CHAPTER XVIII — THE CONSECRATION OF THE HOME
(Suppl, Q. 41-68)
IN AN older generation, it was the custom in Ireland for all marriage arrangements to be made by the parents. The boy and girl might know one another casually, or they might never have seen one another until the very wedding day; but everything had been settled by their respective parents. To us, this seems strange, even incredible; like surrounding a kiss with the economic assurances of a bank account. Yet, it had its roots far back in the Christian tradition; it was not an uncommon practice through the Christian ages and received no little publicity in the marriages of royalty in the Middle Ages.
Before condemning this custom out of hand, it might be well to examine our own conscience. Certainly, there are some current methods of arranging marriage that are bitterly cruel, for all the pleasant smiles they wear as they dole out misery. Leaving aside, for the moment, such things as “gin marriages,” and those fantastic stunt marriages in airplanes, sideshows. carnivals, on the stages of theatres, and so on, there is yet the decidedly common custom of setting about laying the foundations of a home in the thick fog of passion. As soon as the first breezes of reason hit the fog, those within the home can appreciate the absurdity of the location chosen; though it was apparent from the beginning to observers who knew the territory.
Another not uncommon method might be called the marriage created by parental disapproval. Mother or father, especially mother, has never given a thought to the selection of a partner for her child, having fondly cherished the illusion that her child was “just a baby” and would remain so until it tottered into the grave. In actual fact, the child reaches maturity and makes a tentative selection of its own. Immediately, there is an outburst of parental wrath which is part envy, part selfishness, part outraged pride, with, perhaps, a little love mixed in. The violence of the storm crushes the romance, the suitor is banished forever, and another candidate is hurriedly rushed on the scene; it may even be that a series of such banishments eventually makes marriage an impossibility, thus completing the perversion of a child forced back into its mother’s womb, its life absorbed by its parents.
All these modern methods are, obviously, quite different from the older Christian arrangement by the parents. The older method was pursued slowly, deliberately, with painstaking investigations on both sides; it was considered a normal part of parental duty in assuring the welfare of a child for all of a lifetime. It was the usual thing in the days of St. Thomas; yet, Thomas points out that father or mother cannot force the consent of a child to marriage, since marriage is a perpetual, though lovely, slavery. However, to us of the twentieth century, this mode of procedure is cold, a thing of hard, solid reason; as indeed it is. It is distasteful to us, not so much because it does not take love into consideration — for neither did it exclude love — but precisely because of its coldly rational procedure. It seems to strip all the mystery, the glamor, the appeal from this newborn domestic life.
But why must this most important act of man be dissociated from reason? In all other human fields, from sports to statesmanship, we label acts dissociated from reason as insane; for they have all the essential ingredients of lunacy. As a matter of fact, it is that rational consideration that is the principal defense and recommendation of the older method; its condemnation lies in its abuse, in the flagrant violation of justice to be found where parents, under the guise of love, violated the rights of children by forcing their consent. Where parental love was worthy of its name, fully respecting the rights of others, the mother and father were building for a long time and insisted on building well; they were mapping out a journey of a lifetime and they prudently looked over the length of the road.
The foundation of the home — a contract: Justice, a guarantee and a promise
After all, a home established by marriage is built on the solid rock of a contract. Before a single bride can be laid, the concrete of justice must be well set; for it is only on the team of justice, a solid objective thing, that homes can be built. This is the minimum, no substitute can be found for it; from the beginning this has been the fundamental material and time has not changed either the nature of man or the nature of matrimony. Yet, to modern ears, justice has a clammy, fearsome sound; it calls up pictures of grim judges, heavily armed police, secret agents, and electric chairs. This man and woman are not robbing a bank, starting a civil war, or setting out for a jail; they are only getting married. This is a matter of love, not of justice. It is, indeed, a matter of love; precisely because of that, it is at least a matter of justice. For justice is not an exclusion of love but its safeguard and solemn promise.
