Why Must I Marry in the Church?
The inaugural public miracle of Jesus unfolded in the midst of the wedding feast at Cana. Here, Mary turned to Jesus and quietly remarked, “They have no wine,” echoing the scriptural account that “the wine ran short.” In a spiritual analogy, we can view ourselves as akin to the wine, symbolizing our fallen imperfections within the institution of marriage. Jesus and Mary, regarded as the new Adam and Eve, assume a pivotal role in the process of restoration, mending the damage to marriages wrought by the original fall of Adam and Eve. Mary, in her role as intercessor, extends her help to the newlyweds, symbolizing her intercession for marriage itself. Meanwhile, Jesus, as God, offers a glimpse of His divine glory by bridging the chasm between husband and wife, exemplified by His miraculous intervention in response to the woeful shortfall of the newlyweds.
Marriage is not merely a serious commitment; it is an institution so deeply woven into the fabric of the human experience that Jesus himself sanctified it, elevating this sacred bond to the divine level of a sacrament through the miraculous transformation he enacted at the wedding feast in Cana (along with his profound teachings surrounding marriage).
To delve a bit further into this matter, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus faced a test from the Pharisees when they inquired about the permissibility of divorce, considering that Moses had allowed it. Jesus responded with great wisdom, stating, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife [except if the marriage was unlawful] and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:7-9
Through Jesus’ remarkable miracle and his teachings found within the gospels, he underscores the divine origin of marriage, elevating it to the holy stature of a sacrament. As a result, we come to perceive the exalted dignity inherent in the bond between husband and wife, one that mirrors the profound exchange of love between Christ and his Church. In its ultimate form, marriage exemplifies the free and total sacrificial love that Jesus selflessly demonstrated on behalf of the Church.
As elaborated above, marriage for Catholics is meant to be a sacrament. Consequently, this implies why one’s parish church serves as the rightful location for the celebration of the sacrament of marriage. It would likely strike us as peculiar if an ordination to the priesthood or episcopacy (bishops) were to occur on a beach or at a secular or civil location. This peculiarity arises from the fact that such settings do not inherently convey the solemnity and sanctity befitting these sacraments. Marriage, like Holy Orders, is a sacrament of mission, signifying a sacred calling and, therefore, its rightful place of celebration is in the context of a church.
In cases where a Catholic has entered into a civil marriage or participated in a non-Catholic ceremony, the Catholic Church offers a path to regularize the marriage through a process known as convalidation. During convalidation, the couple renews their marriage vows before Catholic clergy and two witnesses. This serves to harmonize their marriage with the teachings and sacramental principles of the Catholic Church, which are rooted in the guidance imparted by Christ himself. This also typically involves the completion of the necessary sacramental documents and paperwork to ensure that the marriage is recognized within the Church’s canonical framework. If this is a situation you find yourself in, it is recommended you reach out to your parish priest to discuss your particular situation, refraining from receiving Holy Communion until your marriage is blessed (convalidated) by the church.
Jeremy Lezniak — SFA Theologians Guild Member