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A Concise Introduction to Marriage (with Addenda)

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 03, 2023

Our view of marriage is a reliable spiritual barometer to measure our attitudes toward the practice of the faith. The Catholic faith and families reflect each other and are intertwined. Rules have been given a bad rap since the 1960s. We need reminding why righteous rules are good for us and set us free. Practicing Catholics “play by the rules.”

Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn. 8:32) The Ten Commandments don’t restrict our freedom; the truths of the Ten Commandments express human freedom. Matrimony sets us free to build families in love. Marriage is a covenant that participates in the New and Everlasting Covenant of the Mass. At Mass, the Divine Bridegroom meets His Bride, the Church. This union begets offspring and He sends forth His disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19) The love that husbands and wives have for one another participates in the life-giving love of Jesus for His Bride and children. A faithful marriage reflects the covenant of the Mass.

Matrimony (marriage) is the union of one man (XY chromosome) and one woman (XX chromosome). Jesus confirms the goodness of matrimony at Cana, and marriage becomes a sign of His continuing presence (cf. Jn. 2:1-12). Jesus reinstates the marriage bond as inviolable: “From the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh... What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mt. 19:6-9) The validity of marriage hangs on their conscious or intuitive—and natural—intentions of fidelity, permanence, an exclusive union (“until death do we part”), and openness to children.

The rules of Jesus perfectly coincide with human nature: Man and woman meet. They like each other and date. They fall in love. They get engaged. They get married and exchange rings of marriage that signify the marriage bond. The honeymoon follows the marriage. God willing, babies are born. The basic rule is simple. The honeymoon and babies come after the wedding, not before.

Fundamental Catholic rules of morality are always rooted in freedom. When Catholics—who play by the rules—get married, the marriage bond sets the couple free. Henceforth, the marriage bond is a “sign of freedom” that permits the natural marital embrace that respects the dignity of man and woman. The union of husband and wife opens the way for children. Bonding and babies are inseparable, just as Jesus’ love for His Church is inseparable from making disciples of all nations.

The liberating rules of dating, engagement, marriage, and honeymoon help us understand, by contrast, the slavery that ensnares many. Consider this composite case study: A young lady complains that the man she loves isn’t interested in marriage. They’ve been dating for six years, and she cannot understand his reluctance to tie the knot. They have an open secret. They’ve been living together for many years. Obsessed with the fear of babies, they use contraception. The parents are nervous. Family members are mostly indifferent.

When the engagement is at long last announced, the parents are relieved. Marriage will remedy the ambiguous tolerance of their cohabitation. Indeed, it isn’t uncommon for the parents to give a priest grief for delaying the wedding because of the couple’s debilitating view of life and love. Sometimes parents despise priests who play by the rules more than the couple. Yet, the scandal of cohabitation—like divorce—trickles down in families with cancerous tentacles reaching into the culture.

Marriage preparation that is faithful to Catholic teaching is not pietistic or unreasonable. The chastity of forbearance before marriage leads to the chaste freedom of the marital embrace and children after marriage. Unrepented sin reverses the meaning of the marriage bond. Before marriage, a person may have had many honeymoons—sometimes with several partners. When a man and woman finally agree to marry, the marriage bond is a secret enemy. The bond is no longer a sign of freedom but a sign of slavery. The wedding promises sternly narrow sexual behavior to this person—and this person alone. The marriage bond is a set of handcuffs compared to the libertine freedom of cohabitation before the wedding.

The sense of slavery continues to damage morality. Using contraception for months—and maybe years—prepares the couple to fear babies and families. They use the same fears to avoid babies after marriage. They can’t afford them. Children interfere with their spousal relationships, burden lifestyles, and hamper careers. Many marriages have such unfortunate and even sinful preambles.

God hates sin because sinful acts violate human dignity and wound souls. But we tend to cherry-pick the teachings of Jesus, reducing Jesus to a sensitive new-age male and forgetting about the urgency of our quest for salvation. We occasionally need His rhetorical shock treatment to reinforce His teaching about entering heaven through the narrow gate (cf. Mt. 7:13-14). So, faithful priests and parents apply this rule: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.…and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:34-38)

But here is another beautiful thing about playing by God’s rules. With the Sacraments, we can always play catch-up, return to God’s good favor, restore our integrity, and put our hands to the difficult plowshare of authentic love and life.

Of course, there is a danger of mindless conformism in reducing Catholic morality to merely “playing by the rules.” But if we’re attentive and trust in God’s love for human dignity, we’ll discover that playing by His rules brings freedom and happiness: in this life and the life to come.


How does the contemporary gender ideology eclipse the dignity of marriage?

Cultural elites—even some prominent Church officials—dismiss traditional marriage as an “ideal” at best but subject to “evolution” based on a “changing sociological-scientific foundation.” St. Paul anticipated these faithless sophistries: “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Priests, who believe and teach the Catholic faith understand how easily distortions and lies undermine our faith and morality—especially that of young Catholics. The clarity of authentic Church doctrine rescues us from confusion. (See A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology, by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.)

How do we recover from dysfunctional and sinful behavior before marriage?

In our sinful condition, we commit sins, and disorders happen. Jesus gives us the Sacrament of Penance to restore the correct order of things, preparing a couple for a happy marriage. Good Catholics play by the rules or recover from failures by recourse to the Sacraments, for example: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…I have been living with my fiancé. We repeatedly engaged in fornication over the last year and used contraception. We have agreed to live separately and remain chaste until our marriage. We will avoid the near occasions of sin.” No more details, please, unless necessary for the clarity of repentance as directed by the confessor. (See A Stylist Manual for Confessors.)

Why is the inseparability of babies and bonding (love and life) sacrosanct in human dignity?

God’s law and human nature do not permit the unholy separation of the two. Test tube baby technology and artificial insemination—never the baby!—are ugly, evil, and subhuman. Contraception violates God’s law and frequently leads to abortion and other perversions. Fear of new life often ends with the hatred of new life—the culture of death. (See Humanae Vitae, by Pope Paul VI)

What are the cultural effects of widespread acceptance of contraception?

The widespread acceptance and promotion of the mutual masturbation of contraception have opened Pandora’s Box of perverted sex. If we condone severing heterosexual sex from God’s handiwork for men and women and their families, why not every form of sexual behavior? Contraception undermines human dignity as expressed by Catholic moral principles. (See also How Birth Control Changed America—For The Worse, by Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Is Natural Family Planning a form of “Catholic” contraception?

NFP respects God’s natural handiwork in the union of husband and wife, although it, too, can be used (abused) sinfully. (See Moral Use of Natural Family Planning, by Janet Smith.)

How do I express my repentance for flawed views of marriage and sinful behavior in Confession?

Sample: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned… I have grown aware that my attitude towards marriage was flawed because I misunderstood the proper moral preparation for marriage. I repent of my cohabitation and disrespect of the marriage bond and resolve to honor my marriage promises with my spouse—to the best of my ability—according to God’s plan. (See also Confession Guide for Adults.)

How should I understand the growing chatter about upcoming changes in Church teaching?

The authentic Magisterium of the Church is rooted in Tradition and Scriptures. The logical principle of non-contradiction prevents doctrinal variations. Of course, Jesus warned that some will tinker with His rules: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away… at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned.” (Mt. 13:24-30) (See also A Little Catechism to Fortify Our Faith in Troubled Times.)

The Exhortation Before Marriage.

A lovely exhortation that reinforces the beauty of marriage from the 1962 Roman Ritual.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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