Tertullian: “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? ...How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.”
Our Lord raised Matrimony to the rank of a Sacrament.
The theologians of the Middle-Ages have distinguished three things in the Sacraments:
- Sacramentum tantum - the sacramental sign: The consecrated material sign taken in the context of a form or rite but not itself caused or signified in the rite and not remaining permanently in the subject following completion of the rite ( except perhaps in marriage with the rings). The water in Baptism and the consecrated bread and wine would be good examples of this element
- Sacramentum et res - the sacramental reality: The symbolic reality or mystery whose presence is caused or signified by the Sacramentum Tantum and also signifies and causes the res tantum. This element remains in the subject permanently in the indelible Sacraments. In Baptism this would be the initiating seal of The Holy Spirit, and in The Eucharist this would be The Real Presence.
- res tantum - the reality that the sacrament pointed to: The inward and spiritual grace which is signified and caused by the res et Sacramentum but does not itself signify or cause.
In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the sacramental sign is the exchange of the consents.
The sacramental reality is the bond that unites the spouses.
The res tantum is the production of the grace and the union of Christ with the Church. This union is signified by the union between the spouses but obviously not created by it.
For two Christians who marry together, Matrimony is and can only be sacramental.
This revelation reaches its definitive fullness in the gift of love which the Word of God makes to humanity in assuming a human nature, and in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ makes of Himself on the Cross for His bride, the Church. In this sacrifice there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation; the marriage of baptized persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ. The Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave Himself on the Cross.
Indeed, by means of baptism, man and woman are definitively placed within the new and eternal covenant, in the spousal covenant of Christ with the Church. And it is because of this indestructible insertion that the intimate community of conjugal life and love, founded by the Creator, is elevated and assumed into the spousal charity of Christ, sustained and enriched by His redeeming power.”
The Sacramental character is the third blessings of Matrimony described by St Augustine – the first one is the offspring and the second is fidelity. St Augustine says: “Sacrament signifies that the bond of wedlock shall never be broken, and that neither party, if separated shall form a union with another, even for the sake of offspring.” We have seen that even a natural marriage is indissoluble. The sacramental dimension of Matrimony does not change its nature but reinforces the bond of unity. It gives the spouses the grace in order to be faithful and united together until death.
John Paul II: “By virtue of the sacramentality of their marriage, spouses are bound to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the Church.”
Pius XI: “If we wish with all reverence to inquire into the intimate reason of this divine decree, Venerable Brethren, we shall easily see it in the mystical signification of Christian marriage which is fully and perfectly verified in consummated marriage between Christians. For, as the Apostle says in his Epistle to the Ephesians the marriage of Christians recalls that most perfect union which exists between Christ and the Church: " This is a great sacrament: but I speak in Christ and in the church." which union, as long as Christ shall live and the Church through Him, can never be dissolved by any separation. And this St. Augustine clearly declares in these words: "This is safeguarded in Christ and the Church, which, living with Christ who lives for ever may never be divorced from Him. The observance of this sacrament is such in the City of God . . . that is, in the Church of Christ, that when for the sake of begetting children, women marry or are taken to wife, it is wrong to leave a wife that is sterile in order to take another by whom children may be hand. Anyone doing this is guilty of adultery, just as if he married another, guilty not by the law of the day, according to which when one's partner is put away another may be taken, which the Lord allowed in the law of Moses because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of Israel; but by the law of the Gospel."
It is only by considering the sacramental dimension of Matrimony that we can understand the verses of Saint Paul: "Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ: so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things." This has nothing to do with certain social conventions and customs of the time of Saint Paul or with his supposedly misogyny as some feminist or modernist would believe, but it lies in the very essence of the Sacrament of matrimony. It would not be a sign of the union of Christ and the Church is the wife would not be submit to her husband, as well as if the husband would not love his wife as Christ loves the Church.
There are moral and juridical consequences that we shall see later.
Let us say also that as a Sacrament, Matrimony is ordained to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is also a Sacrament that is for the benefit of the common good: the human society on earth and ultimately the people of God and the elect in heaven.