Will Marriages Be Acknowledged in Heaven?

I am often approached by widows and widowers after the death of a spouse with a question similar to this one, which was submitted to me at my “Question and Answer” column in Our Sunday Visitor.

I recently lost my husband of 46 years and long to be reunited with him one day. But some people have told me that our marriage ended with his death and that Jesus says we will not be married or considered spouses in heaven. This is difficult for me to understand. Will we even know each other in heaven or have anything special there between us?

One can certainly hear the pain in her question. It is perhaps a needless pain, born out of an unnecessarily strict reading of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was responding to a hypothetical question posed by the Sadducees about a woman who had been married to seven different brothers and bore no children to any of them. They raise this not so much as a marriage question but as a way to make the teaching of the resurrection appear ludicrous. Jesus sets aside their argument in the following way:

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and put this question to him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers. The first married a woman and died, leaving no descendants. So the second married her and died, leaving no descendants, and the third likewise. And the seven left no descendants. Last of all the woman also died. At the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her.”

Jesus said to them, “Are you not mistaken because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven. As for the dead being raised, have you not read about the burning bush in the Book of Moses, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are badly mistaken” (Mk 12:18-27).

The Sadducees posed this not so much as a question about marriage but as a way to make the teaching of the resurrection seem ridiculous.

The first thing to note is that Jesus speaks of marriage only in a passing way. His response to the question about the highly unlikely scenario is designed to teach solemnly on the reality of the resurrection of the dead. In His response, Jesus does not fully develop a teaching on the experience of spouses toward each other in Heaven.

Hence, we ought not to conclude that a long marriage in this world will have no meaning at all in the age to come. In heaven our body and our soul will be perfected. So, too, our fundamental relationships, both spousal and familial. They will not be discarded or simply forgotten. Surely those who are spouses here will experience a far more perfect union in Heaven. They will enjoy mutual understanding, love, appreciation, and spiritual intimacy far greater than they could even imagine. They will have this because they have it first and foremost with God; and with, in, and through God they will enjoy this perfected union with each other. The same would be true of our other familial relationships and bonds of friendship, to each according to what is proper and perfect. The married will enjoy this supremely, because marital bonds on earth receive special divine graces.

The early Church writer Tertullian affirms this view:

All the more shall we be bound to our departed spouses because we are destined to a better estate … to a spiritual partnership …. Consequently, we who are together with God shall remain together…. In eternal life God shall no more separate those he has joined together than in this life where he forbids them to be separated (Tertullian, On Monogamy, 10).

To be sure, some aspects of marriage do end with the death of a spouse. The marital vows that bind the couple to an exclusive relationship, forsaking all others, are only operative until death do them part. Thus, the death of a spouse permits the surviving spouse to marry again. In some cases, especially before the modern age, such marriages for widows or widowers were necessary for financial and familial reasons.

That a marriage ends by the death of a spouse speaks more to worldly realities than to heavenly ones. It still does not follow that one’s earthly marriage will have no meaning in Heaven. Even if a person remarries after the death of his/her spouse, surely both relationships will be perfected in Heaven, not discarded. As the relationships are perfect, there will be no jealousy or resentment between the first spouse and the second.

In His response to the Sadducees, Jesus surely does mean that there will be no new marriages in Heaven. There will be no wedding bells, no marriage ceremonies, for Heaven is already one grand marriage feast of Christ with His Bride, the Church.

Further, marriage is given here in this world for the sake of propagating the human race through having children. This need will not exist in Heaven, where there is no death. The Fathers of the Church emphasize this in their commentary on this teaching:

    • “For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven” as if He had said, there will be a certain heavenly and angelic restoration to life, when there shall be no more decay, and we shall remain unchanged; and for this reason marriage shall cease. For marriage now exists on account of our decay, that we may be carried on by succession of our race, and not fail; but then we shall be as the Angels, who need no succession by marriage, and never come to an end (Theophylactus, as quoted in the Catena Aurea).
    • In the resurrection, men shall be as the Angels of God, that is, no man there dies, no one is born, no infant is there, no old men (Pseudo Jerome, as quoted in the Catena Aurea).
    • For marriages are for the sake of children, children for succession, succession because of death. Where then there is no death, there are no marriages; and hence it follows, But they which shall be accounted worthy, &c (Augustine, as quoted in the Catena Aurea).

