase and multiply," which were uttered by Almighty God, do not impose on every individual an obligation to marry, but only declare the object of the institution of marriage. Now that the human race is widely diffused, not only is there no law rendering marriage obligatory, but, on the contrary, virginity is highly exalted and strongly recommended in Scripture as superior to marriage, and as a state of greater perfection and holiness. On this subject the doctrine taught by our Lord Himself is contained in these words: "He that can take it, let him take it"; (13) and the Apostle says: "Concerning virgins I have no commandment from the Lord; but I give counsel as having obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful." (14)
THE MOTIVES AND ENDS OF MARRIAGE
We have now to explain why man and woman should be joined in marriage. The first reason is that nature instinctively tends to such a union; and under the vicissitudes of life and the infirmities of old age, this union is a source of mutual assistance and support.
A second reason for marriage is the desire of family, not so much, however, with a view to leave after us heirs to inherit our property and fortune, as to bring up children in the true faith and in the service of God. That such was the principal object of the holy Patriarchs when they married, we learn from Scripture. Hence the angel, when informing Tobias of the means of repelling the violent assaults of the evil demon, says: "I will show thee who they are over whom the devil can prevail; for they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power." He then adds: "Thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayest obtain a blessing in children." "This was also among the reasons why God instituted marriage from the beginning; and therefore married persons who, to prevent conception or procure abortion, have recourse to medicine, are guilty of a most heinous crime--nothing less than premeditated murder.
The third reason is one which is to be numbered amongst the consequences of the fall of our first parents. On account of the loss of original innocence, human passion began to rise in rebellion against right reason; and man, conscious of his own frailty, and unwilling to fight the battles of the flesh, is supplied by marriage with an antidote against the licentiousness of corrupt desire. "For fear of fornication," says the Apostle, "let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband"; and a little after, having recommended to married persons a tem- porary abstinence from the marriage debt, "to give themselves to prayer," he adds; "Return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency." (16)
These are ends, some one of which, those who desire to contract marriage piously and religiously, as becomes the children of the saints, should propose to themselves. If to these we add other causes which induce to contract marriage, and in choosing a wife, to prefer one person to another, such as the desire of leaving an heir, wealth, beauty, illustrious descent, congeniality of disposition-- such motives, because not inconsistent with the holiness of marriage, are not to be condemned. We do not find that the Sacred Scriptures condemn the Patriarch Jacob for having chosen Rachel for her beauty, in preference to Lia. (17)
Sermon: The Sacrament of MarriageOne of the most remarkable phenomena of the social life of the new century is the movement among womankind for a readjustment of the relations between man and woman. The movement affects all spheres of life. It makes most noise in the sphere of politics. But as the affairs of the State have their root in the affairs of the family, it is to the family that we must look for the cause of the disturbance. There would seem to be something wrong with many of the current ideas concerning the relationship between husband and wife. The fact indeed is that in many quarters the Catholic ideal of the great Sacrament of Matrimony has become obscured. The protective love of the husband toward the wife has been changed into a tyrannical overlordship. The loving acquiescence in that protection on the part of the wife has been construed into a servile obedience. The outrage on both nature and grace has rendered the mutual life irksome beyond endurance, and consequently ideas have become prevalent which tell both against the sanctity of the marriage state and against the indissolubility of its bond. Let us see then what the Church has to say about this wondrous mystery.
BY THE REV. THOMAS J. GERRARD
FALSE IDEAS CONCERNING MARRIAGE
MARRIAGE FOUNDED IN THE LAW OF NATURE
The very institution of marriage has its reason in the weakness and insufficiency of man. God, although supremely happy in the company of His own blessed Trinity, had willed to exercise His love outside Himself. He had willed to produce a created world in which there should be one class of creatures bearing His own likeness. After separating the night from the day, and the land from the water, after making the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air and the cattle of the earth. He made man to rule over the earth. He made man a reasonable being, capable of giving a reasonable service. But even with all the delights of that paradise of pleasure, with all his unimpaired intelligence and power of ordaining things for God's glory, man by himself was not enough for God's purpose. There were parts in God's great design which man by himself could not accomplish. He was wanting in both physical, mental and moral complements. So God said: "It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself." So God cast Adam into a deep sleep, took a rib from his side from which He built a woman. And when God brought the woman to the man, then did Adam say: "This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman because she 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 one flesh." Having been thus made for each other and united to each other, they then received the message of God, as to the end for which all these things had been arranged. "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it."
