There’s a difference between marrying in the church and at the church. When we marry at the church, often it’s just a venue with no real connection to our faith. When we marry in the Church, there is a sense of grounding our relationship in a covenant understanding – that is, that our commitment is a sacred pledge made to each other, to God and to the community of believers. It’s a pledge that we will do all in our power to assist each other in becoming saints.
Couples who live their marriages within this awareness are truly vocational – they have embraced their lifestyle as having meaning and purpose beyond their mutual fulfilment and satisfaction.
This covenant is a pledge to freely give themselves in love to each other, totally, faithfully and fruitfully their whole life long in imitation of Christ.
These couples however, do not undertake this sacred covenant on their own. Through their engagement with their faith community they have access to the prayer and practical support to guide them and support them in their journey of growth.
With so much public discussion about marriage in the wider community, the difference between a secular understanding of marriage and Matrimony as a Catholic vocation is becoming wider. With the exception of the essential prerequisite of being ëfreely enteredí, on almost every other dimension there has been a divergence of values as illustrated in the table.
Catholic Vocation of Matrimony
|Pre-marital chastity||Pre-marital sex and cohabitation normal|
|Begins with the Wedding liturgy||No substantial (or legal) difference to cohabitation|
|Freely entered into||Freely entered into|
|Between one man and one woman||Between two or possibly more people of any sex|
|Life long, permanent||Able to be ended by one or both|
|Total, unconditional commitment||Conditional, independence can be maintained|
|Faithful and exclusive||Fidelity negotiable|
|Openness to procreation||Children are optional|
|Willingness to raise any children as Catholics||No obligation to raise children in any faith|
|Covenant between the spouses, God and the Church||Private commitment with legal recognition|
|Sacrament that serves the Church||No obligation for religious commitment|
The key differences could be summarised as Secular Marriage moving in the direction of a self-serving institution, one that fosters a transactional mindset: that is, ìAm I getting as much out of this relationship as I am putting in?î In contrast, a vocation to Matrimony explicitly promotes an outward looking, service mindset, one that asks: ìHow can I make a gift of myself to my spouse and family?î
Secular Marriage and Matrimony are fundamentally different: the first is oriented towards personal happiness and fulfilment and the second towards a desire to serve God and to grow in holiness.
Questions for Reflection
- On how many of the twelve features above do you come under the vocation of Matrimony vs secular Marriage?
- Which aspects do you see as being most critical for your spiritual growth as a couple?
- What is your reaction to the idea that vocations to the priesthood and religious life rely on the vocation of Matrimony?
Authors: Francine and Byron Pirola
This article was featured in the August 2013 edition of the CathFamily eMagazine. For more, check out: