A sacrament is any visible sign of Gods invisible presence. Matrimony is a sacrament of vocation and commitment to a life of mutual love and service. In the Roman Catholic Church the institution of holy matrimony was raised to the level of a sacrament due to the origin of the divine grace that made an indissoluble union, the union of Christ with his Church as his mystical body.
The creation story in Genesis is the root of the Churchs understanding of the sacredness of marriage. The Lord God said: It is not good that a man should be alone. Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:18,24). God himself created marriage in the beginning. His will that man should not be alone and command to be fertile and multiply (Genesis 1:28) is directly linked to the union of husband and wife.
It is also from this command that marriage in the Old Testament functions primarily for the begetting of children to preserve the husbands clan. The Old Testament Jews considered children to be so important to marriage that not having children was something of a curse.Peninnah, her rival, would torment and humiliate her, because the Lord have kept her from having children (1 Sm 1:6).
Marriage was seen and understood to be holy by the Jews because they see the goodness and the presence of God in ordinary events of daily life holy. It was also seen as a sign of the covenant of love between God and Israel, where God is the lover and Israel is his bride (Hos 3:1-5).
Much of the teaching on marriage during the first century is based from the Old Testament. For example, Jesus quotes the Old Testament in affirming the divine origins of marriage: So then, what God has united, man must not divide (Mt 19:6). Jesus also taught that there are no grounds for divorce. Using Gods Word spoken in creation as his authority, he teaches that his followers who marry are bound as one flesh in a union that no man is to separate. In the eyes of God marriage is absolute and final, ended only by death. Man must not separate, then, what God has joined together (Mk 10:8). The basis of marriage according to St. Pauls teaching, husbands loving their wives as their own flesh, doing what Christ does with the Church, was the sign of a higher union, Christs union with his Church (Eph 5:32). The first recorded wedding feast by the Apostles was at Cana. The presence of Jesus at this wedding made it special and sacred.
In the early centuries marriage was not so much a religious affair. It was a private family occasion therefore there was no specific liturgies. The basic requirement for marriage was the consent of parents and mutual consent of the partners. This occasion was usually celebrated in the brides home and the brides father who conducts the ceremony. During that time a ceremony was not even required for one to be married. When a man and woman lived together for a year, they are presumed by Roman law to be husband and wife.
The beginning of a marriage liturgy in the form of a blessing developed around the fourth century on the basis of secular customs after the Peace of Constantine. The Blessing for marriage given by celebrants often occurred when the veil was placing on the bride. Around the fifth century evidence found in Rome that the blessing which was performed by the Bishop gradually evolved into a liturgical celebration. This nuptial blessing was traditionally given during Mass.
The main understanding of marriage by the Church during the second to the fifth century was based on Gods will of being fruitful and multiply. An important member of the Church at that time greatly contributing to the development of marriage is Saint Augustine. Born on November 13, 354 Augustine, the Bishop of North Africa, is considered as the great Father of the Church. The Roman orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero inspired Augustine to become an earnest seeker after religious truth. He experimented with several philosophical systems such as Manichaeism and Neoplatonism before entering the Church, Augustine then became the Bishop of Hippo in 395. It was a period of political and theological unrest, for while the barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire in 410, schism and heresy also threatened the Church. Augustine combated the heresy of the Manichaeans. Some Manichaeans taught that marriage and having children were evil as they were connected with sex. According to the Manichaeans sex was filthy, dirty, and the result of sin and the influence of the devil.He also engaged into two great theological conflicts with the sect Donatists and Pelagians. In the course of this conflict, Augustine developed his doctrines of original sin and divine grace, divine sovereignty, and predestination.
