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RCIA – The Wedding at Cana – The Sacrament of Marriage

January 17, 2010

Catholic Teaching on Marriage

What is marriage to you?

Marriage is a covenant of love between the spouses, implying a total self-giving of one spouse to the other.

The sacrament of marriage continually offers God’s grace, which is the power of God’s love, Jesus’ presence and the energy of the Spirit, to sustain the covenant of love between spouses.

The love between husband and wife involves a totality of body, instinct, power, emotion and aspiration of the spirit and will aiming at a deeply personal unity which goes beyond union in one flesh to encompass the formation of one heart and soul.

This union of heart and soul is possible because of the union of love between God and God’s people, gained for all in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and sustained by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.


Marriage is not simply a human institution, but is part of God’s plan in creation (CCC 1603). Marriage was spoken of highly in the Old Testament, and with the coming of Christ, the marital covenant between baptized persons was raised to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC 1601). Marriage becomes an effective sign of Christ’s presence (CCC 1613).

In the eyes of the Church, what is this sacrament? Marriage between two baptized persons (a man and a woman who freely enter into a permanent, loving and faithful covenant with one another) shares in the fruitful love and unity that exists between Christ and the Church. Husband and wife assist each other in attaining holiness of life and in the rearing of children. Therefore, they have their own special place, their own gift and vocation, among the people of God (Rite of Marriage, Congregation of Rites, 19 March 1969, n.1).

This sacrament is not a contract, but a covenant. Freely entered into, the marriage covenant cannot be dissolved until death because it is a total self-giving, one person to the other. Jesus himself taught this truth as determined by God (Matt. 19:6). The covenant between husband and wife in marriage is integrated into God’s loving, covenant relationship with his people (CCC 1640). Jesus gives those who are married the ability to live up to the demands and expectations of marriage precisely through the gift of the sacrament (CCC 1650).

John Paul II, taking up themes taught by the Second Vatican Council, elaborates on the characteristics of conjugal love. In his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), he further clarifies the teaching of the Council, describing the love between husband and wife as involving a totality of body, instinct, power, emotion and aspiration of the spirit and will, aiming at a deeply personal unity which goes beyond union in one flesh to encompass the formation of one heart and soul (FC, 19). This is, in part, offered as a rationale which demands the indissolubility of marriage (CCC 1643). The Council itself had stipulated that along with the mutual self-giving of the two partners, the other purpose of marriage is procreation and the rearing of children (Gaudium et Spes, 7 December 1965, n 48).

However, since a valid marriage depends upon the free will of a husband and wife to truly enter into the sacrament, if the necessary freedom is lacking the Church can declare the union null. This declaration of nullity is commonly called an annulment (CCC 1629). This declaration is not effected through a civil divorce, but through a Church process. While some may consider the annulment process lengthy and intrusive, its purpose is to protect the marriage as a symbol of God’s unbreakable and loving fidelity to us (CCC 1647).

A married man and woman give themselves to each other just as Christ has given himself to us, and in turn we give ourselves to Him. How do we do that? By giving ourselves to our fellow man by sharing our God given gifts and talents with each other, and in all that we do, give glory to God.

What is marriage according to the Catholic Church?

What examples of total self-giving can you name among married couples with whom you are acquainted?

If you are married, when have you experienced God’s grace help you and your spouse through a difficult time?

How would you describe this ‘union of heart and soul’ spoken of by Pope John Paul II?

What is your understanding of the difference between a contract and a covenant?


Pope John Paul II also wrote a document known as “The Theology of the Body – Human Love in the Divine Plan.” From the back cover – “Going back to the biblical ‘beginning’ as recorded in Genesis, the Pope discusses the bodily dimensions of human personhood, sexuality, and marriage in the light of biblical revelation. Starting from three primordial human experiences – original solitude, original unity and original nakedness – he outlines a theology of the nuptial meaning of the body. A key theme is the communion of persons, which is a reflection of the Trinity. Within this framework, the Pope also considers the meaning of chastity for the sake of the kingdom.” While this book may focus on the marital aspects of the body it is also useful to persons in any state in life. This book may be a little deep for most of us and author and speaker, Christopher West, has many books, articles and podcasts on the topic for a better understanding.

Marriage is the only sacrament of the seven which is ordinarily administered by lay people. In the Latin rite, the sacrament is understood to be mutually conferred by the spouses upon one another. The priest or deacon witnesses the wedding, but the couple actually does the deed.

Pre-Cana classes are required for Catholic marriages. Notice the connection to Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana. There is a lot of information on marriage preparation at the website for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Start at Offices & Ministries, then Marriage Support/Ministry. A local Detroit woman has also started a forum to assist brides with pre-Cana and other wedding planning activities, from a Catholic perspective.


Magnificat Vol. 11, No. 12 / January 2010

Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, 2010

The Word into Life, Year C

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