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The Sacrament Of Holy Matrimony

December 2, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

Having thus far examined the Church’s teaching as presented by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) for six of the seven sacraments, it remains for us to treat the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Along with Holy Orders, it is identified as a sacrament “at the service of communion,” for as described in an earlier installment (see volume 149, n. 51; December 22, 2016), it can accurately be stated that Ordination and marriage confer graces that are especially “directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so” (CCC, n. 1534).
The Catechism begins its treatment of marriage by citing a key canon from the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC):
“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized” (canon 1055 § 1).
For the most part, this canon closely echoes the teaching of the Vatican II fathers as specified in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (see Gaudium et Spes [GS], n. 48 § 1).
This codified definition of marriage includes a thought-provoking phrase: [“The matrimonial covenant] has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” For each of the six sacraments we previously considered, Old Testament signs and prefigurements abound which serve as pointers to what would later be fulfilled in the New Testament through institution by Christ.
But as astutely observed by Dr. Jacob W. Wood in his catechetical work entitled Speaking the Love of God: An Introduction to the Sacraments, “when Jesus came, we do not say that he instituted marriage, because marriage was already there; rather, we say that he ‘raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament,’ because he took the same actions that brought about a stable union between a man and a woman and, when they are performed between two people who are baptized, enriched them with the grace to make that union indissoluble” (p. 148).
In another recently published catechetical work entitled Fulfilled in Christ: The Sacraments, Fr. Devin Roza similarly notes that “the Bible, the Catechism, and the Liturgy do not present the Sacrament of Matrimony as being prefigured by types. Rather, the Sacrament of Matrimony itself is presented as symbolizing and foreshadowing the mystical marriage of Christ with his Church” (p. 283).
This mystery of our faith is purposefully affirmed by the Catechism: “The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church” (CCC, n. 1661), a theme that will be developed more extensively in a future column.
As solemnly declared by the fathers of Vatican II, “God Himself is the author of matrimony” (GS, n. 48 § 1). The vocation to marriage “is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (CCC, n. 1603).
This doctrine was clearly taught by Pope Pius XI in his memorable encyclical On Christian Marriage, promulgated in 1930:
“Let it be repeated as an immutable and inviolable fundamental doctrine that matrimony was not instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man were the laws made to strengthen and confirm and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ Our Lord by Whom nature was redeemed. . . . This is the doctrine of Holy Scripture; this is the constant tradition of the Universal Church; this is the solemn definition of the sacred Council of Trent, which declares and establishes from the words of Holy Writ itself that God is the Author of the perpetual stability of the marriage bond, its unity and its firmness” (Casti Connubii, n. 5).
An important scriptural foundation for marriage is found right in the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis in the first creation account:
“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’” (Gen. 1:26-28).
Before considering the implications for marriage in these verses, it is instructive to recognize the use of the first person plural designation in the author’s inspired words when God refers to Himself: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .” It was only in light of the fullness of Revelation that Scripture scholars came to understand this characterized a subtle but profound manifestation of the triune nature of God, that our Creator is a communion of three Persons in one God: the Holy Trinity.
Returning now to marriage, The Didache Bible (TDB) commentary posits that our Lord’s instruction to “be fruitful and multiply” means that “the first man and woman were created by God in the state of marriage as the first ‘communion of persons.’ Marriage, therefore, is of divine origin and as such represents a sacred covenant that must be kept permanent. Because God is love and we are created in his image, we have an intrinsic and fundamental vocation to love. For the great majority of people, this love is expressed in marriage, which is a reflection of the intimate love between the divine Persons of the Trinity” (pp. 3-4).
“God, who created man out of love, also calls him to love,” declares the Catechism. “[Love is] the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC, n. 1604). As St. John the Evangelist writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), and since God created man and woman in His image and likeness, “their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man” (CCC, n. 1604).
As Pope Francis stated in his catechetical audience on the Sacrament of Matrimony on April 2, 2014: “Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us.”
Let us now consider the second creation account in the Book of Genesis, which in some ways makes even more explicit the unique relationship between husband and wife and the unitive aspect of Holy Matrimony:
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them;…but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
“Then the man said, ‘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.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:18-24).

Total Self-Giving

It is thus affirmed in Sacred Scripture that from the beginning “man and woman were created for one another” (CCC, n. 1605). As articulated in the commentary of The Didache Bible:
“Man and woman were created in a state of marriage, and their marital love has two purposes: the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children, which is a cooperation in the creative power of God. They were created as complementary partners, being equal in the dignity of reflecting God’s image….God’s use of the man’s rib to make woman is symbolic of the personal connection between them and their intimate communion of love. It is also a prefiguration of the Church, which was born out of the side of Christ on the Cross” (TDB, p. 5).
The verse avowing that “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) conveys God’s purpose in raising marriage to the dignity of a sacrament.
“Marriage involves a mutual act of total self-giving between a man and a woman. They become ‘one flesh,’ a reality symbolized in the marital act and lived out in the unity, exclusivity, and permanence of the marriage covenant. This union is deepened through loving fidelity, a mutual spirit of service, and growth in friendship, which is bolstered by the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony and a strong spiritual life” (TDB, p. 6).
That “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25) is indicative of the harmonious communion of body and spirit that was originally theirs. But this blissful beginning was to be severely damaged by sin — and it is here that we will pick up next week.

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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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