Augustine discussed in his book, The Good of Marriage, the three values of marriage are fidelity, offspring, and sacrament. These three elements found in Scriptures are the basis of much of the Churchs reflection on marriage. Fidelity is a living expression of Gods faithfulness and love to his people. This love symbolises the mutual love of the spouses. The offspring plays a vital role in married life. Augustine refers to Gods command to increase and multiply to affirm the scriptural teaching that children are a blessing from God and an essential element of married life. However, Augustine tended to overemphasize that in marriage, only sexual intercourse with the intention of having children was morally justifiable. Augustines understanding of the term sacrament is its a sacred sign that expresses and shares in the mystery of the union with God in Christ. He uses the classical Latin word sacramentum, a sacred commitment and combined with the theme sacred sign to firmly state that marriage is indissoluble because it is a sacred, living sign of our indissoluble union with God in Christ.
During the Middle Ages the church spoke out against abuses regarding marriage such as the custom of a king giving a girl in marriage to a man after that girl had already been betrothed to someone else. In response to these abuses, the Church urged Christian marriage to be public. Violence and social anarchy occurring in the ninth and tenth centuries offered the Church political and economical powers over society. During these times priests had to deal with the civil formalities of marriage, which were gradual developed. Certainly by the 11th century, the civil laws and customs regarding marriage had become totally absorbed into the laws and rituals of the church. Giving maximum publicity to the exchange of consents, marriage ceremonies were performed at the door of the Church. It wasnt until the Council of Trent in 1963 that the marriage ceremony performed by priest was inside the church.
During the 15th century Protestant Reformers caused the demand for the Church to form a council. Pope Paul III, convinced by this crisis, convened the Council of Trent in northern Italy in 1545. The purpose was to correct abuses within the church and to strengthen the church in the painful and confusing aftermath of the Protestant Reformation.
Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther agreed with the Church that they had the right to offer Christians guidance in determining whom and what conditions they chose to marry. However, they denied that the Church had a right to move from giving advice to exercise legal authority over Christians seeking to get married in the church because they believe that only baptism and Eucharist are true sacraments.The church had to state firmly that marriage was a sacrament intended by Christ. Pronouncing the sacramentality of marriage as a Doctrine it eased the troubles within the Catholic Church. It also made the Catholic Community more knowledgeable of the sacrament of marriage.
Pope John XXIII assembled the leaders of the whole Christian Church in an attempt to adjust with todays rapidly changing world. This was because religious faith no longer played a vital role in society, developing countries were in the throes of revolution, and the Church itself appeared to be out of touch with the lives of the faithful. The assembly was recognised as the Second Vatican Council, so called because they assembled in Saint Peters Basilica in Vatican City. Sessions of Vatican II were held in four consecutive autumns from October 11, 1962 to December 8, 1965.
Altogether, the council enacted sixteen texts. Among these texts, marriage was one of the important issues discussed in the Council. The Churchs standing on the holiness of marriage was not clear to the community. The Council introduced a whole new perspective on marriage. The greatest achievement was that marriage is not a contract but rather a covenant of love.Also mutual love is not secondary to having children, mutual love is in itself a sacrament that needs faith for existence. People marry and remain in marriage because they love each other; and the marriage sacrament is a part of the mystery of the Church.
There have been significant changes in society. For instance, women are now less dependent on men, the life style and employment patterns are also changed.More importantly, the intervention of medical science allows couples to choose the family size, improves life span, and therefore marriages could last longer. The growing understanding among married people that sex is much more than having children.As a consequence, perception on marriage is changed and the church looks very closely at the meanings of the sacrament of matrimony. Marriage means sharing of love and affection between couples and the procreation of children. Also because of psychological effects the church recognises some Christian marriages which were never valid from the beginning to be annul.In other words, the church teaches that a true Christian marriage cannot be separated or granted a divorce and allows a person the right to remarry. However, annulments are granted if the marriage was not a true Christian marriage.
Nowadays mutual love comes with trust, faith and affection rather than purely for procreation that was the main reason for marriage during the Old Testament time. Couples had joined together due to their willingness as resembling as Christ has done with his Church. God made His invisible presence to his people through love and fidelity, so now the Christ comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony.
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