The Concept, Origin and Sacramental Nature of Marriage

"The Wedding Feast at Cana" by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

“The Wedding Feast at Cana” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Marriage is a principle and guiding theme throughout the Holy Scriptures. It is the symbol and sign of God’s sacred covenant with His people. The Creation and institution of marriage appears woven throughout the Bible, first at the beginning of Genesis and last in the book of Revelation 19:9, where it says “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Christ is the bridegroom and Holy Mother Church is the bride. Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament by the Gospel message and all are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb if they come appropriately attired. Proceeding from these truths is the fact that we must abide in and bind ourselves to the conditions and guiding principles concerning the nature of marriage revealed to us by God and confirmed by natural reason.

Marriage is so deeply significant that for His first public miracle Christ condescended to come to the Wedding at Cana and turn water into wine. With this miracle, our Lord gave an outward sign of the cherished union that exists between Him and Holy Mother Church represented by the marital bond. Christ, born from the virgin womb into the Holy Family attended a public marriage for his entrance into public life just as he had come into the world for a marriage between Himself and Holy Mother Church. Christ’s affirmation at the Wedding at Cana demonstrates the sacred union between a husband and a wife. By divine explanation of the concept, origin and sacramental nature of Holy Matrimony, we can ground questions about who can and cannot marry in their proper context of its nature as we extract them from the false grounds of desire.

Concept of Marriage

Matrimony is a divine institution and a sacrament. The various names we use for marriage as listed in the Catechism of Trent are informative. The word “matrimony” illustrates that the woman should be disposed to become a mother “from the fact that to a mother it belongs to conceive, bring forth and train her offspring.” The word “wedlock (conjugium) points to the union of two qualified people, “because a lawful wife is united to her husband, as it were, by a common yoke.” And then there is “nuptials” as St. Ambrose witnesses “the bride veiled her face through modesty ­­ a custom which would also seem to imply that she was to be subject and obedient to her husband.” And this complemented by a husband’s duty to love, serve and protect his wife unto death.

A marriage is “the conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.” It is by design that only one man and one woman are qualified to marry. They are eligible by the appropriateness of their relationship to one another and by virtue of their complementarity endowed by the Creator. By mutual consent they agree to be joined as one flesh, faithful and monogamous, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better for worse, until death do they part. These reflect the solemn promises concomitant with the sacred vows of the divinely instituted matrimony.

It is asserted in the Catechism of Trent that “it should be taught that matrimony is to be considered from two points of view, either as a natural union, since it was not invented by man but instituted by nature; or as a Sacrament, the efficacy of which transcends the order of nature.” It is known that by sacramental grace the two joined in marriage, if they cooperate with that grace, will not only secure their path on the narrow road to heaven, but lead an entire family to their rightful divine ends.

The Divine Origin of Marriage

Marriage is a creature, created by God and therefore an entity of nature with a divine origin. In the Book of Genesis 2:18 God said “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” With divine purpose and intention God made Eve of Adam’s rib and Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” It is further written of marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. The word of the Lord.” “Male and female He created them” and he instilled in them the desire to reproduce. God commanded us to “be fruitful and multiply.” Man and woman from the beginning were intended by our Creator to be joined in Holy Matrimony for life, monogamous and faithful and to procreate and educate their children.

Jesus Christ reiterates what we learn in Genesis about matrimony as he is explaining the nature of marriage to the Pharisees. We read in Mathew 19-4:6: that Christ answers them: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” This not only demonstrates further the divine origins of marriage, but confirms in unequivocal terms that marriage is perpetual and indissoluble. To summarize from paragraph 1603 of the Catechism, “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. God himself is the author of marriage. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.”

The Sacramental Nature of Marriage

As the Catechism explains, marriage’s “indissolubility arises principally from its nature as a Sacrament, as it is the sacramental character that, in all its natural relations, elevates marriage to the highest perfection.” Christ returned the divinely instituted ideal of Marriage to what it was intended from the beginning and He elevated it to a sacrament. The sacramental nature of marriage is well conveyed by paragraph 1645 of the Catechism where we learn that, “the love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: so they are no longer two, but one flesh. They are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving. This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.”

