Known as the primordial sacrament, that is, the sacrament which existed from the beginning, the Sacrament of Matrimony is one of the two sacraments at the service of communion. This sacrament is at the service of communion because the spouse’s partnership and matrimonial covenant is “ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Code of Canon Law, 1055). Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World from Vatican II, says: “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage” (48). Marriage is incredibly important to God and to his plan. The Scriptures begin with the creation of man and woman in the likeness of God and concludes with the “wedding of the Lamb” in heaven. Marriage is a divine creation: “Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes” (CCC 1603). Human beings have no right or authority to redefine what God has established.
Our God who is love, “created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man” (CCC 1604).
The celebration of any sacrament is a liturgical act and therefore is a public liturgy of the Church. The couple is not getting married for just themselves, but for the building up of the Church. It is for this reason the required liturgical form is followed, including being married in a church. By exchanging vows before the altar, they are making manifest their desire to sacrifice for the sake of the other just as Christ sacrificed himself for the Church. Marriage also introduces the couple into an ecclesial order which creates rights and duties in the Church between each other and their children. (CCC 1631) In exceptional circumstances, the diocesan bishop can provide a dispensation from the proper form.
Who can be married?: a baptized man and baptized woman who are not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law. The man and woman must freely consent (no one can force them to get married), they must affirm to love and honor each other until death, and agree to accept children lovingly from God and raise them in the law of Christ and his Church.
Form, Matter, and Minister
Form: The exchange of vows and consent which are given by the Church: “I take you to be my wife…” “I take you to be my husband…” (CCC 1626) Because the vows state very clearly what marriage is and how each spouse is to live it out, writing one’s own vows is not permitted.
Matter: the mutual consent and covenant to live together as husband and wife (CCC 1626) and the consummation of the marriage (CCC 1640)
Minister: in the Latin Church, the spouses themselves are the ministers of their own sacrament. The deacon, priest, bishop, or a duly instituted lay minister in some countries where there is a severe lack of clergy, receives the witness of the exchange of vows in the name of the Church. In the Eastern Churches, a priest or bishop is the minister, who after receiving the mutual consent, crowns them as bridegroom and bride. (CCC 1626)