Real and Permanent

The Church, faithful to the Gospel, believes that marriage is a lifelong bond, that God Himself joins the spouses together when they freely declare their vows.

Much like today (unfortunately), divorce was taken for granted in first century Judaism because it had been allowed for so long. The Pharisees surely had heard of Jesus’ radical teaching on divorce and challenge him to defend it. Jesus asks what Moses “commanded”; they must concede that Moses did not actually command anything, but rather “allowed” divorce, implicitly acknowledging that this legal right is not a matter of privilege, but simply a tolerated abuse. Jesus responds that it was only allowed because of their hardness of heart, and then – as he so often does – he holds up the full vision of what God intended from the beginning: “male and female He created them… what God has joined together, no man can separate”. Jesus’ words remind us that the question about what makes a right marriage cannot be separated from the question about what it means to be human.

Jesus points out that a man and a woman are joined in a covenant by God Himself, linked by a bond that is real and permanent. To his disciples, he reaffirms that neither the husband nor the wife is free through divorce to marry again!

What’s the big deal? We are careful about how we talk about marriage because we must be careful about how we understand the way we participate in the life of God. If we get our theology of marriage wrong, it threatens to distort our theology of salvation. Marriage is a central Scriptural metaphor to describe this: as God is a communion of Persons, a communion of Love, so WE are created in His image and likeness, to live in communion; in addition, God is portrayed as Bridegroom and His people (that’s us) as His BRIDE. So the Sacrament of Marriage is a sign of God’s love for the Church, His Bride.

The truth of the matter is that in the sacrament of Marriage, spouses are given the grace to make manifest to the world Christ’s faithful, fruitful love for his bride, the Church.

Contemporary Christians sometimes misunderstand this, or think that Catholic declarations of nullity (commonly, but not quite accurately, called “annulments”) are a kind of “Catholic divorce.” But they are very different! Divorce is a legal designation about the END of a marriage; a declaration of nullity is a religious statement about the BEGINNING of a marriage, about its sacramental status (not the historical, legal, or emotional truth of it!). In granting a declaration of nullity, the Church is stating that one of the essential elements required for a binding union was missing from the beginning, and offering those who entered into a marriage that was lacking in some crucial aspect the gift of freedom to move forward in right relationship with the Church and with truth, which is sanctifying!

For a fuller understanding, see

Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Deacon Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is