Marriage as human reality is also a saving mystery

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Marriage as Human Reality is also a Saving Mystery (sacrament), which can be Comprehended by the Christian Community through the Liturgical Rites of Celebrating Marriage.[1]

It has been quoted that “[t]he Lord God said ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”[2] Consistent with this, Jerome as long ago as the fourth century said “[i]t is hard for the human soul to avoid loving something.””[3]

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The quotation in the title of this essay comes from “Marriage Sacrament an Effective Sign of God’s Saving Power,” a discourse by Pope John Paul II given in a general audience during December 1992. In other places, marriage is also described as a vocation. The use of such a word emphasizes the sense of permanence involved.  Getting married then is not merely a matter of consent, but a real and lasting commitment. Many theologians would say that the sacrament of marriage consists not just of the ceremony of consent when a couple each say “I…take you…as my lawful wedded husband or wife,” but of every moment of their life as a married couple in relationship with each other and with God. This is not a recent idea. In 1930  Pope Pius XI in “Casti Connubi”[4] quoted a 16th century document as saying that marriage can be considered as happening at one point, the moment of commitment during the wedding ceremony, and also in its permanence throughout  married life. He describes what he refers to as “the dignity of chaste marriage”, but stresses the need for clear teaching about its meaning being given to those concerned and is clearly distressed by the changes in morality that he felt would undermine Christian marriage as an institution. Even earlier, in 1880, Pope Leo XIII, in Arcanum, spoke of the responsibility of Christians:

[h]e entrusted to His Church the continuance of His work; and, looking to future times, He commanded her to set in order whatever might have become deranged in human society, and to restore whatever might have fallen into ruin.[5]

In a general audience of October 1984 John Paul II said that prayer, penance and the Eucharist are the principal sources of spirituality for married couples.[6] He went on to say “[l]et Christian husbands and wives be mindful of their vocation to the Christian life, a vocation which, deriving from their Baptism, has been confirmed anew and made more explicit by the Sacrament of Matrimony.”  The pontiff was looking at marriage in the light of the gospels together with Paul’s words in his letters to the Romans, the Corinthians and to the church at Ephesus. Marriage is compared to the spousal love of Christ for the church and as such the pontiff described it as “an efficacious expression of the saving power of God.” The pope went on to say that it was a means of overcoming lust as described in Matthew 5: 27 onwards. He quotes Paul in I Corinthians 7:7 who speaks of the gift of marriage, which John Paul II says means a gift of grace. He uses the rather unusual word in this context of “ethos” being assigned i.e. a driving or controlling force given to those who marry. In verse 8 of the same chapter, Paul tells his readers that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. The Greek word used here suggests a disorder of the passions. This idea that marriage is a sacrament is derived from the mystery of redemption and was given to man as a means of grace and also as a determining factor or ethos in his life  and is a deciding factor in the inclusion of marriage as a sacrament in the church. The pope describes marriage as the meeting of “eros” with “ethos” and states that marriage is a means of salvation for each member of the family. The world thinks of love in a physical erotic sense only, but in Christian terms it is a sacrificial offering of one to the other, just as Christ sacrificed himself for the salvation of the world. John 3:16: “[f]or God so loved                                                                                                                                                                                                the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

It is also a shared sacrament as when two become one flesh, they are sharing in God’s act of creation. The late John Paul II spoke at length on the subject of marriage as a saving sacrament, stating plainly that marriage is a sacrament of redemption.[7] He also stresses that because it is a sacrament it is indissoluble and mentions such things as the couple’s awareness of the sanctity of life and how this affects their daily life together. Yet in the modern world it can be simply seen as a means of satisfying desires and being happy.

“Marriage is defined by the Code as a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life and which, by its very nature is ordered to the well being of the spouses and to the procreation and the upbringing of children. Further, the present law of the Church refrains, as the council fathers of Vatican II deliberately refrained, from hierarchically ordering the finalities of marriage”[8]

This present understanding of marriage, which has a more personalist approach does away with the classic definition given by Pope Pius V in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which is very inclusive and quite impersonal. It seemingly may appear, as something personal for the union exists between a man and a woman, two real persons for that matter. But the treatment is quite impersonal for “…marriage is not a mere promise, but a transfer of right, by which the man yields the dominion of his person to the woman, the woman the dominion of her person to the man.”[9] The efficacy of the promise seems to merely reify the being of both man and woman such that they are in a way considered to be sheer beings capable of procreation, of the remedying of concupiscence and nothing more.