There are three blessings that come with marriage demonstrating the fruits of its sacramental nature: children, fidelity, and sacrament. Marriage by its nature is ordered to the procreation and education of children. Children are an unmitigated blessing. They are the incarnation of the love between spouses and embody the fruitfulness of our Creator and His willingness to include us in the bounty by participation in the divine act of creation. By its nature, married love demands the sacrosanct fidelity of husband and wife. The self-donation required by the nature of marriage necessitates an unbreakable union between spouses, and this is only possible between two complementary people cooperating with grace. Fidelity amongst spouses is in imitation of God’s fidelity to His covenant. And finally, the sacramental nature of marriage demonstrates the indissolubility of the marital bond. As St. Paul said, “the Lord commanded that the wife depart not from the husband, and if she depart that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to’ her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife.” As a sacrament, the nature of marriage represents the union of Christ with His Church, perpetual and faithful.

Marriage and the marital act

Coming into a possession of the knowledge of the concept, origins and nature of marriage has the potential to clarify the misunderstandings surrounding marriage. By the right use of reason to accurately define our terms, we can then to proceed from those terms to develop rightly ordered premises to form proper conclusions. The questions that get answered by a consideration of the right premises revolve around “what is marriage? And “what is the marital act?” The conclusions that follow from valid premises on the nature of marriage answer the questions “who can get married? And “for whom is the marital act appropriate?”

It follows from the nature of marriage that the marital act is a means to fulfill the primary ends of marriage, the procreation and education of children. It is in the nature of the marital act that we discover its natural end in reproduction. The primary purpose of the marital act is to transmit human life by the begetting and education of children. Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Cannubii paragraph 59, describes the secondary purpose of the marital act:  “For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.” To know the nature of the marital act is to recognize its primary and secondary ends. These two ends absolutely require the faithful, monogamous and indissoluble bond of sacramental marriage in order to be fulfilled properly.

It is the right order of things both intellectually and morally to understand that action follows being. A proper response to a thing depends upon the nature of the thing. In the case of marriage, once all the aspects of its nature are clearly understood, it becomes obvious who can and cannot get married. We often hear that love, happiness or personal contentment constitute the means of a good marriage and reasons to redefine marriage, but these things are the fruits of marriage, not the nature of marriage. The good and faithful marriage can lead to love, happiness and contentment, but they can never be the means which lead lead to the good marriage.

A wise Redemptorist Priest once explained that “much of the self-pity that underlies unhappiness in marriage is due to one of two things, the victim of self-pity did not enter into marriage under God’s terms, or he did not understand what God’s terms of the marriage contract are- the most important fact to know is that the terms of marriage are not laid down by the free will of human beings, but by the authority command of God.” We are not at liberty to define marriage for ourselves. Our only choice is about whether or now we will act in accord with its nature.

Just as many have misunderstood and misused the fruits of a good marriage as the means of marriage, we can discover a similar set of circumstances surrounding the marital act. The primary and secondary purposes of the marital act are impossible outside the marital bond. The primary end of children may necessarily occur, but to the detriment of all parties from a family broken before it began. The marital act outside of marriage violates the secondary purpose because it is no help, but exacerbates every condition of the second ends. Reasons for committing to the marital act outside of the bonds of marriage are pleasure, companionship and a unity. All three are out of order and do grave harm to the souls involved.

Marriage and the Family

What is crucially necessary in this disordered age is a recovery of the recognition that the well-ordered family is the building block of civilization and sacramental marriage is the provenance of the well-ordered family. The Redemptorist priest also explained that “marriage has a necessary purpose to fulfill in society under the plan of God that cannot be fulfilled except by certain unchangeable terms and rules. God established the purpose once and for all. God has determined the rules by which the purpose is to be attained. No human being is at liberty to change either the purpose or the essential rules.” Sacramental marriage and the families that emanate from it build up society, any other alternatives do not. Properly understood, the marital act, by its nature, is primarily intended to be a participation in the divine act of creation. The natural end of the act is procreation, and the proper response to this miraculous gift is the duty to raise and educate those children within the family as a matter of justice to the Creator and to our fellow man.

