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Moral Theology

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Chapter VI
Christian Marriage

by John A. Hardon, S.J.

The Christian concept of marriage, although built on the natural law, differs sharply from the earlier practices among the Jews and pagans, and also from the modern secular usage – to the point that no area of public relationship more clearly distinguishes Christianity from other institutions of human society. It cuts across every aspect of the moral law and has implications in every phase of man's attitude towards God, so that marriage can truly be called the most revealing trait of the Christian religion and almost the test of its validity.

Unfortunately not all believers understand how unique were the teachings of Christ about matrimony and how zealously the Church has sought to preserve these ideals in a world that writes and talks endlessly about marriage but seldom stops to think about it. Yet the attitude of a person toward marriage is not an academic question. Wrong notions and misguided opinions lead to the wrecking of happiness, mainly because those who lack the faith have succeeded in creating an atmosphere which challenges Christians at every turn: from the sexual conduct that is sanctioned before marriage to promiscuity after marriage, which the State conveniently approves by creating laws to suit the changing times.

Spokesmen for the "new approach" are neither few nor uninfluential. For Bertrand Russell, "the whole system of Christian ethics (bearing on marriage), both in the Catholic and in the Protestant form, requires to be re-examined, as far as possible without the preconceptions to which a Christian education predisposes most of us. Emphatic and reiterated assertion, especially during childhood, produces in most people a belief so firm as to have a hold even over the unconscious, and many of us who imagine that our attitude toward orthodoxy is quite emancipated are still, in fact, subconsciously controlled by its teachings." (1) Russell would remove the "taboo" against fornication, allow relations with other persons than husband and wife, and favor a remodeled society in which the government takes care of the children while father and mother are gainfully employed for the upbuilding of the State.

Nature of Marriage

It is remarkable what a variety of definitions have been given for an institution as common as marriage, principally because in every definition appears the author's philosophy of life. Anthropologists describe marriage as the established method of starting a family, or as that type of sex relation which is approved in a given society. Sociologists say that marriage in any particular society is an accumulation of customs and, in literate societies, laws with regard to the sexual association of adults for the purpose of reproduction. They point out that it differs from other relationships which may involve sexual intercourse through being prescribed by a community and regulated as the proper status for those who wish to reproduce themselves and thus to help reproduce society.

Thematic in all these definitions is the idea that the society in which people live, its customs and mores, determine the character of the sexual relationships of marriage. It is assumed that the form of these relations depends on the ideologies, especially the religio-magical notions, the traditions, the economic and military organization and, possibly on other circumstances, prevailing in the society in question.

In the Christian view of life, marriage is more than a social convenience whose structure is shaped by the people getting married and the accidents of time and place where they plan to live. Its foundations go back to the origins of the human race and postulate that marriage was not instituted by man, but by God. When God created man and woman, He implanted in human nature the urge for reproduction: "God created man in His image. In the image of God, He created him. Male and female He created them." (2) The Hebrew word for man (Adam) is a collective noun, referring not only to the first man but through him also to the race as a whole.

The Lord blessed the first human pair and, by a special revelation, gave them the divine mandate of reproducing their kind. "Be fruitful and multiply," He told them. This immediately raises the status of marriage, even before the time of Christ, to a level above the merely human and invests it with duties and a sublimity that could only derive from God.

Over the centuries, the divine origin of matrimony was disputed by those who either denied the existence (or relevance) of God, or found something in marriage which they decided was incompatible with God's nature. The Gnostic Manicheans decried marriage as unholy on the premise of their dualistic doctrine that matter is the seat of evil, so that anything which professedly encourages the reproduction of bodies is a source of evil. In the twelve and thirteen hundreds, the Albigenses followed Manichean dualism in its attempt to solve the problem of evil. They asserted the co-existence of two ultimate principles, a good deity (the God of the New Testament) who created Spirit and Light, and a bad deity (the God of the Old Testament) who created Matter and Darkness. Accordingly they also condemned marriage and the procreation of children as demoniac. Yet concubinage was tolerated because less permanent than matrimony; and desertion of husband or wife they called praiseworthy. It is significant that the much-criticized Inquisition was born of the effort in France to stem the tide of Albigensianism as an anti-social heresy.

In the Catholic Church, therefore, it is held as an immutable and inviolable fundamental doctrine that matrimony was not originated or restored by man but by God. "Not by man were the laws made to strengthen and confirm and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ our Lord by whom nature was redeemed. Consequently the laws of marriage cannot be subject to any human decrees or to any contrary pact even of the spouses themselves. This is the doctrine of Holy Scripture; this is the constant teaching of the Universal Church; this the solemn definition of the Council of Trent, which declares and establishes from the words of Holy Writ itself that God is the Author of the perpetual stability of the marriage bond, its unity and its firmness." (3) Every position which challenges the Catholic teaching on matrimonial impediments, divorce and birth control ultimately comes back to this stance of questioning the divine authorship of the marriage contract.

Although marriage is, therefore, of divine origin, the human will also enters matrimony in a way so intimate that without it the marriage would be null and void. In every marriage only two people join together in a conjugal union, so that unless they give their mutual consent they are not really married. This free act of the will, by which each party hands over and accepts those rights proper to the state of marriage, is so essential that it cannot be supplied by any human power. Few aspects of marriage in the Western world are more illustrative of the influence of Christianity than the assumed liberty of a young man and woman to choose their own life partner. In the East, in India and China, and in Moslem countries, such freedom is exercised only where and to the extent to which Christian principles have gained a footing.

"In the West," the saying goes, "you fall in love, then marry. In the East we marry, then fall in love." This is how the Asian describes the difference. A telling commentary on this practice is found in a story told in The Fortunate Union. Ping Hsin and Tieh Chang-yu were afraid they had been disqualified for marriage because they had unfortunately met and fallen in love beforehand. Only after their parents had overruled them, and insisted that there was no reason why the marriage should not succeed in spite of the fact that they were already in love, were they reassured.

A typical Indian girl, for example, never experiences uncertainty about the man she is to marry because she does not have to choose. She has only to give her love (if she can) unhesitatingly and completely, to the one chosen for her. She is brought up to believe that she will develop love for any man who is kind to her, and that the way to make him kind is to give him unstinted devotion and service.

However, while the Christian enjoys perfect freedom about entering marriage or marrying this particular person, once he enters the marital state the duties he assumes are entirely independent of his free will, so that after marriage the husband and wife are subject to the divinely made laws that govern matrimony. Nevertheless, the union is entered willingly and this fact joins the contracting parties and knits them together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies; what unites them is not a passing affection of passion or feeling but a deliberate and firm act of the will. From this union of wills there arises, by God's decree, a sacred and inviolable bond. Hence the nature of the marriage contract, which is unique in human relations, makes it entirely different both from the sexual union of animals which they enter by blind instinct without free choice, and from the promiscuous unions among human beings, which enjoy none of the rights or privileges of family life.

A word of observation to anticipate those critics who claim the Catholic Church frowns on marriage while extolling celibacy. No less authority than Leo XIII declared the perfect freedom each one has to choose one or the other. "In choosing a state of life," he said, "there is no doubt that each one has the power and discretion to prefer one or the other: either to embrace the counsel of virginity given by Jesus Christ, or to bind himself in the bonds of matrimony. To take away from man the natural and primeval right of marriage, to circumscribe in any way the principal ends of marriage laid down in the beginning by God Himself in the words 'Increase and multiply,' is beyond the power of any human law." (4) Modern history, including certain American laws and practices, shows how far political agencies have gone in restricting these human freedoms.

It takes three to enter marriage according to Christian standards: husband and wife each contribute their free consent, and God contributes His share. From Him comes the very institution of marriage, the purpose for which it was made, the laws which govern it, the blessings which only He can give. From man and woman comes a generous surrender of their persons to one another for the whole span of life, thus becoming with God's help the authors of each particular marriage and cooperators with Him in the advancement of mankind.

Purpose of Marriage

Few aspects of matrimony are more widely misunderstood than its purpose, mainly because of the widespread custom of contraception and divorce, both of which contradict essential elements of marriage as understood by Christians since the time of Christ. Briefly stated, the primary purpose of marriage is the generation and upbringing of children, and the secondary is to offer mutual help in fostering love between husband and wife and aiding each other in the control of sex and their emotional life.

There are two places in Scripture, both in Genesis, where these two ends or functions are touched upon. In the narrative of creation, the making of the first couple is the crowning work of God's creative power, which may be seen from the careful parallelism in the various stages of production. The trees and plants are said to have borne their seed according to their species, and that they bore fruit having within it seed. Also the animals are commanded to increase their number. Finally the solemn injunction to Adam and Eve, also to multiply and fill the earth. Throughout the creation epic is the idea of life being transmitted through the obligation to perpetuate and develop the human family.(5)

In the second chapter of Genesis, the situation is different. God created Adam before he formed Eve; on which the divine observation is made that "it is not good for man to be alone." Eve comes into existence in order to be a companion of Adam and "a helper like himself." Adam recognizes in her what he had been looking for before, one who was bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, for whom his posterity were to leave father and mother. On authority from God, they were to be "two in one flesh." So that mutual assistance, through love and a shared life, is a correlative function of marriage. (6)

Procreation. Under pressure from their critics, Catholic theologians have sometimes been tempted to question the primacy of procreation of children in married life. But as often as the issue comes up, the traditional position is upheld and reiterated, that the first reason why God instituted marriage was to have children born into the world and reared in His knowledge and love. Thus in 1944, the Holy Office (over which the Pope himself is chairman), in answer to an inquiry, repeated the familiar teaching. Some years later, Pius XII further clarified the doctrine.

As a natural institution and in virtue of the will of the Creator, marriage has for its first and intimate purpose not the personal perfection of husband and wife but the procreation and formation of new life (through education). The other ends of marriage are certainly willed by nature, but they have not the same excellence as the first and much less are they superior to it. In fact they are essentially subordinate. (7)

Some people are scandalized at the intransigence of this doctrine, partly because they do not understand its meaning. To say that begetting children and providing for their nurture and care is primary does not mean that this function is (or need be) uppermost in people's minds when they marry. It need hardly be explicitly formulated at all, because nature has provided that, unless the partners interfere with the generative organs, children will normally be conceived and eventually born. The "first" purpose here is the same as the direct purpose, the end that is built-into our human powers, the physical terminus to which sexual intercourse leads if both parties are fertile and no hindrance is placed in the way.

We might compare this with the appetite for food. It is common knowledge that nourishment of the body and giving it sustenance are the primary end of eating. This is the physical and immediate function that taking food is supposed to provide. It does not mean that every time I eat I overtly (and before all else) decide "I am going to eat in order to sustain my body and give myself the nourishment I need." What it means is that the immediate purpose of eating, insured by the laws of nature, is to support bodily strength and physical life. This function is primary because any other purpose, like enjoyment from taking food, presupposes it. In other words, the objective reason why people eat (whether they advert to this or not) is to maintain life and health of body; it is not to get pleasure out of eating, which is only a means that nature uses to guarantee that people might be attracted to eating at all. If we lacked the appetite for food and drink, we would soon starve from under-nourishment or weaken our bodies to the point that any disease would carry us off in death.

The first end of marriage, therefore, has been made clear by nature in the complimentary differences between the two sexes and confirmed the mandate of the Author of nature to increase and multiply.

Not poets and homilists alone, but everyone who seriously reflects on the mystery of life has extolled the grandeur of this task of procreation. The word itself suggests that it means collaborating with the creativity of God Himself. In other productions of human power and genius, we leave the impress of ourselves on whatever we do, but in parenthood we enter into the heart of creation and become co-authors with God of the person we produce. God must indeed create each soul individually, yet even His almighty power will not be exercised unless and until two human beings furnish the bodily conditions which enable God, so to speak, to infuse a human spirit into the body we prepare.

We speak of a recent or impending birth as a "happy event," as though to emphasize that nature itself is pleased at obeying the law of God. When Christ spoke of the woman who forgets all her pain once her child is born, He was saying that birth is joyful precisely because it means the attainment of a goal, since every goal achieved is a natural source of joy. When a child is born, something eternal has been made, something sacred has been reached. Even if a child should die on the day of his birth, faith tells the parents he is born in eternity. A birth is always a success, an accomplishment. The joy it brings comes from God; not even death can rob it from those who completed a divine and imperishable work by bringing an immortal personality out of nothing into the world.

Procreation, however, is more than producing a child. It seals the marriage union and brings it to fruition; it seals the marriage because the child is made to the image of his father and mother, as well as of God. The child is not just a child but, to each of the parents, he is the gift the other has given, the fruit of their love. He is a living expression of their mutual generosity. Through the child, the "two-ness" of marriage is changed. and develops into a "three-ness;" as in God. Sexuality, it has been said, is duality. Love is always a trinity.

Care and Education. Too often people separate the two parts of the primary end of marriage, as though begetting offspring were the only goal. The primary function of matrimony is twofold, both generation and education, and not the first alone. Really two kinds of begetting are involved, the one physical by delivering a human being, and the other spiritual by training the child to know and love the truth and thereby save his soul.

Suppose God had not given parents the power and right to educate their children, but only the power to beget them. He would then have failed to make sufficient provision for children who are born, and so for the whole human race. Children, as we have seen, are incapable of providing wholly for themselves, even in things pertaining to the natural life, and much less in the myriad needs of the supernatural life of grace. For many years they have to be helped, instructed, and educated by others.

The law of conscience, written in the heart of man, teaches that this right and duty to educate their offspring belongs in the first place to those who began the work of nature by giving them birth, and they are in fact forbidden to leave this task unfinished and so expose it to certain ruin. In the state of matrimony the best possible provision has been made for this training of children because, since the parents are bound together by an indissoluble bond, the care and mutual help of each is always at hand.

Both parents are necessary for a full, well-rounded development of the child. Much has been written, perhaps too much, on how mothers are to take care of children. But one thing at least should be stressed, that the childhood years, even the first months, of an infant's life are important. This is the period when the groundwork for his physical, mental and emotional fitness for life is being laid, and the basic pattern for the development of his personality is formed.

Not a few mothers sometimes, get overinvolved in complex theories and methods, or confused by the conflicting advice they read in magazines and hear over the radio. Child psychologists remind them that nature meant them to have children, and that they are endowed with a mother instinct that will develop along with their child. He is a human being, and wants warmth and acceptance, attention and love. These are always the "right things " for him.

Certainly there is no one simple formula for rearing children, because people are individuals, whether babies or adults. While experience may help, lack of it should not be a handicap, otherwise the first-born would regularly be worst trained! For the consolation of mothers, infants are emotionally a hardy lot, and not easily harmed by occasional mistakes.

A child develops physically and emotionally. Nowadays it is agreed that both kinds of development begin almost at birth and are closely related.

The physical aspect covers not only growth of body but also co-ordination of muscles and nerves, development of the brain and thought processes, learning to recognize people and things around him. Emotional development includes the whole complex of desires and appetites, and concerns the child's reactions about things, people and situations. It means the development of affection, dependence on others, independence and freedom, fears and anxieties, likes and dislikes, confidence in himself and in the world about him. The two kinds of growth work together and affect each other.

A mother should know that her baby learns a great deal about the world in the first few weeks of life, before he can focus his eyes, recognize anything or anyone, or do a thing for himself. He learns to feel that it is a friendly, comfortable place where he will be welcome and happy, and that it can sometimes be strange, frightening and cold. He feels, at a remarkably early age, how much he "belongs," and it is the mother's privilege to foster this feeling from birth on through infancy and into childhood. For the first weeks and months, the mother is her baby's world; she does not cease to be the most important part of that world in the years that follow. No matter how awkwardly she may fulfill her role, the feeling of love comes to her child from the kindly, attentive way she cares for him. The development of her natural maternal feelings, as she fills his needs, will make him sense that he is loved, and he will feel safe and secure.

Children cannot be brought up with the best possible physical care and fail to grow and develop well because they do not feel loved. On the other hand, many children we might consider "underprivileged" simply thrive. The difference consists mainly in that subtle art called "mothering."

Mothers cannot overestimate their importance to their children, not just or mostly for physical care, but for the feelings and sentiments they transfer to him or create in him. So the logical starting point for good mothering is to consider oneself and one's feelings and ideals. These should be deep and high, and the principles that govern them sound; they will be communicated to a child years before it ostensibly reaches the age of reason, not by formal instruction or training so much as by example and that mysterious, almost mystical, medium of exchange called a mother's love.

Less familiar is the role of the father in the education of his children, perhaps because the mother is normally closer to home and traditionally considered the teacher in the family. Yet the father is in many ways indispensable; his function is not only to supplement the mother's care but to contribute what no one else except he can give. There are certain facets of personality that grow and develop in a home only where the father is playing his various roles effectively.

His first contribution is to father the children through their mother. His strength and power have the faculty of passing through the mother to the children. He helps to keep her in the mood for her maternal task by consistently providing material comfort and security for her through his labor. She is thus assured freedom from anxiety about food, clothing and shelter. By showing interest in her activity, creativeness and work, he furnishes what she needs for physical and emotional stability.

In addition to this vicarious "fathering" of the child, the husband has a more distinctive role to play. Comparable to the affection he shows his wife, the loving attention he gives the infant early in life will awaken a corresponding interest in the infant toward him. At first it may be only a dim awareness, but it is an important one. Boys and girls are alike in this respect. They develop their earliest and most decisive ideas about masculinity from their fathers. He evokes a process in the child which psychologists call "animating the mind" toward the male sex. Delay in enthusiasm on his part makes it harder than ever to create the depth of relationship that a child needs to grow into an emotionally healthy person.

One mistake often made is the tacit assumption that the father should avoid all sovereignty over the girl members of the family, as though the latter belonged by right only to the mother. The result can be a one-sided feminine personality that has never felt real nearness and understanding in their relations with men because this dimension of a father's care had been neglected (or avoided) in childhood.

In the next stage of development, the grade school child tends to be unsure of himself, especially when, to a large extent, he is under the direction of women. Boys and girls are not unlike in this matter. They can easily grow to resent the imposed learning process where they are surrounded by women almost to the exclusion of men. With mother at home and the woman teacher at school, both urging the child to learn and progress, he is liable to feel smothered by women. Boys in the lower grades especially are afraid of being effeminate, and whatever lack of docility they have is aggravated by a fear or even refusal to accept the female orientation of mother and teacher as to what constitutes acceptable behavior or moral conduct. Here the father can help to explain and teach, by word and example, the validity of practices which the boy may suspect are only feminine idiosyncrasies.

Specialists in the field suggest there are at least seven variants to the father's characteristic part in the education of his growing family. He is above all a companion and inspiration for the mother; if she lacks this, the children may suffer radically from that essential ingredient which is loosely called security but which covers every facet of psychological development. The father is moreover an awakener of the emotional potentialities of his children; his role of active element in procreation carries on into education by evoking latent powers and stimulating mental and moral energies that might otherwise never come to light. He is meant to be a faithful friend and teacher to his sons and daughters, in a way that a mother can only with difficulty ever be; the native rationality of a mature-minded man is supposed to balance the more affectionate and emotional contribution of the mother.

A father is meant by nature to become the "ego-ideal" for masculine love, ethics and morality. What he is and does will be reflected in his children, and their attitudes towards men will be strongly conditioned by the image of fatherhood which boys and girls see in their own fathers. Rising a step higher, even their concept of God will be colored by what they know of such qualities as justice, strength of character, kindliness, prudent foresight and solicitude in the parent whom they call father. Correspondingly the father is meant to be a model for his children's social and vocational behavior. "Like father, like son," is not only a proverb. It intimates how deeply human conduct is shaped by immediate patterns of morality, and how instinctively a child imitates the one whom he has come to recognize as head of the family.

The stabilizing influence of a father comes not only from his dominant position, but from the numerous elements which nature has implanted in him and which experience develops to the well-being of the children. Where this is missing, the consequences in stunted personality and moral deviation among boys and girls are common knowledge. Nothing can quite supply for the multiple role of a father as protector and mentor, counselor and loyal friend to his children.

Mother and father are differently made by nature for different, albeit complementary, functions in the upbringing of their sons and daughters. Personality development is a complicated affair into which elements from both sexes must enter in order to produce the right measure of strength and tenderness, wisdom and intuition, reason and emotion, control and generosity. The modern world especially is demanding more and more of people. Since it is socially and biologically dependent upon the two sexes, both must cooperate in forming the child to meet the exigencies of modern life.

Mutual Love

The ideal of married love was delineated by St. Paul when he told the Ephesians, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the Church," that Church which He embraced with a boundless charity not for His own self-advantage but seeking only the good of His spouse. (8) Consequently the love that marriage is intended to foster between husband and wife is not the passing lust of the moment nor romantic sentimentality but that deep internal attachment of heart which is expressed in action and proved in generous deeds.

At the center of this marital love is the prior commitment that husband and wife made to accept each other, "for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." They are not simply two people who agreed to live together for a common purpose; they are changed internally by their mutual dedication to form a new entity, not unlike the newness that exists since the Incarnation, when God took upon Himself our nature and became wedded to humanity in a union so close that we call it the Mystical Body of Christ.

