The Sacrament of Matrimony
The sacrament of matrimony is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It is the celebration of a loving, lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. Although married love is certainly not the only form of love in our world, it is a visible and frequent example of love – perhaps for that reason, marriage and spousal love are frequent analogies in the Old Testament for God’s love for the Israelites.
Like the other sacraments in the Catholic Church, marriage is intended to be a visible sign of God’s invisible love and graces for us. When a couple is married in the Church, this happens in two ways. First of all, the sacrament gives the couple the graces needed for a lifelong bond. Secondly, the couple and their love become like sacraments themselves – their love and commitment for each other is intended to be a public sign to the world of God’s love for us, the Church.
In a sacramental marriage of two baptized Catholics, God’s love becomes present to the spouses in their union with each other. In addition, their witness spreads this love to the world, primarily through the family but also to the broader community.
Scriptural Basis of the Sacrament of Matrimony
Jesus did not invent marriage, but He did elevate it to a sacrament.
The Bible begins with the creation and union of man and woman, in the story of Adam and Eve and their union with each other. In summarizing the way the relationship of a married couple follows the tradition of Adam and Eve, Genesis 2:24 states “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” In other words, marriage exists as a way to demonstrate and cement the union for which God created men and women.
In other Old Testament, marriage and spousal love are often used analogously to explain God’s love for His people. For example, Isaiah 62:4-5 says:
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
However, we also know that marriage in the Old Covenant needed restoration to God’s true plan for it. When the Pharisees point out to Jesus that Mosaic Law (that is, the Law of Moses revealed in the Hebrew Bible) permitted divorce, Jesus clarified that the practice of divorce was only allowed because of human sin and weakness and was never part of God’s plan:
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘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. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:2-10 NRSVCE)
We see here the importance in the Christian understanding of marriage as permanent and inviolable.
Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians very clearly uses the image of marriage as a symbol for the relationship of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23). In fact, perhaps the most important “marriage” in sacred Scripture is in the Book of Revelation, when John’s vision reveals the wedding feast between the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and His bride, the Church (Revelation 19). This relationship between Christ and His Church is ongoing, and it demonstrates both Jesus’ love for us and the manner in which married couples on Earth should live.