When are the sacramental graces of marriage received? It has recently became fashionable to state, categorically, that no such sacramental graces are received until a sacramental marriage is consummated, as though a non-consummated marriage is not fully a sacramental marriage. This is simply false. The essence of a sacramental marriage consists in the contract, both as to the celebration of the sacrament and to the permanent state following on that celebration. The first is known as marriage “in fiere” and marriage “in facto esse”. Use has nothing to do with constituting the essence of marriage. This is certainly very logical, whereas the new proposal is hardly that. The conferral of sacramental graces is a presupposition for the holy fulfillment of marriage rights and duties, including use of the marriage act or sexual intercourse. Hence, it is only logical that it be conferred before use of the marriage act. If the sacrament is celebrated worthily, viz., the spouses are in the state of grace, an increase of sanctifying grace follows immediately on the administration of the sacrament, together with the effecting of the marriage bond with the rights and duties which this entails. It is the marriage bond or “vinculum” which is the essence of the marriage state or permanent marriage contract, not the use of the marriage rights. The right to actual graces in order to carry out the duties of the married state which are many besides the use of the marital act is rooted in the vinculum which constitutes a kind of proximate disposition for their conferral at the appropriate time and circumstances. This is clearly the teaching of St. Thomas and is concurred in by St. Bonaventure. Although a few modern theologians consider the vinculum a kind of quasi sacramental character, the majority of theologians prefer to abstain from the use of this terminology. (Cf. F. Sola, SJ. Sacrae Theologiae Summa, volume 4, Madrid 1953, pp. 837-843 for magisterial and theological authorities.) The principal magisterial authorities for this teaching are Leo XIII (Arcanum divinae sapientiae) and Pius XI (Casti Conubii).
Why is the petrine privilege limited to sacramental marriages “ratum sed non consummatum”? A recent opinion claims that this restriction is related to the relative imperfection or incompletion of such a sacramental marriage. Only the consummation of a sacramental marriage makes it fully sacramental, so the theory goes. But this contradicts the long standing explicit teaching of the Magisterium for over a millennium. Any marriage, but especially a “matrimonium ratum”, if intrinsically and fully indissoluble. Intrinsically means that those united permanently by the marriage bond cannot end that bond, nor can the existence of spiritual or psychological frustrations on the part of the spouses, sometimes described as the “death” of a marriage, effect a dissolution of bond. But this has never been meant in the teaching of Christ and of the Church to exclude the possibility of dissolving or ending a marriage by legitimate authorities apart from the spouses. This authority belongs to God because he is the one who instituted marriage and defined the nature of the contract. His authority extends to all marriages, sacramental or merely natural, all of which by his disposition end with death. In one instance, that of the so-called “Pauline privilege” he has when certain conditions are fulfilled decreed the end of a natural marriage “in favor of the faith” in one of the spouses who converts to belief in Christ and is baptized, but the other refuses to live in peace with the converted spouse.
In some special cases Christ has conferred on the successors of St. Peter to dissolve non-consummated sacramental marriages in particular and relatively rare instances. The reason for this delegation is to be found, not in the incompleteness of such a marriage as marriage, but in the imperfect clarity of the sacramental sign, the same rationale underlying the Pauline privilege, the only difference being that in the case of the Pauline privilege the dissolution is effected directly by God himself (no delegation for this has been given either to civil or ecclesiastical authorities). The rationale is this: in these cases the sign value of marriage is either not clearly present (natural marriage) or only partially in the case of a non-consummated sacramental marriage. According to the teaching of Casti connubii, this sign value is twofold: that of Christ with the Church and by extension with souls (a spiritual union) and that of the Divine Word with his human nature (a physical union). The first is realized immediately on celebration of the sacrament, the second only with consummation. The vicarious power to dissolve the bond granted by Christ to the Pope in regard to non-consummated sacramental marriages is limited to those instances where “spiritual death” has occurred (e.g., solemn profession in a religious order) or where this is postulated by the spiritual need of one or the other spouse. But with consummated sacramental marriages the sign value is such that Christ reserves all questions of dissolution of the bond to himself because of the perfection of the sign. Evidently the perfection of the sign is not the equivalent of perfection of the marriage, which must be decided on other criteria, particularly when the virginal marriage of Mary and Joseph is taken into consideration. (cf. the treatise cited above, pp. 826-827; 830)