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Marriage, The Great Sacrament… Today Under Threat Inside The Church

January 27, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 1

Every Catholic with a basic religious education knows that marriage, or matrimony, is the sacrament that unites a Christian man and a Christian woman as husband and wife and gives them grace to fulfill the duties of the married state. It is a sacred covenant, that is, a binding agreement, by which two baptized persons, a man and a woman, undertake to live faithfully and affectionately together as husband and wife from that moment forward until parted by death, and to rear their children in the love and service of God.
This is the basic Catholic teaching on marriage, monogamic and indissoluble. But today a dangerous teaching is circulating worldwide among Catholics, as a result of the ambiguities of the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia, whereby many imagine that divorce and remarriage are no longer impediments to receiving the sacraments. It would amount in practice to either the tacit acceptance of adultery or of bigamy in installments!
Bishops in several countries today — yes, I mean bishops — allow Holy Communion to be given to people who live in mortal sin, under the new and undefined pastoral practice called “accompaniment” — whatever it may mean — whereby the people involved may receive the sacraments as long as they feel in their hearts that their first marriage was not valid, or that they are sincere in their new relationship.
Therefore, a clear reiteration of Catholic teaching on marriage is definitely called for, and The Wanderer is a proper place to do so.
Marriage is the building block of the family, and the family is the mother-cell of society and of the Church. So, to set the context in which marriage is situated, it must be stated that a marriage celebrated between two baptized persons is always a sacrament, whether they know it or not.
But when one or both spouses are not baptized, their marriage is not a sacrament: It is a natural contract. Nevertheless, it is also recognized by God and the Church. A natural marriage is transformed into a sacramental one upon the Baptism of both partners, or — if one is already baptized — the other partner.
Many Catholics mistakenly think that the priest is the person who confers the Sacrament of Matrimony on the couple. But it is not so, because in marriage the contracting parties themselves, bride and groom, are, at the same time, the ministers and the subjects of the sacrament. They give to each other the sacrament. When they give it, they are the ministers; when they receive it, they are the subjects.
But Christian marriage is something immensely greater than a mere contract. Whereas a contract is an exchange of things or services, marriage is a covenant, that is, an exchange of persons. Marriage is a sacred and religious contract, not merely a legal convention. It is also a natural contract — not established by man, but by God Himself.
Some contracts can be changed by law or by agreement, but neither the Pope, nor any bishop, nor the state, nor the parties themselves, are free to change the essential properties of marriage. Unlike other contracts, marriage cannot be terminated by mutual agreement.
Let us delve a little bit more into the concept of covenant. Divine Revelation teaches us that the marriage between two baptized people is a covenant. It is a living image of the everlasting covenant between Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, and His Immaculate Bride, Holy Church.
It is St. Paul who develops this significance of marriage as a union of love which mirrors the Christ-Church relationship — Eph. 5:21-33. Marriage between two baptized people is a beautiful visible parable of an invisible, mystical reality. The mystical union of Christ with His Bride, the Church, is born of that generous self-giving, through which Jesus, of His purest and most overflowing love, gives Himself forever to one Spouse alone. That Spouse is the Church. He makes her fruitful, till the entire Body of the faithful is built up.
Similarly, Christian marriage is born of that mutual self-giving expressed externally in the marriage vows and in the marital union of flesh thereafter. Through that self-giving an indissoluble bond is set up, lasting until death. That union is shared exclusively by this one man and this one woman, who, as servants of God, will bring forth children for the formation and increase of God’s family in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The parallel is unmistakably clear: Marriage, which St. Paul calls the great sacrament, reflects here on Earth the perfect union between Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Hence the novel pastoral approach of accompaniment that is exercised today leads people to live in sin, to do precisely the opposite of the purpose of marriage.
Because matrimony is a symbol of Christ’s union with His Church, it manifestly presupposes the state of grace in its recipients. Both bride and groom must be in state of grace in order to fully benefit of the graces of the sacrament.
Those who receive the sacrament worthily obtain: (1) an increase of sanctifying grace and (2) the sacramental grace of the sacrament: a grace of conjugal union, elevating their natural mutual inclination, and orienting them to the supernatural virtues and operations that will perfect their union and life together.
An often-forgotten reality is that the primary duties of husband and wife to one another bind under pain of mortal sin. They must help one another to lead good Christian lives, and support one another in the necessities and duties of life. They should share any riches with each other, and, if necessary, be willing to share any poverty. The marriage vows express this mutual support, sharing, and fidelity: “I take you…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”
Men and women are equal in personal dignity, but as husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers, they are different and complementary in their roles or functions within the family. To the husband, God has entrusted the headship in marriage. A wife should submit to her husband as the head of the household, and the husband should love his wife as much as himself: The Holy Spirit says, “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….Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies….For no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes it and cherishes it.”
And: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Eph. 5:22-4, 28-9; Col. 3:19).
The headship of a husband is not that of a tyrant, but of one who devotes himself to the good of his wife and of their marriage and family, in imitation of Christ who laid down His life for His Spouse: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).
Next article: the gift of children and their rearing.

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.

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