As we have seen in the previous page, the Israelite marriage signified the love between God and Israel which was by its nature unbreakable.
Now the gospel of John tells us that Christ was invited with his apostles to a wedding feast. Mary, his mother, tells Him that they have run out of wine. Christ is reluctant to do anything about it, but Mary tells the waiters to do what her son tells them. Jesus told the waiters to fill six waterpots with water which instantly became wine. Why did Jesus do this miracle? "This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him." (Jn 2:11) Belief in Jesus is the beginning of the New Covenant, an unbreakable union between Christ and his People, a love relationship with God through his Son Jesus which would also transfigure the the reality and meaning of Marriage.
(Photo courtesy of John Sanidopoulos)
In the early Church St. Paul understood that Christian Marriage meant a new relationship with God in the Covenant through His Son. Below he expresses this sees Christian marriae embedded in Christ and his Church. Marriage is a a participation and a manifestation of this mystery of Christ relationship with his Church.
should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her
to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:25-27)
Marriage was begun by God who created man and woman for each other. The sacrament of marriage begins with Christ. A sacrament is a sacred sign. A sign of what? A sign of Christ's union with his Church in which two baptized persons (man and woman) sharing a relationship of faith in Christ who now agree to live as husband and wife. From Christ's point of view there is only one sacrament which is Himself, while from our point of view there are different circumstances in life which are embraced by His loving presence in a unique way. Marriage as a sacrament is an action of the risen Christ who remains throughout their lives to purify their love, make it fruitful and raise them to the mystical union with Himself. (Marriage Is Holy, Edited by H. Caffarel, Fides Pub,, Inc., Notre Dame, IN, 1957, pp. 164-165) The Council of Trent is more specific when it states that this sacrament "gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799)." (Catechism of Catholic Church, #1661)
In its beginning, the Church accepted the monogamous customary practices among baptized christians of different cultures because man and woman fundamentally marry each other and because they were performed in public, in the presence of relatives and friends. Religious ceremonies were usually associated with marriage because they intuitively grasped that the marriage act was a participation in the creative act of the gods or God. Pagan marriages offered libations and sacrifices to the gods. The Church instead substituted the sacrifice of the Christ in its marriage ceremony. Although marriage is created by the mutual consent of man and woman, "clandestined marrieages" became widespread which created difficulties. As many times happend, a man would promise a woman to marry her. The woman took the promise to be binding but when she became pregnant, the man would abandon her and marry publicly another. So the Lateral Council (1215) states: "We decree that when marriages are to be contracted they must be announced publicly in the churches by the priests during a suitable and fixed time, so that if legitimate impediments exist, they may be made known. Let the priests nevertheless investigate whether any impediments exist." So, all marriages celebrated even by a priest without banns were considered invalid. The Council of Trent ((1545-1563) took a further step and decreed that marriage to be valid had to be before the parish priest and two or three witnesses. This was done to safeguard the indissolubility and sacredness of marriage.