This also reconciles two conflicting opinions regarding the ends of marriage. One of which is the Traditional View, which considers procreation and nurture of offspring as the primary goal of marriage. This view pushes into periphery the importance of the existence of the mutual love between the spouses. Although there were variations in the classical teachings – in Cardinal Pietro Gasparri’s Tractatus Canonicus de Matrimonio,  he tried to show that even if “the union of the souls and of goods is not an element of the object of marital consent at all, but rather a necessary condition for marital happiness”[10] or in the Casti Conubii of Pope Pius XI where he silently influenced a rethinking of the nature of marriage by bringing into play the element of amor specific to marriage which deserved primacy in marriage not juridically but in honor, “…is not an attachment founded on a mere carnal transitory desire, or limited to words of affection; it is a deep seated devotion of the heart, which since love shows itself in works, is manifested in action”[11] – procreation and nurture remained atop of mutual love and the unitive aspect of marriage. Second of which is the Christian Personalist View which considers the person-completing union of the man and woman as the first value in marriage. Hence, this view considers procreation as a contingent event in relation to the unification of the man and the woman.

But all of the above are insofar as the Catholic Tradition is concerned.

On the other hand, the Orthodox view is that marriage is an institution that has been established by God. They quote Hebrews 13: 4 which states “marriage should be honored by all.”  It is also described as a great mystery, as in Paul’s words in Ephesians 5.32 Their view seems to be that life is only lived completely or in its fullness when one is married.[12] The Orthodox Church, though they for the sake of convenience list seven sacraments, view many other encounters in life as being in some sense a form of sacrament e.g. when several Christians meet together in prayer or over a meal.

In Revelations 21:2 we read of the image of the church as the bride of Christ, “[i] saw the Holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  Link this with prayers such as those in the Sunday Missal[13] from the wedding mass where the priest asks God:

May the husband put his trust in her and recognise that she is his equal, may he always honour her and love her as Christ loves his bride the

Church. Father keep them always true to your commandments, keep

them faithful in marriage and let them be living examples of Christian life.

Together they make a very powerful statement about the sacrificial love of God.

The other sacraments are purely religious rites. Marriage is unique among the sacraments of the church in that the idea of marriage is accepted by all layers of society whatever their religious beliefs or even in the total absence of faith As with all sacraments this one should only be celebrated as a sign of faith.

Vatican II in “Gaudium et Spes”[14] (Joy and Hope) tells us that each one of us is called to live a holy life. Paul McLachlan[15] in writing about the sacrament of marriage reminds us that marriage need not be an obstacle to living a holy life.  Rosemary Gallagher and John Trenchard in “Your Faith” describe marriage as a “magnificent reflection of God’s love.”[16] They go on to describe marriage as a risk because of the commitment involved in a couple opening their lives to each other forever, for, because marriage is a sacrament it is indissoluble, but they link this with the love of God of which it is a reflection. The same article goes on to describe how, as they make love and so create a new family, they are partners with God his act of creation. The touch of a partner is described as being a reassuring act telling us that we are loved.  The writers claim that this can also reassure us of the love of God. The consecration of our love for another person means that human love becomes a sign to the world of the love of God for his world. In Romans 8: 4-5 and elsewhere Christians are exhorted to live chaste lives according to the Spirit. In this way the grace obtained by the sacrament enters every area of their lives together and also is present each and every day.

When Christ walked the earth as man, there was no need for sacraments, for he was there as a physical presence.  When he comes back in his glory there will be no need for ceremonies and rituals. But in the meantime, “we wait for it with patience.”[17]

The council of Trent in 1545 stated that: “[i]f any one shall say that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the Seven Sacraments of the Evangelical Law, instituted by Christ our Lord, but was invented in the church by men, and does not confer grace, let him be anathema.”[18]  The other six sacraments are of course baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist penance, orders and extreme unction. In the Catholic Encyclopaedia M.J.Ryan [19]describes a sacrament as “a special supernatural and ineffaceable mark, or seal, or distinction, impressed upon the soul“.[20]

Yet in the Catholic Encyclopedia article by Aug. Lehmkuhl there is included the claim by Luther that marriage was not so regarded until the time of Pope Gregory the Great in the turbulant 5th century. Gregory’s belief that marriage was a sacrament when conducted between two baptized people would have encouraged Christians to marry Christians at a time when the barbarians were pouring in from the north. This was of course before the Great Schism[21] in the church so Christians on both sides consider marriage as a sacrament.

