06 November 2015

Understanding the Nature of Marriage (4) – Duties and Blessings

Today I conclude my exposition of the Roman Catechism's chapter on the Sacrament of Matrimony.  The previous installment is here.  As before, the text of the Catechism is given in red and each paragraph is summarized in black.  

Those who find the wording of the Catechism difficult are invited to read only the summaries, or to skip to the end, where the essential points of the text are restated in short form.

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The faithful should also be shown that there are three blessings of marriage: children, fidelity and the Sacrament. These are blessings which to some degree compensate for the inconveniences referred to by the Apostle in the words: Such shall have tribulation of the flesh, and they lead to this other result that sexual intercourse, which is sinful outside of marriage, is rendered right and honourable.
The first blessing, then, is a family, that is to say, children born of a true and lawful wife. So highly did the Apostle esteem this blessing that he says: The woman shall be saved by bearing children.' These words are to be understood not only of bearing children, but also of bringing them up and training them to the practice of piety; for the Apostle immediately subjoins: If she continue in faith. Scripture says: Hast thou children? Instruct them and bow down their necks from childhood. The same is taught by the Apostle; while Tobias, Job and other holy Patriarchs in Sacred Scripture furnish us with beautiful examples of such training. The duties of both parents and children will, however, be set forth in detail when we come to speak of the fourth Commandment.
Next we are encouraged to consider the three chief blessings which accompany marriage.  The first of these is the begetting of children in the context of a family, and hte process of brining them up and forming them to practice piety.
The second advantage of marriage is faith, not indeed that virtue which we receive in Baptism; but the fidelity which binds wife to husband and husband to wife in such a way that they mutually deliver to each other power over their bodies, promising at the same time never to violate the holy bond of Matrimony. This is easily inferred from the words pronounced by Adam when taking Eve as his wife, and which were afterwards confirmed by Christ our Lord in the Gospel: Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be two in one flesh. It is also inferred from the words of the Apostle: The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and in like manner, the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife. Justly, then, did the Lord in the Old Law ordain the most severe penalties against adulterers who violated this conjugal fidelity.
Matrimonial fidelity also demands that they love one another with a special, holy and pure love; not as adulterers love one another but as Christ loves His Church. This is the rule laid down by the Apostle when he says: Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church. And surely (Christ's) love for His Church was immense; it was a love inspired not by His own advantage, but only by the advantage of His spouse.
The second blessing of marriage is the fidelity of the spouses to each other ,as each surrenders the right over his own body to the other ,and promises to love the other with a pure and holy love – not the love of lust, which arises from concupiscence, but the love of Christ, which builds up.
The third advantage is called the Sacrament, that is to say, the indissoluble bond of marriage. As the Apostle has it: The Lord commanded that the wife depart not from the husband, and if she depart that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to' her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife. And truly, if marriage as a Sacrament represents the union of Christ with His Church, it also necessarily follows that just as Christ never separates Himself from His Church, so in like manner the wife can never be separated from her husband in so far as regards the marriage­tie.
The third blessing of marriage is its indissolubility, in which the bond of marriage signifies the indissoluble bond between Christ and his Church.  (Thus the catechism refers to this blessing as simply "the Sacrament", meaning the role of matrimony in representing something holy and salvific.)
The more easily to preserve the holy state (of marriage) from dissensions, the duties of husband and wife as inculcated by St. Paul and by the Prince of the Apostles must be explained.
It is the duty of the husband to treat his wife generously and honourably. It should not be forgotten that Eve was called by Adam his companion. The woman, he says, whom thou gavest me as a companion. Hence it was, according to the opinion of some of the holy Fathers, that she was formed not from the feet but from the side of man; as, on the other hand, she was not formed from his head, in order to give her to understand that it was not hers to command but to obey her husband. 
Now we consider the duties of the spouses toward each other, which follow from the marital bond, beginning with the husband.  The catechism first emphasizes that the wife is the companion of the husband, and is therefore in essence his equal.  But it also tells us that wives are to be subject to their husbands, and therefore men have a duty to treat their wives honorably and generously, for women were made from man's side, "not from the feet".
The husband should also be constantly occupied in some honest pursuit with a view to provide necessaries for the support of his family and to avoid idleness, the root of almost every vice. 
The second duty of husbands is to work, so that by honest labor he can provide for the support of his family, and keep himself from idleness, which is the root of vice.
He is also to keep all his family in order, to correct their morals, and see that they faithfully discharge their duties.
Third, he must safeguard the moral rectitude of the family, overseeing the behavior of its members, correcting faults, and teaching them morals.
On the other hand, the duties of a wife are thus summed up by the Prince of the Apostles: Let wives be subject to their husbands. that if any believe not the word, they may be won without the word by the conversation of the wives, considering your chaste conversation with fear. Let not their adorning be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel: but the hidden man of the heart in the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. For after this manner heretofore the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling hint lord.
To summarize the duties of wives, the text quotes liberally from the first letter of St. Peter.  The duties listed there are roughly as follows:
