By: Rev. Francis Spirago
Lesson Twenty - Sixth
Q. What is the Sacrament of Matrimony?
A. The Sacrament of Matrimony is the sacrament which unites a Christian man and woman in lawful marriage.
BISHOP HILARY'S ADVICE TO HIS DAUGHTER
The unmarried state is more perfect than the married. St. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers and one of the fathers of the Church, had been married in his youth, and was the father of one daughter. On the death of his wife he took Holy Orders. When on account of his zeal for the Christian faith he was banished to Asia, he left his daughter under the care of a Christian family. As soon as she was grown up, it was proposed to marry her to a Christian youth. This she told to her father, who wrote in reply: "I shall soon be returning home, and then I will show you the portrait of another suitor, the son of a king; he will come himself later on to ask you to celebrate your nuptials with him. You can then compare the two and take whichever of them you prefer." When the bishop came back he showed his daughter a crucifix, and counseled her to consecrate herself to Christ by a vow of life-long virginity. She followed his advice, and died a holy death very shortly after. When she was dying, her father said to her: "See, you Bridegroom has come to conduct you to the eternal marriage-feast."
Q. Can a Christian man and woman be united in lawful marriage in any other way than by the Sacrament of Matrimony?
A. A Christian man and woman cannot be united in lawful marriage in any other way than by the Sacrament of Matrimony, because Christ raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament.
THE MARRIAGE FEAST AT CANA
It was on the occasion of a wedding in Cana of Galilee that Jesus raised the marriage contract to the dignity of a sacrament. In the beginning God had instituted marriage as a union of one man with one woman, for, having created Adam and Eve, He blessed them and said: "Increase and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. i. 28.), and that Adam understood their union to be one and indissoluble is evident from his words: "Wherefore, a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh" (Gen. ii. 24). But men soon rebelled against God's law, and carried their contempt for, and abuse of, marriage so far that "All flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth" )Gen. vi. 12), and in consequence God destroyed them with the deluge. Later on, even the chosen people introduced ta plurality of wives and, in certian contingencies, divorce, which God, on account of their hard-heartedness and sensuality, was, as it were, obliged to permit. Among the heathen, meantime, marriage had be robbed of all its dignity, woman had been degraded to a state worse than slavery, and the slightest whim or passion was sufficient cause for divorce. Then it was that Christ came and restored marriage to its original dignity, and, besides, so elevated the natural contract that it became a sacramental union. The Virgin Mother was there, and the virginal John, to show what pure motives ought to inspire the contracting parties. The apostles where there, indicating that the administration of marriage is an exclusive prerogative of Christ's ministers. Jesus changed water into wine to be served at the end of the feast, even as the richest graces attached to the marriage bond were reserved for the last,the Christian, era. He made marriage to be the symbol of the union between Himself and His Church, and hence to be held as sacred and sanctifying, one and indissoluble.
A. The bond of Christian marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power.
THE DIVORCE OF KING HENRY VIII
On the 6th of June, 1509, King Henry VIII of England was married by dispensation from Pope Julius II to Catherine of Aragon, widow of Henry's deceased brother Arthur. Henry was then a good Catholic, Defender of the Faith in reality, as well as in name. For eighteen years they lived happily, until Henry began to have scruples of conscience (?) concerning the validity of his marriage with his brother's widow. The real cause of Henry's discontent was, first, that Catherine was childless as far as an heir to the throne was concerned, and second that he was madly in love with Catherine's maid of honor, Anne Boleyn. Henry applied to Pope Clement VII for an annulment of his marriage; and, though the loss to the faith of the whole British Empire stared him in the face, the Pontiff's answer was an unwavering :Non possumus" )"We cannot"). His words were an assertion of the Church's attitude on this matter before and since and always, for no human power can touch the Christian marriage bond. Thus is explained the apostasy of England and the existence of the English Establishment, for the Protestant hierarchy where willing to give Henry as many divorces as he would, in return for the privilege of confiscating the property of the outlawed English Catholics.