Pope St. John Paul II explained that “the future of humanity passes by way of the family, indeed marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself.” Modern society is suffering grave injury today. The strenuous and at times victorious attempts to redefine marriage speed the decay of our civilization. Broken families are the heartbreak of our age. The present crisis is about the denial of the nature of the human person, of marriage and of the marital act. Lost souls rage in vain attempts to make reality conform to them while the heavens cry out for all of us to conform to reality. Let us recover the truth about the nature of marriage and the marital act and most of the problems in our society will resolve themselves as we get on about the business of colonizing heaven.

Editor’s note: Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg will speak on “The Marriage Covenant in the Modern World: Practical Wisdom to Deepen Your Relationship with Your Spouse” at a Marriages Are Covenant evening in Roswell, Georgia on April 25, 2015. All are welcome, married and singles.




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  1. great insights into this sacrament…..but what happens when the sacred vows of this sacrament has been violated and broken….when marriage has been disordered….when the sacrosanct fidelity has been tarnished and trespassed upon….
    does this still obliges the husband and wife to live out their marriage together?

    1. In case of broken marital vows, the church offers the sacrament of Confession and penance, where advises, counseling and reminder of marital vows are given with unconditional forgiveness. Its hard to be a real catholic seen upon purely human terms, but with deep spiritual guidance and catholic Christian point of view, there is beauty and real joy that the material world can never give.

      1. I do agree with MR. Dany Serrano we need to be firm what we have been taught by Catholic Churches teaching

  2. Pearl,
    That is a profound and difficult question. Sadly, it is not infrequent that men and women violate and break their vows- it is the pull of the world and so ubiquitously and distorted that the City of Man calls these violations “good.” Disordered souls, such as most of us are, enter into the sanctity of marriage and fall woefully short, some by defects of the fall, some by invincible ignorance, some by willful ignorance, and some by malice. Most marriages are disordered by degrees of disobedience. When the “sacrosanct fidelity has been tarnished and trespassed upon” the husband and wife, if the marriage is valid, are obligated to live out their marriage vows. Depending upon the severity and frequency of the violations, especially where severe abuse is present, a physical separation may be necessary. If there are grounds for an annulment that means that there was no valid vow in the first place. So barring annulment, the husband and wife are called to live out their marriage vows, and by God’s infinite mercy and healing grace, this is better together than apart, although in certain cases, apart it must be until reconciliation occurs. Pearl, please go speak with a faithful and holy priest for clarification and guidance on this extremely important topic so that you may be able to explain God’s truths on marriage to others. Thank you for your good words- may Christ’s peace be with you and your family.

  3. We should be thankful for the Roman Catholic Christian faith, the only church that stands firm on Christ teachings on marriage. The only church that never allowed divorce, euthanasia or abortion Thus there is a need all the more in this trying times of our faith to evangelize all the more the Family Life Apostolate.

  4. Thank you for an excellent article. It would be super if more writers would get this beautiful attitude published in the area newspapers (in a shortened version) so that people can grow in an understanding. They, like sheep, are so easily led to the slaughter by hate-mongers ready to deny anything Catholic. We pray daily for priests and those speaking out to persevere with courage in the Truth of Christ

  5. Your opening paragraph would be more informative if it said: “Marriage” is an English language word, a man-made invention, invented around the beginning of the 14th century. This man-made invention was never used or spoken by Moses, or by Jesus, or by St. Paul or by any person in the Bible, and God never commanded that this man-made invention be used as a label for any particular or exclusive purpose, or that this man-made invention cannot be “redefined” by man at will to be used as a label for anything under the sun, even if some Bible translators and others have opted to use the man-made invention of “marriage” after its 14th century invention to refer to some Biblical principles and themes. Consequently, since its invention, “marriage” has been used for a multitude of purposes, often divergent purposes, and while some persons attempt to mislead the faithful to erroneously believe that “marriage” cannot be used as a label for anything under the sun, the reality is that the official teachings of the Catholic Church remind that the Church actually “speaks all tongues, understands and accepts all tongues in her love, and thereby overcomes the divisiveness of Babel.”