In the early years of the church, according to Gillian Cloke in her book “This Female Man of God”[22] women had to make a choice between marriage, in its full sense, and devoutness. It was common for people to declare that they would abstain from marriage or from sex within marriage. Augustine for instance, writing in the 5th century, mentions, “Galla, a widow (who has taken on herself sacred vows), and her daughter Simplicia, a consecrated virgin.”[23] It is not surprising that in the early church marriage was not included among the sacraments as many new members would already have been married with pagan rites before their baptism. It did not occur to the church at that time that a separate church ceremony was required, yet, at the same time marriage between two baptized Christians was acknowledged to be a sacred union. Gradually church ceremonies accompanied the local wedding customs, but even as late as the medieval period the service was a very short one consisting only of a pledge taken at the church door. There was no ministry of the word, not always a sermon. There would be a blessing of the rings, but no blessing to conclude the ceremony. The reason was that those who drew up rites assumed at that time, perhaps wrongly, that various countries and areas already had their own customs and ceremonies. Such a rite is found in old missals because it was usually followed by a nuptial mass.[24] However in the new countries such as the United States of America or the countries of South America there was no established tradition available for use. In England both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican ceremonies have their basis in the Sarum rite in which the importance of human love and the idea of covenant are important. The priest officiating says words such as “[y]ou have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love”.[25]

In many countries to this day marriage consists of two ceremonies, one civil and one religious even when Catholicism or Orthodoxy is the major religion of the land, take for instance; but it was not until 1560 that the Catholic church officially insisted that its members marry before a priest and two witnesses .One mark of its origins as a civil ceremony is the fact that a wedding was and is always celebrated in the local language, even during the long period when other services were in Latin. Gallagher and Trenchard[26] speak of the way in which Christian marriage has had a civilizing effect and has changed society and of how it is interwoven into society as an added richness.

Jerome[27] spoke of virginity being one kind of gift and marriage another, but, despite the huge amount of peer pressure of marriage as the norm from Roman society, within the church there was an opposing ascetic pressure to remain a virgin as a sign of holiness. This was despite the assumption, among pagans in a society where there were no surplus women, that marriage was a norm, even without the consent of the betrothed pair.

Nathan Mitchell in “Liturgy for the Perplexed” speaks of the sacraments putting people in touch with the mystery of God at work through their celebration.[28]

Looking at different rites and ideas represented present some difficulties as there is no one Orthodox Catholic church, but several, each with its own patriarch e.g. the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox church. From the fourth century onwards there were differences between the two groups. The eastern Christians spoke Greek and had several bishops, while those in the west spoke Latin and were headed by only one bishop – that of Rome. This developed over times into differences of theology.  By the early medieval period the differences were so great as to cause what is generally referred to as the Great Schism in the11th century.  [29]Different Catholic territories, as in the eastern churches, at the discretion of the bishops, can add various rites, which are rooted in the history of a particular people group e.g. the use of a unity candle or the crowns used in the eastern churches.

Despite differences and whatever rite is used marriage can be a saving grace.

Diana M. Kaulback describes how the positive welcome she and her non Catholic husband received led eventually to his initiation into the church and how they were able to share in a process of strengthening faith through the marriage rite. . She states the important point that “when there is respect and trust, the Gospel can easily be heard and faith can be lovingly shared.” What marriage means to the couples concerned may not be the same for both partners even when both are practising Christians  This would usually even more so in cases where only one partner in the marriage is a practising member of the church concerned.[30] Couples need to consider such questions as the fact that if marriage is counted as a sacrament and is therefore a means of grace and blessing, how can this be reconciled with the fact that some marriages go through terrible difficulties, and others are eventually annulled for various reasons?[31] Marriage is very different from merely living together. They may get to know each other very well, but any sense of commitment is quite fragile in such circumstances. The fact that when problems come along the couple can easily give up on their relationship devalues love. It gives an impression that each partner will only commit as long as it suits them and makes them happy. What it really says is “You will do for now” or until something better comes along.

