Friday, August 30, 2019 - Updated: 12:30 pm
QUESTION: I always thought that it was enough that my spouse and I were legally married. Now that we want to have a child baptized in the Catholic Church, we were told that our marriage is not “sacramental.” I am not sure I fully understand why that is so important.
ANSWER: A civil marriage is one that is recognized as legal by some governmental agency (most likely a county or state). A “sacramental” marriage is a legal marriage that takes place in accord with the laws and directives of the Catholic Church.
In a very general way, the theology of the church speaks of sacraments as acts of faith that are celebrated within the church and by which one encounters God. A sacrament, therefore, is essentially not something one gets but rather someone one meets, namely God, acting in our lives in a specific way.
Thus, for example, in baptism God washes away sin and incorporate us into a family of faith; in the Eucharist, God feeds hungry people; in Reconciliation God forgives; in Anointing of the Sick God heals. And in the sacrament of marriage, it is God who unites a man and women in a covenant made between them and God.
The sacrament of marriage not only involves this divine activity, but it also presupposes certain components. A sacramental marriage takes place between two baptized persons. A sacramental marriage is patterned after the union of Christ and the church. Therefore, in a sacramental marriage, a couple must be willing and able to commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. This also involves a partnership of the whole of their lives and an ability to unite not only their schedules but also and most importantly, their love, values, goals, dreams and hopes.
They must also be committed to the purposes for which marriage was instituted by God: namely, the mutual love of the spouses and the procreation of children. Thus, sacramental marriage must involve a commitment to an openness to new life.
The love of those entering a sacramental marriage must also be both exclusive and unconditional. One must commit to the other with a clear intention of lifelong fidelity. A sacramental marriage must also be an unconditional, a “no strings attached” commitment.
Having said all this, one might ask if such marriages are even possible. They are, but they require a great deal of thought and prayerful reflection. This is precisely why the Catholic Church requires a significant period of preparation for marriage.
Why is a sacramental marriage important? Perhaps, that can best be answered by those who are already living a sacramental life. People who are baptized and who receive the Eucharist and participate in the sacramental life of the church would naturally want that life to embrace the most significant commitment of their adult lives. It is by this special sacrament that Christ enters into their married life and remains there as a source of support and strength. A sacramental marriage will be important for those for whom sacraments are important. The sacraments are meant to touch our lives in specific ways throughout our lives.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.