To the natural man all this seems unreal, to compare married love with the divine charity that exists between Jesus Christ and His Church. Yet precisely here is the hidden meaning of Christian marriage which those who lack the faith do not understand. There are two qualities to this charity that distinguish it from every other virtue, and when fostered between husband and wife, make their union the nearest thing on earth to the joys of heaven. True marital love is absolutely selfless and profoundly respectful; it seeks not its own but the welfare of the partner, and it respects the dignity of the other person according to his sex, position in the family and nobility in the sight of God. The marks of selfless love are more easily experienced than defined, yet certain qualities are commonly recognized. Love is a deep, ardent, and devoted affection for another person which delights in and seeks to be in that person's presence. It constantly tries to advance the other's good. The happiness of the one I love is a source of my own great joy. True love is not passion, and it rises above the initial urge that comes of physical attraction.

Total self-giving is the ideal towards which every Christian marriage should tend. Unfortunately the current obsession of the stage and of much of our literature with sex and the fetish made of romantic feelings have obscured the real meaning of love. Movies and television, best-sellers and a flood of tabloids have created a false image that haunts many young people as they enter marriage. They have come so to identify sentimentality and sex with marital love, that once the feeling of "being in love" passes away, the marriage itself is suspect and disintegration sets in. Instead of seeing love for what it really is, an unselfish union of wills, they equate it with a subtle egoism that wants only self-gratification. When this cannot be further satisfied, then separation – divorce – another try, and the cycle starts over again.

Marriage counselors and psychologists are finally alerting people to the tragic inversion of values, which are fast approaching the opposite extreme of what the Church means by mutual love as one of the ends of marriage. Sexual gratification is a familiar substitute. What many persons do is to draw a moral conclusion from a rule of popular psychology. "It is gratifying and therefore healthy and natural to indulge the sex appetite when you feel like doing so; and frustrating, and therefore unhealthy and unnatural, not to." Correspondingly when the appetite wanes, love wanes, so that the barometer of love in marriage is the degree of pleasure husband or wife derive from their sexual relations.

As a psychological rule, this is surely wrong; it can be as healthy to frustrate as it is to gratify one's desires. Sometimes gratification is very unhealthy, sometimes frustration is. Nor can psychological health be accepted as morally decisive. It may be quite "healthy" to run away with your neighbor's wife, but not, therefore, right. And there is nothing unhealthy about wishing to kill someone who has injured you but this does not morally justify your doing so. To say "we must follow nature" is always specious. Nature is not identified only with the non-intellectual, sensual, or emotional.
Religious ceremonies state the meaning of marriage clearly. The couple are asked to promise "to have and to hold ...until death do us part." The vow does not say, "As long as you both shall want to," because marriage is a promise to continue even when you no longer wish to. If marriage were to end when (romantic) love does, it would be redundant: why solemnly ask two persons to promise to be with each other for as long as they wish to be with each other? (9)

Until recent years, marriage was to unite the family by tying people together "until death do us part," in spite of the fickleness of their emotions. The authority of Church and State was to guarantee that they kept a promise voluntarily made, but binding, and that could not be unmade. It was left to present-day theorists to invert this order. Where Christianity looks upon marriage as a means of furthering selfless giving, secularism says it is a way of selfish getting. Once a man (or woman) stops getting what they want, they part company and try again elsewhere.

By Christian standards, the principal effect of love is to unite the wills of those who love, so as to make of them but one and the same will. They sublimate their own preferences in favor of those whom they love, and sacrifice their own pleasures in order to give pleasure to the one loved. When a person truly "falls in love" his whole center changes. Up to that point he may probably have referred everything to himself, considered things from his own advantage. When he falls in love the whole thing is shifted; he becomes a part of the circumference, so to speak, while someone else becomes the center. For example, things he hears and sees are referred in future instantly to this other person; he ceases to be acquisitive. His entire life is pulled sideways, if it is truly love; he does not desire to receive but to share.

It is this instinctive "otherness," born of true charity, which marriage is meant to develop with the passage of time, and the very differences in character between the married partners are to serve as stimuli for greater self-giving and occasions for growth in mutual love.

One facet of love in marriage that scandalizes even some Christians is the duty it imposes on both parties to respect their spouse's dignity, which is easy enough to describe in theory but more difficult to carry out in practice. Transmitting other aspects of a large issue, the husband is by nature and grace intended to be the head of the family. His wife expects this of him, and society needs more than ever husbands who understand their position without abusing it.

Those who criticize the Christian concept of marriage regularly point to the degrading role that wives are said to assume if they build their marriage on the Church's principles. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Church recognizes that no society can long exist without final authority to govern those who belong to it. There cannot be two supreme authorities in the family; it must be either father or mother. And all that we know of human nature and history shows that this authority belongs by right to the father. A wife instinctively wants to give such authority to her husband. She desires someone on whom she can rely, notably in times of crisis. She feels the need of such decisiveness and ability to bear responsibilities as a man is expected to have. She is justly proud of her husband when she finds him in many ways her superior, and she prefers to look up to the man she loves and follow his leadership, while deferring to his judgment and care.

A sharp defender of St. Paul's precept about wives obeying their husbands felt that many marriages fail because of failure to follow this law. "Most of the failures in marriage," according to Coventry Patmore, "come of the man's not having manhood enough to assert the prerogatives which it is the woman's more or less secret desire to acknowledge. She knows her place, but does not know how to keep it unless he knows it also; and many an otherwise amiable woman grows restless and irritable under the unsupportable doubt as to whether she has got her master." Of course, this "subjection" of wife to husband does not deny or take away her liberty, which belongs to her as a human being, as wife, mother and companion. It does not bid her obey every request of her husband, if not in harmony with morality or with the respect due to her as wife. She enjoys full liberty of conscience and every right to honor. At the same time her position cannot ignore the good of the family, which is a body and therefore must have a heart and a head. If the heart is separated from the head, only disaster can follow. For if the husband is the head, the wife is the heart of the family; and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, she may claim for herself the chief place in love.

Regulated Satisfaction of the Sex Urge

More than one writer in the Christian tradition has pointed out the irrational instinct to keep our sex life segregated from God, stressing the fact that if sex life sidetracks from God, it may ruin the happiness of any marriage. God must not be left out of any part of married life, which applies with emphasis to the purpose of marriage in regulating the sexual passions.

Superficially the Church may seem to be niggardly in the matter of sex, allowing no intercourse outside of marriage, no contraception and no remarriage after divorce. Actually the Christian faith glorifies sex in these very prohibitions, by placing it on the high level where it belongs and seeking to insure that those who have a right to marital intercourse may enjoy it to the full.

At the outset it should be stated that everything in the Christian religion teaches that marital intercourse is morally good and even virtuous. God so created the two sexes, to make intercourse possible; He has attached to it great pleasure, not only physical but also psychological; He commanded Adam and Eve (and through them all married people) to increase and multiply through sexual relations. In a famous passage of St. Paul, the apostle formally approves coitus. "Let each man," he says, “have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to the wife her due, and likewise the wife to the husband ...Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again lest Satan tempt you because you lack self-control." (10)

Finally, on this one act depends the survival of the human race, hence what is so important must also be very noble.

But if intercourse is licit, should full enjoyment of sex pleasure in marriage be sought, and is it not wrong to completely indulge the satisfaction that comes from intercourse? Catholic morality teaches that coital pleasure for the married is not only licit but virtuous, and any other estimate of matrimony is untrue. The relations which husband and wife enjoy tend to appease their sex desires and leads to prudent moderation; if rightly used, it engenders serenity of feelings and cheerfulness in the whole personality; it is a recognized tonic for the nervous system and a healthy release for the faculties.

Moralists explain that marital intercourse is lawful for the procreation of children or for other honorable reasons. Such reasons would be the promotion of mutual love and affection, restoration or maintaining of peace, avoidance of unchastity either in oneself or one's partner. In a word, any reasonable motive that husband and wife may have is enough for having intercourse, and not only the unique purpose of conceiving a child. Therefore marital relations are permitted, with no limitations, to people who are certainly incapable of begetting children, like the aged or sterile - whether the sterility is permanent or merely temporary.

Not only are sex relations permissible for the married, they are part of the obligation which the couple assumed when they gave to each other exclusive right over their respective bodies. Each partner is obliged in conscience to respect these rights in the other, and their matrimonial contract gives them equal claims in this regard. In fact there is a grave obligation to share in the conjugal act when one is seriously and lawfully asked to do so. A serious request means that one partner is in earnest and not merely trifling; that he is expressing more than a simple desire or making a suggestion, but calling for something that is his due. A lawful request implies that the person is asking fully within his rights, in addition to the request being serious.

Are there circumstances in which a request might be serious, indeed, but yet excuse from grave (or any) obligation if the request is turned down? Typical exonerating circumstances would be where the partner is insane, or under the influence of liquor or drugs; where the other intends to have intercourse in the wrong way, as through contraception; where the marital act would cause the unwilling partner grave harm, as in the case of a contagious disease; and where one spouse has been certainly guilty of adultery, in which case the innocent party is never again obliged to render the marital debt. Intercourse during the last months of pregnancy and the first month or so after delivery is morally licit, but abstinence during this time is generally recommended. Medical counsel is advised in order to make sure there is no danger either to the wife or child.

The husband usually asks for the debt expressly while the wife does so implicitly, e.g., by showing signs of special affection. The common advice to husbands is to use moderation, and to wives to be generous and self-sacrificing. Yet mistakes in this crucial area are so common and disastrous that, according to one medical authority, "If marital intercourse were as it should be, the divorce courts would go out of business." Without going into clinical details, explanation of the moral aspects of the matter deserves to be given.

Few personal problems are of deeper concern to men and women today than the sexual adjustment in marriage. Maladjustments often follow in deep nervous disorders, shattered marriages and pitiful spiritual degradation. A prominent gynecologist wrote that in seventy per cent of the women who have uterine trouble (uterine congestion), their condition is due to incomplete orgasm.

No easy solution for sexual adjustment in marriage can be given. But from the moral viewpoint, the principle both parties must keep in mind is that, instead of seeking personal sexual satisfaction, each should try first to consider the other in order that perfect mutuality be achieved. Fundamentally this means that the whole marital experience, from the first love play to the sexual climax, becomes essentially the same for both husband and wife, and brings the same enduring satisfaction to both.

The only alternative, proved from sad experience, is that one spouse satisfies his or her desires at the expense of the other. Women are the usual victims. Inspired by a deep love in the first months of their marriage, they later become bewildered and later still may be disgusted with the exercise of a passion in which they are called upon to serve without sharing.

Physicians and others tell of the number of men, for instance, who do not even know whether or not their wives ever experienced, in sexual intercourse, the climactic release of tension technically known as orgasm. For years perhaps these men have never thought of their marital relations as intended to be mutually shared.

One attitude here is completely alien to Christian theology, namely that conjugal relations are meant to be a painful duty for the wife and a simple alleviation of passion for the husband. In the Church’s mind, immorality in sex is the profanation of something sacred, the desecration of a holy instinct which arises from the depths of human nature and is the bearer of life and death. Sacred things are meant to be enjoyed, not trifled with or despised. But unless the husband recognizes that his share in marital pleasure is mainly physical and the wife's mainly emotional and psychological, he is liable to abuse his privilege and fail to give his wife what she needs and deserves, selfishly ignoring his duty to provide for her satisfaction as much as (and even more than) for his.

There are numerous details to the issue, small obstacles that gradually mount until they become a grave hindrance to marital happiness. Wide differences in time of sexual response between men and women, instability of their emotional mood at certain times, odd little items of time or place or conversation or preliminaries that are small enough in themselves. But unless both partners, especially the husband, are aware of the need for adjustment to the other, what nature intends as a symbol and expression of oneness will become a source of tension, then of misunderstanding, and finally of opposition. Sexuality as it appears in acts whose purpose is merely to satisfy one's own demands tends to be cruel and heartless; and no amount of learned theorizing can change what experience proves, that selfishness in carnal intercourse is the most notorious enemy of marital stability.

Nowhere else, perhaps does the need for internal affection appear more urgent than in the exercise of the marriage rights. God's first demand of the act of coitus is that it be based on real love. The "crime of non-love" is ultimately back of all broken marriages. Indeed, sexual pleasure does not depend so much on intensity as it does on internal depth. Some theologians do not hesitate to say that, in God's first plan for the human race, before original sin, this pleasure would have been even greater because it was more selfless and more filled with love.

A physical act of love that does not begin in the soul of husband and wife is a lie, an act of treason, like Judas' kiss. It degrades the married persons and, so far from uniting them, brings on a separation between their souls. Looking for sexual stimulation for its own sake, apart from love, means that a person never gets out of himself and invests him with a dignity which he does not really deserve. The physical act of love is ennobling, but only on condition that it has a spiritual dynamism, born of mutual affection. When thus animated, intercourse unites two people in a bond that Scripture compares to Christ's union with mankind, and that experience proves will sublimate the irrational drive of concupiscence with a control that only those who live by these principles can understand.

Unity and Indissolubility

One of the crucial differences between the Catholic and Protestant idea of marriage is the unity and life-long stability on which the Catholic Church has always insisted, even at the price of heavy loss in membership, as happens in many countries like England and the United States.

As early as 1520, or three years after his breach with Rome, Martin Luther argued against the indissolubility of the marriage bond. Though he regarded divorce as injurious to Christian policy and the State, he said that adultery is an immediate ground for divorce, with liberty to remarry. Later on he proposed willful desertion as a second ground for divorce. Other grounds which he recognized were persistent irascibility and pronounced incompatibility of temperament. If either party cannot restrain himself, he said, "Let him (or her) woo another in the name of God."

Bible and Tradition. Here was a reversal of fifteen centuries of tradition. The Council of Trent met this challenge by a series of declarations that represent Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. The first was a positive statement, tracing the doctrine to the Old and New Testaments.

The first parent of the human race, under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, proclaimed the perpetual and indissoluble bond of matrimony, when he said, "This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh...Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh." (Genesis 2:23sqq., Ephesians 5:31)

Christ Our Lord taught more clearly that only two persons are joined and united by this marriage bond. He referred to the final words of the quotation above as words spoken by God and said, "Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh;" and immediately after this, with the words, "what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder, "He confirmed the stability of that same bond which had been declared by Adam so long before (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9). (11)

Following this statement of fact, the Council went on to condemn the contrary teaching in two solemn definitions. He began with a crisp one-sentence statement, "If anyone says that the marriage bond can be dissolved by reason of heresy, domestic incompatibility, or willful desertion of one of the parties, let him be anathema." (12) Then followed a longer anathema which answered the claim that one cannot appeal to the Scriptures for support on the unity and stability of marriage.

If anyone says that the Church is in error when it has taught and does teach according to the doctrine of the Gospels and apostles that the marriage bond cannot be dissolved because of adultery on the part of either the husband or the wife; and that neither party, not even the innocent one who gave no cause for adultery, can contract another marriage while the other party is still living; and that adultery is committed both by the husband who dismisses his adulterous wife and marries again and by the wife who dismisses her adulterous husband and marries again, let him be anathema. (13)

Clearly the Catholic doctrine on monogamy is uncompromising. When Henry VIII in 1527 first proposed a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, Rome knew the temper of the English king and the consequences that would follow if his divorce were not granted. Yet there was no question of backing down on the ancient tradition, which derives from the first pages of the Bible.

God instituted marriage in Paradise as a monogamous institution, but mankind soon lapsed from the original ideal of monogamy. Polygamy was widely practiced among the Egyptians and Akkadians, the Sumerians and Ugurits - all in the near East. The patriarchs, Saul and David all had more than one wife, and the custom was recognized in Jewish Law, which implied a divine dispensation. (14).

Christ then restored marriage to its original purity, invoking Genesis that husband and wife are not two but one flesh, which no human power may divide. He declared that putting away one's wife and entering a new marriage is adultery. (15) And according to St. Paul, marriage has a strong monogamous character. "The married woman," he wrote, "is bound by the Law while her husband is alive; but if her husband die, she is set free from the law of the husband. Therefore while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress if she be with another man; but if her husband dies, she is set free from the law of the husband, so that she is not an adulteress if she has been with another man." (16)

In their description of the moral life of the early Christians, the apologists of the second and third centuries were eloquent in comparing the laxity of the pagans with the monogamy of the followers of Christ. According to a second century document, "among them wise self-control is found, monogamy is observed, and chastity is preserved." (17) All the extant evidence from the early Church says the same thing.

Reflecting on the teachings of faith, theologians like St. Thomas explain the correctness of monogamy on two grounds: that only such a union guarantees the fulfillment of all the purposes of marriage - procreation and education of children, fostering of mutual love, and control of the sex appetite; and it alone is a faithful image of Christ's union with the Church, where a single head is joined together with a single spouse.

An apparent exception to the law of monogamy occurs in St. Matthew, and, in view of its controversial nature, should be treated at some length. It is the favorite text of Protestant writers who defend remarriage after divorce. In context, the Pharisees came to put Jesus to the test by asking Him which of two schools of Jewish morality should be followed, the more strict position of Shammai who allowed divorce only on the grounds of adultery, or the more lenient school of Hillel which granted divorce for less grave and even trivial reasons.

The Pharisees' question was equivalent to: "Is Hillel right? Can divorce for any reason whatsoever be tolerated?" or "Is a man allowed to send away his wife however the case stands?" To the Pharisees' embarrassment, Christ pronounced for neither school but, as in a previous context, went straight to the acts and words of God. Since God had created them two in one body, they are to remain so, and no man, neither Shammai nor Hillel, dare interfere with the declared will of God. Christ's answer was disconcerting because it struck at the institution of divorce itself. Thus whether the questioners were of the Hillel or Shammai school, they were forced to defend themselves on common ground. So they appealed to the Scriptures, testifying to the fact that Moses had allowed divorce with remarriage, i.e., polygamy. This implied that Christ's conclusion from Genesis was plain contradiction with the law of Moses. Christ removed the contradiction by correcting the Pharisees' terms. Divorce was not a Mosaic commandment; it was at most a toleration of existing custom, which was due to Israel's "hardness of heart," as the Old Testament had already recognized. If the Jews of old were morally immature, this only showed how obtuse they were to the divine will expressed in Genesis. No doubt Moses permitted the granting of a bill of divorce. But in doing so he simply made the best of an existing situation by requiring a formality that restrained hasty action and which therefore protected the divorced wife from recall at her divorcing husband's whim.

At this point Christ introduced His own teaching. "I say to you," He declared, "that whoever puts away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery." (18) In a word, He restored the stability of the primal institution on His own authority.

Since the sixteenth century, those who favor remarriage after divorce appeal to this “immorality clause" to justify their position. Catholic interpreters have always defended the opposite. They argue first of all from the common sense judgment that the evangelist could not have been so stupid as to contradict his own context, namely permit divorce with remarriage in the same passage where Christ declares he is restoring marriage to its pristine monogamy. It was equally unlikely that Jesus was reversing His own attitude with a casual parenthesis. Moreover, how explain the scandal which Christ's words immediately evoked among the disciples. The moment He finished, they said to Him, "If the case of a man with his wife is so, it is not expedient to marry." To which Christ replied, not by qualifying His intransigent position, but confirming it by saying that not only is monogamy possible with the grace of God but even celibacy and virginity. (19) It follows then, that the "immorality clause" does not permit remarriage on the grounds of adultery.

How should the clause be taken? The classic explanation is that "immorality" in the passage means "adultery,"-since it refers to married persons. Thus an adulterous wife could be set aside (parektos), i.e., separated from bed and board (a mensa et toro), but without the liberty for either him or her to remarry. St. Paul makes this perfectly clear: "To those who are married, not I, but the Lord commands that a wife is not to depart from her husband, and if she departs, that she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And let not a husband put away his wife." (20) Christ, therefore, made a reservation about not putting away ones spouse to avoid the impression that He was imposing the obligation of living with a faithless partner.

Matrimonial Contract. For a marriage to be valid, there must be genuine consent between the contracting parties. They mutually must agree to give and accept the perpetual and exclusive right to the body, namely to those acts which are necessary for the procreation of the race. Since the contract they enter has to be accepted by both sides, each must give an external manifestation that they give themselves and receive the other in marriage. Words need not be pronounced, but some visible or externally perceptible sign of agreement is necessary. Where both parties are baptized, their contract is at the same time, and ipso facto, a sacrament. Thus not only two Catholics, but two Protestants, or a Catholic and Protestant, or any two Christians, when they contract a valid marriage, they also receive the sacrament of matrimony.

In virtue of Canon Law, whenever a Catholic wishes to marry (even in a mixed marriage), he must do so before the parish priest, or the bishop, or a priest delegated by either of them, and before two witnesses. Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the marriage is not valid in the eyes of the Church. The two witnesses must be able to see what was said and done at the wedding, and thus testify to the contracting of the marriage. Together with the assisting priest, they have to be physically present when the matrimonial context is expressed.

