Our modern crisis of culture arose, in my opinion, with the establishment of divorce by King Henry VIII during the Reformation. Most of my non-fundamentalist Protestant friends think that marriage is a sacrament in their church. Unfortunately, it is not. Lutherans, for instance, believe only in baptism and the Lord’s supper as being sacramental.
Divorce destroys the sacramentality of marriage.
This is so because sacraments are sacred covenants – in fact, the word sacrament means “oath” and oaths are sworn in covenants. Covenants, unlike contracts, are forever. Contracts exchange goods for services, covenants are exchanges of persons to make families.
There are two particularly important oaths/sacraments in the Church that emphasize communal relationships: Holy Matrimony and the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the consummation of our relationship with God, we the bride and He the bridegroom. Marriage is a mysterious participation in this relationship, the husband imaging the role of God and the wife imaging the role of the humanity and the Church.
Scripture is very clear about both. The Old Testament, particularly in the prophet Hosea, speaks of a marriage between God and man. In forging this family relationship, God swore a series of covenant oaths, keeping them faithfully, even when we failed. Our failed oaths led to death – not our deaths, but the death of His Son, through Whom we could be reconciled to God and receive the strength of His Spirit to be faithful to the covenant.
Notice how in this sense, we see that we use the word “fidelity” to describe our covenantal relationship with God as well as with our spouse. Marriage should always be a sign, pointing us to the love that God has for us. This is particularly true for the husband who images the self-sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. How many wives live with husbands who cannot image this love? How many children lose faith in God the Father when their own earthly fathers fail so miserably?
It comes back to faith and sacrament, both are God’s gift to mankind. Jesus said that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; hence we need faith and sacrament. Our Protestant brothers and sisters look especially to faith – but this is only the first step. Only in the Catholic Church can we partake of the sacramental fullness God longs to grant us. And for we westerners, it is only in the Catholic Church that can we find marriage at is best.