The Principal Catholic Practices, Chapter 6 – A Great Sacrament

The Principal Catholic Practices, by Father George Thomas SchmidtMatrimony a Sacrament. Nuptial Mass. Courtship. Divorce

There is, perhaps, no sacrament so important to the welfare of the human race, to the prosperity of nations and the happiness of individuals, as the sacrament of Matrimony. Not to speak of its undoubted influence in shaping the weal or woe of nations, its importance for the individual’s spiritual welfare cannot be estimated.

As a priest the writer has seen careless young men and frivolous girls grow serious in the pursuit of their soul’s salvation after having been united in the holy bonds of Matrimony with a God-fearing woman or well-bred young man. But alas, he has also seen innocent maidens and promising young men sacrifice their virtue and their common sense when united in marriage with a man or woman of worldly motives and un-Christian principles. As a contract Matrimony binds and binds forever. Therefore, the greatest caution and prudence must be employed by those contemplating this important step. But it is rather as a sacrament that we view Matrimony here.

There were no sacraments when God first created man and woman and joined them together in the intimate relationship of wedlock. There was no need of means of grace, for man proceeded from the hand of the Creator undefiled and not subject to concupiscence. However, he boldly and brazenly rebelled against God and fell from his high estate. Henceforth he was a creature tormented by passion and subject to internal and external temptations.

He had to endure a long period of expectation until the promised Redeemer came. The Saviour appeared and. redeemed the world. No one could partake of the fruits of Redemption, however, except by drawing from those channels which the Saviour provided. Chief among these are the sacraments. And when He so lovingly provided for our every need. He did not neglect to give men and women united in holy wedlock the bountiful fruits of His merits. He raised Matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament.

We often speak of people being married by a priest. This is not quite correct. The priest is merely a witness at a marriage ceremony. The contracting parties actually administer the sacrament to each other, by respectively declaring their consent to accept the other as husband or wife. The priest, however, is a necessary witness, for the Church demands that marriages of Catholics take place before a priest and two witnesses.

The Nuptial Mass is not necessarily a part of the marriage ceremony. In fact, when bride and the groom leave the altar, just before the priest begins the Mass, they are already joined in the holy union of Matrimony.

Genuine Catholics, however, are not satisfied with the brief ceremony of the sacrament; they desire the added blessing of the Great Sacrifice which is offered up for their intention. Accordingly many priests refuse to perform the marriage ceremony for Catholics except they consent to have the Nuptial Mass. Of course, in mixed marriages there is not a Nuptial Mass. Neither may such marriages take place in church.

There is a very particular reason for insisting upon the Nuptial Mass in marriages where both parties are Catholics; namely, to obtain the bridal blessing. And, indeed, who stands in greater need of God’s blessing than the woman destined by the Almighty to be His instrument in carrying on the great work of creation? And is it not a token of her sincere Catholicity that she who stands on the threshold of a new life, who may be the means of rearing saints as well as the occasion of lost immortal souls, humbly prostrates herself before the Father in heaven to receive His blessing?

The utter frivolity with which many, in our times, rush into the sacred alliance of marriage is evidence sufficient that this state is generally not considered as something sacred. Needless to say, the blessing of God is not sought. And consequently the words of the poet are verified:

“Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure;
Married in haste, we may repent at leisure.”

Time and experience have demonstrated that married life is not all sunshine and roses. There may be roses, but the stems from which they are plucked are thick with thorns. Too many forget that we have no permanent dwelling on earth. They expect that human love can satiate the yearning of the heart for happiness; and they look to marriage as the source of complete joy. But when the dark clouds of disappointment lower above them, and storms of disagreement mar the fair horizon of their future, they are apt to forget the vows of eternal fidelity pledged before the altar. It is then that the blessing of God and sacramental grace is needed.

Therefore, good Catholics, who enter the sacred state of wedlock, are solicitous to obtain the full blessing of Gk>d by a worthy reception of the sacrament, and by receiving the precious benediction of the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

Matrimony being of such great importance to national welfare and to the well-being of the individual, it is apparent that the preparation for marriage should be a matter of more than ordinary care. Courtship is generally recognized as a period of time allotted to a man and woman for the purpose of learning to know each other with a view to marriage. It is not a time merely for frivolities. Nor is it a period of license and utter disregard of the proprieties of social intercourse. Here let us emphatically register our condemnation of long courtships. They are not necessary; and in very many instances are conducive to immoral living. You cannot trifle with human nature. Love may be pure and noble; but it may also degenerate into a ruining passion.

We do not suppose for a moment that a decent girl will give up her most precious treasure, her virtue, without a struggle or protest. But small irregularities lead to great crimes. Liberties are allowed which soon take upon themselves the aspects of criminal actions. If ever the saying that ‘*love is blind” were true, it is substantiated only too frequently by the shame and remorse that blights the lives of innocent girls who give up their virtue in the name of love. And do we not understand that every man must think less of the woman who falls, even though he be the cause of her dereliction? To his better self she was the noblest being in creation; with the eyes of love he saw in her a beauty and charm which, perhaps, was not apparent to others. Had she maintained her sublime position in spite of temptation, her loveliness would have been enhanced. But her fall puts her down to the level of ordinary human beings.

A girl owes it to herself to preserve her heart undefiled during the time of courtship. If any man refuses to respect her firm determination to preserve her purity, that man is not fit to be her husband, and will probably prove to be a cruel, passionate beast. The young man must show that he is worthy of a good girl by at all times proving to be the protector of her virtue, not its assailant.

An equally important reason for sinless courtships is the fact that the period before marriage is a direct preparation for the life that is to follow. Happy young couples may have visions of a life that will differ materially from the lives of all others. However, they are destined to be disillusioned. Married life is not all pleasure. It may be full of happiness, nevertheless, if man and wife live holy lives and enjoy the blessing of God. But can they expect God to bless a union that has been preceded by crime and daring disregard of the commandments? It may be taken as an axiom that God blesses those who seek His blessing and strive to merit it. But vice versa, those who call down upon themselves the wrath of God by trampling upon His laws should not be surprised if God’s punishment is visited upon them.

But there is another danger, and it is not an imaginary one. When the day set for the marriage arrives, those who are to receive the sacrament are expected to go to confession and holy communion. If the past weeks and months have been spent in sinful liberties, the danger is very great that shame and fear will suggest a bad confession, in which these sins are omitted. Oh, what a preparation for the holy state of Matrimony! To begin with a sacrilege a life that must have the blessing of God! What a sad wedding day it must be for bride and groom if their conscience tells them that they have committed a hideous crime by compelling their God to enter hearts that are foul with sin and sacrilege! And the years that are to come, years of trials and hardships – will God bless them?

Need we further proof that courtships should be short, and that the principals should exercise the greatest caution so as to avoid sin and merit the blessing of God? Happy the bride and groom who can enter the marriage state with a clean heart. They too will have trials and disappointments – but the grace of God will always strengthen and refresh them.

It will be apparent that marriage, this holy union which God Himself ordained, should be inviolate, and that divorce is un-Christian, immoral, and intolerable. And yet the greatest scandal in our country is the frequency and facility with which divorce is granted. The Church does not recognize divorce. “What God has joined, let no man put asunder.” Liberals and atheists may fret and fume, but she will never change her stand. She told Henry VIII that divorce was a crime, even though it cost her a kingdom. She clings to her interpretation of the law of God and will ever cling to it. And unless our country awakes to the danger that threatens to undermine her stability, divorce, the greatest enemy of the human family and of national welfare, will ultimately destroy the very pillars of government. For the nation depends upon the family. If the purity and integrity of the family are maintained, we may with confidence look forward to a great and mighty nation. But if the family is disrupted, if its purity is defiled, the nation will rapidly go to its grave, just as the nations of the past have sped on to ruin and oblivion.

What a boon for the human race that God has raised Matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament! May He speed the day when the peoples of all nations will look upon this holy union as one ordained by God and blessed with sacramental grace.