Consequently the witnesses must have the use of reason, although they need not strictly speaking be adults. Moreover the law does not prescribe anything definite regarding their sex, religion or character, while obvious care should be taken to avoid giving scandal by having some notorious person witnessing at a Catholic wedding. The contract would be valid even if they do not actually hear the parties pronounce their vows, but only gather as much by some equivalent sign that marriage is being celebrated. They do not even have to be explicitly aware of the fact that they are official witnesses; it would be enough if they just happened to be there accidentally. It is well, however, to tell the people beforehand that they are going to witness the marriage.

Who are obliged by this requirement of a priest and two witnesses? All Catholics, whether baptized in infancy or later on, whether born into the faith or adult converts, and even though they had given the practice of the faith up by falling into heresy or schism. The injunction holds whether the party they marry is another Catholic, a Christian, or one who is not baptized.

There are no exceptions.

A new regulation came into effect on January 1, 1949, when Pius XII modified a provision of Canon Law. Since that date, persons who have been baptized as Catholics in infancy, even though they were never brought up as Catholics (because parents died or fell away from the Church) are equally bound by the general law for a valid marriage, i.e., before a priest and two witnesses. They are therefore required to observe this condition even though the person they marry is not himself (or herself) Catholic.

As regards all other persons, the Catholic Church considers their marriages valid, provided they were free to marry and made their contract in some form which the contracting recognized as legitimate, such as before a minister or rabbi, a justice of the peace or civil official. Such marriages are not only valid but indissoluble, and, where the man and woman are both baptized, also a sacrament which gives special grace to the contracting partners.

In a country like the United States, the incidence of mixed marriages between Catholics and others is high, and certain conditions have been laid down which the Church requires to be fulfilled before dispensation is given to enter such marriages. The basic condition is that there are grave and just reasons which urge the dispensation, of which, the priest and eventually the bishop are judges. In addition, the non-Catholic party is required to sign certain promises, called guarantees, about whose fulfillment there must also be prudent assurance before the dispensation is granted. A typical ante-nuptial agreement is taken either under oath or on one's word of honor.

I, the undersigned, not a member of the Catholic Church, wishing to contract marriage with…, a member of the Catholic Church, propose to do so with the understanding that the marriage bond thus contracted is indissoluble, except by death. I promise on my word and honor that I will not in any way hinder or obstruct the said…, in the exercise of religion, and that all the children of either sex born of our marriage shall be baptized and educated in the Catholic faith and according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, even though the…should be taken away by death.
I further promise that I will marry…only according to the marriage rite of the Catholic Church; that I will not either before or after the Catholic ceremony present myself with…for marriage before a civil magistrate or minister of the Gospel.

Such restricting conditions have been criticized by non-Catholics. They affirm that they have something quite as precious to them as the teaching of the Catholic Church is to its members. "Why should they not stand for the preciousness of their faith," they ask. "In a mixed marriage the Protestant or other non-Roman Christian is just as much involved as the Roman Catholic, and where his happiness and freedom are concerned, he must take a stand." (21) On the other hand, many Protestants recognize the unique position of Catholicism and, without subscribing to its theology, admit that no other stand could be taken logically by a Church that considers itself in possession of the fullness of revelation.

Every contract to be valid must be made with adequate knowledge and full consent to the agreement, and marriage is no exception to the rule. Later when we examine cases of marriage annulments, we shall see the implications of this fact.

On the score of knowledge, erroneous ideas may concern the nature of marriage, its properties, the possibility of marrying, or the other partner. There is not much of a problem about ignorance on the nature of marriage. It is enough that both parties know that marriage is a permanent union of husband and wife for generating children. This minimal knowledge is assumed in everyone who has reached adolescence, and the absence of such knowledge would have to be proved.

A more subtle question is error about the quality of marriage as an exclusive and permanent union. If it is a purely theoretical error, when the mistake is only in the mind and does not affect the will, then the contract stands. And error in this matter is always presumed to be merely mental until the contrary has been established. On the other hand, if besides the mistaken notion there is also a positive act of the will, the marriage contract is invalid. Suppose a man expressly stated that he intended to contract a dissoluble union, or that he would rather not be married than receive a sacrament, although he is a Christian. He would not be married in the judgment of the Church.

Another area of possible error concerns the other party. If the mistake is about the identity of the person, then the contract is invalid even by the natural law. Thus if a man thinks he is marrying a certain girl, but her twin sister is substituted, the contract is null and void. The historic case of this kind was the pseudo-marriage of Jacob to the veiled Lia, whom he mistook for Rachel. But if the mistake concerns only the quality of the person, then the contract is nullified only when the error amounts to an error about the person. A situation of this kind is extremely rare. The more common problem is where a man or woman marry under the mistaken notion that their fiance(e) is rich, or specially gifted, or virtuous, or with a certain social or economic status - none of which would invalidate the marriage even though the most clever deception were practiced.

Matrimonial consent may be vitiated by violence or fear. Thus if a woman were physically coerced to go through a ceremony with a man she absolutely did not want to marry, the contract would be void. More common is the element of fear, which may also invalidate a marriage, but only under specified conditions. It must be a grave fear, unjustly caused by someone outside the person fearing, and so irresistible that the only way to escape the thing feared is to go through the marriage ritual.

A grave fear would be one induced by threats of physical violence, strong and importunate demands, constant and emotional entreaties, prediction of permanent displeasure of parents, and similar pressures. The evil feared may refer to the person who marries or to a third party, a relative, friend, or fiance(e). In the nature of things, the usual victim of such fears is the woman.

Again to nullify the contract, the fear would have to come from outside the one fearing, and not be caused by his own imagination, qualms of conscience or fixed ideas of any sort. The latter may, of course, have come about from this external agency, but unless there is solid, objective reason for the grave fear, it would not affect the marital contract. A girl might be deathly afraid of her father and marry the man she knows he prefers, but if the dread of her parent is mainly self-induced, the marriage is indisputably valid.

Somewhat more delicate is the element of injustice in the fear, since a woman may be frightened by such extraneous factors as being left out of a prejudiced aunt's will, where the relative may justly disinherit her niece. But if the same relative (or someone else) threatened to take the girl's life or cause her grave harm, the consequent fear would have been unjustly caused and might have rendered the contract void. One case that comes up before the matrimonial courts is that of a breach of promise, where the girl at first promised to marry a man, and may even have been engaged to him. She changes her mind and tells him so, but under duress from the man she marries him. This would invalidate the marriage.

Since 1918, when Canon Law on violence and fear was first promulgated, a long history of cases has accumulated. Decisions of ecclesiastical courts support the broad interpretation that a contract is invalid not only when the party is under actual and objective duress from someone, trying to force a marriage, but even when the fear is unfounded in fact, but yet subjectively a woman, for example, thinks she is under pressure and goes through with the ceremony to escape some dire evil.

A practical question arises of how to correct a previously defective contract. As a rule, lack of true consent in marriage (whether induced by fear or otherwise) must be supplied in the same way in which it had been previously lacking. Thus if consent had not been given internally at the time of the wedding, it would be enough to supply the deficiency also internally; but if the want of consent was also recognizable externally, through words, gestures, or general show of reluctance, the renewal would also have to be made externally, and is normally done in the form prescribed for contracting marriage.

Indicative of the Church's authority in marriage cases is the power to validate previously invalid contracts, called sanatio in radice or "healing at the roots." After an impediment has ceased or been dispensed from, the Church can validate the marriage and dispense the parties from renewing consent externally and publicly; and by a fiction of law, the marriage is considered to have been valid from the beginning.

Moralists call this "radical healing" because it now heals (by making valid) the marital consent (or root of matrimony) which was previously missing, so that the contract becomes valid and the benefits consequent on marriage may follow. Normally only the Holy See has authority to give a sanatio, but the bishops also share in this power by delegation from Rome. Several conditions must be fulfilled, however, for such a "healing" to take place. There must be a grave reason, as happens in the rare case where one or both parties cannot be asked (or induced) to express consent in the way required by the Church, or, in the still rarer case where neither partner can be told of the invalidity of their previous marriage without great harm to themselves or others. The invalidity of the contract must have come from a diriment (nullifying) impediment of ecclesiastical (not divine) law or lack of form, i.e., failure to marry before an authorized priest and two witnesses or lack of free consent. We shall see the Church impediments shortly, while pointing out that this privilege does not apply to people whose impediment to a valid marriage was an existing marital bond, i.e., a previous marriage. And finally there must be a continuation of matrimonial consent, for the obvious reason that if either or both parties never agreed to live as man and wife (or withdrew this intention), the Church cannot now step in and tell them they are married. Their deliberate agreement to be married cannot be supplied by anyone, not even by the Church.

Impediments to Marriage

By divine law, marriage is a sacrament which confers on the two people who marry all the graces they need for a lifetime to fulfill the duties of their state. They receive an increase of sanctifying grace, which includes the virtues of faith, hope and charity; they receive a title to a series of actual graces, of light for the mind and of strength for the will, to remain constant to each other, grow in mutual love, and rear their children in the love and fear of God.

But just because marriage is sacramental, the Catholic Church has always vindicated its right to set down the conditions under which the sacrament may be received, who are entitled and who debarred from this privilege, and under what circumstances the marital contract is valid or invalid, licit or illicit, "healable" or beyond repair.

By way of prelude, two items should be briefly touched upon: Church and State rights in marriage, and inter-racial marriages. It is Catholic belief that marriage between baptized persons is subject to the jurisdiction of the Church, for the simple reason that such marriages are always sacramental and therefore come under the Church's authority. The Church therefore claims the right to set down impediments or dispense with them, and this affects also those who are not Catholic. Thus ecclesiastical law exempts baptized non-Catholics from the duty of marriage before a priest and two witnesses, and from such impediments as disparity of cult, i.e., their marriage is considered valid no matter before whom they make the contract, and even though one of the parties is not baptized. As far as State rights are concerned, civil authorities have every right to prescribe certain conditions affecting marriage on its physical, social and economic side. But beyond this, as when the State presumes to nullify inter-racial marriage, the Church believes such authority belongs by divine right to the ecclesiastical domain where baptized persons are involved. It is far otherwise with people who are not baptized, over whom the State has the power to establish impediments and decide under what conditions their contract is valid or not.

Civil Laws. Five types of laws are known to the States, which require compliance with their provisions in order to contract valid marriage. They provide 1) requirements concerning physical examination before marriage, 2) minimum waiting periods which differ in different States, 3) time for performing the ceremony after getting the license, 4) what persons may lawfully perform the marriage ceremony, and 5) what words, if any, are necessary to solemnize a valid marriage.

