On August 6, 2011, I stood at the front of my parish and watched as my future father-in-law escorted my beautiful bride down the aisle. Outside of the birth of our son—a year and some months later—the day I married Lindsay was the happiest of my life.
At the time I was not yet Catholic, but marriage was something I had always considered to be sacred and holy. As I came into the Church, I learned about marriage as a sacrament, and I began to understand the union between man and woman on a profoundly deeper level.
In the Catholic Church marriage is more than just a human institution or a legally binding contract between two adults. We believe God authored marriage, and that it is written into our very nature. The love between husband and wife stems from God’s perfect will, and through matrimony it becomes an image of His unconditional love for mankind.
Our Holy Scripture tells us the Lord created man and woman specifically for one another.
“It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a suitable partner for him”
The sacrament of marriage not only creates a sacred bond between two people, but it also creates a new union between those two and God. In his ministry, Christ himself reaffirmed the holiness of the union.
He said to them in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning, the Creator made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason, am an shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh . . . Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’
Because of its sacred nature, the Catholic Church will not allow a couple to enter into marriage lightly. A significant amount of counseling is required, including an investigation of the couple’s intent. This is to make sure that both parties are getting married for the right reasons, as well as insuring that they are baptized, are coming into the marriage on their own free will, and are open to children.
Marriage is a gift. To find a mate is an absolute blessing. It allows us someone to cling to, someone to whom we can unconditionally surrender ourselves. It helps us to reject sin, to overcome selfishness, and survive in a fallen world.
Most importantly, perhaps, is how the love that man and woman share in matrimony can physically manifest it self in procreation. Through the marriage act, one of unconditional love and self-giving, God bestows on us the miraculous ability to create new life.
We treat the sacrament of marriage with the upmost reverence and sanctity. Because of this, the separation of husband and wife can be a very grave matter. For us, it takes more than filing papers at the courthouse for a marriage to end. If — for whatever reason — a Catholic couple makes the decision to end their marriage, the Church must annul it before they can move on with their lives.
An annulment, in short, is when the marriage is declared to be not a sacrament and despite what you may have heard, it is a long and involved process. It can take years to complete and involves a full investigation of the relationship. The Church must find sound reason that the two should never have been married in the first place. Those who have been through the annulment process report it to be one of the most emotionally draining experiences they’ve ever encountered. But it is necessary if a divorced Catholic should ever want to remarry. Until an annulment is granted, the Church considers a marriage to still be valid no matter how many lawyers or judges say otherwise. This matter is taken so seriously that a divorced Catholic may not receive the Eucharist if he or she were to remarry without first obtaining an annulment. Otherwise, they are committing adultery.
Marriage is a constantly debated subject in our society, but as Catholics we must remember that it is a holy and blessed union that supersedes any social or secular definition. While not every member of God’s family is called to celebrate the sacrament, we are all called to recognize its sacred nature, and uphold it as God made it to be.
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.—The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1602