This post is part of a series on dating and marriage.
In the previous post, I wrote about the importance of dating intentionally— that is, dating with the clear goal of marriage. But before we go any further, I believe it is important to define what a true, sacramental marriage actually is, especially in light of the rampant confusion about its true nature, the incessant attempts to redefine it, and its overall disintegration within society, even among many Catholics.
Marriage in Crisis
All week long, American media has been abuzz with the story of Phil Robertson’s suspension from the wildly popular Duck Dynasty TV show for criticizing homosexuality and calling it a sin. The fact that this is a controversy at all is a sign of the cultural confusion about the nature of sexuality and the marriage covenant.
Here in the U.S., something like 16 states have legalized gay marriage, and many more states plan to follow suit. In the media, traditional marriage is mocked and ridiculed, and “alternative” lifestyles are praised and promoted.
But how did we get to this point? How did society grow to accept a complete redefinition of the martial union, to the point where polyamory (marriages of three or more) and open marriages are now being discussed as legitimate options?
Believe it or not, it began with the acceptance of divorce, as a fascinating LifeSiteNews.com article recently pointed out. When society began to accept the idea that marriage was impermanent and dissolvable, a temporary contract of convenience and mutual fulfillment, rather than a permanent uniting of bodies and souls, the groundwork was laid for the further erosion of marriage, the far extremity of which we are at today.
So in light of the current crisis, how are we to understand true marriage? What is it exactly? According to the Church, marriage is defined as a freely-entered-into, sacramental covenant that binds a man and a woman together for a life in a mutually beneficial and procreative union.
To get even more precise, the Catechism defines the marital covenant as follows:
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.
A marriage is validly sacramental if both parties are baptized and freely give their consent. For example, my wife and were not married in the Catholic church. We married before we converted, but we were both baptized, and we both understood that marriage is a lifelong, procreative union. Therefore, after consulting with priests and a canon lawyer (we wanted to be really sure!), we were assured that our marriage is validly sacramental.
There is so much more that could be said, but to summarize, marriage is the linkage of one man and one woman for life. Through this loving union, life comes forth in the form of children. When lived in its fullness marriage is a beautiful picture of the life-giving love of the Holy Trinity— the first Holy Family.