If marrying someone who belongs to another church, or even another faith or has no faith at all, then the couple need to be especially certain that they understand one another’s point of view on religious as well as other matters. The non-Catholic partner for instance must be made aware of the obligation upon Catholics to have their children baptized and bring them up within the Catholic church. In fact the Catholic partner must promise to do so:

I declare I am ready to uphold my catholic faith and to avoid all

dangers of falling away from it. Moreover, I sincerely undertake

to do all that I can within the unity of our partnership to have all the

children of the marriage  baptized and brought up within the Catholic faith.[32]

The Catholic partner however must also try to understand and respect the views of their partner.  Having said all that the church has always been wary of such mixed marriages. In his article “Mixed marriages” Spirago-Clark[33] goes into some detail about the reasons for this. He discusses the difficulty in educating children about their faith if the other partner is an obstruction and obstacle either positively or passively. He claims that such marriages cannot be truly happy and also mentions the fact that it is relatively easy for the non-Catholic partner to obtain a divorce. Mention is also made in the article that though the other person may claim to be a Christian their beliefs may be somewhat different to those taught by the church. In earlier times, he says, families that married their daughters to those considered to be heretics suffered a penance for some years. The negative example of having one parent who believes differently from the other has also to be taken into consideration. The Catholic Church does allow mixed marriages however, providing that certain conditions are met. These are that both partners in a proposed marriage will promise to bring their children up in the faith, that the Catholic partner will make every effort to ensure that the non catholic partner comes to a knowledge of what it is to be a Catholic and finally the non-Catholic must allow their partner freedom to practise their faith. Only if these conditions are met will the marriage be sanctioned. Jerome and Augustine in his homilies on the subject [34]or his letter to Bishop Boniface who married an Arian.[35], an action according to Augustine, tantamount to presenting children to false gods.

Father Basil Gunnerman[36] in a leaflet intended to be used with couples contemplating marriage says:

When you administer to each other the holy Sacrament of Matrimony,

that is, give and accept each other in marriage, before the priest, a fountain

of grace springs forth at the throne of the Most Blessed Trinity to flow over your married life.

This means of course that the sacrament is not administered by the priest but by each of the partners involved. Gunnerman describes the ceremony as a consecration of a couple’s love. He goes on to remind them of the various duties associated with the married state quoting passages such as Joshua 24: 15 “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” This is an especially important point to emphasize when one partner in a marriage is lacking in faith. His second point is the need for prayer and he then goes on to remind the pair of the importance of attending mass regularly. There follows other Christian duties. Only then does Father Gunnerman begin to discuss their duties to each other, so we see where the church places its priorities.

We see that the concept of marriage as being a sacrament affects much of daily life for members of both Latin Catholic and the Orthodox churches and how on occasions this can be a problem. For instance when one or other partner wishes to dissolve a marriage, or when a non-Catholic partner finds it difficult to deal with the religious requirements of their partner. This means that there are pressures on the churches” view of marriage in modern society e.g. the ease of modern civil marriage and divorce, the view that life is for pleasure and modern expectations, the easy availability of contraceptives and a general distrust of authoritarianism. Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, goes as far as stating that that “the aim of contemporary worldly and institutional upheavals is precisely to crush the most honorable and sacred mystery of marriage”.[37]

