Marriage is a practice common to all cultures in all ages. It is therefore, a natural institution, something common to all mankind. At its most basic level, marriage is a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and mutual support, or love. Each spouse in a marriage gives up some rights over his or her life in exchange for rights over the life of the other spouse.
Four elements common to natural marriage throughout history:
1) It is a union of opposite sexes.
2) It is a lifelong union, ending only with the death of one spouse.
3) It excludes a union with any other person as long as the marriage exists.
4) Its lifelong nature and exclusiveness are guaranteed by contract.
In the Catholic Church, however marriage is more than a natural institution. A marriage between two Christians has a supernatural element as well as a natural one. The ministers of the Sacrament are the spouses themselves. The Church strongly encourages Catholics to marry in the presence of a priest and to have a wedding Mass. The effect of the Sacrament is an increase in sanctifying grace for the spouses, a participation in the divine life of God Himself.
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