“For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”Isaiah 62:1-5
The Image of Marriage
When you think of a traditional (American) Christian wedding, what comes to mind? You picture a church with a steeple, filled with excited guests. It’s a bright, sunny day. A young man stands at the altar with the priest to one side, and his groomsmen to the other. Music plays softly in the background. You can feel the buzz of excitement in the room. Then suddenly, the music pauses, and a hush comes over the congregation. Everyone stands and looks expectantly to the back of the church. The music changes, and here comes the bride, a beautiful young woman veiled in white, making her grand entrance.
This is the first time the young man has seen her that day, and at that same moment you can see a smile beam from his face. Maybe he’s overcome with emotion. The bride, brought forth by her father, is radiant with joy, and the entire congregation share in the excitement. The bridegroom rejoices over the bride, and his joy overflows into the hearts of all who look on.
The young man and woman then exchange their sacred vows before God and the Church, and in that moment receive Grace from God to fulfill those vows. At last, the bride and groom are presented as husband and wife, a permanent and lifelong union. They kiss, and the congregation cheers, and everyone leaves to share in an abundant wedding feast.
This is the same abundant joy with which God rejoices over His Church. The overwhelming love with which God loves us through His Son Jesus Christ far surpasses the greatest wedding we can ever imagine.
There is a reason God has ordained marriage as the building block of civilization. The Rite of Christian marriage is fundamentally transformative, unifying one man and one woman in Holy Matrimony, becoming in one sense a single, more perfect person.
Christian marriage, for all its human imperfections, is the greatest representation of God’s love and joy for His people, lived out through Christ and His Church, and celebrated both temporally and eternally in the Holy Eucharist.
There is No Substitute
It is for this reason Christians must be bold in defending the institution of marriage, even as it rapidly becomes a minority status in the Western World. This past fall, Pew Research released a study from 2019, showing the share of adults in the US who are married has fallen from 67% in 1990 to 53% in 2019. The same study found the share of adults who are single (without any partner) rose from 29% to 38% in the same timeframe. It is not hard to imagine that married adults will be in the minority within two years’ time, if not sooner.
This precipitous decline in marriage is accompanied by an equally drastic shift in attitudes toward marriage. More than half (55%) of adults under the age of 30 view marriage as having no societal benefits, and less than 20% of all Americans see marriage as essential to live a fulfilling life.
These results should come as no surprise, given the accelerating cultural attack on biological reality and the goodness of God’s design in men and women. Why get married when it’s just a tool of the patriarchy? What’s the point of marriage if it has no benefit over cohabitation? In a world where the biology of sex is a myth, where all relationships are equal, and where tradition is spurned, traditional marriage (and especially Christian marriage) will comprise an ever-shrinking minority. In this new reality, society at large will become not merely apathetic to marriage, but openly antagonistic to it. Taking everything into account, Christian marriage will become an increasingly powerful Gospel witness for both its scarcity and defiance in the face of a people increasingly hostile to it.
Yet for all the tragedies we could lament, the greatest loss we experience in the disposal of marriage is the loss of its fundamentally transformative power in the human life. As with the Sacraments, there is real Grace from God dispensed in Holy Matrimony. This Grace transforms the man and woman into a new, more perfect union, empowering them to support each other and raise up the next generation. And the exclusivity of the marital covenant establishes a protective boundary in which the love of the family can flourish, forming the stable building block upon which our communities are formed. As a whole, marriage is a powerful reflection of Christ’s love for His Church: abundant, exclusive, strong, and eternal.
The argument here is the same as with those who would do away with the Sacraments: “You say you don’t like marriage and you want to do away with it. Fine, can you think of anything better to replace it? Do you really have a new building block for society?” (I borrow from Jordan Peterson here.)
We must not despair: God’s people have always been in the minority. God’s people have always been strangers and sojourners in a foreign land. This is why we put our hope not in this country, but in the country to come. This is why the sign of marriage points to a far greater reality: the eternal glory Christ shares with His Church. And Christ’s promises are not reserved only for the married, but for all who put their faith in Him.
There is no replacement for the institution of marriage. When you destroy the foundation, the whole house collapses. Christians, more than anyone else, must be bold to defend Holy Matrimony, for all its imperfections, because to lose it is to lose the foundation of human society, and a precious dispensation of God’s Grace.