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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?  

138 Responses

  1. Rebecca Teti says:

    I’m warming to your proposal, Padre! Have you seen this incredible statement on civil unions from Bishop Tobin of RI?

    Relevant to whether bishops & priests are “weak,” (I think the JPII/ Benedict generation isn’t) isn’t part of the problem a lingering clericalism, in which the laity expect the bishops to fight this battle for them, when in fact a bishop speaking in the public square, even if he never uses a religious argument, will always be heard as a priest foisting his views on others? The clergy need to have our backs with clear, unafraid teaching and sacramental support, but this is the laity’s job to “fight,” neighbor by neighbor and legislature by legislature. But we are “bred” to be passive.
    It’s notable that in Familiaris Consortio, JP II, following the synod on the topic, lays out 4 tasks of the family: forming a community of persons; serving life; participating in the development of society; and building up the church. Interesting that building society is a duty that comes before building the Church in the case of the laity. I think the clergy and laity have their roles reversed!

  2. mydogoreo says:

    Perhaps we should not get ourselves distracted and tied up in Gordian knots over what the state does. This is how satan keeps us from doing God’s work.

    This problem has existed since the early days of our Church but the first converts were attracted to the Faith because it was so different from what they had experienced in their pagan culture, not because the Church Fathers had convinced them that their culture was bad.

    We spend too much time trying to change the culture around us on a legislative and judicial level. Hopefully, we can get back to personal witness, and change the world one person at a time. It may seem like a slow process, and one that does not show immediate results but that is what trusting God is all about.

    An “immediate results” culture has infected the Church also. If the OT Patriarchs and our Church Fathers has been so oriented, we never would have gotten this far!

    • I think actually, that is what I am saying. That we should disconnect and redefine who we are. I know the road back to restoring the faith, even among practicing Catholics, is a long road. Hence I do not accept your characterization that I or others here are all tied up in “gordian” knots, or that we are articulating an immediate results” notion. That said, as citizens we have a right and an obligation to weigh in on legislative and judicial matters in our land. Law DOES have an impact on what people think.

  3. Brian Cook says:

    Allow me to play “Devil’s Advocate” (a term taken from an old office in the Church) and point out one main criticism that people often raise. Specifically, they say that marriage has changed and is not fixed in human history. They say that marriage was simply a means to hand over women as silent pieces of property. They say that there was no possibility of carefully searching for and discerning a spouse. They say that marriage was seen merely as a method to manufacture heirs or workers. They point to child-brides, polygamy, polyandry, and concubines.

    Can you address those? I seriously believe that liberals are not tyrants lusting after total control of the planet and total destruction of Nature, but rather well-intentioned human beings who see themselves as promoting justice and freedom. Thank you.

    • God says I will make a suitable partner for the man….and he formed Eve…..And this is why a man leaves his Father and Mother and clings to his wife and the two of them Become one flesh. (Gen 2) What God says trumps what “they” say. Further, Natural Law also appoints a Father and Mother to each child, some of the errors which you seek to resurrect are not contrary to nature, (as homosexuality is) though they are contrary to God’s plan and as such, we as Christians cannot accept them.

      I have addressed Polygamy (and as you break it out polyandry and concubinage) and its wrongness here: http://blog.adw.org/2011/06/dont-do-polygamy-on-the-polygamy-of-the-patriarchs-and-the-problems-it-produces/

      Finally Brian, perhaps you could ascribe some of the copious amounts of good will you ascribe to liberals (as you call them), and other true believers in the sexual revolution, to us Christians? Your description that we regard them as tyrants lusting after total control of the planet and total destruction of Nature tips your hand and shows that you are not the mere advocatus diaboli you claim to be. I have never described them this way. Why don’t you just come out and tell us your true allegiance and stop the pretending, as you well seem to be doing. You have previously connected us Christians with “right-wing extremism–White supremacists and Neo-Nazis” (March 1st 2011). Take off your mask Brian and stop all the name-calling.

      • Brian Cook says:

        I was not talking about you in particular, Monsignor. I was talking about too many Christian voices. I did not intend to personally connect you with right-wing extremism. I have seen mountains of evidence of the existence of right-wing extremism. I have attempted to sound the alarm. I seem to have failed. I have seen enough liberal websites to know that the caricatures promoted by many Christians barely resemble the reality at best–and are completely false at worst. I have attempted to encourage dialog by pointing out what liberals say. I seem to have failed.

        Now I will “take off my mask”. I stand with Mother Church. Precisely because of that, I do not want to see her linked with right-wing extremism. I try to show the breadth and depth of Mother Church on online forums that I use. Of course, how can I when people see extremism? Sometimes I wonder whether I should even bother contacting any human being, much less trying to befriend and console any human being.

        Perhaps I should have better articulated the points that I was trying to get across. I failed. If you wish, I will no longer post on this ‘blog. I wish there was some way to convince you that I have no malice against you. If I cannot, then I have no choice but to be on my way and continue praying for the grace to love and care with a pure heart.

  4. Max says:

    Yes Father,

    We should immediately get of the the state “marriage” business. A license is government permission to do something that would otherwise be unlawful. Do we really need a government approved piece of paper to enter into Holy Matrimony?

  5. Ann Robinson Kapfer says:

    At first thought, I like the idea of separating the civil and church unions for the same reason as a previous poster – to also separate divorce and annulment from the minds of those entering into (and leaving) marriages. However, I am concerned that Catholics will begin to use civil marriages (w/out sacramental follow-up) as testing grounds or as strictly legal unions with no intention for a marriage causing other problems.

    It reminds me of a case 20+ years ago when conservative Catholic friends married (Church wedding) after the 6 months of marriage prep and college graduation for the wife. However, they had “secretly” been married for months already by a civil ceremony for the sole purpose of gathering Navy benefits for the wife. It struck me at the time as a bit of theft from the government as they didn’t live together or hold themselves out to be married in any way. Would we now risk Catholics trying to help illegal immigrants by marrying them civilly or entering into civil unions for the purpose of health insurance alone.

    I think this is dangerous territory and needs serious consideration into all of the potential ramifications.

  6. Sandra Schuck Garant says:

    Marriage is still firmly rooted as a concept in our culture in a variety of ways–in music, literature, sayings, art, etc.– and I prefer not to back off from it. Perhaps we could begin a grass roots effort to designate all non-marriages as sexual friendships? There are several reasons to do so. 1) We already have an understanding of what a friendship is. 2) Homosexual partners fit this definition already much better than they fit the definition of marriage. 3) Society needs to draw the line somewhere and a fight to keep the definition of marriage is key to having the widest and clearest understanding of what we are fighting for. 4) If many homosexual partners truly want certain economic privileges which come with marriage, then they can have these without a legal redefinition of marriage. I know that there are several agendas, but in conversation, the economic disadvantages are being put forth as key reasons.

  7. Penny says:

    Ann Robinson: Regarding potential ramifications if we separate civil and church unions, you on asked ” Would we now risk Catholics trying to help illegal immigrants by marrying them civilly or entering into civil unions for the purpose of health insurance alone”? Good question. However, gay marriage has already opened the door for marriage fraud. What’s to stop single straight people from pretending they are gay in order to marry another gay-pretender in order to secure health and pension benefits? I joking said that to my friends last night ( I am single in NY) that I was going to pretend that I was gay, and as they both have good pension plans and I have none, which of the two would like to marry me? We laughed but it’s not so funny. A lot of single people are going to start doing this and when they secure health and pension benefits from civil service jobs, they will be robbing us, the honest tax payers. It will especially impact health insurance as more single people will drop out of the insurance pool thus raising rates for the rest of us.

  8. oregon says:

    I think both of Msgr. Pope’s proposals are good ideas. I really don’t see, as a few have worried, how separating the sacrament from the civil ceremony would serve to stop Catholics who want and understand the sacrament from getting their ‘civil marriage’ blessed as Holy Matrimony any more than under the current system. I would also like to see it be a word that cannot be co-opted and misused by so-called christian churches who will use it to ‘bless’ same-sex couples.

    In fact, IMO separating the two may serve to wake a lot of people up both inside and outside of the Church and the resulting publicity and discussion will serve to educate many people on the true meaning and purpose of matrimony. Believe me, once the Church publically sets the sacrament above and outside of the civil contract by re-naming it and withdrawing from the civil witness functions, the same-sex marriage crowd will be up in arms over something which is denied them. It will be a constant reminder that in God’s eyes their civil marriage is still something “less than” the true meaning and “less than” natural. Since the civil use of the word marriage has become bastardized, then we should separate ourselves from it, at least in those states allowing same-sex marriage, because words and names for things change minds.

