Monday, July 27, 2015

Until death do us part.

Marriage is the oldest of all of the sacraments. It was instituted by God in the twilight of the sixth day of creation.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

The man 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.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2, 18-24.

God authored marriage and therefore is the ultimate authority as to what marriage is, who it is between, and how long it lasts. Man has never been good at acknowledging or respecting God’s authority in anything. Changes to God’s plan started with Moses, the law giver. Moses’ people turned their backs on the law and demanded the ability to divorce. Moses eventually gave in to the pressure and allowed his people to divorce. The type of divorce Moses allowed is not the same as how we define divorce today. Read my previous blog post for a deeper dive into biblical divorce – Biblical Divorce.

When tested by the Pharisees, Jesus reaffirmed God’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for life. The people preferred their definition over God’s and made themselves the ultimate authority on what marriage is, who it can be between, and for how long it lasts.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created 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 no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 19, 3-9.

God defines marriage as being between one man and one woman for life. Marriage is called to be open to life – procreative, one flesh union. Two becomes three in unity. The family is the foundation of all society and marriage is intended to furnish the stable base where all human interaction starts. We are all called to be brothers and sisters living together in love.

This definition is too restrictive for man to follow. We have taken it upon ourselves to continue in the footsteps of the people of Moses and redefine what marriage is. We have three basic kinds of marriage among Christian people today.

The first is the civil marriage. It is a marriage defined and performed by the state. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling who can be married in the United States is now open. No longer is marriage strictly between one man and one woman. Same sex marriages are now recognized. It is still between one person and one person but the door has been opened to legalize polygamy and multiple marriages in the near future. Civil marriage is a contractual marriage. A contract is the free exchange of goods and/or services for an amount of time. They are not lifelong. A civil marriage can last for a lifetime, and many of them do, but they can be terminated at any point in time by a simple divorce. The divorced pair are then able to marry someone else without restriction. Sadly, in a recent poll, this is the type of marriage over 56% of Catholics support. There are groups within the Church who are demanding that the Church get with the times and accept this as the definition of marriage. She is in the same position that Moses was after the exodus.

The second type of marriage is the blessed marriage. This is a marriage that is fully recognized and approved of by the Church, which for one reason or another does not rise to the level of a sacramental marriage. One of the elements of a sacramental marriage is missing and therefore this type of marriage does not receive the full measure of sacramental grace that is received when one is in a sacramental marriage. This often happens when a Catholic marries without the proper form or matter or marries someone who is not baptized or of another faith. A couple can have their marriage blessed by the Church only if some element that keeps the marriage from being considered sacramental is missing and there is nothing that can keep it from becoming sacramental exists. A Catholic woman who marries an unbaptized man can have her marriage blessed. A Catholic woman who marries a divorced man cannot. An unbaptized man can always become baptized. A divorced man can never really become “unmarried” as we see a marriage being for life. If the divorced man’s wife dies he then becomes free to marry again and then that marriage can be blessed and even become sacramental.

The reason a person should have their non-sacramental marriage blessed is so they can receive the other sacraments. A couple who has a blessed marriage can receive the Eucharist (if the requirements to do so are met). They can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Healing. Those living in an unblessed civil marriage cannot receive these sacraments.

The third type of marriage is the sacramental marriage. This is the type of marriage all Catholics who are called to the vocation of marriage are called to. Marriage is one of the three sacraments that are universally accepted as a sacrament among the mainstream Christian religions. The main difference between the Protestant sacrament and the Catholic sacrament is that Protestants can divorce and end the marriage. For a Catholic a marriage is for life.

This series on the sacraments centers on how they are “oaths until the death”. The Catholic Sacrament of Marriage is probably the easiest of the sacraments to see how this principle applies. Catholics believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, open to the creation of new life, for as long as both people are alive. A Catholic marriage is a covenantal marriage, not a contractual marriage. A covenant is the total giving of one’s self for the total receiving of another for life. The only thing that can end a covenant is the death of one who has entered into it.

The Baltimore Catechism defined a sacrament as, “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." This is the main difference between a blessed marriage and a sacramental marriage. God gives grace to couples living marriage as he defined it, not as man defined it. There is nothing we cannot accomplish with the grace of God. A sacramental marriage living with the grace of God is a good and holy thing that all marriage should be modeled after.

If you are an American Christian do not fret over the recent Supreme Court ruling considering the definition of marriage. Man has been trying to redefine marriage since the time of Moses. It only deals with a civil marriage. For a Catholic, marriage is so much more. For us, marriage was instituted and defined by God, the ultimate authority in all things. Supreme Court justices come and go and their rulings change with time. God is eternal and his love for us never changes.

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