THE ENDS OF THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
The formation of Adam and Eve and their union in the matrimonial bond had, however, a very much wider significance than the mere multiplication of human beings and the replenishment of the earth. God, when He created them, had also in His mind His own Incarnation and His Church. The institution of Matrimony was to be a kind of prophecy of His Incarnation and a figure of His Church. As Adam was made weak so that Eve might be given to him to be his strength, so the Son of God became weak, emptying Himself of Himself so that He might take upon Himself the form of a servant and, clothed in flesh, might accomplish the strong victory over sin and death. As Eve was taken from the side of Adam as he slept, and became the mother of all living, so was the Church taken from the side of Christ as He slept upon the Cross, and became for Him His chosen spouse, the Mother of all those to whom He had come to give life. The state of marriage, therefore, as reflected in the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Church is seen to have the high function not only of procreating human beings to replenish the earth, but also of training them in the higher life of grace and thus preparing them for the still higher life of glory. Christ came into the world solely to save sinners. The end of the Church is merely the salvation of souls. If, therefore, matrimony is a figure of the Incarnation and the Church, then its chief end is the population of heaven with immortal souls.
THE PROPERTIES OF MARRIAGE
Seeing, then, that the chief end of Matrimony is so high and noble, the means ordained for the accomplishment of that end must be proportionately high and noble. And so we find that nature has provided such means. These may be summed up in the two properties of marriage, its unity and its indissolubility. And if we would probe further into the mystery and find the common source of these properties of marriage we discern in it that all-attractive beauty of the state, conjugal love. The mere procreation of children could not possibly be the end of matrimony; for this could be done without the bond, without the unity, without the perpetuity, without the love. Manifestly then, the chief reason for the institution of matrimony was the welfare of the offspring, not merely the existence of the offspring, but its growth and development, the promotion of all its interests. Therefore, it was that God so made man and woman that they should love each other, that they should foster that love and concentrate it on each other by excluding all other love of the same kind, that they should make it so strong and lasting that only death should be able to bring about a breach of the union.
All this points to the fact that the marriage bond is a law of nature. It is a mutual agreement by which a man and a woman give themselves to each other until death, and this chiefly for the sake of the highest interest of the children which shall be born to them.
MARRIAGE RAISED TO THE DIGNITY OF A SACRAMENT
Its natural perfection, however, in course of time became corrupted. Impurity then, even as now, led to hardness of heart. Consequently Moses allowed divorce. The Pharisees, knowing this, brought it as an objection to our Lord's teaching. Our Lord, however, was able to quote an earlier and more fundamental law. "Have ye not read that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female ? And He said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh," Moses had taken into consideration the hardness of their hearts and for the sake of preventing greater evils had permitted them to put away their wives. "But," our Lord reminded them "from the beginning it was not so." In this, as in many other matters. God had a greater design in view. He desired to provide a remedy for all this irregular life by raising the natural state of marriage to a supernatural plane. Forbidding divorce and insisting on the essential unity and indissolubility of the marriage tie, Christ raised it to the dignity of a Sacrament. Thus it became a more perfect figure of the Incarnation and the Church. Through the union of the Godhead and the Manhood, Christ in His human nature was filled with all grace and knowledge compatible with His created nature. Through the union of Christ with the Church, the Church is sanctified as His one perfect and unspotted bride. So likewise through the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony, there is conferred on them all the graces needful to enable them to carry out the arduous duties of that state. "Husbands," says St. Paul, "love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. ... So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. This is a great Sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church."
When St. Paul speaks of marriage being a great Sacrament he does not use the word in the strict sense in which we use it now. He means merely that it is a great sign of something sacred, a mystical symbol of the union between Christ and His Church. Nevertheless on account of the similarity of the marriage bond to the bond between Christ and His Church, we are able to gather that marriage is a Sacrament in the strictest sense of the word. The union between Christ and His Church consists of sanctifying grace. It consists further of a continual flow of all those graces which are needful for attaining the Church's end, namely the salvation of all the souls for whom the Church was instituted. If, therefore, the marriage bond is like the bond between Christ and His Church, it must be the means by which graces sanctifying the marriage state are conferred. A Sacrament of the new law is a sacred sign instituted by Christ to signify and to confer grace. If, therefore, the marriage bond signifies and confers the graces needful for the marriage state, and if instituted by Christ, then it is one of the seven Sacraments of the new law. So it was then that Christ placed His divine seal on the natural contract and with His own lips proclaimed it henceforth to be a bond forged in heaven. "What, therefore. God hath joined together let no man put asunder."
