20th Sunday of the Year

Dear Friends in Christ,

Marriage has existed in some form in every society from the beginning of the human race. Moreover, marriage is not created by governments, it is merely recognized by them, and in the same way that no judge or legislature can make two plus two to equal five, no government can remake what it did not make in the first place. This is among the many reasons why the effort to acknowledge the sexual friendship of two men or two women as a “marriage” is a fatuous exercise of irrationality enforced by state power – the very definition of the dictatorship of relativism. Having said that, most of the Western world has now accepted the possibility of legal partnerships for citizens of the same sex, which is why Christians must take great care to understand that the word “marriage” is now used to describe at least three completely different realities.

The first meaning of marriage is the natural bond between one man and one woman that leads to the procreation of children. This natural form of marriage is based on the sexual difference and complementarity of the spouses, and our sacred liturgy describes this form of marriage as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away in the flood. The natural bond of marriage is entered by people of all religions and no religion, and every nation and culture depends for survival on the strength of such marriage.

The second meaning of marriage is the supernatural sacrament of matrimony given by the Lord Jesus to his disciples. Christ took the natural bond of marriage and raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, and by so doing he was able to restore the original meaning of marriage that was obscured by sin – an exclusive and indissoluble bond between husband and wife which endures as long as both shall live. When two baptized Christians exchange the consent of marriage, they administer to each other the sacrament of matrimony, and for Catholics, this exchange of consent must take place in the Catholic Church. If a Catholic person or couple exchanges consent outside of the Church, then there is no sacrament of matrimony, and being married in this way places the Catholic party in a condition of impaired communion with the Church, unable to receive Holy Communion or go to Confession except in danger of death. Such invalid marriages, however, can become the sacrament of matrimony by the renewal of marital consent in the Church, provided that both parties are free to marry in the Church.

The third meaning of marriage is a partnership recognized by civil law, and now that civil law recognizes as marriages both remarriage after divorce and same sex friendships, the very concept of civil marriage is so attenuated as to be almost meaningless. Civil marriage has been re-imagined to mean any private sexual friendship that is publicly registered, and no Catholic should ever confuse these three meanings of marriage. To live in the true covenant of Holy Matrimony, Catholics must be married in Christ and his holy Church.

Father Newman