When you attend a Catholic wedding, you’ll notice that it is very different than any civil wedding you may attend. Typically there is a full Mass with special prayers and blessings, and very specific vows that the bride and groom make to each other. And the reason a Catholic marriage looks different than a civil marriage is because it is different.
Recently on Go Ask Your Father™ , Father John Paul Erickson explained what makes marriage a sacrament, and why it is so important to the life of the Church. He said:
“First of all, the Church recognizes that marriage itself is a good. It is a good, wonderful, important thing, indeed. It really is, in some ways, the bedrock of all of society. Why? Because it is the bedrock of the family, and all of our society depends upon the family. It all comes from them. The formation of human beings begins there.
So marriages matter. Whether or not they are sacramental, they matter, and they are goods to be affirmed and supported.
However, we also recognize that Jesus has taken the great natural good of marriage and elevated it to a sacrament. That means that He has taken what existed before – marriages of course existed before the Church was founded by Jesus – but He has taken this natural good, this reality, and He has made it a way in which His own divine life can be experienced and lived. That’s what the sacraments are all about – experiences of the very divine life of God.
But we also need to remember the sacramental marriage, that is a marriage that is a faithful, indissoluble bond for life. The husband and wife are called to love each other in a way that no one else will love them, no one else will know them in that profound physical way. And it is a union that is open to newness of life – a very important principle.
A sacramental bond presumes that the couple is open to new life. Why? Because the sacrament of marriage is for the sanctity of the couple, but it is also deeply, intimately, inseparably connected to the bringing forth of children, for the sake of rebirth in the waters of Baptism.
We acknowledge here that there are many, many couples who struggle with infertility. It’s a very challenging cross and we pray all for those brothers and sisters who endure that. But the ideal, the ordinary circumstance is that children will come forth from that bond, and those children are to be presented in the waters of baptism for rebirth, so that the Church can continue to grow.
And here we see that marriage, like Holy Orders, is connected to the wider Body of Christ. Baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ, Confirmation confirms that union and solidifies it, Holy Communion continues to strengthen it and make us more and more like the One we are joined to and whom we feast upon.
Holy Orders provides an order to the Body of Christ. It provides a structure. Hierarchy means holy order. But marriage provides the growth of the Church. And this is part of what makes the sacramental bond distinct from a civil bond. Because it is intimately and essentially connected to the life of the Church.
The sacramental bond is not only for the sake of the couple, it is first of all for the sake of the community. It is for the sake of the wider body. And that couple is called to raise their children and present their children in discipleship in the context of the wider Body of Christ.
If we believe Jesus is who He claims Himself to be, and if we believe the Church is what she claims Herself to be, why would we not want Him and Her – Jesus and the Church – in every aspect of our life, especially the most important relationship that we have? Why wouldn’t we want Jesus and the Church in our marriage, in our life?”
Listen to the full response below: