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The Effects Of The Sacrament Of Matrimony

February 17, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


For a variety of reasons (a defect of consent, a diriment impediment, or a defect of the required form), many supposed modern-day marriages entered into by Catholic persons are invalid from their origin in the eyes of God and the Church.
However, as we saw last week, depending on the circumstances, the Church has procedures by which these unions can be validated: simple convalidation and radical sanation. The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (NC-CCL) expertly summarizes these ecclesiastical procedures, which are codified in canons 1156-1165 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC):
“[Simple convalidation] requires a renewal of consent by the parties; [radical sanation] is an intervention of Church authority that gives naturally sufficient and still perduring consent retroactive validity.
“Neither method can be applied unless any impediment has been dispensed or has ceased and any defect of consent has been overcome. The effect of simple convalidation is to render a marriage valid from the moment consent is renewed; the effect of radical sanation is to render a marriage valid from the moment the original, naturally sufficient consent was exchanged” (p. 1379).
Although they directly bind only Catholics, they indirectly bind non-Catholics who seek to convalidate an invalid union with a Catholic (cf. CIC, canon 1059).
Keeping in mind that a valid and consummated sacramental marriage can be dissolved by no human power or cause, except the death of a spouse (cf. CIC, canon 1141), we also saw last week that the Pauline privilege (see 1 Cor. 7:10-16) allows a marriage entered into by two unbaptized persons to be dissolved “in favor of the faith of the party who [later] receives Baptism . . . provided the unbaptized party departs (see CIC, canons 1143-1149)” (Fr. Paul Haffner, The Sacramental Mystery (TSM), p. 256).
Thus, three essential conditions must be fulfilled for the newly baptized spouse to lawfully enter into a new marriage: the original marriage is between two non-baptized persons; one of the spouses subsequently receives the Sacrament of Baptism; and the still unbaptized spouse “departs” (cf. NC-CCL, p. 1365).
Likewise, we saw last week that by application of the Petrine privilege the Vicar of Christ has the power to dissolve a non-consummated marriage between two baptized persons or a baptized person and a non-baptized person for a just reason (see CIC, canon 1142).
“The Petrine privilege,” states Fr. Haffner, “also extends to situations where the supreme authority of the Church dissolves a consummated natural (non-sacramental) bond, in favor of faith” (TSM, p. 256).
Understandingly, this occurs on an infrequent basis — important to note is that “the dissolution is effected only by the personal intervention of the Roman Pontiff” (NC-CCL, p. 1365).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) now allocates five paragraphs to consider the effects of the Sacrament of Matrimony (corresponding to canons 1134-1140 in the 1983 Code). Each begins by stating that “from a valid marriage there arises between the spouses a bond which by its nature is perpetual and exclusive” (CCC, n. 1638; CIC, canon 1134).
This applies to all marriages — natural and sacramental — and unmistakably recalls the two properties that are inherent qualities of the institution of marriage as our Creator intended from the beginning: indissolubility and unity (cf. CIC, canon 1056).
Both the Catechism and the Code then speak solely of sacramental marriages: “In a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament” (CCC, n. 1638; cf. CIC, canon 1134).
In other words, the basic properties of unity and indissolubility are made more firm and secure by the efficacious reception of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
As strikingly stated by the Vatican II fathers in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, by the Sacrament of Matrimony “the Savior of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians. . . . He abides with them thereafter so that just as He loved the Church and handed Himself over on her behalf (cf. Eph. 5:25), the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 48 § 2).
As it were, “authentic married love is caught up into divine love” (CCC, n. 1640).
“By reason of their state and rank in life,” affirm the council fathers, “[Christian spouses] have their own special gift among the people of God (cf. 1 Cor. 7:7)” (Lumen Gentium, n. 11 § 2).
What, then, are the spiritual effects and special gifts bestowed by the Sacrament of Marriage? In his Basic Catholic Catechism Course (BCCC), Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, enumerates them in a fourfold manner.
First, in order to provide an all-around growth in holiness, husband and wife receive an increase in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This gift manifests itself in an ever-clearer distinction of spousal love as opposed to sensual pleasure.
Second, as is the case with each of the sacraments worthily received, each of the partners entering into sacred Matrimony experiences an increase in sanctifying grace which serves to strengthen and deepen God’s divine life in their souls.
Third, the perpetual and exclusive marital bond mentioned earlier is effected at the very moment consent is exchanged. Finally, the couple’s love is perfected by the sacramental grace particular to marriage which causes a strengthening of their indissoluble unity. Included is a lifetime title to the actual graces necessary to bear with one another’s faults, to help each other grow in sanctity, and to properly fulfill their duties as husband and wife as well as Christian parents (cf. BCCC, pp. 181-182).
The Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology describes the marital bond as a quasi-character that is imprinted upon the souls of the recipients of Matrimony. As opposed to the indelible character imprinted upon the soul by the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, it is purely moral.
Thus, sacramental marriage imparts a permanent moral effect that renders the Sacrament of Matrimony incapable of repetition during the lives of the contracting parties. It is through this “quasi-character” that flow the two essential properties of unity and indissolubility, which symbolize the one and indissoluble union of Christ with His mystical spouse, the Church (cf. pp. 170-171).

Seven Virtues

Is it possible to delve more deeply into specific graces received by spouses faithful to their matrimonial bond? That is precisely what Fr. Hardon did in a superb article entitled “Sacrament of Matrimony” (see
The remainder of this column will draw upon the wisdom of the servant of God which was gleaned from over forty years of experience in counseling married people. He lists them as seven virtues assured by Christ — to those who cooperate with the graces of Matrimony — for successfully navigating the waters of married life.
First is the grace to practice generosity, which is so necessary if husband and wife are to love each other and their children as Christ, our Master and Model, loves us. Most difficult is learning to “give in” when disputes arise, as they surely will.
Second is the grace of selflessness. Fr. Hardon’s vast experience taught him that when people enter into marriage and say “I love you,” they often mean “I love you for what you can give me.” The most precious possession we have — which must be surrendered in marriage — is the gift of ourselves.
Needless to say, the grace to practice humility is essential for married couples. The intimacy of authentic married love demands a complete openness — body and soul — to one another. It demands a spirit of “self-forgetfulness,” which, with our wounded human nature, is very difficult to practice in a world that bombards us with messages of power, independence, and control.
Likewise, the grace of patience is indispensable for marriage. The word “patience” comes from the Latin patiens, which means suffering. You cannot begin to practice patience without suffering, and ample opportunity will be provided with the sacrifices demanded by marriage.
“That is the nature of marriage,” says Fr. Hardon. “Expect your partner to provide you with a lifelong opportunity for the practice of patience.”
The fifth grace or virtue provided for marriage is a claim to joy. This is not in the sense of a lifetime of pleasure, for it is possible to have great interior joy even when the body is wracked with pain. A good synonym for what is meant by joy in marriage is cheerfulness, to be cheerful in the midst of suffering.
Sixth is the grace to practice chastity, a virtue paramount to a successful marriage. In a sex-mad world where divorce rates are over fifty percent, many times as the result of infidelity, chastity is that virtue by which we are able to control our sexual appetite rather than letting it control us.
Finally, says Fr. Hardon, marriage provides the grace of loyalty (or fidelity). This is the virtue of lifetime commitment, of remaining faithful to one’s marriage vows no matter what life has in store for the couple.
“Christ is the source of this grace,” affirms the Catechism.
“Christ dwells with [Christian spouses], gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph. 5:21; cf. Gal. 6:2), and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love” (CCC, n. 1642).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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