The institution of marriage was officially recognized as one of the sacraments of the Church at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Prior to this time, it had always been considered a religious reality distinctly different from non-Christian forms of marriage. St. Paul referred to marriage as a mysterion or great mystery. Marriage was referred to by some of the early Christians writers, especially St. Augustine, as a sacrament, but the term had various meanings, all related to St. Paul's reference. Theologically, it is considered a sacrament because it images the union of Christ and His Church.
Unlike the other sacraments, marriage itself was not instituted by Christ. Since it predated Christianity, the Church teaches that Christ raised or elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. This is so because He recognized something fundamentally good in the marital institution. This good is grounded in the complementary relationship of the man and the woman. In the creation account of the Book of Genesis, the male is created first but is incomplete. Man, in the generic sense, is completed with the creation of the female. the scriptural account states that the male could not find another creature that was fit to be his partner. This account goes on to state that the man and woman become one flesh. The "one flesh" union is a covenantal formula that refers not to the physical joining of the spouses but to the total human joining that comes about in marriage. This total relationship entails the giving of one spouse to the other for the purpose of aiding in the well-being of each other. This highest form of gift requires that the spouses be totally faithful to each other, a fidelity that is grounded in a special kind of love, referred to by St. Augustine as conjugal charity.
Marriage as an institution of nature is considered by Christian theology to be essentially good because it was founded by the Creator at the beginning of human history. It was subjected to the vicissitudes of history and experienced variations, some of which were contrary to God's plan (infidelity, concubinage, polygamy, among others).
As a sacrament, it is a means of encountering Christ in a special way and of bringing about the salvation of the spouses. The theology of Vatican II and the revised Code refer to marriage as a vocation (Canon 226.1), through which married persons work for the building up of the Body of Christ in a special way.
Marriage as a commitment or act is acknowledged in both civil society and law, and Church society and law. This is primarily because of the role it plays in the welfare of Church and society. For this reason, both secular and religious institutions have enacted laws for the regulation of marriage. These laws treat of requirements for marriage as well as standards for the way spouses relate to and treat each other.
Closely related to the effect of marriage on the community is its fundamental purpose. For the sacrament, the purpose is twofold: marriage by its nature is ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children (Canon 1055). Parents are instrumental not just in the physical procreation of children but are directly responsible for their natural and Christian nurture. This includes not simply their physical and material well-being but their training as Christians. The essential source of this training is the participation of the children in the total love relationship of the husband and wife for each other. By example, they learn the meaning of Christian charity and love of God.
The Catholic concept of Christian marriage involves much more than holding the wedding in church. What makes a marriage Christian isn't a church blessing added on to a legal contract. Christian marriage is a personal relationship of life-giving love in which two people make the love of Christ present to each other and become a sign of the love of Christ to those around them. Therefore, it is not enough to call to mind the Love that Christ has for us, only on the day of marriage at the Church, but each and every day after as well.
Founded on God's giving of God's self, married love is based on giving. Total loving means total giving. Not in the sense of having to give up, but in the sharing of self. Each person giving fully of themselves, and each person receiving fully from the other, and in so doing they enrich each other with their own unique gifts, making each other complete.
Again, the love of husband and wife is to model the love that God has for us. God forgives us again and again for the times we have failed, whether they are minor or major. The love of wife and husband is to reconcile their differences, forgive hurts, and heal each other. Their willingness to heal each other again and again and to let go of personal gain for the other is an example of the desire for reconciliation that Gad has for us. A couple should challenge us to go beyond issues that divide us and to seek reconciliation and healing in a broken world.
A couple is asked on their wedding day, "Will you love and honor each other as husband and wife for the rest of your lives?" Wouldn't it be reasonable if they replied: "Yes, provided everything goes according to plan.... Yes, if at all possible"? but that is not the answer they give! They reply: "I will... I will."
A young salesman once asked his grandfather how it could be possible to find time to be a good husband. The grandfather challenged him. "How do you find time to be a good salesman? When success in your marriage means as much as success in your business, you won't have to ask that question; you'll know."
God's faithfulness accepts us for who we are, affirms us, looks for the good in us, and helps us grow. A married couple should challenge all of us to an understanding that doesn't give up on others, but looks for the gifts in each one, affirms those gifts, and draws them forth for the good of the community.
God's love is passionate and joyful and intimate; and it is reflected in a couple's passion for each other. the intimacy enjoyed in marriage is sexual, emotional, and spiritual.
"Making love" is a good description of intimacy because that is just what it should do. It not only expresses the love of husband and wife but also makes their love for each other grow and become stronger. Their love, makes them not two, but one body.
Because they share in God's creative love, a couple is privileged to share in the most exalted part of God's creative work -- the creation of another human being. their generosity and love is surely a brilliant reflection of the Creator's love when God first brought the world into being.
It is impossible to understand the oneness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But it is possible to recognize the strength and beauty of a couple who is truly one. Each person is distinct, and yet together they are a more complete whole. Each of us reveals the dimensions of God in different ways, yet it is specifically in terms of the relationship that God is best revealed, because God is relationship. In the blending of the two into one flesh, we, the Church, can catch a glimpse of the oneness of God