BISMARCK, N.D. (CNS) — Marriage is a sacrament that allows a man and a woman to carry out God’s will in in the world, Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck said in a pastoral letter.

Citing biblical passages on marriage and the relationship between a man and a woman as well as church documents that uphold long-standing principles, Bishop Kagan outlined the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and its importance in society.

Titled “And the Two Shall Become One,” the pastoral letter explains why the church considers marriage a sacrament and how marriage can exist only between one man and one woman.


Bishop Kagan wrote that he wanted to address the issue of marriage in the period between last fall’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in the context of the new evangelization and the upcoming world Synod of Bishops on the family Oct. 4-25 at the Vatican.

“My hope and prayer is that all of you will find this pastoral letter a renewed and better understanding of our Catholic faith concerning holy matrimony,” Bishop Kagan wrote in the pastoral, released March 18. “Whether you are a young Catholic learning our faith or you are a young adult discerning if God is offering you the gift of a vocation to be a spouse or you are a spouse and possibly a parent or grandparent or you are a widow or widower or a chaste, single person, I ask you to read this letter and come to know, love and serve our good God better in your daily life.”

The letter opens by quoting the Book of Genesis about God’s work in creating Adam and Eve and that the man finds true joy once he is introduced to the woman.

“What is revealed is that God has created two unique persons who see in each other an equal who is different and yet complementary both spiritually and physically, that is suitable for God’s purposes,” the letter said.

Bishop Kagan wrote that marriage exists not just for a man and a woman to find joy and fulfillment but also that new life is generated by their joyful union as God intends.

The bishop also said that because marriage is a sacrament created by God, civil divorce cannot break the marriage bond because it is a practice developed by humanity. “Civil divorce does not break or render void the bond of marriage,” he wrote.

The letter also summarizes the church’s understanding of marriage as a sacred tradition. It cited St. Augustine’s “The Good of Marriage,” written in A.D. 401, in setting forth the church’s belief, understanding and practices regarding marriage.

In his work, St. Augustine said that the good of marriage for the man and the woman has three essential parts: fidelity, offspring and permanence.

Bishop Kagan’s pastoral offers a historical perspective on the continuity of the church’s teaching tradition on marriage, referencing the Council of Trent, the documents of the Second Vatican Council particularly “Gaudium et Spes,” the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Humane Vitae,” which affirmed the prohibition on artificial contraception; and St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” on the role of the Christian family in the world.

The final section of the letter reviews the Catholic rite of marriage, known formally as the instruction, statement of intentions and exchange of consent. “The couple is the minister of the sacrament of marriage in the Latin rite; the church’s minister, who can be a bishop, priest or deacon, is the official witness for the church,” Bishop Kagan explained.

The bishop also urged people to read paragraphs 1601 through 1666 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which address marriage.

The bishop’s 28-page pastoral also provides a summary of church teaching on matters of chastity, natural family planning, artificial contraception, premarital cohabitation and same-sex marriage among other issues.

The Catholic Church upholds marriage as a union between one man and one woman and teaches that any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. The church also teaches that homosexual attraction itself is not sinful and that homosexual people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”