    1. When all else fails, obfuscate and change the definition. A lot of definition-changing is happening today.

      Bastardization is and always will be nothing more than a rape of truth.

      1. Veritas,

        I appreciate your good comment, it is succinct and accurate- I was troubling about how to respond to “Marriage for All” for obfuscation and distortion are emblematic of their words. As I quoted above from St. Pope John Paul II, “marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself.” Most troubling perhaps is the attempt to use Biblical language and Biblical notions to try to further confuse. “Marriage for all” is speaking the tongues of babel and we must defend “marriage” from those who would destroy it. “Marriage” is not manmade, if the word “nuptials” or “et erunt duo in carne una” do not sit right with the bent minds, let them take it up with St. Jerome. But let us not fall for the false notion that “marriage is for all,” for it is only for those willing to abide by its natural and divine laws, for those willing and able to “become one flesh.” It is only possible for one man and one woman to become one flesh and it is on both parts self-donation. Self-donation in the marital sense is not possible where there is no complementarity or where the relationship is inappropriate or unnatural. “terras irradiant”

        1. You say I speak the “tongues of babel” as if there’s something wrong with that. The Church herself says she “speaks all tongues, understands and accepts all tongues in her love, and thereby overcomes the divisiveness of Babel.” It is thus not, as you claim, to “obfuscate and distort” or “to try to further confuse,” but exactly as the Church teaches, to “overcome the divisiveness of Babel.” If you have a “bent mind” and do not see it so, the Church has another helpful teaching that you can follow to avoid the sins of rash judgment and calumny: “Everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.” I point out the simple fact that the word “marriage” is a manmade invention that can mean anything under the sun, that there is no Commandment or Church teaching that the word “marriage” must only refer to natural and divine institutions. In addition to the particular kinds of “marriage” which your article discusses, there are also marriages in the game of pinochle, marriages of peanut butter and jelly, same-sex marriages, polygamous marriages, open marriages, arranged marriages, civil marriages, and countless others. Such “redefining”, as you call it, of the word “marriage”, a manmade invention, does not redefine, misrepresent or “destroy” the particular kinds of marriage that you discuss in your article any more than it redefines, misrepresents or destroys marriages in the game of pinochle either. Neither are marriages in the game of pinochle reserved “only for those willing to abide by its natural and divine laws,” but are instead for players willing to abide the manmade rules of the manmade game of pinochle. It is likewise with regard to civil marriage, another manmade institution. “Take it up with St. Jerome” is a nonsensical response. He never spoke or heard the word “marriage” and he has no authority over the word “marriage”. He doesn’t own the word “marriage” and neither does the Catholic Church. It belongs to everyone. Speaking all tongues, understanding and accepting all tongues in love (not calumny and rash judgment) overcomes the divisiveness of Babel.

          1. Your second post re-hashes the first. At no time since Anno Domini has the Church agreed with you; it is, therefore, your wish to change two thousand years of teaching on this subject. What you write is not and has never been Catholic teaching. Christ, the bridegroom, took a bride and not another bridegroom. But, then again, you may not really care about what the Church truthfully teaches.

            Still, it isn’t enough for you to win among pagans on the civil front, and you should be satisfied to have it. No, you mock Jesus by thinking you can actually bring His Church to its knees. Here, you will fail.

            Tend to your soul, for eternity is far greater than a temporal, pyrrhic victory.

          2. Creative writing, such as your post, has a place in literature but not here.

            Try reading this and then see if you can convince a true Catholic that the Church, guided by the Spirit, has been wrong:


            For starters, you might begin here and put aside all “rashness:”


            1601 “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.”84

            There is no re-definition and no babbling nonsense. Case closed.

          3. Veritas, if you could improve your reading comprehension skills, you would likely commit the sins of calumny and rash judgment far less often than you do. Alternatively, resist the urge to reply and say a quiet prayer instead. Later, when you’ve come to your senses, you can fulfill your duty of reparation that you owe for your calumnies, a duty that forgiveness does not erase. Until then, your case remains open.