The solidity of the foundation
This man and woman are entering a union which they themselves, their future children, and society insist shall be permanent; yet permanency is hardly guaranteed by the dispositions of man or woman, changing as they are from hour to hour and day to day. It is not to be left to the mercy of a passing inclination, a fickle fortune, the blindness of passion; it must rest on objective, tangible, unmistakable rights, a basis established by the deliberate will of man and so one that is easily and accurately judged by other men. That basis is capable of defense, for it is solid enough to have a fortress built upon it; it is a solemn contract.
Its relation to others: Within the home
What, then, of love? This man and woman are entering a common life, a common home, to work to a common end; not the life, home, and end of the husband, not the life, home, and end of the wife, but rather, the life, home, and end of this married couple. These two are no longer two, but one. They are made one by a justice that is so intimate as to destroy the proper object of justice and metamorphose itself into a kind of love immediately. There can be no strict justice within a family because there is no “other” to be dealt with; all are part of one another, they are treated by other members of the family as one treats oneself, lovingly. There is much more than loyalty in a very small brother’s rush to aid his beleaguered older brother with any weapon at hand, sticks, stones, or even his own puny fists. It is a spontaneous declaration of the profound truth that an attack on any member of a family is an attack on all of the family, for this domestic union is so close that “otherness,” to a great extent, ceases to exist.
Such a union of man and woman must be preceded or followed by love if the contract is observed. Christ Himself made justice the minimum of love when He said: “If you love me, keep my commandments,” for the commandments are the minimum of love for God and are all commands of justice. Indeed, justice, of its very nature, includes a regard for others in demanding respect for their rights; to have less than this and yet speak of love is bitter mockery. Once the contract is sealed, every other gesture in marriage is a declaration of love, of union, of surrender, and consecration. In each of the parties to this contract, there is the spark of divinity that makes a man or a woman a worthy object even of divine love; justice is a strong light for weak eyes which have such difficulties finding goodness to love. By that strong light, and the constant intimacy established by the contract of marriage, love is practically guaranteed. If love does precede marriage, as we practically demand today, then justice guarantees its permanence and its growth. Love is not killed by justice but by injustice and selfishness; justice’s demand for intimacy, and its constant opportunities for sacrifice are immediate helps to the full, flourishing growth of love. A love which cannot develop under such circumstances, which complains of being stifled by the demands of justice, is not love at all.
The point cannot be pressed too much today that justice is at the bottom of family life. Regard for others, not for self, is the basis on which a family life is built; and on that basis alone. The regard for others goes far beyond the walls of a home. The open house at Cana, the wedding festivals of our own day, are really symbols telling us that this is not merely a private affair. It is someone else’s business, in fact, everyone else’s business; it is a public affair and a matter of public interest.
Outside the home
It is fairly evident that society has some interest in marriage. At least, there must be some reason for the space devoted to marriages in gossip columns, society pages, and rotogravure sections; and divorce gets no less attention. Clearly the fact that someone is about to be married, that a marriage has just been destroyed, is considered news by every editor in the land. Society is interested, with an interest not unlike that of brothers, sisters, and parents. The whole community is interested in marriage, for by it a new part of itself has come into being. This is a new unit of the state, another stone bolstering its foundation; of course everyone living in the house of the state is interested. Indeed, the weakness or strength of that stone is the weakness or strength of the whole building.
When marriage becomes a strictly private affair, a fatal disease has set in. When there is in marriage no regard for the state and when the state has none for marriage, then both the family and the state are disintegrating; for domestic life is a feeble flicker without the protection of the state, and the state is non-existent without its family units. A state that tolerates, or positively encourages, a weakening or perversion of marriage is signing its own death warrant; there will be no lack of executioners to carry out the sentence.
From the point of view of that much bigger family of Christ, the supernatural view, there is an even greater and more widespread interest in these nuptials. From this ground will spring plants which will never die; here will come into existence the infants of eternity. We cannot quite picture a celestial charivari, but certainly there is something of an equivalent interest, a boisterous well-wishing, and a demand for an appreciation of this heavenly interest in this family affair. The supernatural mother insists on being there, the Head of the family, and as many others as can squeeze in; and, when it is a matter of saints and angels, not very much space is required.
