This is Disastrous — Do We Doubt the Sacrament of Marriage?

If priests are not regularly championing the goodness and the indissolubility of marriage, the Church and her members suffer.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, “The Wedding Feast at Cana,” 1819
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, “The Wedding Feast at Cana,” 1819 (photo: Public Domain)

We are told that a high percentage of Catholics today doubt the validity of the Blessed Sacrament. That may be true. But I’d be willing to wager that, for most people, the validity of the Sacrament of Matrimony was doubted long before.

In his opening lecture, my college apologetics professor posited an aphorism that has remained with me ever since: “If you deny one truth, you deny them all.” With that thought ringing in my head, I keep wondering whether the denial of one sacrament often leads to denying them all.

Specifically, if you don’t believe that God maintains a presence in sacramental marriage, it would seem much less likely to believe that he maintains a sacramental presence in the Eucharist.

We might begin by asking: Why would a Catholic cast doubt on the goodness, the indissolubility, or the sacramental sanctity of marriage?

There may be many answers to this question, but one is painfully obvious. Many ecclesiastical authorities in the Catholic Church have failed to treat the Sacrament of Matrimony with the proper respect due both to the sacrament itself, and to the husbands and wives who have taken their wedding vows.

Married couples constitute a great wealth of the Church, but far too often, that wealth is treated as passive income—meaning that faithful married couples rarely enjoy the active attention that others receive.

As just one example, there is often more ecclesiastical attention paid to annulment tribunals than to pre-Cana classes and engagement encounter weekends. In fairness, these are occasionally done well, but in many of these classes and “weekends,” there isn’t even a priest teaching any portion of the material. How often have we heard that these classes become “bull sessions” with cohabitating engaged couples sharing ideas for contraception methods? To put it mildly, this process fails exhibit an ecclesiastical desire to take marriage seriously.

The first time many couples have a significant discussion with a priest about their marriage is not when they want to begin it, but when they want to end it—if they speak with him at all. Much of the time, I would guess, priests simply hear that a civil divorce has taken place. Then the divorced individuals get attention—big time.

In the past few years, many ecclesiastical authorities have developed a laser-like focus on one thing: how to get divorced-and-remarried people back to Holy Communion. The focus has not been on teaching about the Real Presence, or on helping married couples recognize the beauty of their calling, or on congratulating married people for sacrificing for their families.

In fact, based on the rhetoric of many priests and bishops, the only time the reception of the Eucharist seems vital is when it involves divorced-and-civilly remarried persons. To the casual onlooker, it might seem as though there is, if not a sacramentalization of divorce, at least a serious lowering of obstacles to it in the Church.

This emphasis has caused direct and immediate damage to otherwise healthy marriages. It has prompted questions and doubts that draw upon the worst aspects of laxity and scrupulosity. Is marriage really indissoluble? Is marriage really a sacrament? If “half of Catholic marriages are invalid,” is mine invalid, especially if I’m unhappy?

And while we’re at it, if the rules for divorce are changing, is the Eucharist really the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, of which one dares not partake if in a state of mortal sin? Or does the reception of the Eucharist simply denote membership in a club, like taking a kind of “spiritual medicine” with no more significance than the sign of peace?  

This is disastrous.

How important is marriage for the Church? It’s hard to overstate. We speak of the Church herself as the “primordial sacrament,” but in a variety of ways, the Sacrament of Matrimony is prior to the other sacraments. And just as a father and mother bring about human life, so does Matrimony enable and nourish sacramental life. Lest we forget, we can see in the Book of Genesis that natural marriage was instituted prior to the priesthood itself.

Nearly every major problem in the Church today is the result of a failure to appreciate the immense good of sacramental marriage. And that failure begins not with the laity, but with the clergy. To be blunt: if priests are not regularly championing the goodness and the indissolubility of marriage, the Church and her members suffer as a result.

Let me close by asking one practical thing of priests that that has fallen out of practice for some reason. Go to the homes of Catholic families to bless their houses. Bless their families. Remind the husbands and wives and children that their lives please God. That God is pleased by their faithfulness as a family. That God loves families. That God loves marriage. That God wishes them to receive the Blessed Sacrament as a family.

Priests and bishops: Please champion marriage! We need your help!