What's the ideal marriage according to God?

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (CCC 1601).

What makes sacramental marriage so special?

Why get married in a church? That’s a question that has increasing relevance to many Catholics. With travel so much easier today, “destination weddings” are becoming much more popular. But if a church is just a pretty setting for the wedding, we’re missing the point.

The real reason for a “church wedding” is to celebrate a sacrament. Whether you’re newly engaged or a marriage veteran, understanding what it means to live in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony can bring a new level of meaning and beauty to your life.

What does it mean to call marriage a sacrament? A sacrament is a sacred sign instituted by Christ that gives grace. A sacramental sign is a physical representation of a spiritual reality. But it’s not just a symbol. Sacramental signs actually bring about what they signify. That’s the power of a sacrament.

So Baptism is the sign of being cleansed from Original Sin and being welcomed back into the Family of God. The water of baptism – a sign of cleansing – actually makes all of that happen.

What is the sacramental sign of marriage?

The Bible uses marriage as a sign of God’s love for His Church. Jesus is the bridegroom who is waiting to be united to his bride. The Church is the bride who is preparing herself to love her husband. Israel is often depicted as an unfaithful wife in the Old Testament. Revelation ends with the image of the great wedding feast – an image that Jesus also uses in his parables.

Marriage is the sacramental sign of God's love for His Church.

What does this sign tell us? It’s a great description of the kind of relationship that God wants to have with us. God is not looking for a cold relationship between slaves and the master. He certainly doesn’t want the distant “fairy godmother” relationship we so often fall into. God wants a real relationship with us. A relationship filled with trust and intimacy and love.

Marriage as a sign of God’s love for us also shows us that our relationship with God is meant to build in the same way that our other relationships do. It starts with trust, builds with intimacy, solidifies with commitment, and bears fruit in love. We see this same progression in the story of salvation in the Bible. We also see these same steps of relationship in the theological virtues. Hope is trust in God. Faith is intimacy and commitment. Charity is love. Marriage is a beautiful and deep sign of our relationship with God.

How Does Marriage Signify God's Love for the Church?

Like all sacramental signs, marriage is not just a poetic reminder of God’s love. Sacramental signs bring about what they signify. Marriage makes God’s love for his people real and present.

It does this first of all by teaching spouses to love as Christ loves. Marriage is a vocation, just like priesthood and religious life. All vocations are a call to love as Christ loved us on the Cross. In other words, they are a call to make ourselves a perfect gift of love to others.

Second, it is the nature of love to expand. This process of learning to love perfectly creates an environment of love. The couple then brings new life into this environment of love and creates a family. Their efforts to love selflessly expand to include their children, and they teach their children how to love. When a man and a woman conceive new life, they don’t just perform a biological act of reproduction. They cooperate with God to create an immortal soul – a soul with an eternal destiny. They then cooperate with God to nurture and mould that soul, to help their children become the masterpieces that God intends them to be.

They nurture their children in family love and bring them to God’s love. Children first come to the love of God through the love of the family. This is why the Church calls the family the “domestic Church.” Families bring their children to baptism, making them members of God’s family. They then teach their children how to be disciples of Jesus and how to live as children of God.

As a family they bring their love into the greater society, and so love expands even further.

What grace does sacramental marriage give?

The final part of the definition of a sacrament tells us that its purpose is to give grace. What grace does the sacrament of marriage give us?
First, we need to understand what grace is. Grace is the free gift (that’s what grace literally means) of God’s very presence in our souls. Grace makes an intimate relationship with God possible both because God is present to us, and because grace empowers us.

What grace does the Sacrament of Matrimony give us? The grace of matrimony is centered around the theological virtue of charity. Charity helps us to love a Christ loves.

Think about this: what would happen to us if we truly loved as Jesus loved? Jesus loved us by sacrificing everything for us. He poured himself out for us on the Cross – his divinity, his dignity, his very life.
Now, you and I are mortal. What would happen if we tried to love our spouses and our children this way? We would pour ourselves out . . . and there would be nothing left. That’s not really a relationship.
But what if we could love with the love of God, who is infinite and eternal? If we could unite our love to God’s, we could love them as God loves – pouring ourselves out completely and constantly without ever exhausting ourselves. That’s part of the message of Resurrection. That’s the grace that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony gives us. This grace operates in our practical day-to-day lives by inspiring us to make sacrifices, by giving us joy in times that we would normally find trying. Because we are still sinful human beings, grace also includes the power of healing and forgiveness.