Matrimony and nature: Its nature
Even theologians, long misjudged as heartlessly rational, have taken this sacrament to their hearts. They have given it the kind of scrutiny that makes love the severest, though the kindest, of judges, a close, searching, penetrating glance. The very name has been rolled about on the tongue of theologians as a child might savor a last, precious bit of candy. They have seen in the Latin name, conjugium, from which we take our adjective ‘”conjugal,” a statement of the essence of matrimony; that is, a binding together as with enduring bonds, a declaration of that joyous surrender which is also a conquest. From now on, both parties to the contract carry a common yoke that is light and sweet by its very heaviness and bitterness in crucial times. The word “espousal” shows this union as a solemn thing scaled by deliberate will, a holy promise thus emphasizing, in a one-word description, the efficient cause of this union. While “nuptials,” describing the actual accomplishment of the promise, draws a picture of grace and delicacy, a bridal veil thrown over the common life of these two, half-hiding the beauty that from now on has found a little world of its own into which it retires and which it illumines.
What we have come to consider the most commonplace term for this union, the word “matrimony,” is really one of its most beautiful names. If its roots be matris munera, it emphasizes the offices and duties of a mother; she is, after all, the bearer and chief educator of the child, and these are the primary ends of marriage. What is more fitting a confession of her great part in this supreme human act than to name it after her by calling it matrimony? The word may be derived from matrem muniens, thereby insisting on woman’s part and man’s protection. She is to be a mother, with the man offering full protection to her and her child. The word may come from matrem monens, thereby stressing the assurance to this mother that she has arrived at a secure haven, the anchor of her life can now be let down; here is her permanent protector whom she must not leave whatever the attractions offered by another. In all its possible derivations, it is noteworthy that the word stresses motherhood.
It is not at all strange that we should try desperately to crowd the beauty of this thing into one word; men have persistently made just such attempts, as though, somehow, we could keep that beauty very handy, even slide it into our pockets, if we could squeeze it into so small a thing as one word. Of course, such attempts always fail, for words are too fragile and small to carry the heavy cargo of the mind and the heart. Because this is particularly true of one solitary word, we try to define marriage in many words. First of all, it is a union, a conjunction of the lives of a man and woman who are free to marry, a union ordered to a common marital life.
It is this last element, common marital life, whose penetration opens up the fuller signification of marriage. We say something of it clumsily when, in legal language, we speak of a community of bed and board to indicate something of the width to which the doors of our hearts are thrown open. But we say much more, and say it more accurately, when we insist it is a union of the soul through justice, love, and a striving to a common end. With that much said, there seems little room left for quibbling over a division of temporal goods; for this would be like deeding over a house and insisting on retaining ownership of the number over its door. Even this detailed statement will not give us a clear notion of matrimony unless we keep in mind its essential character of a contract. It is not primarily something in the physical but in the rational order. Actual marital intercourse is not of the essence of matrimony, for, after all, Mary was truly married to Joseph; the very essence of this thing consists precisely in that act of deliberate will by which each party surrenders rights in view of the ends of marriage.
In the language of the theologians, the essence of marriage, in the process of its accomplishment (in fieri), consists in the mutual consent. The completed essence (in facto esse) is the solemn marriage bond that results from that deliberate consent. The material object of the consent is, of course, the persons of the contracting parties; the consent is a formal surrender of rights over their own bodies, always with relation to the end of marriage. But the formal object of the contract, what sets marriage off from any other contract, is precisely the common life, the unity to which these people dedicate their persons. This is the essence, not only of Christian marriage, but of any and every marriage from the beginning of time.
For marriage, you know, has had a long history. It was instituted in the garden of Eden and would have flourished had men never sinned at all. It has gone on without interruption ever since. Apparently, there is no depression to be feared in this matter in the near future. It is definitely and completely tied up with the nature of men, and men can be depended on to marry. Not that marriage is natural to an adult as teething is to an infant. It is not even natural in the sense of something to which our nature causally exposes us, as measles or chicken pox; nor in the sense of the ability to walk or talk, a thing that merely needs a little time and practice. While marriage has its roots in nature, namely, in the incompleteness of man or woman alone, in the limitations of our physical life and the consequent need of perpetuating society, still it is not something that happens to a man or woman; they must bring it on themselves.
