Christ our Lord raised marriage to the level of a sacrament! The classic Scriptural text presents an analogy for marriage which compares the marriage relationship to the ideal one between Christ and the Church. It is the often quoted passage from St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians:
… a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church…” (Ephesians 5:31).
The passage actually says much more because it speaks of the self-sacrificial and obedient love of Christ as the model for the husband and wife in marriage and reminds us of the creation of man and woman as recorded in the book of Genesis:
Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
Thus, we see that God is the author of marriage. The one flesh bond is not only a physical one, but also takes on a mystical component. It is compared to the bond between Christ and the Church. The nature of the union between man and woman was sanctified into a permanent bond. Thus, Christ taught, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt 19: 6). In the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, we see that He made marriage between baptized Christians “a sacramental sign for his own love for the Church” (USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan).
The Second Vatican Council offered guidance and support for “those Christians and other men who are trying to preserve the holiness and to foster the natural dignity of the married state and its superlative value” (GS 47). The Council wrote that “authentic married love is caught up in the divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in the sublime office of being a father or a mother” (GS 48).
This vision of sacramental marriage was under attack at various times in the history of the Church. For example, during the Middle Ages the heresy of the Albigensians, which came from the East, spread through much of France. The Albigensian movement had its roots in earlier religious groups such as the Manichaeans and the Gnostics. They shared in common with them a dualistic view of God, in which they conceived of two gods, one of whom was evil. They completely rejected marriage, partly because of their disdain for the material world, considering it worse than fornication or adultery. We live in an age in which many have rejected traditional marriage and view same sex unions as an alternative form to be embraced almost as a civil right. This is apparently true even among many younger Catholics who seem not to understand what Christ teaches regarding marriage and its sacramental nature.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document on marriage entitled Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan in 2009, in which they consider it a disturbing trend that marriage is seen by some as “a mostly private matter, an individualistic project not related to the common good but oriented mostly to achieving personal satisfaction.” They call upon the Catholic faithful “to stand against all attacks on marriage and to stand for the meaning, dignity and sanctity of marriage and the family.”
To bring this up to date, in his recent apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said the family is “experiencing a profound cultural crisis.” He noted:
Marriage tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.
Last November, the Diocesan office of Evangelization and Catechesis in conjunction with the Family Life office sponsored a workshop on Marriage. Another is planned for Saturday, March 8, 2014 at the Catholic Chancery from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. The theme is Theology of the Body and the Defense of Christian Marriage. The speaker is Fr. Bryce Sibley who holds his licentiate degree in Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute. He will address many of the issues facing our culture today from a Catholic perspective. The event is open to the public and the charge is $10.00, which includes a morning snack and lunch. To register for this important workshop, please phone Jerri Dowdy at (816) 714-2326 or email email@example.com.
Dr. Claude Sasso is Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.