    I think Holy Matrimony is fine as the name of the sacrament itself. But I think we need another name for popular usage – something that can be commonly used and recognized in society for those who wish to publically declare that their union means something very different than the civil understanding of marriage. Saying I’m (we’re) ‘matrimonied’ or ‘covenented’ won’t work well in everyday usage IMO. We have a chance to adopt a name which clearly conveys our Catholic understanding of what marriage is in the public arena. As someone else said, let’s use the social activist marketing ploys to our benefit. It’s what gets attention in our society.

    • Macaron says:

      I’m with ‘Oregon’ and Msgr. Pope… separation would only benefit us as Catholic’s. We can’t just let this get lost in watercolors to get muddled … There’s got to be clear lines for everyone, how will anyone know where we stand!
      ‘Penny’ stated it well, …so many have gone along with the rules just to bring the church down to their level. You know?
      The so called Catholic politician that parades around with mistresses and then receives communion or the so called Catholic that believes in abortion…
      Weeding out the insincere would strengthen us, wouldn’t it?!
      Comments like “catholic’s aren’t any better at marriage, then the rest of the population” would shrink. . I’m sure the “statistics” would be modified more favorably and or course more accurately.

      Holy Matrimony is a wonderful start…. as for myself, with all the words in the English language I can accept an awkward for now term. I mean look at the new words coming out every other year. About 20-40 years ago was “texting” what it is today? and for that matter “$exting”?! … I think not.
      It won’t be difficult to concoct another term.

  9. naturgesetz says:

    On principle, a refusal of Catholic clergy to sign marriage licenses in any jurisdiction which recognizes same-sex “marriage” has a surface appeal as a way of saying the civil authorities no longer know what marriage is, so the license is absurd. But, the real-life effect would be to reduce the number of couples who would have a church wedding. That particular cure would be far worse than the disease, IMO. The clergy should continue to witness marriages for the state until they are no longer permitted to (which may not be long in coming).

  10. Ken says:

    I agree Holy Matrimony would be preferred,because it separates the secular idea of only lawful co-habitation. I doubt that homosexuals would attempt to utilize the courts to gain this recognition as being a holy union. As it stands, they are gaining ground convincing the populous their behavior is a matter of civil rights. To me this like telling me coffee is tea. And if all vote to agree, it in fact is so.So now we as a society are off on another tangent, condoning illicit behavior as a civil right. What’s next,polygamy,beasteality ? This country has been heading toward hedonism and epicurianism.

  11. Penny says:

    Naturgesetz wrote that a refusal of Catholic clergy to sign marriage licenses in any jurisdiction which recognizes same-sex “marriage”would reduce the number of couples who would have a church wedding which would be far worse than the disease……
    Really? So what if the result is that less people will even get married in the church! What have we got going on now other than 95% of the couples getting married in church openly disagree with the church and have no intention what-so-ever of following Church doctrine or even raising their kids in the faith. I look at my own siblings and my cousins and out of all of them, only one has made an attempt to keep the faith active in his life and the life of his children. This is hardly unusual as all my practicing Catholic friends report the same thing going on in their families. Better to weed the insincere couples out now because all they are really doing is contributing to the breakdown of the Church. Better to have one true and practicing couple as opposed to twenty insincere ones. We have compromised so much and have watered down the faith so much that hardly anyone takes us seriously!

  12. Nick says:

    Here’s a discussion on marriage (contains some vulgar and profane language):

    Men’s Reproductive Rights


    • Anne says:

      I would not advise going on the abovementioned link…the visuals are an unsuitable link for a Catholic site. I understand it might be useful to read what “the other side” has to say for some people, but still I would not want my teenager to go to this link and he often reads New Advent.

