Catholic marriage

Catholic marriage
"Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Gospel of Matthew 19:6) Matrimony, The Seven Sacraments, Rogier van der Weyden, ca. 1445.

Catholic marriage, also called matrimony, is a "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. [It] has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptised."[1] In the Roman Rite, it is ordinarily celebrated in a Nuptial Mass.

The nature of the covenant requires that the two participants be one man and one woman, that they be free to marry, that they willingly and knowingly enter into a valid marriage contract, and that they validly execute the performance of the contract.

On the exact definition of each of these steps hinge all the arguments and technical points involved in annulments, and annulment disputes (e.g., one of the most famous, that of Henry VIII). Catholic Canon law regulates the celebration of marriage in canons 1055–1065.


History of marriage in the Catholic Church

The history of marriage in the Catholic Church has been a continuation of the Judaic concept of marriage. Although at the time of Christ marriage was considered a necessary passage into adulthood, the Church introduced the notion into the ancient world that the celibate unmarried state was preferable and more holy. As a result of directly challenging the social norms regarding marriage and the buying and selling of women into marriage, and particularly in defending the right of women to choose to remain unmarried virgins for the sake of Christ, there were many virgin martyrs in the first few centuries of the Catholic Church. The stories associated with these virgin martyrs often make it clear that they were martyred for their refusal to marry, not necessarily simply their belief in Jesus Christ.

Although the Church was not opposed to marriage, the preference for the celibate state came from the example of Jesus, the concern about the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God as supported by Jesus and early followers such as Saint Paul, and the exhortation by Jesus to avoid 'earthly ties'. As a consequence, the first-century Christians placed less value on the family and saw celibacy (not marrying) and freedom from family ties as a preferable state. Paul had suggested that marriage be used only as a last resort by those Christians that found it too difficult to remain chaste.[2]

Nevertheless, recognizing that only a select few would accept this teaching of a celibate state of life, which Jesus had predicted, the Church sought to elevate the understanding of the marital state to a more noble and holy enterprise. The New Testament scriptures, most dating from before the middle of the second century, record the words of Jesus and of Saint Paul regarding the sacred and divine state of marriage. Jesus forbade divorce and stated that in the state of marriage "the two become one flesh". Saint Paul wrote one of the most often quoted descriptions of the proper behavior of spouses in the ideal sacramental marriage in the New Testament book of Ephesians, Chapter 5, referencing the words of Jesus. [3] Many theologians and early Church fathers have observed that the first recorded miracle of Jesus is at a wedding feast, thus, many believe, signifying his approval of the institution of marriage as well as his recognition of the importance of the public celebration of a wedding. [4]

Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, believed that marriage was a sacrament, and wrote: "the first natural bond of human society is man and wife." [5] Other Church Fathers were more negative about the married state. Jerome wrote: "It is not disparaging wedlock to prefer virginity. No one can make a comparison between two things if one is good and the other evil" (Letter 22). On the extreme side, Tertullian argued that marriage "consists essentially in fornication" (An Exhortation to Chastity") Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage said that the first commandment given to men was to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue this process of multiplication. Augustine corrected this thinking and declared marriage good, "Therefore marriage and fornication are not two evils, whereof the second is worse: but marriage and continence are two goods, whereof the second is better." [6]

The early Church recognized matrimony as one of the seven sacraments, but did not consider them equal in importance. The sacraments necessary for initiation into the Church or for priestly ordination (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders) were developed very early in Church history and were given a higher value and attention than some of the other sacraments because they were necessary for membership and also because they put an indelible mark on the soul.[7]. The sacrament of Eucharist was ritualized with the Last Supper and was celebrated from the earliest Church history. The rites for the lesser sacraments of Penance, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction developed over a longer time. Matrimony, for most of Church history, was a sacrament celebrated (as in the Judaic tradition) without clergy and was done according to local customs. The first available written detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates from the 9th century and appears to be identical to the old nuptial service of Ancient Rome. [8]

"Pope Paul III" (Artist: Titian) 1490-1576, ca. 1543, Reign 13 October 1534 – 10 November 1549, Excommunicated Henry VIII, Presided over Council of Trent

It was not until the sixteenth century, when the Protestant Reformation challenged the seven sacraments, including Matrimony, that the Church officially named the sacraments for the first time in Canon Law at the Council of Trent in 1547. Prior to that time the seven sacraments, including the sacrament of Matrimony were accepted as part of the apostolic oral and written tradition without controversy or debate. The Seventh Session of the Council of Trent stated that the seven sacraments were not new doctrine, but the Council saw a need to put information into the official Canon, "adhering to the doctrine of the holy Scriptures, to the apostolic traditions, and to the consent of other councils and of the Fathers."