Nature demands it for the good of the child and the mutua1 helpfulness of man and woman, but it is accomplished through our free will. Man is moved to this end, not physically but morally; it is a matter of precept, not a surge of the unconscious, a drive of appetites, an activity of reflexes. As a matter of fact, the precept is not universal in the sense of falling on each individual of the race; rather it is a command to the race as a whole. Not every man has to marry; a man does not have to marry the first woman he meets, nor the fifth, nor the fiftieth. Yet someone has to marry, and has to marry this man or this woman.
Post-revolutionary France was greatly worried about this precept, so much so, in fact, that it was decided the religious Orders had to be suppressed. The members of these Orders were not doing their duty by the race, being constrained by their vow of chastity; and they should be made to do it. Strangely enough, there has been much more reason for the worry of the race since that suppression than ever before it. As a matter of fact, there is never need for worry that there will not be enough men and women free to marry, indeed, even eager to marry; there will be plenty to care adequately for the human race if the marriage contract be lived up to and justice be observed.
Earlier heretics had worried, not that men would not marry, but that they would. To them, marriage and its acts were evil and sins. This was the slimy heresy of the Manichaens, pitted with hypocrisy, which turned in alleged disgust from the material world as the product of a principle of evil. It is no wonder that the men of the West tramped upon this thing; it is no wonder that Dominicans are particularly proud that Dominic had such a part in its extermination. For the truth of the matter is that the world is a mirror of the beauty of God; marriage is not something to be sustained, tolerated, or grudgingly consented to with a sense of unworthiness; it is a matter of divine command. Once marriage is entered into, it is a matter of justice besides being the highest physical expression of man’s highest acts; it is not sinful but virtuous, not degrading but ennobling, not unworthy of man but rather the prerogative of man alone.
Marriage existed before sin came into the world; it exists after sin, not as a product of evil, but as a remedy against and a means to holiness. It has been furthered by every civil law worthy of the name as a means of widening the circle of friendships, tying family to family, offering mutual help to citizens and a solid foundation to the state. By Christ Himself, it was given the sublime task of representing before the world His own mystic union to the Church.
The consecration of the home: The sacrament of matrimony:
There is nothing evil in the essence of this contract; nothing evil in the smallest detail of its execution. This is true of matrimony from the very nature of marriage, with all the sanction of nature itself; it is true of all marriages, wherever and whenever contracted throughout the history of the world. It came directly from the hands of God with the nature of man; from the beginning it had something of the divine about it. When God sent His only Son that men might have life more abundantly, it was inevitable that greater fullness, holiness, greater union would be given to this climax of that heroic thing which is human love. But only God could have thought of making it a sacrament; a source of divine as well as of human life. It is of faith that God did this very thing. This is the last of the sensible signs instituted by Christ to signify and cause sanctifying grace, to signify and produce a participation in the life of God within the very essence of the soul of a man and his wife.
It is significant that this increase in divine life should come to each only through the united action of both, that is, through the establishment of the contract. It is not surprising that with this participation of divine life for each should come the special effect of the sacrament for both, the sacramental grace destined for the perfection of the common life to which they have committed all their days.
The common effect of all the sacraments is astonishing enough, God knows, for it is the life of God. The special effects of the Eucharist, positive acts of love with an infallible increase in divine friendship and a title to glory, have a fair share of the marvellous; the special effects of Extreme Unction, last minute preparation for immediate entry into heaven, staggers our imagination. But the special effects, the sacramental grace, of Matrimony are so thoroughly human yet so divinely generous that they both tear at our hearts and are too much for our petty minds. With this sacrament, a man and his wife receive title to all the graces necessary for the long years of married life. That means the graces necessary to meet the difficulties, disappointments, disillusions, sicknesses, triumphs and successes of married life; all the petty, mean things that can spring from human contact, and all the grand, magnanimous splendors that can be awakened in a human heart; all the sickeningly immanent dangers that threaten love and life — and all this not for a day, not for a month, not for a year. This is not just a possibility; it is an infallible title to all the help necessary for all the length of a lifetime.