But this kind of love isn’t instantaneous. Not by a long shot. It’s a process. The vocation is to learn to love as Christ loves. Grace strengthens us for the mission. Marriage gives most of us our “school of love” in which to practice. This is the power, the meaning and the beauty of sacramental marriage.

Do we really have to get married in a church?

Why get married in a church? That’s a question that has increasing relevance to many Catholics. With travel so much easier today, “destination weddings” are becoming much more popular. But if a church is just a pretty setting for the wedding, we’re missing the point.
The real reason for a “church wedding” is to celebrate a sacrament. Christ raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, giving it the power to signify His love for His Church and to actually bring it about. Since marriage is a sacrament, the Church asks that it be celebrated in a way that reminds us that God is active within the act. So we celebrate weddings in the same building that we celebrate the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion and Reconciliation.

This can seem like legalism to some people, and it can be frustrating to engaged couples who want to design their own wedding experience. But the Church is trying to teach us what God’s plan for marriage is. This is especially important when our culture sees marriage as a selfish act of self-gratification rather than an act of self-giving love that reflects Jesus’ love for us on the Cross.

Another powerful reason to get married in a church is to remind us that the sacrament offers us grace. This grace isn’t just to get us through the rocky times of our marriage – though it can certainly do that for us too. Grace is God’s presence in our lives. The sacramental grace of marriage is God’s presence within the marriage relationship and in the family that grows out of the marriage.

It’s not enough for us to give into the cultural expectation of a wedding as a romantic event and try to keep the “religious stuff” in mind. The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony needs to be central to the wedding so God will be central to the marriage.

That’s why the Church is so adamant about performing weddings in a church. While exceptions can be made when there is sufficient reason, our diocese does not permit couples to celebrate a Catholic marriage in a park, on a boat, or any place other than a Catholic Church. A Catholic must be married in the presence of two witnesses and a Catholic priest or deacon who has the church delegation to witness the exchange of vows. This is the normal “form” for a Catholic wedding as established by the Church. The Catholic Church does not recognize marriages between two Catholics or a Catholic and a non-Catholic unless they follow this form. However, the Church can and does dispense from this form if a bride or groom has a compelling reason to be married in her or his non-Catholic church. Dispensation from form will not be given for a Catholic or Catholics to be married by a civil magistrate (judge), Justice of the Peace, or other public official.

Do we really need to have children if we get married in the Church?

Marriage is much more than romance and love. It has special status in society and in the Church because marriage is about family. In fact, we can summarize the three vows that a husband and wife profess to each other in the sacramental rite for Holy Matrimony to sound something like this: “I love you so much that I want to commit my entire self to you for the rest of my life so we can raise a family together.”

For most of history, a man and woman married to help each other find joy and to create a family. Traditionally, the focus of a spouse was towards the other rather than towards oneself. It has only been within the past 60 years that the aim of marriage shifted to self-fulfillment; to what marriage does for me.

While it is true that the journey towards marriage starts with romance and sentimental feelings of love, the fullness of marriage is found in something more profound. Within marriage spouses learn to love each other more selflessly. As this happens, they create an environment of love that becomes more generous; more life serving. The focus of their love expands to welcome and nurture new life. In other words, they create a family. Then together the family grows in selfless, Christ-like love, and parents lead their children through their own love to the very love of God.

The very reason that society gives special status and special benefits to marriage is because family is meant to flow from marriage. Studies have shown time and time again that there is no better school than the family supported by marriage for the creation of healthy, active citizens who will look out for each other’s good.

Hopefully, you see that the answer to the question about children is “yes.” Spouses should enter into marriage with open hearts that are ready to accept children lovingly from God. An openness to new life shows that the couple is ready to move beyond self-centered love. It witnesses to their commitment to serve one another sacrificially and by doing so, rise to a more Christ-like love and joy.

You might ask about couples who get married beyond their childbearing years, or couples who get married knowing that they are infertile for one reason or another, or couples who get married and then have trouble conceiving children. The general rule is that if a couple is biologically compatible for the creation of new life (a male and a female who are able to complete the marital act), they can get married. The problem comes when we try to make the exception into the rule: “Well, if it’s OK for them, then it should be OK for any two people who want to get married whether or not they are biologically capable of having children.” Neither the Church nor society should have any interest in operating from exceptions. The exception is not the rule. The exception is simply an attempt to handle the messiness of human life while still respecting the fundamental truth about marriage.

Children are not commodities. They are not steppingstones on the path to self-fulfillment. They are personal manifestations of a committed selfless love that creates new life – and they are people to be loved and sacrificed for. And that is their beauty.