Practically all the States forbid marriage by one infected with venereal disease, while they also prescribe that applicants for a license first present affidavits or medical certificates showing them to be free from venereal infection at the time they applied for permission to marry. Notable exceptions are Maryland, Minnesota and Nevada. Some States further specify a time limit between the date of physical examination (blood test) and two other dates, i.e., issuance of marriage license and the marriage ceremony.

As a rule, the license must be delivered to the person who is to assist at the wedding. The two waiting periods required by the States have different purposes. The maximum period from blood test to license is to insure that an infectious disease is not contracted in the meantime; and the minimum waiting from license to marriage is to guarantee that boy and girl give themselves time to think before they actually get married. Variants of this law provide for a waiting period between applying for a license and its issuance, or between serological test and the ceremony. In New York, for instance, before a man can marry a girl, he must obtain a certificate signed by a doctor to the effect that both he and the girl have been clinically found free from infection. This certificate has to be presented within 30 days after the date of examination along with the application for a license to marry. After getting the license, it has to be delivered within 60 days to the person authorized to assist at the wedding. However, the ceremony cannot lawfully take place within 24 hours after the license was issued or within 3 days from the date of the physical examination.

Three States (Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia) require a religious ceremony, but all the States empower any duly ordained clergyman to perform the marriage rite. Most of the States also give the same authority to numerous civil officials, such as judges, mayors, justices of the peace, recorders and city magistrates. As a rule the statutes do not specify the ceremony, but they do require that man and woman indicate their declaration to marry and express their declaration in the presence of qualified witnesses.

It comes as a surprise to many people that the Church does not have any legal prohibition against inter-racial marriages. Baptized persons may therefore marry validly provided there are no other impediments. The question of prudence or expediency is another matter, and people contemplating marriage with a person of another race are counseled to reflect on the consequences of their action in a country like the United States, where racial prejudice may place heavy hardships on the children born of such union.

Here especially we see the difference in outlook of Church and State. The civil law of many States forbids marriage between whites and Negroes. (22) A typical provision defines a Negro as anyone who has at least one Negro forefather within three generations. Civil impediments of this kind are not binding in conscience, not only for Christians but for anyone. Since all men have a natural right to marry, any statute which forbids them to exercise this right is unjust unless, in a particular case, it could be proved that such restriction is for the common good. This cannot be proved for interracial marriages which, in the United States, affect contracts between white persons and those who are Negro, Oriental or Mongolian. Common sense dictates that the civil law not be ignored, where operative, but that persons who wish to marry inter-racially (after due reflection) go to another State where such discrimination is not practiced.

Divine and Ecclesiastical Law. Any factor or circumstance which prevents the celebration of marriage is an impediment, from the Latin impedire (to stand in the way), and may be of two kinds, either merely forbidding the marriage or also invalidating the marital contract. The first type are prohibitive, the second diriment (dirimere = to tear apart). Moreover the circumstance which either forbids or nullifies a marriage may be public or private, known or even unknown to the partners themselves.

What is the source of these impediments? The natural law, founded in the objective moral order and therefore binding on all persons, whether Christian or not; and positive or ecclesiastical law, determined by the Church as obligating all Christians who are not lawfully dispensed. Very few impediments come under the natural divine law and all of them are diriment, namely impotence that is certain and antecedent to marriage, the bond of a previous valid marriage, immature age before a person has the use of reason, close relationship by blood (certainly between parent and child and probably between brother and sister). Other impediments, whether prohibitive or nullifying, are the result of positive Church legislation.

Not all diriment impediments are equally important or practical, yet all have direct bearing on the nature of marriage and explain the Church's solicitude to safeguard a contract on whose validity depends one of the sacraments and the consequent grace that husband and wife need to live out their married life successfully.

Immaturity of age is the first nullifying impediment, which Canon Law has fixed at sixteen for the boy and fourteen for the girl. Significantly several States allow marriage with parents' consent below the canonical age, e.g., Idaho (15-15), Kansas (14-12), Massachusetts (14-12), New Hampshire (14-13), and Washington (14-12). Some people think that puberty is enough to contract a valid marriage, but that is not correct. Baptized persons do not enter a valid marriage before the specified age even though both parties have reached puberty, which is not only possible but common. On the other hand, two people contract validly if they are of age (16-14) even though neither has yet attained puberty. Unbaptized people are not affected by this legislation. A subtle aspect of the age requirement specifies that a marriage does not become valid automatically once the couple attain maturity. Unless marital consent is duly renewed the contract remains invalid.

Why the age limit, if the boy and girl are physically capable of becoming parents? The immediate reason is their psychological immaturity. Young people in their early teens are scarcely equipped mentally and culturally to cope with the manifold problems of married life; the boy is unable to earn enough money to make a living, the girl unequipped to face the responsibilities of motherhood. Medical and genetic factors also play a part. Puberty is not a sudden physiological change but a gradual process, with intercourse and child-bearing to be discouraged before the reproductive system is sufficiently formed. Children born to parents below the age of sixteen (in temperate climates) are liable to be physically weak, defective and otherwise underdeveloped. If the canonical age seems too low for a country like the United States, it should be remembered that the Church is legislating for Christians everywhere, including countries like India and Spain, where puberty may be reached three or four years earlier than in North America.

Impotence is the inability to have intercourse, i.e., to perform that physical act whereby the genital organs of the man and woman are so united as naturally to lead to conception. It is therefore carefully to be distinguished from sterility, which neither invalidates marriage nor makes it unlawful; so that merely because husband or wife are incapable of having children does not in any way affect their marital contract.

Inability to perform the sexual act may be absolute, when the impotency prevents intercourse with any person, or relative when impossible with some one person, or permanent if it cannot be corrected naturally or by lawful surgical means. Nowadays, with the progress of medical science, what used to be permanent impotency can become temporary, and new advances in this field are being reported annually. Only one kind of impotency invalidates marriage, if it is perpetual and if it precedes the wedding ceremony. Otherwise the marriage is valid. Consequently if marital intercourse becomes physically impossible after marriage, the contract remains unchanged and valid. The essential element is the capacity for a man to deposit seminal at least at the mouth of the vagina. If either he or she is physically incapable of this necessary function, there is impotency, but the marriage stands unless the condition were known to exist before the wedding.

A previously existing marriage bond makes it impossible for a man and woman to remarry, as long as the first union has not been dissolved (as may happened under the Pauline privilege) and even though the first contract had not been consummated, i.e., there had been no conjugal act. Of course the previous marriage must have been valid, and not a few cases which scandalize people are those in which the former contract had been void for any one of many reasons. But if the preceding marriage was valid, whether the parties are Catholic or not, Christian or unbaptized, a subsequent union remains invalid unless or until a nullity or dissolution of the prior matrimony has been legally and certainly established. Where both parties are baptized, death alone can dissolve their marital bond.

An Enoch Arden situation also falls under this provision, so that a second marriage is invalid when contracted with the sincere notion that the first spouse was dead. Authorization by the Church and even a dispensation mistakenly granted on the presumption of a husband's (or wife's) death does not change the case. The second partnership cannot stand if the previous spouse is still alive.

Disparity of cult is a technical term for the impediment which nullifies (except with a dispensation) a marital contract between an unbaptized person and one who is baptized in or later received into the Catholic Church. Non-Catholics who marry among themselves are not affected by this legislation, although apostates or fallen aways from Catholicism remain bound by the impediment. The reason for this impediment is mainly to insure the continued perseverance of the Catholic party in his or her faith, and provide for the Catholic education of the children who may be born of the marriage.

Major orders and solemn vows also invalidate marriage. A cleric who has been ordained subdeacon, deacon or priest; and persons (whether men or women) who pronounced solemn vows in a religious order (not a congregation) are not only forbidden to marry, but if they attempt to do so the contract is null and void. The law of celibacy does not affect all the clergy of the Catholic Church. Thus all priests of the Latin rite must be celibate, whereas those in the Byzantine rite may marry before ordination and remain with their wives afterwards, but they may not marry after ordination nor remarry (as priests) after their wife dies. In Catholic practice, dispensation from celibacy is very rarely given to the clergy: never for bishops, almost never for priests, occasionally for deacons and subdeacons, who are at the point of death and for conscience' sake want to have their unions ratified.

In order to preserve the liberty of choice in marriage, abduction of a woman in order to marry her invalidates the subsequent contract. Also the crime of adultery nullifies a future marriage if combined with at least one other circumstance: if the two promised to marry each other on the death of either one's spouse, if they actually attempted marriage, say before a civil official or be deceiving ecclesiastical authorities, or if one of the two murdered either his own spouse or that of his lover. In the same category is the impediment of decency, which means that public and notorious concubinage annuls marriage between one party and the blood relatives of the other in the first and second degrees of the direct line. Therefore parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren of the other party may not be married.

In a class by themselves are those diriment impediments which refer to various relationships within which a person may not enter marriage. Consanguinity (cum + sanguine = with blood) is a natural relationship between two persons, one of whom is descended from the other or at least both of whom have the same common ancestor. Another name is blood relationship, even where the two people have only one forebear in common. The general law for Catholics declares that any marriage is invalid if two persons are related to each other in the direct line in any degree, and in the collateral line within the third degree. Two people are related in the direct line if they are directly descended one from the other. Thus John (father) - Mary (daughter) - Michael (grandson) - Louise (great-granddaughter).

If there is little problem determining who are related in the direct line, the collateral line is often hard to ascertain. It means that people are descended from the same ancestor through a side-by-side relationship. One relative does not directly beget the other (as before) but both have the same father, mother, and so on, down the line. Without going into a mass of detail, a simple rule on the degree of forbidden relationship can be worked out by means of a diagram, where "P" stands for the ancestor and "S" and "D" for the descendants. Subscript numbers indicate the generations removed from a given ancestor.

					(S1 ----- D2 ----- S3 ----- D4
					(D1 ----- S2 ----- D3 ----- S4

To illustrate: S1 cannot marry D1, S2, or D3, but can marry S4. Or again, D2 cannot validly marry D1, S2, or D3, but can marry S4: or a step further, S3 cannot marry D1 or S2 or D3, but can marry S4. All subsequent relationships can be worked out in the same way.

Affinity is less close than consanguinity and yet invalidates marriage in two ways: in all degrees of the direct line and to the second degree in the collateral line. Thus if a woman's husband dies, Canon Law forbids her to marry either her husband's father or grandfather; either his son by a previous marriage or his grandson; and (collaterally) her husband's brother, or his first cousin, or his uncle, or his nephew. People who are not baptized are not touched by this impediment. And also in mixed marriages, where one party is not baptized, no impediment of affinity exists.

