This page gives a summary of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage. Elsewhere on the site, there is a prayer for engaged couples, a passage from the ceremony giving encouragement for the couple and some information about preparation for marriage.
Marriage is a Sacrament
We say that Marriage is a Sacrament. This means that it is an action of Jesus Christ in the Church. The sacraments are ritual signs which give grace to the person who receives them.
When the priest baptises a baby, he pours water on the baby’s head. This is a sign of washing and of new life. We believe that at the Baptism, Jesus Christ washes away sin and gives the baby new life in the Church.
At your marriage, you will exchange vows with each other. You will make solemn promises that are binding for the whole of your life together. This exchange of vows is a sign of the work of Jesus Christ who joins you in the unbreakable bond of marriage. Notice that you yourselves the ministers of the marriage. You give the sacrament to each other. he priest is there to conduct the service according to the rite of the Church, to witness your marriage and to bless you.
The Purposes of Marriage
The Catholic Church teaches that the purposes of marriage are for the procreation and upbringing of children and of the mutual welfare and support of the couple. Neither of these can be deliberately excluded.
The procreation and upbringing of children
This is what makes married love different from any other love. The Church teaches that the use of sex should be reserved to marriage so that children can be brought up in a stable home where the parents are committed to them and to each other.
In teaching that sex is for having children within marriage, the Church also teaches that the use of artificial contraception and sterilisation is wrong and contrary to the natural law. There may be serious reasons why a couple might decide to have no more children. In such a case, the use of natural family planning involves a joint decision and responsibility. NFP also involves mutual respect, generosity and self-control. These values are always important in married life even when there is no need to limit the number of children.
For further information on Natural Family Planning, there are many excellent resources on the Web. See the list of links (right).
The mutual welfare and support of the couple
The companionship involved in Marriage cannot be achieved outside of Marriage. The unconditional lifelong commitment made in Marriage makes it quite different from just living together. It is important to realise this and to be well prepared for it.
Marriage will not be the solution if a relationship is in trouble. Experience and research show that it is more likely to hasten the breakdown of the relationship.
The Properties of Marriage
The unity of Marriage
Marriage is between one man and one wife. It is necessary to be aware of the kinds of relationship that are incompatible with marriage. It is not just a question of adultery. A husband and wife have a legitimate claim on each other’s time, attention and affection. This does not always happen automatically and may require self-control and determination to keep the promises made on the Wedding day.
The indissolubility of marriage (“till death do us part”)
This is well-known and great anguish is caused when Marriages break up. Again, it shows Marriage to be very different from simply living together. The vows, once made, cannot be made to another person while both partners are still alive.
We need not be too gloomy about divorce. Even if 1 in 3 marriages break up, that means that 2 in 3 stay together! And many Marriages that break up are ill-considered and ill-prepared. By preparing well for your Marriage, you lay the foundations for a happy life together. In the parish, we often have the joy of celebrating the anniversaries of people who have been married for 25 or 40 years or more. They are normal people who have lived faithfully together though the ups and downs of married life.