Marriage is a natural institution, a union between a man and a woman, for mutual support and procreation. A marriage has four elements according to Fr. John Hardon:
- It is a union of opposite sexes.
- It is a lifelong union, ending only with the death of one spouse.
- It excludes a union with any other person so long the marriage exists.
- Its lifelong nature and exclusiveness are guaranteed by contract.
Christ elevated the natural institution to a sacrament in the wedding at Cana. The Catholic Church insists the marriage between two baptized Christians intended as a contract constitutes Matrimony. The ministers of the sacrament are the spouses, and the effect is sanctifying Grace for them.
Matrimony is oriented to community benefit: mutual help of the spouses and increase of God’s people. Divine life and love are communicated to the spouses, and the grace helps the spouses to be faithful and good parents.
Couples tend to disregard this grace and opt for the natural institution. The tendency has repercussions including ineffective parenting and increase in divorce rates.