As for us living like the angels, the Lord speaks to immortality, but He also teaches that there will no longer be any need for sexual intercourse. This may seem like a drawback to some people, particularly in this hypersexualized age, but the intimacy between spouses in Heaven will be far greater than any mere physical union. When a great joy comes between spouses it eclipses lesser ones. Here too, the Church Fathers affirm this meaning:

    • Our Lord shows us that in the resurrection there will be no fleshly conversation (Theophylactus, quoted in the Catena Aurea).
    • Since all fleshly lust is taken away … they resemble the holy angels (Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 136 on Luke).

Married couples should look forward to a relationship that is perfected in Heaven, not set aside. While the juridical aspects of marriage may end at death, the union of hearts and lives will not. In Christ there surely remains a spiritual connection and covenantal union that stretches from Heaven to earth through prayer, and in Heaven the Lord will surely perfect what He joined on earth, giving spouses unimaginable joy and unity.

Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm.
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,
he would be roundly mocked
(Song of Songs 8:6-7).

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Will Marriages Be Acknowledged in Heaven?

17 Replies to “Will Marriages Be Acknowledged in Heaven?”

  1. Thank you so much for this post Monsignor! We practice our Catholic faith daily and we have been in a very good marriage for many years. I have worried about this teaching for some time.. Your post not only provides comfort, but also provides a better understanding for us. Peace!

  2. It seems to me, the human ideal of together forever is somewhat limited by our finite nature – that we would only want to experience what we have here, attached to what we currently think is happiness. I see this in many couples who say they want to be together in Heaven. My idea of Heaven has always been that it is so much more than I could imagine, and only asking to be together with my spouse may be asking for a morsel when a feast is being offered.

    I do believe the more we work toward our own salvation, the more our trust in God’s Mercy will grow, and the less we will fear the possible separation from our spouse at death.

  3. Dear Msgr Pope,
    Thank you for this insightful and tactful post. I truly enjoyed reading it. Perhaps it may be worth pointing out the general principle that whatever is good here on Earth is from God, and in heaven that good will not be taken away, but magnified. We love good food? Heavenly food will be far better. We love good music? Music in heaven will be beyond our imagination. In other words, whatever good we enjoy or long for here on Earth, will be ours in heaven in ways we cannot imagine.
    Following this logic, It would seem illogical to ban sex in heaven. Sex is procreative and unitive, and while the procreative side is no longer possible, the unitife side remains. In other words, our sexual organs will not be disfunctional or broken, they will be perfected. But, as you so stated, the pleasure derived from sexual union in heaven pales when compared to the soul-to-soul interchange that is the perfection of the sexual union here on earth.
    Generally, most Catholics I speak with know more about Harvard than they know about Heaven. They somehow imagine it as a sort of successive rings around a sphere of light and all of us stuck on a pedestal with our hands joined in prayer as we go around the sphere which is God. This is a dreadful view of Heaven.
    The book of Peter Kreeft, “Everything you wanted to know about Heaven but do not dare to ask” is an eye-opener.

  4. Thank you Monsignor for this teaching. I would like to touch on the following point on marriage. Please feel free to correct if I’m wrong.

    It’s said about St. Francis that he was in a state of grace to be in harmony with the rest of creation. We know God created Adam and Eve in a state of harmony with nature, and through sanctifying grace, saints could re-live the original state, though in a fallen world. If that’s true about our existence with the rest of creation, it is even more true in the martial relationship on earth. God established marriage before man’s fall. We also ought to aspire the original state of marriage on earth through God’s grace. If Francis could live in harmony with nature, every husband and wife ought to aspire in living their marriage with original innocence – and then you will have a foretaste of what it was in Eden, and what it will be in Heaven.

