Two Questions: Do We Need to Use a Different Word for Marriage in the Church? and, Should Catholic Clergy Cease Signing Civil "Marriage" Licenses?
I have proposed before on this blog that we may be coming to a point where we should consider dropping our use of the word marriage. It is a simple fact that word “marriage” as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the New York Legislature or an increasing number of states mean.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Marriage in the following way:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC # 1601)
The latest actions by New York, along with Washington DC, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Iowa have legally redefined the term marriage. Other states will likely join the list. The secular world’s definition of marriage no longer even remotely resembles what the Catechism describes.
To be fair, as we noted yesterday, this is not the first redefinition of marriage that has occurred in America. The redefinition has actually come in three stages:
- In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
- The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspringas integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses. Having sown in the wind (where we redefined not only marriage, but sex itself) we are now reaping the whirlwind of deep sexual confusion and a defining of marriage right out of existence.
- This final blow of legally recognizing so called gay “marriage” completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships “marriage”.
Proposal: So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word “marriage” is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think. I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as “Holy Matrimony.”
According to this proposal the word marriage would be set aside and replaced by Holy Matrimony. It should be noticed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this Sacrament formally as “The Sacrament of Matrimony.”
The word matrimony also emphasizes two aspects of marriage: procreation and heterosexual complimentarity. The word comes from Latin and old French roots. Matri = “mother” and mony, a suffix indicating “action, state, or condition.” Hence Holy Matrimony refers to that that holy Sacrament wherein a woman enters the state that inaugurates an openness to motherhood. Hence the Biblical and Ecclesial definition of Holy Matrimonyas heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from SECULAR marriage.
Problems to resolve – To return to this phrase “Holy Matrimony” is to return to an older tradition and may sound archaic to some (but at least it isn’t as awkward sounding as “wedlock”). But clearly a new usage will be difficult to undertake. It is one thing to start officially referring to it as Holy Matrimony. But it is harder when, for example, a newly engaged couple approaches the priest and says, “We want to be married next summer.” It seems unlikely we could train couples to say, “We want to enter Holy Matrimony next summer.” or even just to say, “We want to have a wedding next summer.” Such dramatic changes seem unlikely to come easily. Perhaps you, who read this blog can offer some resolutions to this problem.
Perhaps, even if we cannot wholly drop the terms “marry” and “married” a more modest form of the proposal is that we at least officially discontinue the use of the word marriage and refer to it as the “Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”
What do you think? Do we need to start using a new word for marriage? Has the word been so stripped of meaning that we have to use different terminology to convey what we really mean?
When I proposed this over a year and a half ago, many of you we rather unconvinced and some were even perturbed that we were handing on over our vocabulary to the libertines. That may be, but we already know that gay will never mean what it used to, and maybe marriage will never again mean what it did.
A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?
We would surely need a strong catechesis directed to our faithful that reiterates that civil “marriage” (what ever that means anymore) is not Holy Matrimony and that they should, in no way consider themselves as wed, due to a (meaningless) piece of paper from a secular state that reflects only confusion and darkness rather than clarity and Christian light.
Here too, what do you think? Should the Catholic Bishops disassociate Catholic clergy from civil “marriage” licenses?