From the fact that Christ raised the natural contract into a Sacrament, it follows that the parties to the contract are the ministers of the Sacrament. It is the man and woman who hand themselves over to each other making a mutual contract to live together till death. It is the man and woman, therefore, who confer on each other the Sacrament enabling them to fulfil the higher duties which are involved in the Christian married state. The priest is not the minister of the Sacrament, but only the witness of it. Pope Leo XIII emphasized this when he insisted that the contract and the sacrament were not two separate things. "The distinction, or rather separation," he said, "cannot be approved of; since it is clear that in Christian matrimony the contract is not separable from the Sacrament, and consequently that a true and lawful contract cannot exist without being by that very fact a Sacrament. For Christ our Lord endowed Matrimony with the sacramental dignity; but Matrimony is the contract itself, provided that the contract is rightly made. . . . Therefore, it is plain that every true marriage among Christians is in itself and by itself a Sacrament; and that nothing is further from the truth than that the Sacrament is a sort of added ornament or quality introduced from without, which may be detached from the contract at the discretion of man." (18) If, therefore, the Sacrament is the mutual contract, it is the woman, who, as God's minister, confers on the man those sole beauties which make him a figure of Christ, the bridegroom of the Church; and so likewise is it the man, who, as God's minister, confers on the woman those soul beauties, which make her a figure of the Church, the bride of Christ. Husband and wife are thus seen to be the complement of each other in their supernatural, as well as in their natural, relationships.
It is well to keep this supernatural aspect of the case prominently before our minds when we consider the duties and obligations of the state. The end for which marriage was instituted was a most difficult end to attain. Indeed it were an impossible task without the special divine helps provided. Remembering these helps, however, the married couple may face their difficulties with a good heart. The sacramental effect of Matrimony does not spend itself out within a week or two of the nuptial ceremony. The grace conferred on the wedding morning remains with them when they leave the church, remains with them in their home life, fortifies them in their discouragements and steels their wills to the emergencies of every difficult situation. The Church then, having made this clear to them, sets aside all false modesty and tells them in grave and plain language what their duties are. The first duty is the bringing of children into the world and the educating of them in the service of God; the second duty is mutual love and service in the companionship of domestic life. In the nuptial Mass the priest solemnly prays over them that they may be fruitful in their offspring and that they may see their children's children unto the third and fourth generation. And, finally, in his exhortation he warns them to be faithful to each other, and to remain chaste at special times of prayer, during the fasts and solemn seasons of the Church. Now all this involves much trouble and anxiety both on the part of the husband and of the wife. With the former lies the paramount obligation of working for the sustenance of the household; with the latter lies all the cares of child-bearing; with both lies that anxiety for the temporal and spiritual well-being of each other and of the children. "But if thou take a wife," says St. Paul, "thou hast not sinned. But if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned; nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh." Those who enter this state, therefore, should do so with their eyes wide open to the fact that it is a life fraught with difficulty and that both man and woman are supposed to be willing to bear grave inconveniences. When a man complains of his loss of liberty or the increased burden on his pocket; or when a woman complains of the troubles of children, there has evidently been some radical misunderstanding as to the end of the institution of marriage and of its burdens. What is needed on those occasions is the consideration that marriage is a Sacrament, a Sacrament which is a channel of divine strength to bear the burden, of divine light to see the way out of the difficulties, of divine refreshment for the constant renewal of conjugal life and love.
Sermon: MarriageThe first public appearance and the first miracle of the Son of God, our Saviour, occurred at a marriage-feast. God had instituted marriage at the origin of the human race as the exclusive and life-long domestic association of husband and wife for the reception and rearing of children; for the preservation and moral order of society, and for the ultimate eternal happiness of countless generations of mankind. Hence from the beginning marriage possessed a sacredness, a unity and a binding force unlike and superior to all other social ties; and the family was the indestructible basis and indivisible unit of human society.
BY THE REV. J. R. NEWELL, O.P.
DIGNITY OF MARRIAGE
THE INDISSOLUBILITY OF MARRIAGE
Owing to human perversity, marriage was, at the advent of Christ, universally desecrated by the prevalence of divorce; and the consequent moral condition of the age merited from the Saviour the appellation "An adulterous generation." The first social work, therefore, of Jesus, was the restoration of marriage to its original unity and indissolubility and its elevation to the holiness of a Sacrament of the New Christian Law, and He said: "What therefore God has joined together let no man put asunder" (Matt. xix. 6).
To the Jews who sought to justify divorce by the authority of Moses, Jesus explained: "Moses by reason of the hardness of your hearts"--to put a stop to wife murdering--"permitted you to put away your wives; but in the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery" (Mark x. 11-12).
On this law of the Son of God the Catholic Church stands today, as in the past, when she withstood the rage of the popular passions and the tyrannical power of the crowned heads and mailed fists of history. With St. Paul she says: "To them that are married, not I, but the Lord commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband; and, if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. . . . The woman that hath a husband is bound to the law while her husband liveth. Therefore while her husband liveth she shall be called an adultress if she be with another man. Let wives therefore be subject to their husbands as the Church is subject to Christ; and let husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and delivereth Himself up for it" (i Cor. vii. 10).
The Church in her Ritual emphasizes the divinely established indissolubility of marriage by insisting that the contracting parties mutually plight their intended life-long union in her presence by the formula: "I take thee,--to have and to hold; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in health or in sickness; until death do us part."
Marriage should not be entered into lightly or from low motives of sensuality, ambition or avarice; because it has its severe divine laws, its stern responsibilities and its formidable difficulties, which only the grace and blessings of God and a high-minded devotion to duty and honor can enable men to fulfil and sustain.
The general and unspiritual concept of marriage and the low motives from which it is entered upon; the immoral and criminal practices against its essential laws, with consequent mutual disrespect and the loss of domestic love; the reliance on the facility of divorce, which induces hasty and ill-sorted marriages and as hasty separations,--these are the unfortunate conditions which are making our country almost the completest divorce-ridden nation in the civilized world.
Some recent attempts have been made in several of the States to limit this social menace by a stricter and more uniform legislation; but in spite of civil statutes the source of the evil remains; and until society returns to the Christian ideal of marriage as a holy and indissoluble contract, sacramentally binding husband and wife to life-long domestic association under the sanction of God, it will be impossible to turn back the adulterous flood that is sapping the moral character and the physical energy of the nation.
And while there is some hope for the social and national future from the stand of the Catholic Church against divorce, and from the noble obedience and rational moderation of a great Catholic people in relation to the divine laws of marriage, yet too frequently are our Catholics found transgressing the laws of the Church relating to matrimony--notably as to the law of clandestinity,--they go off and "marry outside the Church." The commandments of the Church bind her subjects under mortal sin. The legislative authority given to the Church by her Divine Founder extends over her members in all matters pertaining to their moral relations with their fellowmen and to the use and ministration of the Sacraments. Catholics, therefore, who, in defiance of the Church's prohibition, attempt clandestine marriage, defy the authority of Christ in the Church; involve themselves in a life of sinful and disgraceful concubinage, and incur the severest ecclesiastical censure, which cuts them off from the Sacraments and prayers of the Church.
Let us beware of the moral pestilence in the principles and conduct of an apostate society amid which our lot is cast. The daily press frequently reeks with it. In articles which go unchallenged the foulest attacks are made upon the divine constitution and laws of marriage; the dishonorable disruption of families is applauded, and the adulterous alliances of husbands with their adulterous "affinities" are approved on the detestable plea of free love, which is the title by which is advocated a lawless animal lust, over which, it is shamelessly asserted, we have no control.
As we are rational beings, so are we moral beings; and it is our Christian duty to watch over and control the emotions of our hearts as well as the movements of our minds. We are responsible before God for the character and course of our affections as we are for the trend and scope of our judgments; and we can control and suppress our bad passions in regard to forbidden objects and immoral seductions by the faith and the grace of our divine religion and the prudent flight of the occasions of sin.
1. I Cor. vii. 7. 2. I Cor. vii. 7. 3. John ii. 2
4. On these names see Aug., lib. 19, contra. Faust, c. 26; Ambr., lib. I de Abraham, c. 9, at the end; also 30, q. 5, c, foemina; 33, q. 5, c. Mulier, lib, de Eccl. officils c. 19.
5. According to the New Code of Canon Law the impediment of consanguinity extends to the third degree of the collateral line (c. 1076), the ages required for valid marriage in the husband and wife are the sixteenth and fourteenth years completed respectively (c. 1067).
6. Gen. ii. 22, 7. De instil virgin, cap. 6.
8. I Cor. xv. 46.
9. Gen. i. 27, 28; Gen. ii. 18, 21, 22, 23, 24. 10. Matt. xix. 6.
11. Sess. 24, in the beginning. 12. Matt. xix. 6.
13. Matt. xix. 12. 14. I Cor. vii. 25.
15. Tob. vi. 16, 17, i8, 22. 16. I Cor. vii, 2. 17. Gen. xxix.
18. Leo XIII, Encyc. Arcanum.
Prayers for Catholic Husbands and Wives
A Wife's Prayer
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Thou didst institute marriage in the in the earthly Paradise and in the New Law Thou didst elevate it to the dignity of a sacrament, attaching to it many graces. Grant to my husband and me the grace to live holily in so sacred a state and, by the practice of Catholic virtues, to act always as is becoming a Catholic couple. As Thy minister joined our hands at the holy altar, so may we journey through life with one heart and soul, tasting its pleasures with moderation, enduring its sorrows with resignation and, at all times, mutually assisting and consoling each other. May Thy true and holy fear strengthen us to restrain the low desires of the flesh, and to serve Thee uprightly with pure heart and eyes and lips, in mutual esteem and forbearance!
Grant that the children born of our union may be pure of heart and well-disposed in mind, and that they may gladly walk in the way of Thy Commandments. Teach us to be faithful images of the Holy Family of Nazareth, of the blessed foster-father Joseph, of the most devout Mother Mary, the most blessed Mother of the Child Jesus, that we may be made worthy to live under their protection, to die in their favor, and to be forever blessed in their society. Amen.
Prayer of a Catholic Wife for Her HusbandO heavenly Father! Thou hast confided my children not to myself alone, but to my husband also. The true education of our children can only be accomplished, therefore, when we both are sincerely and earnestly intent upon fulfilling our duties toward them. Grant then, O Lord, also to my husband the grace to see and to understand the sanctity and importance of his vocation as a father; urge him on to be zealous in fulfilling it perfectly. Oh, that above all he might go before our children with the example of a truly Christian life! O God, give him, therefore, Thy grace, that he may earnestly war against his faults and conquer them. May he not forget Thee in the midst of the distractions of daily life, and perish in the many dangers that surround him! Inspire him with lively sentiments of faith, hope, and charity; give him zeal for prayer and divine service, and for all the exercises of a Catholic Christian. Make him a truly good father toward his children. Amen.
A Wife's Prayer on the Anniversary of Her MarriageO my God and my Lord, it was on this day that I knelt in Thy holy house at the nuptial altar, that I received the sacrament of matrimony and entered with Thy blessing the matrimonial state. Can I let this day pass without giving thanks to Thee and without some special exercise of piety? No, O Lord! I thank Thee, therefore, from my heart, for having introduced me by a holy sacrament into the state of matrimony, for having sanctified my matrimonial union, for having opened to me the treasures of Thy graces, that I might be enabled to live up to the duties of my vocation, to persevere in inviolable fidelity, in love, and in dutiful submission to my husband, and in the chastity conformable to my state of life, and to educate the children whom Thou hast confided to me in Thy fear and discipline, and thus work out my eternal salvation. I give Thee thanks for all the graces which I have received in virtue of this sacrament. I thank Thee for the protection, the assistance, and for whatever good Thou hast bestowed upon me and upon my family. Be Thou for all these eternally praised and blessed!
