12 September 2013

Sermon on the Precept of Marriage

As I noted earlier this week, I have now the two missing sermons from this year's Lenten Series on the Precepts of the Church. I will link them at right as part of the series, but to do so I need to run them as two distinct sermons, which I will do now and next post. Thanks again to the Institute for making these available.

Lenten Sermon Series 2013: 3rd Sun of Lent, Precept on Marriage

But immorality and every uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becomes saints (Ephesians 5:3)

In today’s epistle Saint Paul the Apostle exhorts us to live in Christ and warns us against such sins as would forfeit for us eternal life. As he says: “For know this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean person, or covetous one - for that is idolatry - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5: 5) Instead we are to “walk, as children of light, for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and justice and truth.” (Ibid. v.9) Now a very grave sin, though not the gravest, which leads many a soul to hell is impurity. Our Lady when she appeared to the three shepherd children of Fatima lamented that most souls in hell are there because of this kind of sin. Now to avoid any type of sin we need divine grace. We need actual grace which helps us to do good and avoid evil in the face of temptation. And we need sanctifying grace, which is the very life of the soul, so as to be united to God by the bond of love which motivates us to seek in all things His most holy Will. Christ instituted seven sacraments as the conduits of divine grace. Each one is a remedy of sin and its consequences. The sacrament of Marriage was instituted, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says, “as a remedy against concupiscence in the individual, and against the decrease in numbers that results from death.” (ST IIa IIae q. 65, a.1)

Church Authority over Marriage

Being a sacrament, the Church has great care to preserve the integrity of Marriage and to safeguard it. Over the course of centuries she has made laws concerning it, having received that authority from Christ Himself, “I promise you, all that you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and all that you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) The Church states her authority in Canon 1059: “Even if only one party is Catholic, the marriage of Catholics is governed not only by divine law but also by canon law, without prejudice to the competence of civil authority concerning the merely civil effects of the same marriage.”

Church Laws concerning Marriage

There are several laws concerning this sacrament, but I will expound on those which should be in the forefront of the mind when one is considering marriage.

1. To observe Canonical Form, since the Council of Trent, the Church has made a law that all Catholics be married in the presence of an authorized priest and two witnesses. The Church has made this law so as to protect the marriage contract which by its nature should be known publicly. By the public knowledge thereof the rights of the contracting parties are protected against the arbitrary disavowal of the fact of marriage and the rights of the children are likewise protected. A Catholic attempting marriage outside the Church would contract no marriage at all. Also it is a way of reminding the couple of the sacramental nature of marriage.

2. Not to marry non-catholics: Married life has many joys, but also trials and difficulties. Already it is difficult for two persons to harmonize in a peaceful manner, but if they disagree on very fundamental things such as the purpose of life, the understanding of human nature and eternal life, how much harder must it make family life. In addition, just as the great King Solomon fell from wisdom into folly through the influence of his pagan wives and worshiped their false gods, so likewise there is the danger of losing the faith for a Catholic to marry a non-catholic. There is also the possibility that the catholic party succumb to religious indifference, considering all religions to be the same, as if yes means no, and no means yes. Now in certain cases the diocesan bishop may grant a dispense from this impediment if the faith of the catholic party and the eventual children can be safeguarded.

3. Not to marry close relatives: Church law forbids marriages between any generations in the direct line (for example, a parent cannot marry his child, nor a grandparent a grandchild) and up to and including the fourth degree in the collateral line (no marriage between cousins).

4. Not to be celebrated during Advent & Lent: Because weddings are joyous occasions, the Church does not permit them during season of penance such as Advent and Lent.

5. Should already be confirmed, canon 1065, §1 Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before they are admitted to marriage if it can be done without grave inconvenience. The reason for this law is to reassure that one has received the sacraments in due time and is sufficiently catechized, and it provides yet another spiritual help for married couple.

What do these laws mean for the average Catholic in the pew? Well, if a couple is considering marriage, they must consult their pastor or the priest that has the care of their souls. The priest then will do an inquiry to make sure that there are no obstacles to the marriage and prepare them for this great sacrament. For everyone else, when the banns of marriage, the announcement of the future marriage, is published in the bulletin, if one knows of an obstacle to the announced marriage, he must make it known to the priest. This is important since in some cases the couple themselves may be ignorant of an impediment.


My dear faithful, Christ has given to his Church the authority to make laws in his name, for his greater glory and for the good of our souls. Her laws concerning marriage are then for our benefit and we must strive to obey them. Many in our day do not heed her voice, either out of ignorance or even out of flippancy. We must pray for such souls, ever mindful that without God’s grace we would be the same or even worse. Let us strive in all things to “Be imitators of God, as very dear children and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and delivered Himself up for us an offering and a sacrifice breathing out fragrance as he offered it to God.” Amen.

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