The Orthodox describes its ceremonies as services full with symbols that reflect marriage such as love, mutual respect, equality and sacrifice. There are two ceremonies involved – the betrothal and the sacrament of marriage, these two having become merged in the Western church. The Orthodox starts off with the bride and groom simply standing at the church entrance and the priest and deacon then go to them and lead them into the heart of the church. After prayers to God and for the country’s leaders there is a prayer that the couple will have children. There later comes a prayer that as Isaac and Rebecca  were blessed so those being betrothed should share in similar blessings and asks for God’s guidance in their lives. Every part of the ceremony is repeated three times as a reminder of the Triune God. The ceremonies begin with candles, which symbolize the couple’s agreement to accept the presence of Christ in their marriage. Rings are placed on the right hands as Christ sits on the right hand of God. The rings are exchanged 3 times to signify the interaction between the two and that when one is weak this will be compensated for by the strength flowing from the other, and the failings of the one by the perfections of the other. During the actual wedding ceremony crowns are used as signs of the glory that God gives them through the sacrament of marriage. Another interpretation is that the crowns represent the crowns of the martyrs as marriage involves sacrifice of self one for the other. “The common cup” follows the readings from the scriptures. This is a reminder of Christ’s blessing the wedding of Cana. It is called the common cup because it represents the shared experiences of life and are a symbol of a life lived in harmony and reminds the  pair that they will from now on share fully together. A ceremonial walk then takes place in which the priest leads the couple, and so represents the way in which their lives must follow the lead of Christ and his church. They walk around the cross and the gospels, which is defined as a perfect orbit around Christ as the center of life. During this walk a hymn to the martyrs is sung as symbolic of sacrificial love. The priest separates their hands as a way of emphasizing that only God can separate them in future. Even the wedding favors are symbolic – sugared almonds. The egg shapes represent fertility, the hardness stands for endurance and the sweetness represents the future blessings of their life together, but of course almonds also contain a trace of bitterness. According to the Orthodox Web [38] the  purpose of the Orthodox Church is, of course, to bring people ever nearer to The Savior. The sacraments are a major way in which it does this. It sees Roman Catholicism as a medieval modification of the original Orthodoxy of the Church in Western Europe, but although there seem to be many differences there are even more similarities.

Like Catholicism the Orthodox Church does not approve of divorce. Marriage is perceived as a holy union between a man and a woman that has been established and blessed by God.  In fact the official view is that no one should avoid marriage, the phrase used is quite emphatic — “It is not permissible for anyone to avoid the bonds of marriage” [39] although this is taken to mean both the mystical marriage of one who devotes their life to God as well as marriage  with a spouse. According to the words of the marriage sacrament it is a covenant that cannot be broken. However the Orthodox Church, like western Catholicism, for certain very serious reasons, does permit both canonical annulment and remarriage. This arises because on the one hand there is great respect for the sacrament and also a compassionate concern and understanding of human weakness.

A Catholic wedding is actually very simple. It just appears to very elaborate as it is encapsulated within the celebration of the Holy Mass or Holy Eucharist, together with other additional rituals that are added by the respective cultures wherein the marriage celebration is held. It may be observed that there are various variations that are conducted during the marriage, and most of the time, for as long as it is not inconsistent with the basic ritual, these add-ons are allowed.

However, for our purposes, the marriage rituals consists of the following steps:

1.                  A declaration of consent made by both parties and formally ratified by the priest in the words: “Ego conjungo vos in matrimonium in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen” (I unite you in wedlock in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen). [40]

Consent is defined as “an act of the will by which a man and a woman by an irrevocable covenant give and accept one another for the purpose of establishing marriage.”[41] Contrary to the older view, this no longer pertains to the right to the spouse’s body or a signification of the exchange of right to each other’s bodies but to a consent to an intimate partnership of life and love. This is an act of will, meaning it is done freely. The specification that the act of will is by a man and a woman posits that this definition is to be understood physiologically and anatomically such that homosexual marriages are excluded. This definition is further elucidated in A.N. Dacanay SJ’s Canon Law on Marriage: Introductory Notes and Comments :

…the law of the Church clarifies that consent, which no human power can replace, is the efficient cause of the marriage. It is a consent, which must be manifested [it cannot be considered one if it remains purely internal and immanent] in a legitimate manner [in a manner described by the Church in the formal solemnities prescribed for the validity of marriage where at least one of the party is at least Catholic]…It is an irrevocable personal covenant because once given, the existence of the marriage no longer depends on the will of the spouses.[42]

Normally the consent is uttered through the following statements “I (groom’s/bride’s name), take you (bride’s/groom’s name) to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you all the days of my life.” The priest then blesses the couple, joins their hands together, and asks, “Do you take (bride’s/groom’s name) as your lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?”[43]

The other steps are:

2.                  A form for the blessing of the ring, which the bridegroom receives back from the hand of the priest to place it upon the ring finger of the bride’s left hand.[44]

Then after the consent is uttered or given, then the exchange of rings. Each may say, “I take this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” [45]

3.                  Certain short versicles and a final benedictory prayer. This ceremony according to the intention of the Church should be followed by the Nuptial Mass.[46]

4.                  The Nuptial Mass, in which there are Collects for the married couple, as well as a solemn blessing after the Pater Noster and another shorter one before the priest’s benediction at the close.[47]

It can be viewed that compared to the Orthodox wedding, in a Catholic wedding there is slight difference in symbolism.

