Here we are, the last entry in the sacraments series! Yay! (OK, that's probably what y'all are saying.....:-P)
Matrimony is, after baptism, probably the most "secular" sacrament. What do I mean by that?
People will have their babies baptized/dedicated/christened, even if they're not religious people. When I saw the latest Bridge Jones movie, I noticed that all the characters had their babies christened (Bridget remarks that she has tons of godchildren), even if the characters, themselves, were not extremely churchgoing, pious folk. It's like the thing you do. You have a baby, you christen it. That's that.
Marriage is very similar to this. I've been to weddings where people church-shopped beforehand, looking for a "pretty" place to get married--not because they, themselves, were extremely devout, but, you know, one gets married in a church. (And, needless to say, a PRETTY church.)
On the face of it, marriage is easy to explain. Man, woman. Vows. Rings. Consummation. Marriage!
Um....well, sort of.
In the Catholic church, marriage is for life. Meaning, you don't get divorced because of "irreconcilable differences." That does not mean, however, that if you're married to an addict, or an abuser, that you need to stay in the marriage. We aren't idiots and we're not ridiculous. But anything short of serious issues isn't grounds for annulment. I'm not a canonist, and I don't play one on TV, so I don't know all the ins and outs of annulment. However, there are appropriate reasons to get one. And that isn't the same as divorce. An annulment means that there was some impediment that existed, which kept the marriage from becoming sacramentally valid. (I think. If I'm wrong, I'm sure one of my clergy readers will tell me.and indeed, one has! See note at the end!)
So, marriage. Man, woman. Priest. MARRIAGE PREP.
Since marriage is for life, the church does its utmost best to ensure that he couple is aware of issues that could arise, and that they know how they want to deal with said issues. The infamous "survey" that you have to fill out--it's hundreds of questions--during marriage prep is meant to do that. The Church doesn't want to marry couples where the parties involved have no idea how the other feels on raising the kids, finances, how to resolve arguments, etc. The Church wants to prepare you. This is done in two ways--one, by meeting several times with the priest who will marry the couple, and two, by Pre-Cana.
I have been in nine weddings, and attended almost 20. I'm sort of a wedding pro. My brother, who has stats to rival my own (his might be even better....he's been in a LOT of weddings) and I should just open a wedding consultancy. BUT.....
however much the wedding prep is fun ("Beige roses, or ivory roses? Do we want Bach or Purcell for the processional? WHAT COLOR WILL THE TABLECLOTHS BE?!"), it's not the point. You don't get married to throw a big party. You get married because you want to spend your life with this person, you love this person, and you are going to grow in holiness with this person.
The Anglican rite actually does a good job talking about this, as illustrated in the ONLY Pride and Prejudice:
"Reverently, soberly...." etc.
A lot of people today aren't doing this reverently and soberly.
So in the Church, we try to keep it that way.
An interesting bit about the sacrament is that the priest doesn't, technically, marry the people. Remember how we've been talking about matter and form? In matrimony, the form is the exchange of vows. The matter is the people--the man and the woman--and for a marriage to be valid, it needs to be consummated. Yes, that's right.
If you're an Outlander fan, you remember that Dougal said he wanted "this marriage consummated with no doubt whatsoever." Hence, Claire and Jamie's rather awkward start to their wedding night:
(You will remember, true fans, that Jamie is marrying Claire to save her from being abused at the hands of the Evil Redcoat Captain. Let us remember that, for most of human history, marriage wasn't about "twue wuv." It was about lots of other things.)
So the marriage is man and woman, and it must be consummated.
People say that the church doesn't like to talk about sex, but really, the church has such great respect for it that we do talk about it. Quite a bit. Pope John Paul II devoted a good chunk of his papacy to it. Yes, that's right. A Pope talked for more than 100 weeks about sex.
Think about that for a second. (It wasn't just sex. It was marriage and personhood in general.) 100 weeks is almost two full years.
This is the main reason the church doesn't allow artificial birth control. In marriage, the couple participates in God's creative life. Seriously. They work with God to bring new life into the world. That's pretty cool, right?
One of the points of marriage (as said in the P&P video above) is the procreation of kids. It always has been. It always will be. Now, that does not mean that if you are infertile, that you can't get married. But it does mean that in general, that's one of the points of marriage--to have kids.
No, that doesn't mean that the church sees women as brood mares or rabbits. You can limit the number of children you have. But it should be done prudently and using Natural Family Planning.
There are 5,000,000,000 resources out there about NFP and the Catholic view of marriage. You can google it. I'm trying to go into a bit here, but really, it's just so rich that its scope is beyond a mere blog post.
The big takeaway here is that God sees human love as good, and even sacred. That's right. It's holy, people. That's why we take it so seriously, because to treat holy things as if they're not holy is sacrilege. Which is a sin. (Which is also why we object to pre and extra marital sex. Sex can only legally occur between the married partners--Wife, Husband. Not Wife A with Husband B, or girlfriend/boyfriend.)
So, while the party, and the dress, and the cake ( we can't forget about the cake), are all nice things, they're not the point of marriage.
One of the reasons the Church has marriage as a sacrament is because marriage is hard. The Church recognizes that. That's why the couple needs the sacramental grace that is received! Grace is helpful. (Understatement of the year, right there....) Grace isn't a magic wand, but it does make something that's humanly really hard somewhat easier.
Essentially: Be like Lizzie and Darcy and Jane and Bingley. Don't be like Lydia and Wickham. Don't be like Humperdinck! (Especially not like that!) Do that, and you'll be on the road to a fairly successful marriage.
As I thought, one of my clergy readers chimed in on annulments:
"Annulments are given when one or both spouses didn't consent to the marriage (that's why Buttercup was never married to Humperdinck!), or, as you mentioned, there was an impediment. "