Jane Deegan from the Diocese of Shrewsbury offers this reflection on marriage as a sacrament.
Pope St John Paul II said of marriage: “The Church is deeply convinced that only by the acceptance of the Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and in the family capable of being fulfilled.” (Familiaris Consortio §3).
Marriage from the beginning has a very special place in God’s creation. Each human person is created in God’s image – originally also likeness – but a man and woman who come together in marriage, were to image God in a special and unique way. God exists as a Divine Communion of Three Persons; God is also Love and Creator. In marriage a man and woman reflect these attributes of God through becoming a loving union and communion of human persons open to life. The gift of fertility enables the couple to procreate – together with God, they bring a new human person into existence. Marriage was also intended to point us to the relationship of love God desires to have with each of us: “As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” (Isaiah 62, 3-5)
God is Pure Spirit, so marriage, particularly the love of the couple, makes love visible and helps us comprehend the love of God. Marriage from the beginning is the primordial sacrament , which means that it efficaciously makes present an invisible mystery. In the beginning the marriage of Adam and Eve fulfilled this truth in all its wonder. At the fall, they and we lost our likeness to God, lost sharing his divine life, lost being able to love as he loves. Marriage as an institution suffered and needs the work of grace if it is to be as God originally intended it to be.
Jesus came to restore all that was lost. We share once more in God’s divine life and love through baptism. Christ raised marriage to a sacrament which bestows graces on the couple. Grace heals, and perfects nature, helping it to be completely itself. At the same time, it elevates it, which means it raises it beyond itself so that it is simultaneously transformed, into something new.
“…to live this vocation, we need a new heart; instead of a heart of stone – as Ezekiel said – we need a heart of flesh… And the Lord ‘implants’ this new heart in us at Baptism, through faith… Thus, by living in communion with Christ, with his Church, the new heart truly becomes ‘our own heart’ and makes marriage possible… For nothing is impossible for God even if the atmosphere of our world makes it difficult to the point that it appears impossible.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Encounter with the Youth, April 2006)
Other sacraments have purely supernatural ends. In baptism we do not pour water on the child because he or she needs a bath, we do so to cleanse of original sin.
We do not go to the Eucharist because we are hungry but to become one with Christ who completely transforms the bread and wine into his body and blood- a nature not their own. The grace of the sacrament of marriage, however, does enable it to fulfil its natural purpose which is to create a lifelong union of love between the couple, and for the procreation and education of their children. It
heals and restores it to its beginning and at the same time elevates it to become an icon of the mystery of the love of Christ for the Church – a new kind of love – total self- giving and self-sacrificing love, unto death, for the good of the other.
We are given faith, hope and charity in baptism. Faith to believe the Gospel, hope that the work of grace will be fulfilled in us and charity to enable us to choose to love. Let us contemplate this week and ask the Lord to “help us to see” (Luke 18:41-43). The gift of faith grows through constant prayer, meditating on the Scriptures and participation in the sacraments. Let us deepen our prayer life, especially together as married couples, and read the Word of God together. Let us frequent the sacraments and if possible, spend some time together on Retreat. Let us reflect on the vows we made on the altar and on the fact that ‘I do’ is a daily commitment and choice; a choice to love which is the mission of marriage. Let us meditate on the nuptial blessing that would have been said or sung over us as a couple on our wedding day. A blessing which prayed for all of the above to be fulfilled in us, so we could fulfil the vocation of marriage in the mission of the Church.
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