The Church has consistently, since its beginnings, taken the position that a valid marriage is indissoluble. There is no divorce in the Catholic Church. But there are annulments, which can only be granted by Church bishops. This has led to many schisms, most notably that of Henry VIII of England, who was denied an annulment in 1527, and responded by forming the Church of England, declaring himself the head of the Church, and granting his own annulment. Pope Clement VII excommunicated him in 1533 and Paul III excommunicated him in 1538.

Conditions for a Sacramental Marriage

As understood within the Catholic Church, marriage is considered a sacrament if both the man and the woman are baptised, are able to marry, freely consent to the marriage, and meet all the other conditions that the church defines in her code of canon law as necessary for a valid sacramental marriage to exist. The Church provides classes several months before marriage to help the participants inform their consent. During or before this time, the would-be spouses are confirmed, if they have not previously received confirmation and it can be done without grave inconvenience (Canon 1065).

The Catholic Church has further requirements for the form of vows, called the "canonical form". The canonical form of marriage must be followed (unless dispensed). The requirement for a canonical form of marriage began due to the reforms of the Council of Trent. With the decree Tametsi of 11 November 1563. Ne Temere promulgated by Pius X, August 2, 1907 added (and continues to enforce) further specifications.

Freedom to marry

The participants in a marriage contract must be free to marry, and to marry each other. That is, they must be an unmarried man and woman, with no impediments as set out by Canon law.

In addition to being free to marry, the participants must intend marriage. In the Catholic Church, it is consent that creates marriage. Consent consists in a human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other. Consent must be a free act of the will of the consenting parties, free of coercion or grave external error. If freedom is lacking, the consent is invalid.


A Catholic marriage cannot be formed if one or more of the following impediments are given,[9] though of some of these a dispensation can be given.

  • Antecedent and perpetual impotence
  • Consanguinity to the fourth collateral line (1st cousin), including legal adoption to the second collateral line
  • Affinity (relationship by marriage, e.g. a brother-in-law) in the direct line
  • Prior bond
  • Holy Orders
  • Perpetual vows of chastity in a religious institute
  • Disparity of cult (one party not being baptised)
  • Crimen (one party previously conspiring to marry (upon condition of death of spouse) while still married); also called "conjugicide"
  • Underage (at least 16 for males, 14 for females)
  • Abduction

Ministers of matrimony

Latin rite

Ceremony of Marriage (Giulio Rosati)

The husband and wife must validly execute the marriage contract. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the spouses who are understood to confer marriage on each other. The spouses, as ministers of grace, naturally confer upon each other the sacrament of matrimony, expressing their consent before the church.

This does not eliminate the need for church involvement in the marriage; under normal circumstances, canon law requires the attendance of a priest or deacon and at least two witnesses for validity (see canons 1108–1116).

Eastern Catholic rites

In Eastern Catholic churches, which follow the Byzantine liturgical tradition (shared with the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches), a priest (never a deacon) is the minister of the sacrament of marriage (see Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1623, 1992 edition) through the act of "crowning" the couple with a pair of crowns while proclaiming them received into the Kingdom of Heaven. The vows are exchanged well beforehand in the Byzantine ritual and are not binding. They are a remnant of the Liturgy of Betrothal which had used to be done in a separate Liturgy. Thus it is known in the East as the Mystery (read: Sacrament) of Crowning as often as it is called matrimony.


