85. Sacramentality of marriage and the juridical-pastoral proposal
85. Sacramentality of marriage and the juridical-pastoral proposal

85. Sacramentality of marriage and the juridical-pastoral proposal

In the past weeks, I proposed the juridical-pastoral approach to inculturate customary marriage in the Church. The major recommendations are a combined rite of customary and canonical marriage (juridical) and granting dispensation for the baptised who only want customary marriage (pastoral). One question that may emerge is the sacramentality of the marriage contracted with the juridical-pastoral approach. Today’s post attempts a response.

First and foremost, one must delineate the various concepts regarding Christian marriage that may be confusing—validity, liceity, the rite for celebrating marriage, and sacramentality.

Validity of marriage means that the marriage is real and, therefore, it has social, spiritual, and legal consequences. Liceity concerns the lawfulness of the marriage contract. The rite for the celebration of marriage is the liturgical gestures and prayers in celebrating the marriage.  

The sacramentality of marriage means that “a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptised without it being by that fact a sacrament” (canon 1055 §2). Natural law governs marriage, that is, the way God willed it at creation, and it is valid everywhere, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. Therefore, regarding the sacramentality of Christian marriage, the Code of Canon Law states that the marriage contract “has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptised” (canon 1055 §1).

How is marriage a sacrament since we do not have a specific reference on how Christ instituted it as he did for other sacraments? In the “Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage”, the International Theological Commission affirms,

Jesus confirmed this institution which existed “from the very beginning”, and cured it of its previous defects (Mk 10:2-9, 10-12) by restoring all its dignity and its original requirements. He sanctified this state of life (GS 48, 2) by including it within the mystery of love, which unites him as Redeemer to his Church. This is the reason why the task of regulating Christian marriage (1 Cor 7:10f.) has been entrusted to the Church. (Art. 1.2)


“Christian marriage, as a real symbol and sacramental sign, represents the Church of Christ concretely in the world and, especially under its family aspect, it is called rightly the “domestic Church” (LG 11). In such a way matrimony takes on the likeness of the mystery of the union between Jesus Christ and his Church. This inclusion of Christian marriage in the economy of salvation is enough to justify the title “sacrament” in a broad sense. (Art. 2.1-2.2) [1]

 Therefore, the sacramentality of marriage is a consequence of a valid marriage contract among the baptised. In other words, one cannot talk about the sacramentality of a marriage if the marriage contracted is invalid. The Catholic Church determines the conditions for the validity of a marriage contracted among the baptised Catholics. A marriage is valid when a man and a woman who are canonically capable and not disqualified by a diriment impediment exchange the matrimonial consent in the canonical form. These conditions bind Catholics because canon law provides that merely ecclesiastical laws bind those baptised in the Catholic Church or received into it (canon 11).

Customary marriages are valid because natural law governs marriage. The juridical-pastoral proposals do not undermine the sacramentality of marriage because they are about recognising the validity of a customary marriage among the baptised in the Church.

The Church categorises diriment impediments to valid canonical marriage into natural, divine positive, and ecclesiastical law. Impediments under the first two categories exist in all cultures and religions. They are impotence (canon 1084), bond to previous marriage (canon 1085), and consanguinity in the direct line (parents marrying their children) and in the second degree of the collateral line (brother marrying sister). The Church can never dispense these impediments.

Therefore, marriage among the baptised contracted according to a rite that merges customary and canon law is a sacrament. In the same way, a customary marriage contracted by two baptised Catholics with a prior dispensation from the competent ecclesiastical authority is a sacrament. Hence, they can receive communion after the marriage. 

It is important to note that excluding the sacramental dignity of marriage is a simulation of matrimonial consent among the baptised. In other words, when a baptised Catholic wants Christian marriage but does not want the marriage to be a sacrament. This choice contradicts the nature of Christian marriage, which Christ raised to the dignity of a sacrament. If the Christian marriage happens, then it is null.

Baptised Catholics who want only customary marriage or a combination of the customary and canonical systems without sacramental dignity undermine the validity of such marriages in the Church. Hence, before granting dispensation or permission, the competent ecclesiastical authority must have moral certainty that the contracting parties in the proposed system do not reject the sacramental dignity of marriage.

May God continue to help us🙏🏾


[1] International Theological Commission, Propositions on the doctrine of Christian Marriage, 1977, available at URL: https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_1977_sacramento-matrimonio_en.html

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