  5. We hope to be joined in Christ in heaven.

    divinisation” or theosis is the central point of the Catholic Faith.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states

    I. WHY DID THE WORD BECOME FLESH?

    456 With the Nicene Creed, we answer by confessing: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man….”

    457 The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who “loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins”: “the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world”, and “he was revealed to take away sins”:70

    460 The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:78 “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”80 “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”81

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_P1J.HTM

    In the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest says

    “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

    This divinisation or theosis is the central mechanics of salvation.

    “Patriarchs, Bishops, priests, religious, consecrated persons and lay persons. Growth by individuals in the life of faith and spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church will lead to the fullness of the life of grace and theosis(divinization).[2] In this way, the Church’s witness will become all the more convincing.”

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20120914_ecclesia-in-medio-oriente.html

  6. There is a difficulty in trying to satisfy earthly love’s desire.

    What happens if one spouse goes to Hell? If relationships are “perfected”, you have the difficulty in explaining what commerce a saint would have with the damned. We’re not even supposed to pray for them.

    Christ is our bridegroom.

    There is a similarity here with questions about whether beloved pets will be in heaven. The underlying problem is that people are suggesting that God alone is somehow not sufficient for happiness.

    I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be some special fondness for a spouse (that also made it to heaven), but to say one couldn’t be happy without them (or a pet) is akin to idolatry. Cf. “Whoever does not hate his father and mother….” At the very least there is a significant failure to appreciate the magnitude of the Beatific Vision.

  7. Beautiful and meaningful. After my dad passed away, my mom,his wife of 65 years, missed him terribly. We found great comfort when she passed knowing that they were together again.

    Their whole lives were devoted to God, each other and their family. Now that devotion will be woven into the eternal praise. I love thinking of this! It is joyful!

    Thanks so much!

  8. Consider purgation and the communion of the saints…

    We all have sinned, we all pay our just dues, are forgiven entire, we are able to forgive entire, and we all will share, know, love, and forgive one another in a way impossible in the limited flesh…

    Nothing unknown, all completely understood in total compassion, even those we think cheated in, or of, life will know and experience everything known and experienced by any other saint.

    Earthly marriage is the closest one can come to this, to include the consecrated to God…..it is not that marriage and vows shall be abolished, it is that we all shall share in that glory of unselfish gift of self to not only one, but to all the saved who have ever lived through all of time..

    All those good things unable to be shared, loved, and appreciated in the limits of the body, shared and loved into eternity, with nothing lost….and everything gained…

  9. Whatever, when, hopefully, I exit purgatory, I will scour heaven and, finding my true love, Karen, truly love for so far now the last half century, I will [spiritually] go down on one knee and ask her to marry me again, there in heaven. Our original three rings, hers with a .20 carat daimond, cost total $120 at the US Army PX, Fort Jackson SC. I will also find some heavenly jewlery scattered around the streets of paradise. Guy McClung, Texas

  10. A very comforting column. I will pass along to other widows. My husband was the greatest gift God ever gave me (my spiritual director told me he saved my life) and to be assured we will be together again is just like God, who loves us infinitely.

  11. We are projecting human sentiment to the heavenly realm. Do we know what the relationship is like among angels? What about the heavenly relationship between parents and offspring. Does the earthly relationship between Jesus and Mary carry over into heaven?

  12. If love is perfect in heaven then will there be any need or desire for special relationships enjoyed here on earth? It doesn’t seem so to me. It will be the full expression of the command to love your neighbor (all who are in heaven) as yourself and all love among the inhabitants of Heaven will be in union with Christ Himself. The 2 greatest commandments fulfilled.

  13. If we pay attention closely Our Lord said t her will be no marrying or giving in marriage and heaven. That is a far cry from there will be no marriage I heaven. Why not let God deal with how this all works out? He is after all not limited by our speculation

    1. That is a far cry from there will be no marriage I heaven.

      If that is so, then which of the seven brothers is the woman’s husband? Or is there going to be polygamy in heaven?

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