For instance the bride and groom bring the bread, wine and any other offerings to the altar as a reminder of their joint self – offering to God. In his work on the sacraments[48] Crichton quotes a Père Gy as being unhappy with the idea that the couple alone are ministers of the sacrament, feeling perhaps that this excludes the priest as minister. Père Gy prefers to refer to the betrothed couple as “the makers of the sacrament.” Crichton also reminds us that the French word for the wedding ring is “alliance” a word also used in France for the covenant between God and his people and so is a reminder that marriage is a covenant between two parties, but also between them and God.

The readings chosen are almost always those associated with love e.g. Romans 12: 1 and 2 where Paul says “I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”

According to the Sunday Missal [49] marriage is the one blessing not taken away because of original sin or washed away in Noah’s flood.[50] Its purpose is recorded as being a symbol of Christ’s love for his church and the fruitfulness of their union is seen as a witness to God’s love of his world. “The Constitution of the Church in the Modern World” [51] emphasizes that marriage is for the spiritual and human growth towards perfection of the couple concerned as well as for the procreation of a family.

At the council out of which this document came those concerned stated that:

The marriage rite now found in the Roman Ritual is to be revised and enriched in such a way that the grace of the sacrament is more clearly signified and the duties of the spouses are impressed upon them.[52]

Looking at what the churches teach and practise on the subject of those who marry outside its doors, but wish to later have a Catholic or Orthodox ceremony.[53] In 1981, Pope John Paul II issued­ an exhortation entitled “On the Family”[54] in which were outlined practical suggestions for those dealing with couples not married in the Church. First of all he emphasized that this matter should be dealt with on a case by case basis as there was no one answer. For instance they may be the need to convalidate an existing marriage, that is to say an existing marriage is now recognized or blessed by the church. If a couple have gone through a form of marriage elsewhere and now wish to participate in a religious ceremony they presumably already have some spiritual yearnings and these need to be built upon with Christian love and care. Basil Gunnermann in his marriage instructions stresses that the conjugal act and other intimacies ought to be expressions of love rather than of passion.[55]

The pope cautioned that each situation should be examined case by case. He instructed pastors and pastoral leaders to make “tactful and respectful contact with the couples concerned and enlighten them patiently, correct them charitably and show them the witness of Christian family life in such a way as to smooth the path for them to regularize their situation.”

However they reach the point of receiving the sacrament of marriage we cannot pass over the difficulties that may come. Life is a struggle, but for Christians it is a spiritual struggle with a purposeful goal. In Titus 2: 12 we are told that:

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

By marrying in love and as a Christian sacrament many are aided in their ability to live out instructions such as this. Crichton [56] says that marriage as a sacrament is similar in kind to the Eucharist in that it has a moment of accomplishment, but also a continuing effect. To marry simply in order to satisfy our own needs for enjoyment, love and attention can never satisfy in the same way, even if the aim is to become acceptable members of society. For the Christian success in marriage also means success in their spiritual life. As long as a couple remains together in a married relationship “their fellowship is always the Sacrament of Christ and his church.”[57] and the  failure of a marriage, especially one ill conceived, usually brings with it spiritual failure. Often this can come about because of bad preparation or lack of it. This can date back to childhood. Someone whose parents are struggling with their marriage, or whose family do not promote Christian values by their lives will find it harder to appreciate the blessings that a truly sanctified marriage can bring to a couple. Marriage is a gift from God according to scripture in I Corinthians 7: 7. Paul is referring to the fact that for one person that gift is marriage and, for another, celibacy. Whatever our gift is God will give us the strength and courage needed to make the best use of what he has provided. Marriage is a yoking together of two lives in order to achieve one purpose and that purpose must be to lives as God would have them lived whatever that involves. It is a sharing together with God in both the sorrows and the joys involved. In the Orthodox ceremony this is symbolized by the sharing of the common cup. In Catholic terms the same is achieved by sharing in the Eucharist, whereby together they share in Christ’s suffering, but are also reminded that he rose in triumph as they will one day do. There is also a reminder of the presence of God in the marriage sacrament when the rings are placed, as has been the tradition since the Middle ages, first on the thumb, then on the second finger and then on the third. While this is done the three persons of the Trinity are named before saying Amen as the ring finally is placed upon the fourth finger. This, according to Crichton, is left over from a long lost engagement or betrothal service of the Middle Ages[58]. Gallagher and Trenchard [59]stress the meaning of the ring as not a sign of captivity, but of unity, taking the meaning to be “I belong to this person” rather than “This person belongs to me.”

