In the last installment, a general overview of the ritual for celebrating matrimony was given that expressed how the words of consent or what are commonly called “marriage vows” are the primary element of the wedding ceremony. In this installment, we take a deeper look at how the words of consent between the man and woman effect them as the recipients and also the ministers of this sacrament.
Recall that baptism is the first sacrament and that only those who are baptized are capable of receiving the other sacraments after baptism – as only those who have been freed from original sin and restored to a life of grace are capable of receiving additional grace of God. (If one has not been forgiven of original sin, while God surely still loves them and desires that they receive salvation, it is the original sin the keeps one separated from God and therefore unable to partake of the saving works of Christ as made present in the Church through the sacraments). Through baptism, one is made a son or daughter of God and an heir to the Kingdom of God – enabling them to partake of all of the graces of salvation in Christ. Thus, the sacrament of matrimony by its nature as a sacrament grants to each spouse the grace to live out the way of self-giving love toward one another in a manner that is both symbolic of the love of Christ and the Church, and that is gifted by God to become an ever more perfect and fruitful bond of love that aids each person in receiving God’s gift of eternal life through their love for one another. These graces of the sacrament are both given and received by the couple through the free, total, faithful, and fruitful giving of self to the other in their words of consent that both imitates and makes present the love of Jesus Christ who gave Himself freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully for His Church. In this way, the bridegroom and the bride are both the ministers of the sacrament (through their individual gift of self in their words of consent) and the recipients of the sacrament (through their acceptance of the gift that is given to them.).
The giving and receiving of consent, therefore, forms in the couple a unity that is symbolic of Christ and His Church. Their consent places them within what the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1631, calls an “ecclesial order [creating] rights and duties in the Church between spouses and towards their children.” The Church “witnesses” this consent (offered in the presence of a clergyman) so as to render it valid. In other words, it is the bridegroom and bride who give this sacrament to one another as ministers while a deacon, priest, or bishop witnesses these words of consent, acknowledging them before God and the Church as freely given, and who then gives the Church’s blessing. Thus, while the “form” of marriage requires a witness of the Church (a member of the clergy), it is the bridegroom and bride themselves who give and receive the consent to and from one another, establishing them as both the minister and recipient of the sacrament.
As both minister and recipient, the bridegroom and bride must both make their gift of consent as an act of free will with proper intentions and without any coercion, fear, or any type of conditions. Once more, it is the role of the clergy to witness this consent in the name of the Church and to offer the Church’s blessing (through the prayer called the “Nuptial Blessing”). All told, the simple expression “consent makes marriage” provides a complete summary of what is essential to matrimony – and how it is the couple who are both ministers and recipients of this sacrament.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paragraphs 1625- 1637 give particular attention to marital consent as the giving and receiving of matrimony.