          4. Calumny? Look up the word. You’ve misused it.

            Rash? How about you cease being arrogant. Are you a priest? Am I in confession? Then stand down and remove the plank from your own eye; there is no splinter in mine as I am properly defending Church teaching.

            Try this word: obedience. Are you capable of being obedient to the truth?

            End of discussion.

          5. Marriage for all,
            You calumniate Holy Mother Church by your misuse of speech- but your words are not rash, they are deceitful, frighteningly sweet and calculated. I doubt many on this site grant you the license to divorce the word marriage from its plain and holy meaning. There is no commandment from Holy Mother Church which asks us to put a positive spin on slick detraction. Christ commands us to “judge not by appearances, but judge righteous judgement.” Your original post suggests that my article would “be more informative” if I subverted its attention from an honest discussion about marriage to an obscure and nominal discussion about your misuse of the word “marriage” and your ideological conclusion that it is man-made and malleable by the whims of every pathology. This is impermissible and your sophistic words of babel make no difference to the truths of Holy Mother Church concerning the nature or marriage, and there are no commandments that protect false speech.

            You claim the half-truth that Holy Mother Church “accepts all languages” as if acceptance and tolerance are the highest commands. Though you left it out, it in fact it follows, that we accept all languages which speak truth and “joins, penetrates and assumes human diversity in full Catholicity.” It is the diverse range of those who accept communion with Holy Mother Church which overcomes the divisiveness of Babel, not the untruths you express here. Your words are a violence to truth and hold no currency amongst faithful Catholics. To interpret your words in a “favorable” way (according to you) would be to scream “peace peace when there is no peace.” There is no favorable way to attempt to interpret the following immorality: “there are also marriages in the game of pinochle, marriages of peanut butter and jelly, same-sex marriages, polygamous marriages, open marriages, arranged marriages, civil marriages, and countless others.” The rest of your post is demonstration of reckless disregard for intellectual honesty-

            We are Catholic, we understand that speech itself as a divine gift is intended by its nature to convey truth in the service to the other. Your words do neither. Your only hope of influencing anyone on this site is that they do not understand the meaning of your words and mistake its pathological but false sweetness for some kind of new teaching. Here at ICL we defend the truth. St. Pope John Paul II said we must “defend marriage “from every possible misrepresentation of” its nature. You have tried in vain to misrepresent the nature of marriage.

            P.S. your words to Veritas are truly ironic!

          6. Veritas & Jonathan, you speak of your interpretation of what you read. Your interpretation is your doing and surely it comes from your heart, “for from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” If you don’t like your interpretation of what you read, try a change of heart. It will do you good.

          7. Steven, I like how you phrased his/her words, “frighteningly sweet and calculating” as he bastardizes the use of reflective prayer in an attempt to thwart righteous anger for the sake of a sick agenda that will ultimately destroy all human freedom.

            Your work is truly Catholic, sir.

  6. This is great for people who want to grow in their faith and understand what marriage actually is but as much as this is a beautiful recognition of marriage and I agree with it fully these days no one cares about it. You are speaking of natural law and no one understands it nor do they care. If you can put this into concrete terms of how it will affect them in their lives then they might listen.

    1. Dear Michael,

      Let those with the ears to hear hear. It is important to preach to the choir so that the choir may teach those closest to them, their children. You are certainly right, no matter how beautifully we explain things, the citizens the City of Man will not hear, nor do they care. It is for us to do the best we can to speak the truth then we must let the Holy Spirit do the rest. There is no easy fix here. May Christ’s peace be with you and your family!

  7. This is a beautiful piece. If only the Church actually taught marriage like this, how vibrant would Catholicism be! But the RC Church apparently surrendered to secular society decades ago (V2?).

    Since the RCism hasn’t taught this about marriage for so many years, it is no wonder that virtually all of today’s “marriages” are candidates for annulment.

    We’ve been ripped off. The joys of matrimony and family have been stolen from us; the very ones we trusted (the Church) have deceived us. Oh God, have mercy on us. We are poor little sheep and the hungry wolves are all around us. Please save us.

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