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Marriage Under The Regime Of Sin

December 9, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

In beginning our consideration of the Sacrament of Marriage last week, it was immediately affirmed that “God Himself is the author of matrimony” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 48 § 1). Our Creator inaugurated this noble institution “from the beginning” (Matt. 19:4) when He formed Eve from Adam’s rib in the Garden of Eden on the sixth day of creation, having observed that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
Adam rejoiced exultantly when God brought Eve to him and exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23).
Created out of love “in the image and likeness of God” (cf. Gen. 1:26, 27), and likewise called to love, our first parents entered into union and “became one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The Church is thus able to profoundly teach:
“The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], n. 1603). The mutual love shared by a man and a woman in marriage “becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man” (CCC, n. 1604).
However, as we also saw last week, it was not until the coming of the Incarnate Word in the New Testament that the marriage covenant was raised to the dignity of a sacrament.
In closing last week, it was noted that the harmonious union of body and spirit that originally belonged to Adam and Eve took a broadside hit when sin entered the picture. “As a break with God,” teaches the Catechism, “the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman” (CCC, n. 1607).
From the moment that our first parents turned away from God by committing original sin, the union between man and woman “has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation” (CCC, n. 1606).
The undesirable effects of the sin of our first parents, which were transmitted to all of us as their descendants, were swift and far-reaching. The Didache Bible (TDB) describes them in stark terms: “With the loss of original holiness and justice, the beautiful harmony and unity of man and woman was damaged. . . . Its effects are clouded moral judgment, disordered passions, and a will inclined to a selfishness that detracts from charity and other virtues. The nakedness of Adam and Eve became a matter of shame provoked by the new presence of lustful desires” (p. 7).
Moreover, “the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of work (cf. Gen. 1:28; 3:16-19)” (CCC, n. 1607).
Prominent among the disorders mentioned by the Catechism which disrupted the unity of our first parents was that “their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations” (ibid.). We see this manifested promptly after they “got their hands caught in the cookie jar.”
Rather than accepting responsibility for his transgression when confronted by the Lord, Adam attempted to deflect the blame to Eve: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Not only did Adam charge his mate, he also indirectly cast partial blame on God Himself by qualifying his accusation: “whom thou gavest to be with me.” Eve, on her part, placed all fault on the serpent: “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13).
As can be perceived from the two Old Testament creation accounts, even on a natural level marriage — derived from mutual attraction and union of the sexes — was characterized by unity and indissolubility (cf. Gen. 2:24). Blessed by God, the union of our first parents had a sacred character and was oriented toward procreation (cf. Gen. 1:28).
The marriage prayer of Tobias and Sarah in the Book of Tobit reflects the ideal intended for marriage even under the Old Covenant: “ ‘O Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that I may find mercy and may grow old together with her.’ And she said with him, ‘Amen.’ Then they both went to sleep for the night” (Tobit 8:7-9).
As Fr. Paul Haffner points out in his work on sacramental theology entitled The Sacramental Mystery, “Marriage reflected the covenant which God had made with His chosen people [cf. Hosea 2:21-22]” (p. 234).
Fr. Haffner goes on to observe that other Old Testament books (e.g., Ruth, Judith, and Song of Songs) likewise offer a high vision for fidelity within marriage. Nevertheless, under the regime of sin which traced its beginning to the Fall, “the polygamy of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected…[and] man’s ‘hardness of heart’ was the reason Moses permitted men to divorce their wives” (CCC, n. 1610).
But God did not abandon us. “To heal the wounds of sin,” teaches the Catechism, “man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them” (CCC, n. 1608). To make these graces available, explains Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, God sent His Son “to heal the division between God and man. . . . To Christian spouses, Christ offered the assistance of His grace; by elevating marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament, He made possible a healing of the discord between man and woman and the restoration of the beauty and dignity of the union of husband and wife” (Basic Catholic Catechism Source, p. 176).
The sacramental graces conferred in marriage “help to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving” (CCC, n. 1609).
Although it is not explicitly stated in Sacred Scripture, many Church fathers hold the opinion that marriage was raised to the dignity of a sacrament at the wedding feast at Cana. To better understand, let us examine the account as recorded in the Gospel of John:
“On the third day, there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
“Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.’ So they took it.
“When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now’” (John 2:1-10).
First, it is important to recognize that this event took place at the outset of Christ’s public ministry and it was the providential occasion at which He chose to perform His first public sign.
“The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana,” proclaims the Catechism. “She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence” (CCC, n. 1613).
Moreover, the wedding feast at Cana “prefigures the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb in Heaven in which there will be a perfect and blissful union between Christ and every member of the Mystical Body, the Church” (TDB, p. 1412).
Second, Jesus addresses His Mother as “Woman.” While perhaps appearing to modern-day readers as being disrespectful, it was anything but; in fact, it was symbolic of a great underlying mystery. “By calling his Mother ‘woman,’ Christ was making reference to her role as the New Eve (cf. Gen. 3:15), whose obedience to God contrasted with the disobedience of Eve [in the Garden of Eden]; later, as Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, Christ would again address her as ‘woman’” (ibid).
The request of the Blessed Mother at the wedding feast at Cana “is the sign of another feast — that of the wedding of the Lamb where he gives his body and blood at the request of the Church, his Bride. It is at the hour of the New Covenant, at the foot of the cross, that Mary is heard as the Woman, the new Eve, the true ‘Mother of all the living’” (CCC, n. 2618).

Rich Symbolism

The wedding feast at Cana encompasses many other hidden mysteries, a complete study of which is far beyond the scope of this series.
For the interested reader, Dr. Brant Pitre in his work entitled Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told provides excellent insights on the rich symbolism that is intertwined within this profound biblical account (see pp. 35-45).
We will continue next week, particularly in the Gospels and Pauline epistles, to look at the unequivocal insistence of Jesus on the indissolubility of the marriage bond.

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a consecrated Marian catechist.)

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