Throughout your life, whether you realize it or not, you have been preparing for this moment. Our vocation is that which God calls us to, which is our path of holiness, the way in which He wants us to follow Him, to reach one day the gates of Paradise. If marriage is your vocation, then God has been preparing you for it—by witnessing the example of your parents or others in their own marriage, by learning what it means to love, to sacrifice, through the deepening of faith in Christ, our Bridegroom, in so many ways.
Marriage is not something that we create or define. It was instituted during Creation and given a new birth by Christ as He elevated it to a Sacrament, a visible sign of that invisible reality of God’s grace at work in the world. The man and woman, husband and wife, are a visible sign to the world of God’s Triune love and love for His people. They are a reminder of the love of the Bridegroom for His Bride, Christ for the Church. As such it has certain characteristics which can never be denied or set aside, such as permanence, fidelity and an openness to children. Also, this intimate union and equal partnership must always be entered into freely.
It was for this reason that God called Adam and Eve together: that they might share in His love, a love which overflows and gives life—to the individuals themselves and to the world. As such, marriage is a part of the natural order of Creation. Through it man and woman become coworkers with God in the Order of Creation as it continues on.
When one of the spouses is not baptized, a valid, natural and good Catholic marriage is formed, which unites the two and orients them toward the good of each other and of any children with which they are blessed. Whenever a Roman Catholic gets married, whether to another Catholic, another Christian, or an individual of another faith or no faith, they are required to get married in a Church, with a bishop, priest or deacon, and at least two witnesses, or receive permission from the Archbishop to do otherwise. The Church does not recognize the marriage of a Catholic who marries outside of the Church contrary to these requirements because she cannot be sure that the consent given is to that enduring gift of self which we understand marriage to be, with the freedom that is also necessary (freedom of consent, but also from impediments to marriage). This applies not only when it is a Sacramental Marriage, which must of course be administered by a cleric, but also when it is a natural marriage. In such cases, the Catholic must agree to raise their children in the practice of the faith, and the non-Catholic must agree this to happen.
In addition to being a natural institution, the Catholic Church teaches that the valid marriage between two baptized Christians is also a sacrament—a saving reality and a symbol of Christ’s love for His Church (Ephesians 5:21-33) — by which the two sanctify one another. In every marriage the spouses make a contract with each other. In a sacramental marriage the couple also enters into a covenant in which their love is sealed and strengthened by God’s love, and their marriage becomes for them their path to heaven, their vocation.
The parish church is a community grounded in the common expression of faith and united together in Christ. Every sacramental celebration is an event which affects the entire life of the Church community. Because of this, when weddings are celebrated in our church, at least one of the persons must be a practicing Roman Catholic who is living their faith.
For Catholics, a wedding is not simply a ceremony but a Liturgy. The Liturgy, whether or not it is a Mass, is the prayer of the community to God, the Church to her Bridegroom. Liturgical celebrations are about Jesus Christ and his involvement with us, His people. When we gather at the Altar, we come as a people in need of both healing and strength. We know the hardness of the world and yet we are still confident in our own goodness because of the Kingdom of God that connects each of us in the heart of Christ. In the Marriage Rite, a man and a woman come before the Lord and His family to give themselves to each other for a lifetime. What is said and done in the Liturgy has as much to say about what this faith community holds sacred in life as it does about this man and woman. Therefore, yours is not only the celebration of one marriage, it is also a celebration of all who are married to the Lord through their membership in the Church. It is important to us that the readings, the music, the prayers and the actions of the Liturgy are consistent with our traditions as part of the Universal, or Catholic Church.
As you continue to read through this packet and begin the marriage preparation program through the Church, it is more important than anything else that you prepare to enter into marriage spiritually. Live your faith. If Christ is to be the true center of your union, He must be the center of your life right now. You should love Him, even more than your intended spouse; place Him above all things, even your intended spouse. Only then will your marriage flourish. So practice and live your faith and the grace that God so freely bestows upon us: go to Mass every week (and say hello to Father afterward!), go to Confession regularly, spend time in individual prayer as well as prayer as a couple, make a Holy Hour weekly in the adoration chapel for the intention of your marriage, read the Scripture individually as well as a couple, taking time to share your reflections on the Word of God. Most importantly—receive the Sacrament of Marriage in a state of grace by going to Confession in the hours or days beforehand. This would also be a good period to spend extra time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in prayer—even perhaps on the eve of your wedding.
This is the necessary foundation and cornerstone for entering into a marriage. And with all of this in mind, we begin the marriage preparation program!