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Getting Married in the Catholic Church Johnny Doherty, CSsR

The decision to get married is one of the most important decisions that a person will ever make. It is not made lightly, and needs a lot of thought and preparation. The kind of marriage that a couple wants is also part of the decision, and is expressed in how and where they celebrate their wedding. By choosing to get married in the Catholic Church, couples are taking on a particular way of living their married life. This way has many things in common with all other ways of marriage. But it also has many different values and implications. It is these particularly that are highlighted in this short paper.

Distinctive Elements

Along with all the other Christian Churches, the Catholic Church has a profound reverence for marriage and for the dignity of married couples. Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures and through the New Testament, marriage is proclaimed as one of the main ways that God shows what he is like in his love for each of us. For 2000 years Christianity has promoted respect for marriage as an institution, and also as a covenant of love between a woman and man that bonds them in fidelity all the days of their lives. It is in this spirit of reverence and respect that the following points are made:

  1. Every human relationship that is founded on love is sacred and in some way graced with God’s presence.
  2. The relationship of love of a woman and man in the life-long commitment of marriage is especially to be honoured and protected. This is expressed very strongly in the wedding ceremony: what God has joined together let no one put asunder. This needs to be honoured first of all by the couple themselves, by their commitment to work at developing their love. It also needs to be supported by the State in its laws, by society in its attitudes, and by the Church Community through its ambition for the health of every marriage relationship.
  3. Every Church wedding automatically implies an awareness of God and a willingness to make God part of the relationship. This highlights one of the important elements of our faith as Catholics, namely that a marriage is a three-partner relationship that cannot work fully with only two. The presence of God in a couple’s life together is vital, so that they remain turned towards one another in love, and so that their commitment to each other will grow ever stronger. This can be difficult for some couples as they see themselves as not very religious, but it is an important element that every couple needs to take account of and develop in their lives.
  4. By getting married in the Catholic Church a couple don’t just get married in a building but within a Community. Again this has many serious implications for each couple in relation to their present involvement with the Church Community, and their commitment to that Community in the future. A couple cannot live their lives in isolation. Many things and people will influence the quality of their love for each other. By being part of the Community of faith that is the Church, this love will be protected and nourished through the Eucharist and through the support of other couples and other people.
  5. The Catholic Church’s reverence for marriage is most fully expressed in our acknowledgment of the couple’s relationship as one of the seven sacraments of the Church. It is not just that a couple receive a Sacrament on their wedding day as a blessing for the rest of their lives. The couple, through their exchange of marriage vows, becomes the Sacrament. That simply means that the love of a husband and wife makes Christ present as Saviour for the world. What an extraordinary faith that is. The couple’s love for one another, their life together, is much bigger and far more important than they could ever imagine.
  6. When we think of Church, we almost automatically think of a building, the clergy, the parish, the larger community. One of the lovely elements of the Catholic Church’s faith is expressed in the phrase – Domestic Church, the Church that is our home. In getting married, a couple establishes a new home. It is a very special place because of their life together, and because of the love that is at the heart of it. It is also a very special place of the presence of Christ, a presence that brings joy and healing and gladness. The very core of this place has to be the quality of the love of wife and husband, and their love for the children that God may give them. Prayer in the home is a very important gift to exercise if the home, the Domestic Church, is to be all that it can be. When we think of practice of the faith we again almost automatically think of Sunday Mass. This is a very important part of it and should not be neglected. But the practice of faith is also concerned with how a couple and a family love one another in their home and make it truly a place of the presence of God.
  7. Sometimes, people think of the Church in terms of laws and regulations. They find it oppressive and, often without thinking too much, they reject it. The faith of the Church is very rich in every way, but especially in its attitude to this great sacrament of marriage. It is so important for every couple to take on this richness and to glory in it, so that they can go for everything that is good and best and wonderful for their love for one another.