Issues of Faith: Sacramental Marriage

On my favorite forum we had a discussion about divorce.  Agreed upon was that divorce is too common among Catholics.  I believe it is also too common among other Christians as well, but here I deal from the Catholic perspective and allow other Christians to apply the ideas to their own situations.

I argued that the problem is not divorce but that Catholics enter into civil marriages without entering into Sacramental Marriages.  Furthermore, the problem of lack of sacramental marriage is due to poor Catechesis (knowledge of what the Church teaches) and lack of discipleship (application of Church teaching to one’s everyday life).

Today’s post is about the Sacrament of Marriage.  Sacramental Marriage is one of the Seven Sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church and is permanent.


Civil law exists to govern how people do things so that their rights and responsibilities are defined in civil law.   A civil marriage may happen at the same time as a Sacramental Marriage (which is why getting a marriage license (civil law) is required in order to have a Catholic wedding) but it may also occur without the sacrament of marriage– as in going down to the Justice of the Peace to get married.


A Sacramental Marriage cannot be undone.  The Tribunal will find it to be sacramental and refuse a decree of nullity.  The individuals may get a civil divorce and live apart but their marriage will remain because a SACRAMENT of marriage cannot be undone.


Canon law reflects Church teaching on what is essential for every Sacrament.

For example, Baptism does not occur apart from water, requires that the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” be said while pouring the water over the head of the person being baptized, and requires that the person administering the sacrament intend to do what the Church commands even if they are of a different religion. So too, the Sacrament of Marriage has some requirements.


A Sacramental Marriage can only occur between a man and a woman who are both BAPTIZED. If one of the persons is not baptized then there is NO sacrament.


Catholics are required to enter into the sacrament with a priest as witness and within a Church. Any deviations without special permissions from the Bishop will prevent the sacrament from occurring.


Impediments can exist which prevent marriage.  A previous marriage in which no decree of nullity has been given is one such impediment.  Holy Orders are an impediment to marriage as well.  Canon law has a list of impediments which should be explored BEFORE the wedding day!


Marriage requires that the person be capable of giving CONSENT.  It is a complex thing, this consent, and it is important that Catholics know about this before they have that wedding.  It is important that the people who plan to marry be very very certain to meet the requirements for consent.

Consent requires that the persons know to what they are consenting (a child does not know and so cannot give consent to marry).  It requires that the person be equally free to say no as to say yes, that there are no circumstances or persons pressuring them. This is essential, that the free will of the person giving consent must be free of any coercion.   It requires that the person be informed about the other person and there were no deal breakers hidden away (for example, if someone lies about an essential, such as whether or not they got rid of the other girlfriend, or hid their drug addiction) then that can negate consent.


The two people must be open to life and this means children. Intending to use birth control to eliminate the prospect of children prevents the sacrament.  NFP is acceptable for short term use to space children but other means of preventing birth are not acceptable. However, being infertile is NOT an impediment to marriage as long as both persons remain open to life happening in spite of the infertility.


The people involved must “intend the good of the other”.  What does this mean?  It means that there must be a true love, a true intention that marriage is an opportunity to do good and help make good happen for the other person.  A person who marries but intends that marriage as a means of stealing the inheritance of their spouse would have failed to “will the good of the other.”  This is a difficult one to prove but it is none-the-less something considered.


A Sacramental Marriage requires a man and a woman, both baptized, who have no impediments, intend the good of the other, are open to children, are free to say no, and who know enough about each other to give valid consent.

Who can meet those criteria?  Sadly, an amazingly few people if the numbers of decrees of nullity being issued by Tribunals are any indication.


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