  • to be subject to their husbands
  • to adorn themselves with the incorruptibility of meekness and a quiet spirit, rather than with external finery
To train their children in the practice of virtue and to pay particular attention to their domestic concerns should also be especial objects of their attention. The wife should love to remain at home, unless compelled by necessity to go out; and she should never presume to leave home without her husband's consent.
Again, and in this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.
To the above are added the following:
  • to train the children in the practice of virtue
  • to attend to the economic concerns of the family, and its domestic well-being
  • to love to remain at home
  • to love and obey their husbands in all things not opposed to Christian piety.
Having explained these matters, pastors should next teach what rites are to be observed in contracting marriage. There is no need, however, that we dwell on these questions here. The Council of Trent has laid down fully and accurately what must be chiefly observed; and this decree will not be unknown to pastors. It will suffice, then, to admonish them­to study to make themselves acquainted, from the doctrine of the Council, with what regards this subject, and to explain it carefully to the faithful.
With regard to the rite by which marriage is established, we are encouraged to familiarize ourselves with the decree of Trent on the topic, and priests are asked to explain it carefully to the faithful.
But above all, lest young persons, whose period of life is marked by extreme indiscretion, should be deceived by a merely nominal marriage and foolishly rush into sinful love­ unions, the pastor cannot too frequently remind them that there can be no true and valid marriage unless it be contracted in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest commissioned by him, or by the Ordinary, and that of a certain number of witnesses.
Young people should be reminded that marriage can only be validly contracted in the presence of the proper witnesses.
The impediments of marriage are also to be explained, a subject so minutely and accurately treated by many grave and learned writers on the virtues and vices as to render it an easy task to draw upon their labours, particularly as the pastor has occasion to have such works continually in his hands. The instructions, therefore, which such books contain, and also the decrees of the Council with regard to the impediments arising from spiritual relationship, from public honesty, and from fornication, the pastor should peruse with attention and expound with care.
The text refers priests to the discussions of impediments to marriage, in books he consults frequently.  We assume the text refers to moral manuals which break down the various cases related to marriage and give analyses of them.  Our modern edition directs us to the Supplement to St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, to the Code of Canon Law, and to St. Alphonsus's Theologia Moralis, which no doubt treats the matter with the greatest precision of these three.
From the above may be learned the dispositions with which the faithful should contract matrimony. They should consider that they are about to enter upon a work that is not human but divine. The example of the Fathers of the Old Law, who esteemed marriage as a most holy and religious rite, although it had not then been raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, shows the singular purity of soul and piety (with which Christians should approach marriage).
The Chapter on Matriomny is concluded with a discussion of the considerations which those entering into marriage ought to keep in mind.  First, that they are entering into a contract not merely human, but divine.
Among other things, children should be exhorted earnestly that they owe as a tribute of respect to their parents, or to those under whose guardianship and authority they are placed, not to contract marriage without their knowledge, still less in defiance of their express wishes. It should be observed that in the Old Law children were always given in marriage by their fathers; and that the will of the parent is always to have very great influence on the choice of the child, is clear from these words of the Apostle He that giveth his virgin in marriage doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better.
Second, that deference to the will of parents and guardians is due in those marrying, and that they should avoid marrying in defiance of parental consent.
Finally, the use of marriage is a subject which pastors should so treat as to avoid any expression that may be unfit to meet the ears of the faithful, that may be calculated to offend the piety of some, or excite the laughter of. others. The words of the Lord are chaste words; and the teacher of a Christian people should make use of the same kind of language, one that is characterised by singular gravity and purity of soul. Two lessons of instruction to the faithful are, then, to be specially insisted upon.
The first is that marriage is not to be used for purposes of lust or sensuality, but that its use is to be restrained within those limits which, as we have already shown, have been fixed by the Lord. It should be remembered that the Apostle admonishes: They that have wives, let them be as though they had them not, and that St. Jerome says: The love which a wise man cherishes towards his wife is the result of judgment, not the impulse of passion; he governs the impetuosity of desire, and is not hurried into indulgence. There is nothing more shameful than that a husband should love his wife as an adulteress.
Third, that it should not be entered into for purposes of lust or sensuality, but with an attitude of chastity and with temperate moderation of the passions.
But as every blessing is to be obtained from God by holy prayer, the faithful are also to be taught sometimes to abstain from the marriage debt, in order to devote themselves to prayer. Let the faithful understand that (this religious continence), according to the proper and holy injunction of our predecessors, is particularly to be observed for at least three days before Communion, and oftener during the solemn fast of Lent.
Fourth, that the married couple ought to periodically abstain from intercourse in order to dedicate themselves to prayer, and this always for three days prior to the reception of communion.
Thus will they find the blessings of marriage to be daily increased by an abundance of divine grace; and living in the pursuit of piety, they will not only spend this life in peace and tranquillity, but will also repose in the true and firm hope, which confoundeth not, of arriving, through the divine goodness, at the possession of that life which is eternal.


