February 4, 2011


The importance of marriage

We call your attention to the couples featured in our wedding announcements.

It sometimes seems that the Catholic Church is the only institution that really takes marriage seriously. It has always followed what Jesus said when he answered some Pharisees’ questions about marriage and divorce (see Mt 19:3-12). It wants to help couples have strong and successful marriages.

Unfortunately, parts of our society don’t see it that way. The number of marriages has declined seriously in the United States as couples skip marriage and start living together. This has happened among Catholics as well as among other Americans.

In light of this, it is interesting that Pope Benedict XVI has said that men and women have a natural right to marry, but they don’t have a right to a Catholic wedding.

On Jan. 22, he told the members of the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal that deals mainly with marriage cases, that the right of Catholic couples to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony can be exercised only if they fully understand what they are doing.

In other words, the pope would like to see it more difficult for couples to contract a sacramental marriage—the only kind of marriage that exists for Catholics. They can’t just brush off the marriage preparation that the Church demands. If the marriage is to be valid, they must understand the commitment that they are making.

We think the pope was right when he said that engaged couples often consider the Church’s marriage preparation program “simply a bureaucratic hurdle to overcome before the wedding.” It is just one more thing they have to do when they are already swamped with other wedding details.

It is possible, in fact, that some couples might decide that they are “just too busy for that nonsense,” and decide not to have a sacramental marriage or not to go through a wedding ceremony at all.

Of course, it’s not nonsense at all. The Church, in the persons of all those who help with marriage preparation, is vitally concerned about helping couples contract a valid and successful marriage.

That’s why the Church offers such things as Pre Cana courses and sponsor couples to encourage engaged couples to communicate with one another. The inventories and analyses that are included in marriage preparation are designed only to help the couples have a successful marriage.

As the pope said, for the Catholic Church, marriage is a sacrament that is witnessed by a priest or deacon, but performed by the couple who pledge that their union will be forever, and that they will be open to having and educating children.

The U.S. bishops also take marriage seriously. That is why they have a special website devoted entirely to marriage. We encourage couples, whether engaged or already married, to check it out at http://foryourmarriage.org.

We believe that you will be surprised at what you find on that site. There are “daily marriage tips,” book reviews, articles about dating, parenting and all aspects of marriage, and a resource center. There is also a section, “About Catholic Marriage,” that includes documents and teachings of the Church about marriage.

On the day this editorial was written, there were stories on that website about four basic things to keep in mind while dating—whether children really make a marriage less happy, four stages of growth in marriage, living with Natural Family Planning and sexual compatibility. Under “parenting,” there were stories on what parents should know about marijuana and one titled “When You’re Married to the Caregiver.”

In “News About Marriage” on the bishops’ website, David Gibson—whose name should be familiar to those who read our “Faith Alive!” page—wrote that Pope Benedict has spoken a number of times in recent weeks about the invaluable educational roles that the family fulfills as well as about the kinds of religious and social support that married couples and their families need.

Returning to the pope’s address to the Roman Rota, we believe that he summed up the place of marriage when he said, “The Church and society at large place too much importance on the good of marriage and the family founded on it to not make a profound commitment to it pastorally.”

We congratulate those couples who are featured this week, and pray that God blesses all marriages.

—John F. Fink

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