Two weeks ago, I entered into the covenant of marriage with my (now) wife, Amanda--praise God! Reflecting back, I can see God's hand in my preparation--particularly in this last year, taking multiple classes that focussed on marriage for my degree (Christian Marriage, Liturgy & Sacraments, and Body, Soul & Christianity). We received good proximate preparation for marriage through our marriage prep classes. We also spent time with families who have been together through thick and thin and have gleaned some wisdom from them. One thing that has stuck out to me through all of this is the permanence (indissolubility) of marriage.
When entered into validly, nothing can break a marriage covenant, but death. Stop for a minute and ponder that sentence: When entered into validly, nothing can break a marriage covenant, but death. In order to appreciate its full meaning, there are two big concepts that we must take from that sentence. 1) In order for the marriage covenant to truly exist, it must be validly entered. 2) Once entered, the marriage covenant between the two people exists until one of them dies (yes, if both of them die at exactly the same instant, the marriage is obviously also over). It can be neither broken, revoked, nor mutually dissolved. It is indissoluble.
Entering into a valid marriage.
In order for the marriage to truly exist, it must be validly entered. There are a number of things that are required for a valid marriage, the most basic of them being:
- 1 man (and only 1 man) who is not otherwise impeded from marrying
- 1 woman (and only 1 woman) who is not otherwise impeded from marrying
- Their basic knowledge of what a marriage is (including, but not limited to: lifelong fidelity, openness to children--even if none may come--and a willingness to raise/educate any children with which they are blessed)
- Their consent to living as a married couple until at least one of them is dead.
Christians have a particular advantage in that their marriages can be sacramental (that is, a marriage may be an instrumental cause of grace--God's life in us--a Christian marriage is something that causes a greater participation in that which God is and which He wants to share with us). In order to do that, both the bride and groom must be baptized persons. Baptism is the first sacrament and it opens the doors to all the other sacraments. Without baptism, one is neither deputed to give nor to receive the sacrament of marriage (the spouses actually confer the sacrament on each other).
Because this is so important (not only for the spiritual lives of the couples, but for the building of society--since marriage is the building block of society) the Catholic Church requires certain things of Catholics who wish to get married. Just as the state, which has certain age, relational and other requirements for its citizens to get married, so too does the Church for those people who are Her citizens. If a Catholic wishes to get married (even if he/she is wishing to marry a non-Catholic), the marriage ceremony must be held within a Catholic church and be witnessed by a Catholic clergyman (deacon, priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope). There are other requirements, but most of them deal with things that the state requires (being old enough, not related, not already married, etc.)--for a better listing of these, see the Code of Canon Law 1083-1129.
As Catholics, Amanda and I had both studied marriage, and we were both ready to accept the roles into which we were stepping--we (praise God) had a more than basic knowledge of what marriage really is. I was a man who was free to marry; she was a woman was free to marry, and we both consented to living out the rights, joys, and responsibilities of marriage with each other as long as we both shall live. This was done in a Catholic ceremony, in a Catholic church, officiated by a Catholic priest, with Catholic witnesses (the priest & witnesses were also very strong, faithful Catholics to boot--not necessary for validity, but helpful for practical purposes). We know that the sacrament into which we entered was completely valid.
Why do I make such a big deal about all the details and the validity of the marriage? I do so because this knowledge (and surety) of the real bond is actually a big deal. There has been a definite change within each Amanda and me, whereby we now are married. It's not just that we call it a marriage, or that it looks like a marriage, or even that the state considers it a marriage. It is all of these things and more. It is a marriage. We have not just the state-recognized legal bond, but we have the real bond of marriage--the bond by which God unites a man and woman, the bond that really creates a family, the bond which God designed for man "in the beginning" (Cf. Matthew 19:4,8; Genesis 2:21-24).
Out of love, God gave us the Catholic Church and marriage, and He has given the Church the inspiration and authority to define what is necessary to make a marriage valid. The Church has many documents on the roles of spouses and of parents. A good summary of these teachings (and part of our required study for marriage prep) is the Catechism of the Catholic Church's section on marriage (paragraphs 1601-1666). By reading what the Church teaches about marriage, we knew what was required of spouses. We know that we consented to all of the requirements. We know that we consented to give ourselves to each other for the rest of out lives. We know that, in the eyes of God, we are definitely married.
This is both a great blessing and a great responsibility. We are now a family. That family cannot be broken--not by the state, not by other people, not even by us. We remain as one as long as we are both alive and we work together (as each other's path to holiness) to lead each other closer to God, until one day, we let go of each other and give each other back to God. The marriage is indissoluble. In my next post, I hope to delve further into just what indissolubility means in a practical manner. Until then, I will be enjoying this new state, the sacramental graces, and time with my wife.
Loving my wife and our marriage,