  13. Theresa Notare says:

    With regard to changing the definition of marriage–the Church should not fall to the pressure of a confused society. We need to keep the word “marriage” which describes the union of a man to a woman. We need to defend this and all truth. Make up other words if you want to describe the variety of partnerships in our culture, but do not give up the word marriage for what it is.
    The word marriage speaks of the union of the opposite sexes. By its nature it implies that this heterosexual union is that which bring new people into the world. And, let’s remember, every child deserves a mother and a father–men and women bring different gifts to the nurturing of children. We cannot possibly understand the consequences for both the individual and society if we reject this reality!
    Despite the cultural manipulations of marriage over the ages (e.g., arranged, polygamy, contract, common law, etc.), the reality of marriage is all about bringing the man and the woman together. This is not about civil rights, it is a condition of human life, which civil law should protect–that’s why the Natural Law describes it easily in a secular context.
    The problem with some very loud people in our current society is that they have accepted a lie that says human sexuality is whatever the person makes it. This is not true. This is not the place to dive into a careful description of the nature of human sexuality, but at least here we can, and should be able to say that men and women have different but complementary ways of being human. The procreative ability is part of being human and it does inform how we are sexually–it actually plays a role in the male/female attraction. So the modern tendency to manipulate human reproduction via contraception or assisted reproductive technologies does not “prove” that the nature of sexuality is ever changing. In fact, if it proves anything at all, it demonstrates that our society has lost its understanding of the nature of human sexuality and sexual brokenness in particular.
    If in the Church we want to reclaim any ancient understanding of marriage, let us reclaim the fact that marriage is unitive and procreative and that married men and women have a sacred responsibility to protect this two-fold nature and live it authentically.

  14. Lee Weaver says:

    Understanding what real marriage is biblically will resolve a lot of this wondering concerning it. Most importantly, it will cause us to understand how God feels about it, which, since He is the initiator of it, makes sense. There is only one source that I have discovered that gives me this perception. It is a book written by Edward Ridenour titled “It’s Good For A Man Not To Touch A Woman.” He also writes some very interesting articles for christianpost.com in their “Today’s Christian Marriage” blog. If you want to know about marriage that you have never heard before,and you really are concerned, I’d advise you check this out.

  15. Ernest Armstrong says:

    Marriage is marriage. Look in any dictionary older than 5 years and you will see that it is the union between a man and a woman. Why should the English language be changed for less than 1 to 3 percent of the population so as to denigrate the other 99 to 97 percent of couples who are married. Is that not discrimination against the major part of the population, when those with homosexual tendencies seek only legal access to inheritance and compensation in divorce. Be honest and use “same sex union” or “homosexual union” in a legal framework for those with homosexual desires and good luck to them. This life is an only “once round” sojurn where honesty measures the status of your life, and we have other far more important issues to deal with than the selfish, personal matters of those homosexuals in our screwed up societies. Ernest Armstrong

  16. JM says:

    I agree with the use of the term set forth in the Catechism, “The Sacrament of Matrimony,” in reference to Catholic union. “Marriage” has come to mean a state or civil union that can be dissolved with divorce. The two are distinct, and therefore require clear and differential language. From this it follows, I do believe that Catholic clergy need to examine ceasing the execution of civil marriage licenses.

    The Holy Matrimony between my husband and me was blessed by our priest. We are one in the Church. We have never married in the state. We are devoted to each other, to God, to our community and to our faith– not to the government institution. And we are entering our second decade of joyful unity.

  17. Not Obama says:

    Today’s date is 09Nov2012 – two days after Election Day with three more states of the union altering the intended meaning of “marriage”. Notably, highly placed advocates in the state of Washington’s vote for same-sex hooking-up have said in interviews that they demand the word “marriage” bestowed upon their homosexual hookups.

    Therefore, to answer your questions: I emphatically say that Catholics, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Baptists, etc, use a different word than “marriage” and disassociate from the states’ documents. And, start educating their faithful accordingly – regardless of how “hard” that may be.

  18. Ramona Carter says:

    Interestingly, in “The Catholic Difference” (11/14/12), George Weigel promotes a similar position: that “it seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law. If the Church were to take this dramatic step now, it would be acting prophetically: it would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by “marriage” and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by “marriage” is wrong.” (http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/9360)

    On the meaning of marriage and the permissibility of radically redefining it, see also Michael Hannon, “The Abolition of Man-and-Woman: On Marriage, Grammar, and Legal Strategy” at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/11/7051/

  19. Timothy Welton says:

    Been saying that for years. The issue is not equal rights for gay couples, but using a term that is solely a religious one. Since the church does not recognize marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman, why not remove the term from legal documents? Marriage is not a legal term. Union between two consenting adults however, is a legal term. Straight or not the term marriage shouldn’t be on your state certificate. It is merely a legal document for tax purposes and other legal matters. When will we as human beings learn?

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