Marriage as Sacrament

As I struggle with the final bits of research before trying to hastily put together my University Essay, and hoping that this is not a complete ‘red herring’…

The essay title I’m meant to writing about is:

What theological themes should emerge within the preparation of couples for marriage and how might these influence the contents of a preparation course?

I find myself intrigued to know how much people think of marriage as sacrament, and where the sacrament within marriage lies, within solely the marriage service (undertaken by a priest) or continuing between the couple throughout their married lives? (Possibly an essay title in itself!)

I’ve been reading the online excerpts of “Marriage after Modernity – Christian Marriage in Postmodern Times” (because I can’t find a hard copy to borrow at short notice) and was intrigued first by the statement that marriage is

“a Christian sacrament, unique among sacraments because it is the only one which is administered by lay people to each other without a priest.”

Equally the author acknowledges that “marriage was not designated a sacrament of the church, equal in status to all the others until the Council of Verona in 1184”, and that Calvin and Luther didn’t regard marriage as sacramental because  “it did not confer forgiveness of sins”.

All these thoughts leave me slightly confused, so I set them aside and go on my CMD weekend. If you kind readers have any thoughts I would appreciate them via the comment facility to peruse on my return.

Birding note – still got Redwings on the field by the Red Cross centre, and thinking they probably need to migrate somewhere soon?!



  1. The wedding feast at Cana was where Jesus first revealed his glory. Marriage between Christians was recommended by Ignatius of Antioch (d. AD107). However, the early Church was happy to let local custom prevail. Marriage was a legal contract carried out in public but the early Church was keen to replace pagan ritual with a Christian one. Most marriages occurred in the home or tavern with a visit to the church doors (or lych gate) to have the decree read and blessed. The Catholic Church eventually incorporated the mass into the service, hence the Nuptial Mass, but it wasn’t until the Reformation that the whole service took place within the church. The case can be made for marriage as a sacrament by referring to Ephesians 5.31, where Paul calls marriage ‘a great mystery’. The Greek mysterion translates into Latin as sacramentum, from whence we derive the word sacrament. Although the Reformers denied that marriage was one of the sacraments it is still the case that marriage is carried out by a priest because it requires the giving of a blessing. However, the sacrament is understood to be one that is given between the couple themselves, with their union being blessed by the Church. So is marriage one of the seven sacraments? Of course. It is a sacred event in which God’s love is made visible. After all, St Augustine thought there were 100s of sacraments!
    (recommend Introduction to Christian Worship by James F White, Abingdon 2000)


  2. A second vote for White – I have a dead-tree copy here if it’s any help. Also of Joseph Martos ‘Doors to the Sacred’, SCM 1981, ch XI writing of marriage as a “sacramental transformation”.



  3. Hi Rachel,

    Nice one! Big Q ~ is marriage a sacrament or sacramental? And depending on your answer how do you therefore, handle divorce and potential re-marriage?

    In terms of themes perhaps one of the most important is marriage as covenant, although this is not the domiant theme in the RCC but did start to emerge post Vatican II.

    Can you find anything by German Martinez? ‘Wedding to Marriage’ is one of his books. And I give ‘Doors to the Sacred’ the thumbs up.

    Hope the essay comes together well.

    All the best.

    B xx


  4. Your comments have been really helpful, and I’ve just emailed the owner of the dead-tree whose local enough to borrow books!

    I’ve also had some email comments from clergy I pestered… the general consensus seeming to be that the “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality” is visible in the vows of the wedding service and in the wedding ring/s that a couple wear (representing God’s everlasting and binding love, as well, presumably as their own intention of the same)… and there was one person that emphasised the significance of the words “all that I am I give to you” at the sharing of the rings.

    One person reminded me that a sacrament is a gift of grace that doesn’t stop at the end of the service… the Spirit given in baptism is there for all our lives, and the same would be true in marriage.

    Another email supporter used the phrase that marriage “at the very least … has a sacramental character” and I really like the idea (being married) of the description “sacramental transformation” as there is a lot of continual transformation of both two individuals and the married whole, in a marriage (or there should be if it is healthy).

    Fortunately, I won’t need to progress the theologically thorny issue of re-marriage after divorce, but its been interesting how much of what I’ve read has actually been in articles about that particular problem (like in Stott’s “Issues facing Christian’s Today”.)

    There are lots of other themes for me to cover, including covenant, creation, incarnation, forgiveness… so I can’t dwell too long on each in 5000 words, and I’ve got to come to some conclusions about the pattern of marriage preparation in the parish else I won’t have jumped through the ‘relate it to practical ministry hoop’!

    Thanks friends – God Bless you all


  5. Just for the record, Uni course director made the following two suggestions for books on the sacramental bit:

    Paul Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love – Nuptial Mystery in the light of the Orthodox Tradition


    David Matzko McCarthy, Sex and Love in the Home

    as well as the more general (and also highly recommended by our Director of Ministry)

    Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells (Eds) The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics

    which I’ve ordered and should be here by Thursday!


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