Previous posts in my series of posts for the Year of Faith:
God the Creator
Jesus, The Incarnation
Jesus, The Savior
Mary, The Mother of God
The Holy Spirit
The Church & the Pope
The final sacrament and second sacrament of service is Holy Matrimony.
The Origin of Marriage
Scripture begins with the creation of human beings as male and female. The vocation to marriage is "written in the very nature of man and woman." (CCC 1603) God created man and woman in love and then commanded them to imitate his love with each other. Although it took ancient Israel a while to develop fidelity to God's original plan for the unity and indissolubility of marriage, Jesus specifically addresses these aspects of marriage with regards to divorce. In Matthew 19:8, Christ admits that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts but it was not so "in the beginning." The fidelity of the husband and the wife is to imitate the fidelity of God to His people and His desire that we be faithful to Him alone.
The Significance of Marriage
Jesus' very first miracle was at the wedding at Cana and the church sees this as a confirmation of the goodness of marriage and that marriage should be an "efficacious sign of Christ's presence." (CCC 1613) Paul particularly reflected on this in his letter to the Ephesians when he wrote to wives and husbands
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] motherand be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33)By their marriage, the couple witnesses Christ's spousal love for the church. The couple enter a covenant, not just a contract, which expresses a new and unique relationship between them. Together they can know and love each other and God. One of the Nuptial Blessings in a wedding Mass even refers to this: "Father, you have made the union of man and wife so holy a mystery that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and his church." It is for this reason it is most appropriate for a Catholic wedding to be celebrate in a Catholic Church, before the tabernacle and, if possible, during a Mass.
The Purposes of Marriage
There are four requirements of marriage: Unity, Indissolubility, Heterosexuality and Procreativity. These four requirements are necessary to secure the two purposes or ends of marriage. The first end is that each spouse may love the other and help the other in their relationship to God and their growth in holiness. The love of the spouses requires, by its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of their communion for the mutual love and holiness of each other. The church declares every valid sacramental consummated marriage to be indissoluble, that is, no one can dissolve the marriage bond. The second end of marriage is the procreation of children.
By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.” Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: “It is not good that man should be alone,” and “from the beginning [he] made them male and female”; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day. The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children.164 In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life. Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.(CCC 1652-54)These are the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage.
"You shall not commit adultery." Men and women are different creatures but equal in dignity and both should respect their sexual identity. God created both the human body and the sexual act as good. Sex is not to be feared or condemned but regarded as a gift through which men and women participate in the divine plan.
Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others. (CCC 2332)The 6th commandment calls spouses to be faithful to each other in all aspects of their sexuality including emotionally. Every human being is called to a life of chastity. "Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being." (CCC 2337) Sexuality, through which our place in the physical world is expressed, becomes personal and fully human only when it is "integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman." "The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech." (CCC 2338) Chastity requires self-mastery of one's own passions and without mastering one's own passions, one becomes dominated by them and is no longer free.
The bond between husband and wife is both unitive (or conjugal) and procreative and the bond between the unitive and procreative may not be broken. The unitive aspect of marriage involves the full personhood of the spouses, a love encompassing bodies, emotions, hearts, aspirations and souls and the husband and wife are called to grow together in all these aspects of their selves so that they are no longer two but one. Acceptance of a spouse's flaws and failures as well as one's own is a recognition that the call to holiness in marriage is a lifelong process of conversion and growth. The procreative aspect concerns the conception, birth and education of children and the married couple is called to be open to children remembering always that having a child is not a right, but rather a gift from God. They share in the creative power and fatherhood of God and, in giving birth to children and educating them, they cooperate with the love of God as Creator. Marital love, by its very nature, is fruitful. The marriage act, while deepening spousal love, is meant to overflow into new life. In this, families are images of the power and life of the Holy Trinity and the fruitfulness of the relationship between Christ and his Church.
A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is “on the side of life,” teaches that “it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.” “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”Thus, artificial contraception is contrary to God's will for marriage because it separates the act of conception from sexual union. Attempts to achieve pregnancy outside of sexual intercourse, such as IVF, are morally wrong for the same reason. Artificial contraception place a barrier between the couple and essentially refuse an inherent aspect of the person, namely the person's fertility and ability to be a parent. Should a couple discern that there is a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, there are natural and moral means of doing so. Natural Family Planning uses various means of recognizing and tracking a woman's fertile time so that the couple may abstain when a pregnancy might result. NFP is healthier for the female body, healthier for the marriage and better for the environment than any artificial means available. Natural Family Planning methods are also useful in successfully achieving pregnancy.
*For further reading on Marriage and Sexuality, see Love and Responsibility by Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II, Humane Vitae by Pope Paul VI
** For summary purposes, some parts of this post were taken from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, which simply made it a bit easier to put some of the sections of the CCC into a more succinct and compact form for blog-sake. :)