Ask a Franciscan

Is Marriage Really a Sacrament?

A pair of wedding bands symbolizing the sacrament of marriage is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Isabel Church in Sanibel, Fla. (OSV News photo/CNS filer, Gregory A. Shemitz)

Q. How can marriage possibly be a sacrament? Yes, Jesus attended a wedding feast (John 4:46-54), spoke of the Kingdom of God in terms of a wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14) and used the Genesis creation story to support the idea of union (Matthew 19:1-9). But that does not seem to make marriage a sacrament.

A. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:1-9 is much more than using the first creation story in Genesis to “support the idea of union.” Marriage is the most basic of all purely human relationships and serves as the foundation for healthy families.

That may not be everyone’s experience, of course, but bad experiences in marriage and family life usually result from the abuse of human freedom on someone’s part.

Marriage was the last of the seven sacraments to be formally defined (11th century) but only because there was no serious challenge to its status as a sacrament before then. Less than 30 years after Jesus died, Saint Paul was teaching Christians in Corinth about the sacredness of marriage for the followers of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:1-16).

Just as the prophet Hosea did not hesitate to compare God’s love for the Chosen People to the love of a faithful husband for his adulterous wife (Hosea 2:1-25), so Saint Paul uses Christ’s love for the Church as a model for the faithful, generous love between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21-33).

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