This sacramental grace of the sacrament of Matrimony is the answer to the moderns’ ignoble caution in marriage. Man’s capacity for sacramental marriage is a God-given faculty for a God-given life; God does not give a faculty without the help necessary for its use. If a man looks only to all the unforeseeable difficulties of the common life of the home, the responsibilities of the children, the limited courage and strength of man or woman, he has reason enough for fear; but he has seen only a small part of the picture when he has omitted the constant and infallible help of God which is an integral part of the sacrament of Matrimony.
In a sense, marriage was consecrated from the very beginning, for marriage was a holy thing from nature itself. When Christ and his disciples arrive at Cana, marriage received a special consecration. The Master, whose three years of public life were so crowded, did not take time out to come to the nuptials of Cana because He needed a little diversion, by way of giving a nod of approval, or the silence of approbation. He actively entered into the celebration; and the activity of divine love is never barren. The effect here was consecration and holiness.
This sacrament is the last of the channels of grace, the second of the social sacraments. In common with all the sacrament., it has the essential sacramental notes: it was instituted by Christ; it confers and signifies grace; it is made up essentially of matter and form; it is a sensible sign, and a perfect sign because it is a divine sign. There must, then, be something material about it, something perfected by the unmistakable meaning of the form.
Its essence: matter and form
The remote matter about which this sacrament revolves is the very persons of the contracting parties; the proximate matter is the signs or words by which each surrenders the rights over his own body, always in order to the end of marriage. The form is the mutual acceptation of these surrendered rights, an acceptance that must be exteriorly manifested. In other words, the sacrament of Matrimony was instituted by Christ in the form of a contract, as Penance was instituted in the form of a judgment. As the essence of Penance is in the essence of the judgment, so the essence of Matrimony is in the essence of the contract. The sacrament does not change the natural essence of matrimony as a contract, rather it preserves and supernaturalizes it. Natural matrimony is a contract; supernatural Matrimony, the sacrament, is not only a contract but also a sacrament.
It is the one sacrament that a lay Catholic gives to himself. The priest assists at and blesses the marriage; he does not administer the sacrament. For the minister of any sacrament is the official instrumental cause of the sensible sign, and here the sensible sign is the contract which is produced by the contracting parties themselves. Even in the administration of the sacrament, that joint action which is characteristic of married life is emphasized; it is not the woman, not the man, but the man and the woman who are the ministers of the sacrament of Matrimony.
To receive the sacrament validly, a person must be baptized and be free to marry, that is, he must have the spiritual power which Baptism gives and must not be laboring under an impediment that makes the marriage contract impossible This is a sacrament of the living; so it also presupposes sanctifying grace and freedom from all the impediments that, while not invalidating the sacrament, would still make it illicit. The Catholic couple, arranging a marriage, always think in terms of confession, Mass, and Holy Communion, for this is beauty’s fullness in the very beginning of married life. Never will they get closer to each other than by both being united to the one body of Christ; never will their love reach higher levels than were reached on Calvary which is here being re-enacted; while from the very beginning, their love is raised to heights totally above the fondest hopes of nature.
It is hard to imagine a gloomier start to marriage than one made in mortal sin. A life of love is begun with a denial of divine love in the heart; a life of justice with injustice rankling in the soul; a life of union and sacrifice by rebellion and selfishness. It means that this married couple are starting married life entirely on their own, for this is a sacrament of the living; in mortal sin, they receive none of the helps for which Christ instituted the sacrament. However, God is kind; through His great kindness, this mistake is not utterly irremediable; when, later, the barrier of mortal sin is removed, all the graces of the sacrament hurry to do their part in bringing this common life to its fullest bloom. Though the Catholic in this state deserves it well, God will not leave him to work out the sublimities and difficulties of this common life by his own feeble strength. He has received the sacrament, though unworthily; he has cast aside the inestimable marriage gift of God. But God is a friend Who easily forgets insults; He is quick to return the gift which is so sorely needed.