Paul warned those who marry that it would not make life easy in I Corinthians 7: 28 “Those who marry will face many troubles in this life.” The difference is that they are facing them together and with God. This is a very different proposition from that faced by those who choose merely to live together or who marry in a non-religious ceremony. Describing Orthodoxy Alexy Young [60]describes the Christian life as “our daily bread” but also states that as Christians we need to follow the lead of Christ and his church rather than follow the trends and pressures of the non-Christian world around us. He quotes St Paul as saying “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church., words that are preceded by, in Ephesians 5: 21 the injunction “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ . Young then reminds his readers what kind of head Christ was – one who humbly washed feet and who of course sacrificed in love.

In the same article Young states that marriage is a means of salvation for each member of the family. It also has its place as a contribution to the good of society. Crichton [61]believes that the well being of Christian society is dependent upon the wellbeing of individual Christian marriages. This is perhaps too large a concept to be fully understood by a young couple contemplating marriage, with all that involves just for them and their families, but it is to be hoped that it is something that they come to realize as their marriage and sacrificial love for each other matures. They vow on the day of their wedding to take each other “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health” but only time will reveal what that means as their love is expressed in the everyday minutiae of each and everyday of their lives together. It is a union of people, neither being the servant of the other. Crichton [62]speaks of their mutual love being both taken up into divine love and also being enriched by the love of Christ for them and for his church. “In the modern Roman Catholic wedding ceremony the second nuptial blessing asks that the couple may share the gifts of God’s love and that they will become one in mind and heart. Thus Christian marriage is able to play its part in bringing the love of God into society. One of the prefaces to the wedding mass says this:

You created man in love to share your divine life.  We see his high destiny in the love of husband and wife, which bears the imprint of your own divine the perfecting of this world until it too bears the image of Christ and at the end will be lifted up to the Father.”[63]  Love is man”s

origin, love is his constant calling, love is his fulfillment in heaven.

The love of man and woman is made holy in the sacrament of marriage

and becomes the mirror of your everlasting love.[64]

So we can see the Christian marriage is closely linked with God’s complete plan for the salvation of the world.













Books and Journal Materials

Cloke, G. This Female Man of God, (London: Routledge, 1995).

Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebrations, the Sacraments, (Geoffrey Chapman, London 1980).

Dacanay, A.N. Marriage and Human Sexuality: A Collection of Readings for TH 131, A General Introduction to the Church Law on Marriage by, SJ. Quezon City: Office of Research and Publications, AdMU, 2001.

Deanesley, M. History of the Medieval Church (Methuen and Co, London 1965).

Gallagher, R. Trenchard, J. Your Faith,( Redemptionist Press, Hampshire 2006).

Holy Bible, New International Version, (Hodder and Stoughton 1988).

Mackin, Theodore, SJ, What is Marriage?. New York: Paulist Press, 1982.

Stevenson, Searle, Mark, Kenneth W.  Documents of Marriage Liturgy, (Liturgical Press) 1992.

Winstone, H. (editor) The Sunday Missal, (Collins, London 1987).

Electronic Sources
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Baumann, J.  Catholic Ceremonies accessed 17th February 2008.

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Ceremony: Catholic Wedding Rituals last accessed 27 April 2008.

Champlin, J. Bringing your marriage into the church accessed 17th February 2008.

Congregation for Divine Worship, The unity candle, the Catholic Liturgical Library accessed 17th February 2008.

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Jerome, Letter XXII , Medieval Source Book accessed 27th February 2008.

John, K. Orthodox Church Traditions, Our Marriage Ceremony

John Paul II Familiaris Consortio, November 1981 John Paul II Familiaris Consortio, November 1981.  accessed 26th February 2008.

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Thurston, Herbert. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910 last accessed 27 April 2008.

