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What is marriage? Who can be married in the Church?

what-is-marriage-who-can-be-married-in-the-churchCovenant and Liturgical Act

By their marriage, the couple witnesses Christ’s spousal love for the Church. One of the Nuptial Blessings in the liturgical celebration of marriage refers to this in saying, “Father, you have made the union of man and wife so holy a mystery that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and his Church.” Through the liturgical celebration of marriage, husband and wife enter into a covenant which is also a Sacrament:

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. (CCC, no. 1601, citing CIC, can. 1055, and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches [CCEO], can. 776)

The Sacrament of Marriage is a covenant, which is more than a contract. Covenant always expresses a relationship between persons. The marriage covenant refers to the relationship between the husband and wife, a permanent union of persons capable of knowing and loving each other and God. The celebration of marriage is also a liturgical act, appropriately held in a public liturgy at church. Catholics are urged to celebrate their marriage within the Eucharistic Liturgy.

The Celebration of Marriage

According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church. In the traditions of the Eastern Churches, the priest (bishops or presbyters) are witnesses to the mutual consent given by the spouses, but for the validity of the sacrament their blessing is also necessary.

—CCC, no. 1623

In the Latin Church, the free consent of the couple is at the heart of the marriage celebration. By Church law, when two Catholics marry they must exchange this consent in the presence of the Church’s minister, two witnesses, and the congregation. The priest or deacon calls forth this consent, but the marriage itself takes place through the public consent of the couple. The priest invites the couple to do so in these words: “Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, join your right hands and declare your consent before God and his Church.” There are various formulas for this consent. One that may be used is as follows: “I, [Name], take you, [Name], to be my [wife/husband]. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” In the Eastern Churches, the Sacrament is conferred by the blessing of the priest after receiving the couple’s consent.

The consent is further symbolized in the Latin Church by the blessing and exchange of rings with the words: “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

Copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.