Probably the stories of fumbling bridegrooms, who are so flushed, nervous, and confused that they forget the ring and kiss the priest by mistake, are probably very much exaggerated. Nevertheless there is something in the tradition that lets the bride off with a blush and puts all the awkwardness on the groom. Perhaps the difference lies in their perspectives. At this moment, the groom can hardly see beyond his bride and undoubtedly is somewhat lost in the romantic fog of the present. While the bride is more far-sighted, her eyes fixed on the vision of far things, leaving her clear-eyed and relatively calm in the face of this momentous present. These far things offer a splendid vision. Augustine and the theologians since his time have put them down in prosaic language that could not escape the faint scent of beauty by calling them the goods, or the compensations, of matrimony. The goods of matrimony more than make up for all the hard things inseparable from common marital life. They are curtly summarized, perhaps because we hate to trust sacred things to words, in three bare headings: the good of the child, the good of faith, and the good of the sacrament; but these words are no more than a shadow of the things that all of a lifetime will hardly reveal in their fullness.
The goods of matrimony. Relative to its act: Progeny
It is to be noticed that children come under the head of compensation, not of burdens. The child is the proximate end of the marriage. There are, of course, other ends, such as mutual love, protection against temptation, and mutual help; but this is the immediate purpose. At this time, it is the woman who looks forward most to a child as the final expression of love, an expression to be greeted much more joyously than the first distinct words of a baby after months of inarticulate gurgling. For the child is a perfect expression of love; here is a union that is an embodiment of the mother and father; a surrender, for here is a master of them both; a consecration, for here is one that lifts them both to heroic heights of sacrifice.
It is as though what had been so intangibly real before was to become incarnate, incarnate love. These three, father, mother, and child, are rightly spoken of as a human trinity; the child is a human holy spirit, the living love of those from whom it proceeds. A realization of this makes plain the danger involved in planning a temporary exclusion of the birth of children at the very beginning of marriage, even though this be done by legitimate means; it is like keeping an infant from talking because we enjoy its gurgling. Baby talk is a precious thing, but to insist on its preservation indefinitely is an injustice to the child; so also is the insistence that our love be robbed of its mature perfection.
Let this love remain baby love and it becomes as helpless as an abandoned infant. Limit its expression to husband and wife, and its chance for growth, fullness is definitely cut down; its acts of love, of sacrifice, of consecration, and of surrender are automatically limited, thus cutting off the normal source of strength for love, while the couple’s love is left open to the ruthless attacks of time, of hard reality, of pettiness, and all the cements of division inseparable from human communion. This couple has fallen badly behind in an armament race for the defense of love; there is much more possibility that their love can be bluffed from its legitimate possessions by the dictators of sense appetite. This love, which has been kept deliberately in an infantile state, is not merely a backward child; it is a perpetual infant, dribbling and gurgling after forty years in a high chair.
Of course love suffers from being kept perpetually in an infant’s walking machine; it is never able to take its own full, free stride. But it suffers nothing like the damage done to it by birth prevention, by the perversion of love. For this not only limits and cripples love, tying it in a narrow infantile sphere, it destroys love’s foundation of justice by a consecration to injustice. It fixes the eyes of both parties on themselves, sets them against each other in a perpetual duel of self-protection; whereas love, to exist at all, must be a consecration to another. This sort of thing is an offense to physical nature, particularly to the physical nature of woman, and it meets with a deep, irreconcilable protest, in spite of the woman herself, a protest that eventually expresses itself in physical revulsion and positive hate.
The second good, or compensation, of marriage, takes in much more than the fidelity that justice demands and without which love cannot endure. It includes that minimum; but it goes beyond it to a deep mutual confidence and trust, mellowing through the years, tying husband and wife closer and closer yet so unobtrusively that it is usually taken for granted. Perhaps only those who have lost it, only those who have come to the point of being unable to trust their partner any longer, fully realize how profoundly this absolute trust has permeated every corner of married life. Without it, every gesture becomes an occasion for doubt, for unpleasant worrying, and, ultimately, for disgust. This good of fidelity includes the act of marriage and so the fulfillment of the immediate obligations of marriage. In itself it is a denial of most of the sins that are open to married couples precisely as married. Indeed, both these goods, of the child and of faith, pertain to the act of marriage and may be called justice in action within the home. With them, the success of marriage is guaranteed, for justice is guaranteed; without them? Let us see.
