How many couples fully understand God’s plan for marriage when they say “I do?”
At Calling Couples to Christ Marriage Apostolate, one of our greatest desires is to help couples understand what constitutes a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, many couples have little or no understanding of the vows they make to each other on their wedding day. These are not mere words but have deep spiritual meaning.
So, what constitutes a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church? According to the Code of Canon Law:
Can. 1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.
§2. For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.
Can. 1056. The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament.
Can. 1057 §1. The consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons qualified by law, makes marriage; no human power is able to supply this consent.
§2. Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage.
A valid marriage between a man and woman requires that:
- A lawful form of celebration must be used.
- Both must be free from impediments according to the law.
- Both must give valid consent.
What is the lawful form of marriage? A baptized Catholic, who has not left the church by a formal act, must exchange consent in the presence of an authorized church official (unless this requirement is dispensed). In most cases this means that a Catholic is married in the presence of a duly appointed priest or deacon. In the Latin tradition, the ministers of marriage are the spouses who mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church; the priest is an official witness to the consent of the couple.
What does free from impediments mean? Impediments to a Catholic marriage include:
- Lack of proper age.
- Certain physical defects.
- The bond of a previous marriage.
- Disparity of worship.
- Holy Orders.
- Solemn vows.
- Abduction. 
- Crime. 
- Blood relationship in the direct line, and to the third degree in the collateral line.
- Spiritual relationship, which exists between a baptized person and the one who baptized him or stood for him in Baptism.
- Legal adoption.
What makes for a valid consent? The matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which each party gives and accepts the perpetual and exclusive right to the body for the performance of actions that of their nature pertain to the procreation of children (Can. 1081). The consent must be a free act of the will. An act of the will is internal and invisible; external signs such as marital vows or nodding the head in affirmation are commonly considered sufficient expression of one’s will.
According to Pope Francis, “The Church, thus, with a renewed sense of responsibility continues to propound marriage in its essential elements — offspring, the good of the spouses, unity, indissolubility and sacramentality…as a reality that in Christ’s grace can be lived out by all baptized faithful.”
In closing, we will look at the four goods of marriage:
God created marriage from the beginning. The Story of Creation tells us that husband and wife are to be “one flesh” in marriage (Gen 2:24).
Marriage is a sign of the covenant of God to His people, the Church (Eph 5:25-31). God forever keeps His covenant promise; it cannot be broken. Marriage therefore, as a sign of God’s loyalty to us, is indissoluble. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“The deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of Matrimony the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it. Through the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper meaning” (CCC, 1647).
When a man and woman marry, they enter into a covenant relationship. This is why the essence of marriage requires conjugal fidelity (CCC, 1644). The sexual union of husband and wife in marriage is meant to be the renewal of wedding vows.
“Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter” (CCC, 1643), including their fertility. To deny the marital act of its fruitfulness is to speak a lie with your body. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are a community of love. The mutual love between a husband and wife that results in the creation new life images the Trinity’s community of love. “Children are the supreme gift of marriage” (CCC, 1652).
It is in living out God’s plan for marriage that husband and wife will find the love and fulfillment that truly satisfies. God’s grace flows abundantly into marriages that strive to live out this vocation faithful to the teachings of Mother Church. God desires to bless your marriage. Trust everything to Him and reap the bounty of a joy-filled marriage!
A Marriage Blessing
Heavenly Father, maker of the whole world,
who created man and woman in your own image
and willed that their union be crowned with your blessing,
we humbly beseech you for these your servants,
who were joined in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
May your abundant blessing, Lord,
come down upon this couple,
companions for the totality of natural life,
and may the power of your Holy Spirit
set their hearts aflame from on high,
so that, living out together the gift of Matrimony,
they may adorn their family with children and
enrich the Church.
In happiness may they praise you, O Lord,
in sorrow may they seek you out;
may they have the joy of your presence
to assist them in their toil,
and know that you are near
to comfort them in their need;
let them pray to you in the holy assembly
and bear witness to you in the world,
and after a happy old age,
may they come to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Through Christ our Lord.
 Code of Canon Law, internet: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P3V.HTM (accessed February 6, 2016).
 A boy cannot validly contract marriage before he has completed his sixteenth, and a girl before she has completed her fourteenth year.
 Anterior and perpetual impotency, whether in man or woman, whether known to the other party or not, whether absolute or relative, renders marriage invalid by the very law of nature.
 This impediment is based on the natural and on divine law. The natural law forbids endangering one’s faith without necessity.
 A marriage is invalid when attempted by clerics in major orders.
 Marriage is null also if attempted by religious who have taken solemn vows.
 Between the abductor and the woman abducted with a view to marriage there can be no (valid) marriage as long as she remains in the power of the abductor.
 Those who caused the death of a partner for the means of marrying another.
 Therefore no valid marriage can be contracted: 1) Between the baptizing minister and the baptized person; 2) Between the sponsor and the baptized person.
 Address of His Holiness Pope Francis.