Spiritual relationship which nullifies marriage (without a dispensation) exists between the person baptizing and the one he baptizes, and between baptized persons and their sponsors. This also applies to private baptism. Legal relationship arises from adoption, and is a Church impediment only where the civil law makes it nullify marriage. Italy, Spain and other countries have such civil laws; but since they do not exist in the United States, there is no diriment impediment on this score in American Church law.

Prohibiting impediments render marriage unlawful, and therefore a person commits sin by doing so knowingly and willfully, but the contract is valid and the marriage stands even though (through neglect or deceit) a dispensation had not been received. For practical purposes there is only one prohibitive impediment that has general pertinence, namely the barrier of mixed religion, where one party is Catholic and the other is baptized and therefore Christian but not Catholic. Two other prohibitive impediments are scarcely relevant: simple vows, as for persons in most religious communities of Sisters, and legal relationship, where the civil law makes it a forbidden relationship (though valid), which does not obtain in the United States.

Inter-faith Marriages. Mixed marriages between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians are prohibited, though not under sanction of invalidity, for reasons intimated in an earlier context. Behind Church legislation stands the experience of centuries, which shows that the differences between the two religious cultures are normally so great that only exceptional courage and generosity and an extra abundance of grace can assure fidelity to religious principles on the part of husband and wife, and perseverance in a happy marriage until death. Children are often the worst sufferers because they are torn between two different outlooks on life and two interpretations of Christianity that place a child in the awkward position of either not knowing which to favor, or fluctuating in uncertainty about religious faith, or favoring one to the exclusion (or opposition) of the other. Statistics on the loss of Catholic faith among the children vary, but sixty per cent seems to be a conservative figure for the United States in the past generation.

Protestants no less than Catholics discourage mixed marriages. They do so for several cogent reasons. An inter-faith marriage between a Catholic and one who is not Catholic lacks a commonly held and articulated basis of ideas, purposes and motivations. It also notoriously lacks the resources of marital health provided by common worship and common involvement in the most significant of all possible interests. A mixed marriage likewise robs the parents of a common relationship with their children on the deepest level, namely of the spiritual life. And correspondingly one of the parents, or maybe both, are robbed of the opportunity of bringing to their children the best spiritual heritage that he or she knows, being barred from discharging this most important aspect of parental responsibility. Finally many Protestants who sign the promises demanded for marrying a Catholic feel themselves disenabled from following their preference in regard to the planning of parenthood. Birth control is so widely practiced that where one partner to a marriage believes it can be done legitimately and the other that it is a grave sin, any compromise solution is impossible. The result is that (more often) the Catholic party may capitulate with serious consequences to moral integrity and faith.

As convincing as all these factors may look to one who is not personally involved, they are often not strong enough to young people whose feelings have caused them to see no other way than entering marriage, in spite of all the warnings to the contrary. "We have plenty of common ground under our feet," they will say. "We have our love, we have our ideals; we know what we want out of life, we think that we can bring fine things to our children. And all this though we are of different religions." A Protestant churchman quotes the reply and answers it.

Taking this doubtless sincere statement at its face value, what it really means is this: We have a common religion, the particular religious labels we bear are secondary to us. Though the couple might find difficulty in stating what these "ideals" are, difficulty in defining what the purposes of life are, if they really mean that Roman Catholicism, not to be the guiding norm of their lives nor the heritage given their children, then there are several important questions for them to consider: Is the new religion which they have invented ("our ideals," "our purposes," "fine things") really profound and meaningful, and will it abide not only during the sunny periods of life but during the crises? In adopting a view of life which is in effect a rejecting or subordination of their own religious heritages, do they have a really better way of life than these heritages represent? In what religious ceremony for their marriage and with what continuity of worship during their marriage (and with their children) will they appropriately express and deepen these convictions?

There are difficult problems for both sides to an inter-faith marriage, for the Catholic whose faith requires that his partner agree on many promises, and for the Protestant who may feel he is being coerced into accepting what he does not on principle believe.

Taking the Protestant side first, there are two alternatives he faces. If he declines to sign; the prenuptial agreement and the marriage takes place under non-Catholic auspices, the Catholic party is debarred from the sacraments and believes himself to be "living in sin" because the marriage is not considered valid by the Church. But if the Protestant does sign the promises he may have ridden over his own religious allegiance roughshod, may likewise feel he has done morally wrong because of the decision not to exercise his primary responsibility toward his children, and put himself in the position of finding it very difficult to repent (or ever change) his action, except at the risk of breaking up the marriage.

The mixed marriage ratio in the United States is high, due mainly to the pluralistic character of America as a whole. In general percentages differ according to the relative proportion of Protestants and Catholics in a given locality. Figures published some years ago showed that over a ten year period fifty Catholic dioceses had 900,000 marriages solemnized by the Church. Out of these, 275,000 or over thirty per cent were inter-faith, in which a Catholic married a non-Catholic (mostly Protestant). During the same ten year span, these dioceses reported that in thirty-five per cent of the mixed marriages the non-Catholic party became Catholic, while twenty per cent of the Catholics (along with their families) were lost to active parish life. On the other hand, the Catholic bishops of Germany reported to their people that, for all practical purposes, by the third generation (great-grandchildren) all the children of inter-faith marriages cease to be Catholic. In the same pastoral letter, the bishops pointed out that there are more members lost to the Catholic Church by mixed marriage than are gained by all the labors of foreign missionaries throughout the pagan world.

A recent study made by the Sociology Department of Iowa State University confirmed the otherwise well-known fact that Catholic-to-Catholic marriages have the best survival rate. The combined survey covered about 89,000 marriages. Three types of marriages were analyzed: where both parties were Catholic, or both Protestant, or one Catholic and the other Protestant. Also two standards were applied: survival during the first year of married life, and survival after seven years. It was found that Catholic couples' survival rate was 998 marriages out of a thousand for the first year of marriage, dropping down to 954 at the end of seven years. Protestants had a survival rate of 986 for the first year, which declined to 868 after seven years. But Catholics married to Protestants had a survival of only 983 already in the first year, i.e., seventeen out of a thousand disintegrated before twelve months, and by the end of seven years only 795 were still together, with a mortality rate of 205 couples breaking up within seven years.

Every Pope in modern times has spoken or written on the subject of mixed marriages, urging Catholics to avoid them. According to Leo XIII, interfaith unions "give occasions to forbidden association and communion in religious matter; they endanger the faith of the Catholic party; they are a hindrance to the proper education of children; and they often lead to a mixing up of truth and falsehood, and to the belief that all religions are equally good."

Underlying the Church's intransigence is also the knowledge that young people of different faiths assume they are different only in their religious belief. Actually far more is involved. Few people are wise enough to chart the whole area of their activities and judge how heavily religious tradition and training weigh. With rare exception, those of different faiths who have married find themselves wholly unprepared for problems that they had not foreseen. Marriage is a venture even under the best of circumstances; it becomes a risk, with heavy odds against success, when the partners differ from the start on what should be the principal unifying element in their lives.

Dispensation. As might be expected, the Church gives dispensations from the impediments to marriage only for reasons proportionate to the gravity of the obstacle. Thus no dispensation is ever given or can be given from the impediment of consanguinity in the first degree of the direct line, i.e., between parent and son or daughter; from impotency that exists prior to marriage and is permanent; from the bond of a previous marriage between two baptized persons after they have had sexual intercourse; and from the impediment of age if either party has not reached the use of reason.

Almost as grave are other impediments, from which dispensation is also never given, notably consanguinity in the first degree of the collateral line, i.e., between brother and sister; and from a public crime, where one of the former spouses is murdered, unless dispensation were sought for conscience' sake by one of the parties at the point of death. While most rare, dispensations are sometimes given for marriage where two people have affinity in the first degree of the direct line, i.e., parent or child of a deceased husband or wife; likewise there are records of dispensations from the crime of abduction. The Church more easily dispenses from other diriment impediments, including permission for the marriage of second cousins. A classic dispensation of this type was granted to Henry VIII of England, to marry Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his elder brother, Arthur. The marriage took place by papal grant in 1509, but less than twenty years later Henry asked for a divorce on the grounds that the dispensation was invalid.

Dispensations from prohibitive impediments are also given, for reasons that must be examined and weighed in each case. The most familiar is permission for a mixed marriage, already seen in detail, where first the priest examining the couple, then the pastor, and finally the bishop are required to have "moral certainty," i.e., should have no prudent doubt to the contrary, that the proposed marriage between a Catholic and someone of another (or no) faith will be successful. Without such dispensation, a marriage is invalid if the non-Catholic party is also unbaptized; otherwise the contract would be valid but illicit.

Prenuptial Instructions. Canon Law explicitly requires that persons who are about to be married be properly instructed in three areas of their new state of life: on the holiness of the sacrament of matrimony, their mutual obligations as husband and wife, and their obligations to the children born of the marriage.

The sacramental character of marriage is at once a source of inspiration and a challenge to generosity for Christians who understand the implications of their faith. Not unlike the sacrament of holy orders, matrimony was instituted by Christ to provide for the social needs of the Mystical Body. "Through matrimony, in which the contracting parties are ministers of grace to each other, provision is made for the external and duly regulated increase of Christian society, and, what is of greater importance, for the proper religious training of children, without which the Mystical Body would be in grave danger."

Viewed in this light, marriage takes on a new significance. In as much as Christians are not only men and women but they also belong to a supernatural society, the procreation of children for them means far more than merely conserving the human race and providing for its orderly development; it means the obligation to preserve and increase membership in the Mystical Body. All the laws that nature has implanted in the two sexes to insure the welfare of mankind, are sublimated by grace in the faithful for the common benefit of Christ's Church. Where natural instinct makes the two sexes attractive to each other, grace provides for a similar attraction do a higher level so that children will not only be physically brought into the world but might also be spiritually reborn in baptism, educated in the faith and nurtured into vital cells of the Body of Christ.

Hence the Church's concern for marriages within the faith, because experience proves how difficult it is for parents, who are biologically able to maintain the human species, to do the same for the mystical species of God's kingdom if they are :incompatible on religious grounds. For married Catholics, therefore, the command to increase and multiply is not only a precept of nature but also a command of revelation - of nature to cooperate with God in bringing human beings into the world, and of revelation to collaborate with the Holy Spirit in rearing citizens for the Mystical Body on earth and for the beatific vision after death. Consequently any interference by Catholics with the laws of procreation is doubly reprehensible: for refusing to cooperate with God in His function of creating souls to infuse them in human bodies, and for resisting His love in its desire to prepare new souls for the kingdom of heaven.