Catholic theology teaches that a validly-contracted marriage is accompanied by divine ratification, creating a virtually indissoluble union until the couple consummate, after which the marriage is completely indissoluble. An unconsummated marriage can be dissolved by the Pope, as Vicar of Christ.[10] Once the marriage is consummated, only a separation is possible; the marriage bond cannot be dissolved. Therefore, the term "divorce" has no meaning in the context of Catholic marriage.

A marriage may be somewhat defective and yet still be valid; such a marriage is illicit. A marriage which was sufficiently defective as not to meet the required criteria is invalid, and the participants are considered not to have actually married. However, Canon 1137 states that children born to a "putative" marriage (defined in Canon 1061, sec. 3 as one that is not valid but was entered into in good faith by at least one spouse) are legitimate; therefore, the declaration that a marriage is null does not render the children of that marriage illegitimate.

Declaration of nullity

An annulment is a declaration that the marriage was invalid (or null) at the time the vows were exchanged. In cases of two baptised people, this also means that no sacrament ever took place. Thus, an annulment is declared only when an ecclesial tribunal finds a lack of validity in the marriage at the time of the marital contract. Behaviour subsequent to the contract is not directly relevant, except as post facto evidence of the validity or invalidity of the contract. That is, behaviour subsequent to the contract cannot actually change the validity of the contract. For example, a marriage would be invalid if one of the parties, at the time of marriage, did not intend to honour the vow of fidelity. If the spouse did intend to be faithful at the time of the marriage but later committed adultery this does not invalidate the marriage.

Annulment and divorce, therefore, differ both in rationale and effect; an annulment is a finding that sacramental marriage never existed, whereas a divorce is a dissolution of marriage.

See also


  1. ^ "CIC". "1055 §1" 
  2. ^ Karen Armstrong, Christianity's creation of the sex war in the west, London, 1986
  3. ^ New Testament Mark 10:8, Matthew 19:5
  4. ^ New Testament John 2
  5. ^ On the Good of Marriage, Augustine of Hippo, 401 CE.
  6. ^ On the Good of Marriage, Augustine of Hippo, 401 CE.
  7. ^ Seventh Session of the Council of Trent
  8. ^ Karen Armstrong, The Gospel According to Women, London, 1986
  9. ^ "CIC". "1083–1094" 
  10. ^ Pope John Paul II (1988-06-28). "Const. Ap, Pastor Bonus". Retrieved 2009-07-22. "Art 67" 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Catholic marriage — marriage performed by an ordained Catholic priest …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Marriage Encounter — (M.E.) is a religiously based weekend program designed to help married couples by reason of discovering or re discovering the need for God in their lives, to improve their marriage, grow closer to each other and improve commitment to each other.… …   Wikipedia

  • Marriage — For other uses, see Marriage (disambiguation). Married and Matrimony redirect here. For other uses, see Married (disambiguation) and Matrimony (disambiguation) …   Wikipedia

  • Marriage and wedding customs in the Philippines — A Filipino wedding held in December at the Manila Cathedral in the Philippines. Traditional marriage customs in the Philippines and Filipino wedding practices pertain to the characteristics of marriage and wedding traditions established and… …   Wikipedia

  • Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic — The Catholic Church in Dominican Republic is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and Curia in Rome.The Catholic Church is the world s largest Christian Church, and its largest religious grouping.… …   Wikipedia

  • Catholic teachings on sexual morality — draw from natural law, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and are promulgated authoritatively by the Magisterium. Sexual morality evaluates the goodness of sexual behavior, and often provides general principles by which Catholics are able to… …   Wikipedia

  • Catholic theology of the body — is a review of historical positions and views on the role of the human body. Catholic Theology of the Body is based on the premise that the human body has its origin in God. It will be, like the body of Jesus, resurrected, transformed and taken… …   Wikipedia

  • Marriage Act — may refer to a number of pieces of legislation: Contents 1 Australia 2 Canada 3 New Zealand …   Wikipedia

  • Marriage at Cana — by Giotto, 14th century In Christianity, the transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John.[1] …   Wikipedia

  • Marriage licence — Marriage License from the State of Georgia A marriage license is a document issued, either by a church or state authority, authorizing a couple to marry. The procedure for obtaining a license varies between countries and has changed over time.… …   Wikipedia