Marriage as a Sacrament
In the book of Genesis (2:18-24) there is a poetic rendition of the creation of man and woman. God, the eternal Potter, forms a man from the clay of the earth. He wants the man to be happy, but happiness is not provided by any of the beasts he is allowed to name. So God put the man to sleep and from his side, forms a woman, flesh and bone, as he is. Coming from the side of the man, this woman is his equal. The two become one flesh and share forever a unity that is begun by the breath of God. What God has joined together, people must not divide.
When a man and a woman come together in marriage they do so to fulfill the plan that God has set before them. Marriage in contemporary times has two levels. The first level is that which is recognized as legal in society. The second is that which is recognized by the Church and it is called sacramental. In the former, the marriage vows spoken in ceremony are all that is needed. Much more is demanded from a sacramental marriage.
For a marriage to be sacramental a number of aspects must come together. Each party must enter the marriage freely. No event, person or circumstance must be pressuring them to marry at this time. To marry only because a child in on the way is not to marry freely. To marry because you're getting older and chances for a match are fading is not to marry freely. Persons trapped by some addictions are unable to be free enough to covenant a sacramental marriage.
All of those spoken and written promises come together in the midst of the Church, the People of God, and the presence of Jesus Christ Himself. The Christian community is the Body of Christ. For Catholics, a marriage covenanted outside the Catholic community is not sacramental. It is a marriage legal in the eyes of the state.