Friday, July 1, 2016

The Mysteries of Marriage

Rule #1: Maintain a stoic front at all times.

Fr. Smiles

“Every sacrament has matter and form, both,” Fr. Smiles preaches.

The occasion is a friend’s wedding, and many of the groom’s Protestant relations are present. Presumably they had no idea they were about to be catechized in Catholic sacramental theology.

“The matter is the stuff that is used in the sacrament, the form is the words used to indicate what that sacrament is doing. The words inform the matter.”

Close enough. A good introduction for the ignorant.

“So what are the matter and form of marriage? That’s a little more difficult. The Church teaches that the matter of matrimony is the husband, offering his role as the head of the family to the wife. The form is when she accepts that.”

I steal a glance at my fiancée. She appears as shocked and confused as me.

“And then it goes the other way. She offers her service and obedience, and he receives it. The matter and the form. The offering is the matter, the reception the form. He’s offering something. It’s just stuff that doesn’t have form yet, until she accepts it.”

Are there two forms (man and woman both offering themselves) and two matters (both receiving the other)? At this point I imagine legions of Thomists spinning in their graves so fast it solves the world’s energy crisis.

Later, after the wedding and reception, we discuss Fr. Smiles’ peculiar sacramental theology. We wonder if he was perhaps trying to be appealing to the Protestant guests, since many Protestant churches include the wife’s obedience to her husband in the marriage vows. I start browsing through the Summa on my phone and find the following excerpt:
Now the sufficient cause of matrimony is consent expressed in words of the present. Therefore whether this be done in public or in private, the result is a marriage. Further, wherever there is the due matter and the due form of a sacrament there is the sacrament. Now in a secret marriage there is the due matter, since there are persons who are able lawfully to contract—and the due form, since there are the words of the present expressive of consent. (sup.45.5)
God bless St. Thomas and his pedantic quest for brevity and clarity.

Joseph to the Rescue

“While you’re preparing for marriage,” Mr. Helpful instructed me, “you should really take St. Joseph to be your model.”

“Old, cranky, and surprised to find himself betrothed to a younger woman?” I said.

“Well, he was the perfect husband, you see,” Mr. Helpful continued, ignoring my restorationist sarcasm, “and the perfect model of masculinity. He can teach you how to be a great husband and father.”

“I don’t know. People who take St. Joseph very seriously as their model sometimes end up not consummating their marriages.”

“Oh, sometimes you can find a good compromise. Look at Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, who abstained from the marriage bed for their first year of marriage, offering it up to God as a sacrifice, so that God would bless them with many holy children! And look, they gave us the Little Flower, herself!”

“Is that what happened? I read that Zélie was furious with her husband for springing the ‘Josephite marriage’ thing on her at the last minute, and then had to pester him into listening to a priest who knew better. It sounds to me like taking St. Joseph as a model for marriage is a terrible idea!”

“Well, you should pray about it more.” Mr. Helpful began fishing through his pockets, pulling out a small white rope with knots. “Here’s a St. Joseph cord. You should ask Fr. Smiles to enroll you when you see him next. You’ll need to daily recite the prayer in this booklet”—swiftly produced—“and the Glory Be. It has indulgences attached and grants the benefits of purity and chastity.”

“I’m getting married soon. Chastity may not be what I’m in the market for.”

“Also be sure to meditate on the seven sorrows and joys of St. Joseph every day. Tie the cord around your waist like a girdle. It will protect you against temptations.”

“Thanks, I’ll place it next to my scapular.”

Anathema Sit

Some choose to respond to the ravings of clerical loons with mockery or silence. For myself, I enjoy opening up the sessions of old ecumenical councils while sipping a good scotch in one hand.

Wondering about the “fidelity” or “real marriage” of cohabitating adulterers?
If any one saith, that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not prohibited by any divine law; let him be anathema. 
If any one saith, that the Church has erred, in that she hath taught, and doth teach, in accordance with the evangelical and apostolical doctrine... that both, or even the innocent one who gave not occasion to the adultery, cannot contract another marriage, during the life-time of the other; and, that he is guilty of adultery, who, having put away the adulteress, shall take another wife, as also she, who, having put away the adulterer, shall take another husband; let him be anathema.
Take that, sycophants!

Also, a little bonus canon I noticed whilst browsing this Tridentine session:
If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.
Feel free to quote that to the next “Theology of the Body” missionary who insists that marriage is a spiritual good as great as the life of the evangelical counsels. Anathema sit!


Between the Scylla of bureaucratic diocesan requirements and the Charybdis of Pope Francis’ devil-may-care demolition of marriage, we only lost a few sailors along the way.

The paperwork is endless: forms for the engaged couple’s parents’ to fill out, forms for getting the music approved, forms for ensuring compatibility, forms for obtaining sacramental records from all previous parishes, forms for requesting altar servers, forms for keeping track of every associated fee. Somewhere in the middle of all this is actual preparation.

On our own initiative, the little lady and I have begun reading Fulton Sheen’s Three to Get Married. The late bishop spends a lot of time arguing with the pop-Freudianism of his day. Doubtless this was useful at the time and might occasionally be so today, but one gets impatient to reach the meat of his marriage advice. I am assured it will eventually be worthwhile.

More interesting is the marriage advice found in the pre-Christian Jewish wisdom literature. The book of Ecclesiasticus contains such wonderful selections as:
Happy is the husband of a good wife, for the number of his years is double. A virtuous woman rejoiceth her husband, and shall fulfill the years of his life in peace. A good wife is a good portion, she shall be given in the portion of them that fear God, to a man for his good deeds. (ch. 26)
There is no anger above the anger of a woman. It will be more agreeable to abide with a lion and a dragon, than to dwell with a wicked woman. The wickedness of a woman changeth her face, and she darkeneth her countenance as a bear, and sheweth it like sackcloth. In the midst of her neighbours, her husband groaned, and hearing he sighed a little. (ch. 25)
You said it, Jesus.


  1. I tuned out during Fr. Smiles' sermon. An Orthodox friend next to me said after the Mass, "There were some things in that sermon that I don't think my Church would agree with." I replied that I was trying hard to fall asleep and missed the objectionable parts.

  2. The most objectionable thing in the sermon is the sacramental theology. But the mention of submission of wife to her husband is actually quite good.

    Reading the devotionalist bit irritated me lol

  3. By the way, the TOB people would be wrong, but they don’t get that from John Paul II, IMHO. The 1992 Catechism is perfectly clear in its conformity to the dogma.