But have I faithfully cooperated with Thy grace in fulfilling the duties of my vocation? Have I led the life of a truly Catholic wife? Alas! too much have I to reproach myself with. [Here reflect a little while.] O my God, I am sorry from my heart for having offended Thee. Pardon me for the sake of Thy infinite mercy and for that of Jesus, Thy beloved Son! My resolution is firmly taken. I will endeavor to fulfil henceforward all the duties of a Catholic wife and mother faithfully and conscientiously. How could I otherwise hope to enjoy Thy grace and to work out my salvation? But what will all my good resolutions avail me if Thou dost not give Thy help to fulfil them? Renew then, O Lord, on this day the blessing of this holy sacrament; may its graces flow upon me in abundance every day. Animated and strengthened by them I will try in the future to lead a life in harmony with my vocation.
I recommend to Thee also my husband. Grant that we who are by virtue of this sacrament so intimately united may live always in heartfelt love and in true fear of God, in order that our matrimonial state may, as it should be, a symbol of that intimate union existing between Christ and His holy Church and lead us to life eternal.
I commend unto Thee also, O Lord, the children whom Thou hast confided to our care. Bless them, protect them, enrich them with Thy graces, that they may grow up pleasing to Thee. Assist me to educate them wholly for Thee. Holy Virgin and Mother of God, holy Joseph and all ye who have led a holy life in the state of matrimony, all ye holy parents, pray for me. Amen.
Prayer of a Catholic Father for His WifeO God, who, next to me hast entrusted my children to my wife, hear my prayer for her. How great is the influence which she as mother has over the children; grant that she may be a faithful and true Catholic mother to our children. Give her the spirit of piety and the fear of the Lord; fill her heart more and more with love for Thee and for her children, that she may bring them up for Thee, and by word and example lead them to a truly Catholic life, and to eternal happiness. Assist her that she may not sink under the sacrifices and difficulties of her maternal vocation; visit her with the consolations of Thy grace. Bless her labors in behalf of her children, that they may grow up pleasing in Thy sight and be our joy and consolation. Thou art a liberal rewarder; reward then my wife with grace and eternal life for what she does for our children, who are also Thine, Amen.
A Husbands' Prayer on the Anniversary of His MarriageO my God and Lord, it was on this day that in Thy holy house, kneeling at the foot of the altar, I received the holy sacrament of matrimony and entered with its blessing into the marriage state. Can I let it pass without thanksgiving and gratitude to Thee? No, O Lord, from my whole heart I thank Thee for having lead me through Thy sacrament into the married state, sanctified my matrimonial union, and opened the treasures of Thy grace to me, that I might be enabled to correspond with the requirements of my state of life, and to persevere in fidelity and love towards my wife, in conjugal purity , and to bring up my children in Thy fear, and thus to work out my salvation. I thank Thee for every grace which in virtue of this sacrament I have since received; I thank Thee for Thy protection and assistance, and for all good which Thou hast granted me and mine. Praise be to Thee for all eternity!
But have I, in cooperation with Thy grace, fulfilled the obligations of my state? Have I lived as a truly Catholic father and husband? Alas, I have much to accuse myself of. O my God, I am most heartily sorry. Have pity on me! Forgive me in Thy infinite mercy and for the sake of Thy Son, Jesus! I am firmly resolved: I will in the future strive with renewed fervor to fulfill faithfully and conscientiously every duty as a Catholic and a father. How can I otherwise hope to be in Thy grace and gain salvation? But, O Lord, of what avail are all my resolutions, if Thou dost not give the grace to keep them? Renew then, O Lord, on this day the blessing of this sacrament, and grant that its grace may day by day abundantly flow into my heart; animated and strengthened by it, I will be mindful and able to perform the duties of my vocation.
For my wife also I beseech thy favor and grace. Grant that we, so intimately united by Thy sacrament, may always be in the love and fear of God, that our married life be, as it should, an image of the intimate union of Christ with His holy Church, and lead us to eternal life.
Remember also, O Lord, the children Thous hast given us. Bless them, protect them, grant them grace that they may live according to Thy will. Assist me that I may bring them up entirely for Thee.
Holy Virgin and Mother Mary, St. Joseph and all the saints who have lived in the married state Pray for me. Pray for us. Amen.
Other related links to the Sacrament of Matrimony
Music: Largo Sanata for Flute , Cello and Harpsichord by Antonio Lotti