The mutual obligation of husband and wife thus become more than elevated common sense, to help them get along nicely and avoid marital friction. They are duties born of a new social entity into which they have entered, the Church of Christ which depends absolutely on a harmonious partnership of its cells in order that grace might flow effectively from the Head to the members; and any dissension within the cellular units is really discord in the Mystical Body - a disease or malfunction that inhibits the growth and well-being of that organism which God became man to establish. By divine providence, the cells of life that make up the Church are really pairs, mainly men and women who have vowed lifelong fealty to each other; and in the degree to which this fidelity is kept will the Church be spiritually sound. Unless the married laity are strong in their family lives, the superstructure of Catholicism becomes a sham.

In the same way Christian parents assume duties towards their children that stem from something deeper than natural instinct or the exigencies of family life. On the premise that baptism incorporates a child into the Body of Christ, his education and nurture are actually means of sustaining and developing that Body on its human side in a way that would not be possible without parental cooperation. Too often people suppose that the volitional response to God's grace, which is typical of the Catholic outlook on life, is no more than training character or shaping human personalities. They forget that these children not only have a soul, but that this soul is itself animated by another principle of life, sanctifying grace. Their parents therefore have a twofold task: to rear their children along natural lines in all the qualities that prepare them for life in the world, and to educate them in things of the Spirit in anticipation of the world to come.

Critics of Catholicism sometimes complain about the essential otherworldliness of the Church's ethic, which can place on their conscience heavy burdens that others, even other Christians, are spared. Catholic education is a case in point. To operate church-affiliated schools for over five million children in the United States calls for self-sacrifice to the edge of heroism, and young people getting married are not unaware of this dimension of their faith. They realize that matrimony is God's own way of calling on human beings to help Him redeem the world.

Choice of Partner. Anticipating the proximate preparation for a happy marriage is the care that young people should exercise in choosing their life's partner. So much depends on the kind of person chosen that it is impossible to exaggerate its consequences or stress too much the prudence and wisdom needed to avoid making mistakes. "We were not meant for each other," is a favorite excuse for couples who may find out in the first month of their marriage how little they really knew about the other, and what a risk they were taking in following "love at first sight" or mere infatuation.

Time and again the Church warns Catholics to carefully deliberate in choosing the person with whom they are to live in great intimacy until death. "They should in so deliberating, keep before their minds first the thought of God and of the true religion of Christ, then of themselves, of their partner, of the children to come, as also of human and civil society, of which wedlock is the fountainhead. Let them diligently pray for divine help, so that they may make their choice in accordance with Christian prudence, not led by the blind and unrestrained impulse of passion, nor by any desire for wealth or other base motive, but by a true and noble love and by a sincere affection for the future partner. Lastly they should ask the prudent advice of their parents regarding the person they plan to marry. Let them take this advice seriously, so as to be guided by the mature knowledge and experience of father and mother and receive on the threshold of marriage an increase of those blessings which God has promised to those who honor their parents." (25)

Americans have something to learn from the customs of other nations, where parents and relatives have more than consultative voice in the choice of their children's husbands and wives. This is not to advocate extremes of "planned marriages," nor even to suggest that men and women should be restricted in their liberty of choosing a marriage partner; but disastrous unions of thousands of incompatible personalities argue to indiscretion which might have been averted if only someone who knew both parties had been consulted beforehand. It is remarkable how emotions can obscure judgment when two people are in love, and how much a bit of foresight, along with prayer and sound advice, can do to clarify the mind and not place an almost miraculous burden on divine grace to make up for the imprudence of romantic love.

Marriage Ceremony

The ritual for the celebration of marriage is ancient and rich in meaning. Its essential elements date from at least the ninth century and include an instruction before marriage, the exchange of consent, the blessing of the wedding ring(s), special prayers during Mass, and an exhortation after marriage. In view of its importance and the light it sheds on Catholic ideals for marriage, the ceremony will be quoted in full. Directives and prayers are taken from the official Rituale Romanum, which is used by all priests of the Latin rite.

The priest puts on a surplice and white stole. But if the Nuptial Mass is to follow, he puts on all the vestments except the maniple. He is attended by an acolyte holding a vessel of holy water. Then standing and facing the man and woman who are kneeling before the altar, the bridegroom at the right hand of the bride, he addresses them as follows.

My dear friends: You are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because established by God Himself; most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.
Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing their full import, you are nevertheless, so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Hence forth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His Only begotten Son; and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today, never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs; He will pledge you the life-long support of His graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive.

Then the priest asks, in the vernacular, in the hearing of two or three witnesses, the bride and bridegroom separately, as follows, concerning their consent. First he asks the bridegroom, and then the bride.

Priest:  N., will you take N., here present, for your lawful wife, according to the rite of our holy mother the Church?
Groom:  I will.
Priest:  N., will you take N., here present, for your lawful husband, according to the rite of our holy mother the Church?
Bride:  I will.

The consent of one is not sufficient. It must be expressed in some sensible sign by both. After obtaining their mutual consent, the priest bids the groom and bride join their right hands. Then the bridegroom (and bride) say in a clear voice:

I, N.N., take you, N.N. for my lawful wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

The priest then says, "I join you together in marriage, in the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

He then sprinkles them with holy water. This done, the priest blesses the ring, saying,

Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Who made heaven and earth.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto You.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray. Bless (+), O Lord, this ring, which we bless (+) in Your name, that she (he) who wears it, remaining truly faithful to her husband (remaining faithful to each other), may abide in Your peace and obedience to Your will, and ever live in mutual love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then the priest sprinkles the ring with holy water; and the bridegroom, having received the ring from the hand of the priest, puts it on the third finger of the left hand of the bride, saying, "With this ring, I marry you, and pledge to you my fidelity." The priest then says, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." This done, the priest adds,

Confirm, O God, this which You have done in us.
From Your holy temple, which is in Jerusalem.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us.
Our Father...And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Save Your servants, O my God, save those who hope in You.
Send forth Your help, O Lord, from Your sanctuary.
And from Sion protect us.
Be unto us, O Lord, a tower of strength. From the face of the enemy.
O Lord, hear my prayer
And let my cry come unto You. The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray. We beseech You, O Lord, to look down upon these Your servants. Graciously protect Your institutions, by which You have provided for the propagation of mankind, that those who are joined together by Your authority may be preserved by Your help. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

After this, the Mass For the Bridegroom and Bride should be said in the presence of the newly married couple, They may kneel at the altar-rail or on priedieus within the sanctuary. During the Mass, after the Pater Noster, the couple come up to the altar and kneel on the lower step. The priest interrupts the Mass, turns to face the newlyweds, and while standing at the Epistle side of the altar, recites the following special prayer for the bride.

O God, by Your almighty power You made all things out of nothing. You have set in order the elements of the universe and made man to the image of God. You appointed woman to be his inseparable helpmate, in such a way that the woman's body took its beginning from the flesh of man, thereby teaching that what You have been pleased to institute from one origin might never be lawfully put asunder.
O God, You have sanctified wedlock by a mystery so excellent that in the marriage bond You foreshadowed the union of Christ with His Church. By You, O God, woman is joined to man and a rightly ordered society receives that blessing which neither original sin nor the penalty of the deluge has taken away.
Look down with mercy on this Your handmaid, who is to be joined in marital embrace and who asks for protection and strength from You. Grant that she may enjoy the bond of charity and peace, that her marriage may be constant and chaste, that she may follow the example of holy women in the past. May she be another Rachel in kindness to her husband, another Rebecca in wisdom, and as faithful and long-lived as Sarah.
Grant that the author of deceit may never gain the mastery over any of her actions; that she may remain unmoved in faith and obedience to Your commands; that her fidelity may never be strained by unseemly conduct. May she strengthen her weakness with due self-control, and thus become strong in her modesty, respected for chastity, and wise in her knowledge of heavenly things. Bless her marriage with fruitfulness, and her character with innocence and a good reputation. May she have a long life and see her children and children's children, even to the third and fourth generation, while attaining to the repose of the blessed in the kingdom of heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Towards the end of Mass, just before giving the Last Blessing to the people, the priest turns to the bridegroom and bride and recites the following prayer over the couple.

May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, be with you, and may He fulfill His blessings in you, that you may see your children's children even to the third and fourth generation, and thereafter may you have life everlasting, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns God for ever and ever. Amen.

After the Nuptial Mass, the priest once more turns to the couple and exhorts them to mutual fidelity and love.

Having been united in the holy bonds of matrimony, give thanks to the Almighty for the favors which He has bestowed upon you. The graces which you have received have been granted for the purpose of animating you in the discharge of the obligations which the marriage life imposes, and which are beautifully expressed in these words of the Apostle: "Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord; for the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church .... Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life .... So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies."
Ever mindful of these duties which you owe to each other, and to those with whose welfare you may be especially charged, cherish with solicitude the grace that has this day been conferred upon you; it will direct you in every difficulty; it will comfort you in the hour of trial; it will be a continual source of peace, of joy, of mutual affection on earth, and a pledge of your eternal and perfect union in heaven.

Following the exhortation and just before giving the Last Gospel, the priest sprinkles the groom and bride with holy water three times, after which they receive the final blessing and depart.

Chapter VI

Christian Marriage References

  1. Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals, Bantam, New York, 1959. pp. 38-39.

  2. Genesis 1:27.

  3. Pius XI, Encyclical on Christian Marriage (Casti Connubii), 5.

  4. Leo XIII, Encyclical Rerum Novarum, May 15, 1891.

  5. Genesis 1: 26-31.

  6. Genesis 2: 7-25.

  7. Pius XII, Address of October 29, 1951.

  8. Ephesians 5: 25; Colossians 3: 19.

  9. Ernest van den Haag, "Love and Marriage," Harper's, May 1962

  10. I Corinthians 7: 2-7.

  11. Enchiridion Symbolorum, 969.

  12. Ibid., 975.

  13. Ibid., 977.

  14. Deuteronomy 21: 15sqq.

  15. Matthew 19: 9.

  16. Romans 7: 3.

  17. Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolychum, 3, 15.

  18. Matthew 19: 9.

  19. Matthew 19: 10-12.

  20. I Corinthians 7: 10.

  21. Leland Foster Wood, If I marry a Roman Catholic, New York, n.d.

  22. Frances W.H. Kuchler, LL.B., The Law of Marriage and Divorce, Oceana Publications, New York, 1961.

    Prohibited inter-racial marriages according to States: Between white and Negro in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming.

    Between white and Oriental or Mongolian in Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming.

  23. Leo XIII, "Christian Marriage," Great Encyclicals, New York, p. 81.

  24. Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, 20.

  25. Pius XI, Christian Marriage, Washington, pp. 41-42.

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