Relative to its essence: sacramental signification
We have seen what the loss of the good of the child means for a marriage. The loss of faith makes the whole of married life an unbearable suspicion when it is not a positive lie. Sins against marital faith, then, are flatly sins of injustice; they are violations of the rights of others as contemptible as sneak-thievery and as tragic as murder. They are a betrayal of love, refusing even that minimum which love demands for life; and they are a stark revelation of the petty boundaries of a traitor’s soul in his incapacity to make the effort to see beyond himself.
The only maturity these sins of faith hold out to marriage is a further growth in a lie; while for the accomplice of these sins, there is the doubtful joy of being wrapped in the luxury of a lie by a liar who is advertising the fact that he is lying by his very sins. This is not something to joke about, to smile off as one of the little misfortunes of married life, to connive at, agree to, or encourage. This is evidence of decadence in the most sacred precinct of human life; it is to be detested for the putrescently odious thing it is.
Its properties: unity and indissolubility
The final compensation of matrimony, the good of the sacrament, goes beyond the act of marriage to its very essence. By it is meant the noble signification of Christ’s union with the Church, the tremendous assistance of sacramental grace, and that indissoluble bond which is of the very essence of the consummated marriage. Nature itself demands stability in marriage, for there is always the child, with its nourishment and education to consider; but it is only from the consecration of Christ that marriage takes on that complete unity and indissolubility which gives ultimate perfection to human love. These two persons are now one, as Christ and His Church are one; their union is as indissoluble as that mystic union of Christ and the Church. It is only as indissoluble that matrimony can have this sacramental signification; it is only as indissoluble that it can be a worthy climax of love, for love that introduces the element of time and look to an end has ceased to be love by ceasing to be complete surrender.
The obligations of matrimony are clear enough from the goods of matrimony, for an attack on these goods is a violation of matrimony’s obligations. There are, then, just three roads down which the enemies of the home may make their drive to its disruption and destruction: against the child, during pregnancy, at birth or after birth; against mutual justice, by denying love’s minimum, notably in the performance or refusal of matrimony’s act; against the indissoluble bond of union. To protect these roads, the barriers of matrimony’s obligations have been thrown up.
The modern Cana: Preparation: espousals and banns
It cannot be stressed too often that marriage is not a private affair. Throughout the feast at Cana, the doors were thrown open, the humble house was thronged with guests, and, finally, the divine guest Himself arrived. A parallel of that invitation to the world and to God to the marriage cdebration is had today in our espousals, or engagement, the publication of the banns of marriage, and the formal celebration under the protection of the Church. By these, the marriage becomes the business of everyone, not to the discomfiture of the bridal pair but to the protection of both of them.
The banns or espousals may be dispensed with for good reason; though, really, that dispensation is a misfortune for it frees the parties from a searching scrutiny of their past by the community memory. If there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear in these banns; but if there is something to hide, if one of the parties is really incapable of marriage, then there is something to fear, but not by the innocent party. Indeed, the innocent party is protected from going through a mockery of marriage that would make a ruin of life.
Form of celebration
The form of the marriage ceremony, demanding the presence of the pastor and two witnesses, is dispensed with only in the extreme case of the physical impossibility of their presence. This is a protection of the bond of marriage itself, the bond that is a representation of the tie between Christ and His Church. Under other circumstances, the contract might easily be denied to the detriment of the other party, society, and the children; a denial will not carry much weight, however, if it runs head on into the irrefragable testimony of the priest and two witnesses.
Enemies and the defense of the consecration of the home: impediments and validation
It is, of course, understandable that the young couple, eager to be off on their family life, should be impatient of everything that delays their entry into their own home. Their impatience should be considerably tempered if they realize that all the delays insisted upon by the Church are for the protection of this solemn union of marriage. All the questions the priest asks, all the investigations he makes into the couple’s freedom to marry, are no more than an insistence that this marriage be a true marriage. In the last chapter, we saw something of the tremendous protection thrown around the sacrament of Holy Orders: the qualifications of the candidate, the investigations demanded, the freedom from impediments insisted on. Holy Orders is a social sacrament and society is interested in, even dependent on its perfection. Matrimony is also a social sacrament and society is interested in, dependent on, its perfection.
The barrier of impediments fom which the parties must be free is only an expression of society’s interest in the perfection of this sacrament. It is quite impossible, in this chapter, to go into these impediments in any detail. There are five impediments that make the marriage illicit, though it remains valid; there are no fewer than fifteen that completely invalidate the sacrament, making the ceremony an empty fiction, a farce that has absolutely no uniting effect on the parties and gives them absolutely no marital rights.
If, in spite of all these defenses, actual damage is done to the marriage itself, the Church makes every effort to remedy this injury in the interests of the sacredness of matrimony. The Church proceeds against the possible or actual injury to matrimony by dispelling the impediments wherever this is possible. Perhaps it is by way of removal of the defects that prevent or interfere with the marriage; perhaps it is by way of dispensation to the things that threaten the perfection of marriage. When the marriage has been actually ruined, or rather, when the defect has resulted in there being no marriage at all, even that hopeless situation is attacked by the process of revalidation; a tremendous effort, almost a straining of the mercy of God, which goes so far as to make this marriage valid, not from this time on, but from its very beginning. In a sense, It is a recalling of the past to repair it.
Conclusion: Desecration of the home: Of its unity
For marriage is indeed a sacred thing. It is the consecration of the home, in contrast to the desecration of the home which is the work of the enemies of Matrimony. The essential consecration of marriage as a contract is in the complete unity it accomplishes; as a sacrament, the consecration of marriage is in the complete indissolubility of that marirage bond. The desecrating forces of the home necessarily attack this double consecration. They contradict the very language of marriage: insisting on selfishness in place of the regard for others which is fundamental to justice and love; they demand conquest rather than surrender; and place individualism where unity should be reigning. Obviously, there can be no unity or harmony under such conditions; which is to say, there can be no common marital life. In opposition to the indissolubility of marriage will be those who take their love cautiously, making sure of an escape from inconvenience; to them, satisfaction is much more important than justice, while love is a word to play with.
Of its indissolubility
It is understandable, but not excusable, that men and women should try to enjoy the delights of Matrimony and escape its responsibilities and hardships. Marriage is not an easy thing. It is not to be lightly entered, for it is something from which there must be no escape. It is really a kind of perpetual slavery, but the eager slavery whose fetters are the beautiful bonds of justice and love. It is something that is not to be thrown open easily to every casual passer-by; it is holy ground even when it is sunk in a cave with only a star for a lamp.
There is some desecration of the home in every age, for every age has its men and women who disregard justice and know nothing of love. Our own times have seen this desecration on a terrifyingly large scale; indeed, it has been more than a desecration, it has been a combined philosophical and social attack on the very humanity of the home. We have been taught to speak in the same breath of the union of man and woman and the mating of animals; we have been directed to look to animal psychology for the whole story of man, even in his own home. Inevitably, then, we have offered the supreme insult to a man and his wife; pleasantly, of course, with a learned air, and with the best of intentions.
The humanity of home
In actual fact, this animalism, this biological extremism, is barred from the home by the essential notions that go into the making of a home: by justice, love, social significance, and the symbolism of the union of God and His Church. Animals are not capable of justice; they are incapable of beneficent love; they cannot have that minimum regard for others that is the barest essential of a common life. Above all, they are incapable of participating in the life of God. The union of matrimony and the mating of animals are not to be mentioned together under penalty of desecrating the home. To proceed to an evaluation of marriage on this animal basis is to destroy completely what nature herself has contributed to the sacredness of the home.
The holiness of home
Of course, such a procedure misses the whole significance of human love, all of its heroism, its nobility, its high courage. Home is a holy place because it is a place of unselfish regard for others, of dedication, of surrender — all of which are far above anything in the purely sensible order. Above all, home is a holy place because God Himself has entered there. He has made it a means of a deeper, fuller participation of His own life; over it, He looks protectively every instant of its long endurance by the constant hdp of His grace. It is the place to which God looks today, as He once looked to Bethlehem, for the birth of another son, for the beginning of that feeble life which is yet eternal, for the first appearance of that citizen of earth who is destined for eternal citizenship in heaven.