Key Points in Today's Catechism:


  1. Marriage imparts certain blessings and duties upon the spouses.
     
  2. The first blessing is the begetting of children in the context of a family.
     
  3. The second blessing is the fidelity of the spouses in love and intimacy.
     
  4. The third blessing is the indissolubility of the bond, by which chiefly marriage is a sign of divine things.
     
  5. Husbands and wives are comapnions, and therefore enjoy an essential equality, rather than pure domination.
     
  6. The wife is nonetheless subject to the husband.
     
  7. The first duty of a husband is to treat his wife honorably and generously.
     
  8. The second duty of a husband is to work for the material support of his family, and to avoid idleness.
     
  9. The third duty of a husband is to safeguard the morals of the family.
     
  10. Wives should adorn themselves with meekness and spiritual quiet.
     
  11. It is a duty of wives to train their children in the practice of virtue.
     
  12. It is a duty of wives to attend to the domestic well-being of the family.
     
  13. Wives ought to love to remain at home.
     
  14. Wives ought to love and obey their husbands in all things not opposed to Christian piety.
     
  15. It is important for lay people be be well-catechized in the rite of marriage, its meaning, and its requirements.
     
  16. Proper witnesses are necessary for a valid marriage.
     
  17. Priests should instruct the laity on impediments to marriage.
     
  18. Those entering into marriage ought to remember that they are entering a divine bond.
     
  19. Marriages ought to be contracted with the consent of the parents.
     
  20. Marriage should not be entered for reasons of lust or sensuality.
     
  21. Spouses ought to abstain from intercourse periodically to devote themselves to prayer, and especially in preparation for the reception of the Eucharist.