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Umberger, P. Annulment accessed 28th February 2008

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[1] Pope John Paul II Marriage Sacrament an Effective Sign of God”s Saving Power
[2] Genesis 2:18.
[3] Jerome, Letter XXII , Medieval Source Book
[4] Pope Pius VI , Casti Connubi”
[5] Pope Leo XIII”Arcanum”, 1880
[6] Pope John Paul II Prayer, Penance & the Eucharist are the Principal Sources of Spirituality for Married Couples,  Catholic 27th February 2008.
[7] Pope John Paul II Marriage Sacrament an Effective Sign of God”s Saving Power , paragraph 2,
[8] Dacanay, A.N., SJ Marriage and Human Sexuality: A Collection of Readings for TH 131, A General Introduction to the Church Law on Marriage, (Quezon City: Ofice of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University, 2001), 149-150.
[9] Mackin, Theodore, SJ, What is Marriage?. New York: Paulist Press, 1982.
[10] Ibid., 206.
[11] Ibid., 217.
[12] Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Marriage: the great sacrament
[13] Winstone, H.the Sunday Missal, page 784.
[14] Pope Paul VI Gaudium et Spes 1965.
[15] McLachlan,P. Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, Catholic
[16] Gallagher, R. Your Faith, page 73.
[17] Romans 8: 25.
[18]  Lehmkuhl, A. Sacrament of Marriage Catholic Encyclopedia
[19] Ryan, M.J. Character ( In Catholic theology) The Catholic Encyclopaedia
[20] McLachlan,P. Sacrament of Holy Matrimony , Catholic
[21] The Great Schism, Orthodox
[22] Cloke, G. This Female Man of God page 47 onwards.
[23] Augustine Letters, Letter 212
[24] Deanesley, M. History of the Medieval Church.
[25] Crichton, J,D, Christian Celebrations, The Sacraments page 117.
[26] Gallagher and Trenchard , Your faith, page 75.
[27] Jerome, Against Jovinian, 1.5.
[28] Mitchell, N. Satellite Theological Education Program, Liturgy for the perplexed
[29] Congregation for Divine Worship, The unity candle , the Catholic Liturgical Library
[30] Spirago Clark, Mixed marriages, The Catechism Explained
[31] Annulments, Father Pat”s Place
[32] Gallagher and Trenchard, Your Faith page 74.
[33] Spirago-Clark, Mixed Marriages, from the Catechism Explained
[34] Augustine, Homily 19 on I Corinthians 7 v 3.
[35] Augustine Letters 98
[36] Gunnerman, B. Marriage Instruction
[37] Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Marriage the great sacrament,
[38] Why I should consider the Orthodox church.
[39]Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Marriage as the great sacrament
[40] Thurston, Herbert. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910 last accessed 27 April 2008.
[41] Marriage and Human Sexuality: A Collection of Readings for TH 131, 150.
[42] Dacanay, Adolfo, N., SJ, Canon Law on Marriage: Introductory Notes and Comments, (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 2000), 5-6.
[43] Ceremony: Catholic Wedding Rituals last accessed 27 April 2008.
[44] Thurston, Herbert. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910 last accessed 27 April 2008.
[45] Ceremony: Catholic Wedding Rituals last accessed 27 April 2008.
[46] Thurston, Herbert. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910 last accessed 27 April 2008.
[47] Thurston, Herbert. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910 last accessed 27 April 2008.
[48] Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebration the Sacraments, page 128.
[49] Winstone, H. ( editor) The Sunday Missal, Collins, London 1987.
[50] Winstone ,H,The Sunday Missal, page 784.
[51] Pope Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes
[52] Quoted by Crichton,J.D. Christian Celebrations, the Sacramant, page 115.
[53] Champlin, J. Bringing your marriage into the church
[54] John Paul II Familiaris Consortio, November 1981
[55] Gunnerman, P. Marriage Instruction
[56] Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebration the Sacraments, page 122.
[57] O”Callaghan, Marriage as a Sacrament” page 104 quoted by J.D.Crichton, page 122.
[58] Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebrations, the Sacraments, Geoffrey Chapman , London 1980, page 128.
[59] Gallagher and Trenchard, Your Faith., page 75.
[60] Young, Alexy, The Orthodox Christian Marriage
[61] Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebration, The sacraments.
[62] Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebration, the Sacraments page 114.
[63] Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebration, the Sacraments, page 118.
[64] quoted by Crichton, J.D. Christian Celebration, the Sacraments, page 119.

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