Holy Matrimony Is a Public Act with Sacred Significance
Almighty God established the bond and covenant of marriage in creation as a sign of the mystical union between Christ and his Church.
Is Holy Matrimony a Sacrament or a Contract, or perhaps something of both?
Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians consider Holy Matrimony to be a sacrament. What about Anglicans? The answer to this question is “No, but…”
First the No. Anglicans accept as their rule of faith the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, and the Articles differentiate Holy Matrimony from “those sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord” (Article XXV). Marriage is not commanded by the Lord, nor is it intended for all people at all times.
Yet there is something sacrament-like in the reciprocal relations of husband and wife. St. Paul puts it this way:
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies… This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:22-28, 32)
Paul uses the word “mystery” elsewhere to describe the deepest revelations of the Gospel (e.g., Eph 1:9-10; 3:1-10), and hence the Anglican marriage rite speaks of the mystical union of Christ and His church.
Marriage is also a public contract, and most states provide for legal licensing, either by means of the church wedding or a separate action. For Christians, Holy Matrimony is also public, and the church records every marriage, but it is a sacred covenant, ordained by God and not the state. Recently, in some Western countries, the state has legalized “same-sex marriage” in direct contradiction of God’s will, and some churches are reconsidering the understanding of civil marriage contracts.
Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts! And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”