Having looked a couple of weeks ago at the Scriptural roots of the Sacrament of Marriage we are now going to turn to looking at the matter and the form of the sacrament itself. If you recall, each sacrament has both matter and form. The matter is that physical reality which is present and used by God to accomplish the sacrament and the form is the proper words and ritual of the celebration of that sacrament. We can use a simple example from baptism. In baptism, the matter is water poured over the head and the form is the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If one of the two elements (matter or form) is not present, then the sacrament is not conferred. So, for instance, in baptism, if the priest were to pour apple juice over a child’s head while praying the proper words, would the sacrament of baptism be conferred? No, because it’s lacking in the proper matter. If the priest were to use water and pour the water over the head of the child three times but say nothing, would the child be baptized? No, because the proper form would not be there. So, matter and form are essential for the sacrament.
Now, when we move into the Sacrament of Marriage, what are the matter and form? What are the essentials which must be present for the celebration of the sacrament? The matter necessary for marriage to take place is one baptized man and one baptized woman, and the consummation of that marriage. The form necessary for the marriage is the vows. In addition, the Church also requires the marriage to take place in a Catholic church in front of a Catholic minister with the Catholic ritual, unless these aspects of the form are dispensed by the bishop himself. This is a very important part – most particularly given our climate today and the debates which surround marriage. At the end of our examination of marriage we will return to this question, however, it’s very important to keep in mind that the matter of the Sacrament of Marriage has always been one baptized man and one baptized woman, and without that matter being present it is not possible for marriage to be conferred.
Having examined the matter and form of the Sacrament of Marriage, we can now begin to look at the ritual itself. The marriage ritual has been newly translated into English, from the Latin, so if you have been to a wedding recently and didn’t hear this exact translation, that is why! The new translation is able to be used now and must be used starting in December. There are two options for the celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage – the one is a Celebration of Matrimony Outside of Mass and the second is the Celebration of Matrimony Inside of Mass. As the titles indicate, one takes place with Mass and the other does not. It is oftentimes advised that a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Catholic take place outside of Mass, however, in both celebrations the ritual is the same.
The ritual for the celebration of marriage begins with an Instruction; it reminds the couple as to what is about to take place; it speaks of their “intention to enter into marriage.” It also reminds them of the sacramental nature of what they are about to do that, in the sacrament, they will receive a special grace from God, through which God “enriches and strengthens those he has already consecrated by Holy Baptism, that they may be faithful to each other for ever and assume all the responsibilities of marriage life.” This is important to note that marriage, as with every sacrament, brings with it a special grace which accomplishes certain things – in marriage, that grace both binds the couple together in the sight of God and it also carries with it particular gifts to help that couple to truly live out their marriage in fidelity, permanence and with great fruitfulness. It is this grace which they will need to rely on through the ups and downs of married life.
In our next article, we will turn to the second part of the ritual which includes: The Questions Before the Consent, The Consent, The Reception of the Consent, and the Blessing and Giving of Rings.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)
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