Thank you for your question regarding an appropriate age to get married.
Curiously enough, I was twenty years old when I got married! Having said
that . . . here are some things for consideration.
(As you may have noted already, I never give a short answer, because I
believe the "why" is just as important as the "what"! So, please bear with
me. . . .)
I believe that at nineteen and twenty-one years old a couple can be fully
ready and prepared to make a lifelong commitment to marriage. Looking back a few generations, many people entered married at such young ages -- and those marriages seldom broke up. They knew the meaning of commitment and the value of "stick-with-it-ness". Times have changed in that many people are often waiting until they are older to get married. But that has not guaranteed more successful marriages. (This is evidenced by a 50% divorce rate in our society.) However, age in itself does not determine readiness for marriage. It certainly does not guarantee happiness or longevity, either.
So, what will give you the best guarantee in entering marriage? I believe
following the Church's teachings on marriage is the best way to ensure a
life of happiness and fulfillment. Here is a quick explanation of some
things to consider, when entering into this sacred covenant.
Christopher West, in his explanation of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body explains that married love is, by God's design and the Catholic Church's teachings, to be free, faithful, total and fruitful. These are, in fact, part of the vows you take entering into marriage. Are you prepared to give yourselves to each other freely, faithfully, totally and fruitfully?
By FREELY we understand that the couple is entering into marriage without
reservations, without outside pressures, without coercion of any kind. Are
you getting married to escape something or out of fear that you'll never get
this opportunity again? Or, are you getting married because you have
discerned God's call in your life to the vocation of marriage with this one
person. Love is FREE or it is not love at all! Search out your heart! Are
you prepared to give it freely to this one person for the rest of your
By FAITHFULLY we understand that the couple will give themselves to each other in married love to the exclusion of all others. There is no room in marriage for "distraction". Is this the ONE and ONLY person you intend to give yourself to. Are you able to keep your heart focussed on this one person, faithfully. A good examination of your readiness for marriage comes from 1 Ephesians 5: 21-33.
"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject 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, 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. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one." This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
Are you both ready to love each other like this? This is total faithfulness -- as it imitates Christ's total faithfulness to His bride, the Church.
By TOTALLY we understand that the gift of marriage is a gift of each
spouse's TOTAL self to the other. You belong to each other in marriage.
Marriage is a mystery whereby the two become one. This is not only a
mystery — it is a real challenge. There will be many opportunities in
married life for you to die to yourself for the sake of your spouse. Some days it is easier said than done. But the vocation to marriage, when you are called to it, is your means of sanctification. Through marriage both you and your husband will help each other grow in holiness through sacrificial loving. Yet, even as you sacrifice for each other, a marriage founded on God's laws and love will give you the safety of knowing that you are loved totally and unconditionally by your husband — in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. There will be tremendous joys — like you could never experience apart from marriage, but also there will be times of sorrow. The grace of the sacrament will be there to give you the strength you need to have a good and holy marriage.
By FRUITFULLY we understand that married love is to be open to life. The act of marriage can never be inhibited, contracepted or manipulated so as to not be open to the possibility of life. Natural Family Planning is the means by which a couple can space children according to the circumstances of their life -- but the Catholic Church teaches that avoiding pregnancy is to be done for grave circumstances. Periodic abstinence requires self-control and selfless loving. In this it demonstrates respect and unconditional love. And the benefits to a couple who practice NFP go far beyond spacing children. Couples who follow the Church's teaching in this regard have a less than 5% chance (statistically speaking) of divorce. Couples who follow the Church's teaching in this regard are often much more satisfied in their married love than those who contracept. In loving freely, faithfully, totally and fruitfully, a couple lives their married love in union with God.
Married love is a very unique expression in which we imitate the very life
of the Trinity. The Father initiates the love. The Son receives the love
and returns it to the Father. And their love becomes so real that it brings
forth the life of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Where in our human experience do we imitate this love? Only in marriage.
The husband initiates the love, which is received by his wife, the life is
conceived within her and brought forth. God planned it this way, that
stamped into our very beings as male and female we would come to experience and taste the very nature of God who IS Love!
Satan has attacked this gift of our sexuality and so distorted
it in our society that we often do not see it for the holy, sacred and
beautiful gift that it is from God. Society has reduced sex as just a means
to pleasure. But God's intention was that the enjoyment from sexual union
of a man and woman in marriage would be for us a foretaste of heaven!
It was intended to draw us closer to the life of God by giving us the
opportunity to experience, in a small yet real way, the very life of the
I think it is important, when discerning marriage, to examine the nature and
meaning of marriage. It is an awesome sacrament and beautiful gift which
God has given to us. When we live it out as God has planned, it is amazing!
When we forsake His laws, it is devastating. It is not a decision to be made
lightly, as I am sure you are aware!
So, in answering your question, is nineteen years old too young to get
married? No. Not if you are prepared to live out marriage the way it was
designed by God. Many couples have enjoyed beautiful marriages beginning at a very young age. In a week from now I will be celebrating with some dear friends of ours twenty-five years of marriage — they were married at eighteen, and are still going strong!
Are there reasons to wait? There might be. Having the financial means to
support yourselves is very helpful! The absence of this can present all
kinds of obstacles in your marriage. I know! Married at twenty and
twenty-four, while both of us were still in university, presented many
financial difficulties over the years. Would I do it again? I would still
marry the same man — I happen to love my husband very much and I think our six children give amazing and beautiful evidence to that love! — but I would have waited until we were financially on our own feet, first! (If I had known then about courtship I would have made a lot fewer mistakes!)
Every situation is so unique, I couldn't possibly begin to address them all.
And not knowing your situation specifically, I can only offer you these
general thoughts. You need to search out your heart: prayerfully,
discerning God's will for you in your life.
I also strongly recommend you involving your family and friends in your
process of discernment. These are the people who love you and know you
best. The idea of courtship involves seeking the advice and mentoring of
others around you. How do they feel about it? Do they see something you
don't? Do they perceive you both as ready for marriage? What input do they have to offer?
I hope you find these ideas on the nature and discernment of marriage
I will keep you in my prayers, Shaina, and I ask you to remember me, my
family and this ministry in your prayers as well.
May God grant you the gift of discernment and a lifetime of joy!
In His Most Holy Name,