The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
We’re coming to the end of this series of bulletin articles on the Seven Sacraments which began on September 3 and will finish in May with the articles on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In my article about Holy Orders, I mentioned that Marriage is a Sacrament of Service calling husband and wife to serve one another and their family in love and help one another get to heaven. Today, we’ll go a little bit more in depth on what marriage is.
When you see a marriage ceremony on TV or in a movie, there is a moment when the person officiating, the priest or judge, says, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” If you’ve been to a Catholic wedding you may have noticed that this doesn’t happen. The priest is there to witness the exchange of vows on behalf of God and the Church and offer God’s blessing to the newly married couple, but he doesn’t pronounce them married. The bride and groom are married in the moment when they exchange vows with one another. The blessing, exchange of rings, and prayers of the Church are important, but far more important is the exchange of vows. Through those vows, made honestly and with good intentions in the presence of the Church and the community, God unites man and woman in the bond of marriage and gives them grace to live out those vows.
In the marriage vows a husband and wife basically promise three things, called the “three goods” of marriage. First, they promise to be open to life. The priest or deacon asks, “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” and the couple respond, “I am.” The intention to accept children lovingly from God and to raise them lovingly is at the heart of marriage. Just as God shared His love with us by creating us and bringing us into His family, so married couples are called to imitate God by being open to the new life that God wishes to give them and expanding their families.
Second, they promise to be faithful to one another. In their vows husband and wife promise to be faithful “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you.” It’s relatively easy to be faithful in good times and in health, but it’s much more difficult in bad times and in sickness. This promise is not just to not mistreat one another or cheat, but it is something positive as well. They promise to love and honor one another, which is to put the good of your husband or wife first.
Finally, they make these promises “all the days of my life,” or, in the other version of the vows, “until death do us part.” The vows are not meant to be temporary. Some people think that it’s too much to expect people to keep a promise like this for their entire lives, but God and the Church have a higher view of humanity. We know that a husband and wife can, with the help of God, love and honor one another for their entire lives. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy, but it’s definitely worth the sacrifice. For my part, one of my greatest joys as a priest is to see families growing together in love, whether they’re just starting out or have been together 50 plus years. Witnessing their joy and love for one another motivate me and give me encouragement for the future.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.