Here in Washington DC today Gay and Lesbian couples lined up to apply for “Marriage” Licenses. 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 DC City Council means.
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 the DC Council, along with 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, 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 offspring as integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses.
- This final blow 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. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is and I would like to propose a new (really an old) 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 Matrimony as heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from SECULAR marriage.
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 be wed next summer.” or to say, “We want to have a wedding next summer.” Such dramatic changes seem unlikely to come easily. Perhaps we cannot wholly drop the terms “marry” and “married.” So the 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?