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Catholicism

Catholic Teachings On Marriage And Family Life

Catholic teaching about marriage was minimal until the Catholic Church formally taught that A Roman Catholic priest sprinkles holy water on children taking their first communion in the Philippines. The Catholic Church affirms that the family is an essential life-giving part of the church and that it is a source of on-going vitality for the entire church. BULLIT MARQUEZ/A/P WIDE WORLD PHOTOS Christian marriage or matrimony was one of the seven sacraments of the church. This was officially declared at the Council of Trent (1545–1563). This teaching was partly to counteract Martin Luther's claim that there were only two sacraments: baptism and eucharist. Theologians from the thirteenth century on had made mention of the sacramental nature of Christian marriage, but it was not made part of official church teaching until the abovementioned council.

Naming Christian marriage as one of the seven sacraments of the church meant that the act of marrying another, with the intent that the marriage be faithful, exclusive, and open to the creation of new life, creates a sacramental relationship between the wife and husband that participates through the working of grace. Marriage was not only a human or secular relationship. It was part of the dynamic life of being a Christian. It was drawn into the energizing presence of God's spirit that continuously breathes life into the church. Marriage is a sanctified state of life. It renders the wife and husband holy through all those acts that constitute the marriage. This graced dynamic begins with the exchange of marriage vows and through the consummation of the marriage in sexual intercourse. The process of sanctification continues though their life together.

After Christian marriage was officially incorporated as part of church life, there followed a whole series of changes in church practice. These changes happened slowly. In fact, some four hundred years later, there still remain further opportunities on the part of the church to enrich the graced state of marriage and the spiritual lives of families. First of all, the Catholic Church established rather detailed laws concerning who could marry, what dispositions or attitudes were required for marriage, how the sacramental ritual of marriage should be enacted (before a priest and two witnesses), and when and where marriages should take place when celebrated in the church.

Because of these church requirements, the church involved itself in the period before marriage to insure that all its requirements for Christian marriage were satisfied. From the sixteenth until the middle of the twentieth century, this requirement was usually met by a meeting with a priest right before the wedding.

In the middle of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church, especially in the United States and Canada, developed a variety of educational programs for engaged couples. They were designed to help couples enter Christian marriage more knowingly and more personally. These marriage preparation programs were usually given by a priest with the assistance of qualified laity.

As the Catholic Church found itself in situations where the population was religiously diverse, it also faced the issue of marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. These were commonly referred to as mixed marriages. Up until the Second Vatican Council, these marriages were clearly thought of as second class. Usually they were not celebrated in the church building, and the non-Catholic party had to promise that any children from their marriage would be baptized and raised Catholic.

After the Second Vatican Council, the church took a more pastoral approach to these marriages, sometimes creating special programs for marriage preparation and enrichment. Also, the non-Catholic partners are no longer required to promise that children of the marriage become Catholic. Nevertheless, the Catholic partners are asked to promise to do all within their power to ensure this result. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, just under one half of the marriages that are celebrated in the church are mixed. Sometimes leaders of each one's respective religious community jointly celebrate the weddings of these people.

There are various programs and movements within the Catholic Church to enrich marriages. Many Catholic parishes and dioceses sponsor educational programs for the married. Deserving special mention are the various marriage encounter retreats or experiences that have helped thousands of Catholics gain skills in communication and insights into the sacramental and holy or sacred dimension of Christian marriage.

At the other end of the spectrum, laws and procedures were created to deal with ways the church could accept that a marriage had ended. Up until the Second Vatican Council, there were few justifying causes for a marriage to be declared ended. In brief, this could be accomplished only when the marriage partners had not consummated their union or if one of the parties decided to enter religious life. Courts were established both at the Vatican and in Catholic dioceses to deal with these cases.

Around the time of the Second Vatican Council, a new set of criteria for dissolving marriages was established by the marriage court of the Vatican, which is called the Rota. It allowed the church to declare that a given marriage lacked certain essential qualities that the church held as necessary for the existence of a Christian marriage. If the marriage lacked certain essential qualities, then the parties were given an annulment, which indicates that a Christian marriage was not canonically valid. Essential qualities may be absent in the intention of one or both parties at the time of the wedding, for example, an unwillingness to have children. Or one or both parties may have a personal psychological predisposition that makes them incapable of establishing a lifelong union of life and love.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsCatholicism - The Beginnings Of A Social Concern For Families, Catholic Teachings On Marriage And Family Life, Catholic Teachings On Human Sexuality