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Three Hearts: First Meditation
God’s Vision of Marriage
- The Original Sacrament
- A Surprising Ministry
- Conclusion: Marriage and Salvation History
God’s Vision of Marriage
Jesus only gave the Church seven sacraments, seven signs by which he guarantees to pour his saving and transforming grace into the world and into our lives.
Each sacrament is like a window between heaven and earth, through which God reaches from eternity into time and space in order to act directly in human affairs and human souls. And there are only seven of them. All the other rituals and ceremonies that enrich our Catholic faith are secondary — the seven sacraments are the pillars of God’s saving action in the world.
The Catechism explains this by showing how these sacraments are an extension of Christ’s own Incarnation and mission:
In this age of the Church Christ now lives and acts in and with his Church, in a new way appropriate to this new age. He acts through the sacraments in what the common Tradition of the East and the West calls “the sacramental economy”; this is the communication (or “dispensation”) of the fruits of Christ’s Paschal mystery in the celebration of the Church’s “sacramental” liturgy
– CCC 1070
In other words, the sacraments are the primary channels of God’s grace, the arteries through which God’s divine life flows to redeem the world and draw us into communion with him. And marriage is one of them; that’s how important it is, from God’s perspective.
The Original Sacrament
But even among the seven sacraments, marriage has some unique characteristics. One of them is mentioned in the special nuptial blessing that accompanies the celebration of the sacrament.
￼￼￼￼￼￼At one point during the blessing, the priest or deacon addresses God with the following words:
… O God, by whom woman is joined to man and the companionship they had in the beginning is endowed with the one blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away by the flood…
The words of that prayer recall that marriage, unlike baptism and the Eucharist, for example, was actually part of God’s design for the human family from the very beginning, even before original sin.
By creating the human family in his own image, God created us with a vocation to love, to give ourselves totally to another person and to receive totally the gift of another person.
In this mutual and total self-giving between man and woman, the human person images the very essence of the Trinity, which is the self-giving love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
And even the devastating effects of original sin couldn’t blot out this sacred meaning of marriage. The prayer of the nuptial blessing calls all this to mind by pointing out that the sacred and natural institution of marriage has endured, even after the Fall and the Flood. That’s the first unique characteristic of this sacrament.
A Surprising Ministry
But there’s something else unique about it too. In every sacrament, Christ himself is present and working, applying to our lives here and now the grace he won for us through his Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. And in each sacrament he works through a minister, usually an ordained minister — a bishop, priest, or deacon.
In the sacrament of marriage, however, the priest isn’t actually the minister of the sacrament; he is only the official witness of the Church.
In marriage, the ministers of the sacrament are the spouses themselves. Through their consent in the name of Christ to a life of total, mutual self-giving, they become the channels through which Christ sends his grace into each other’s lives.
And this doesn’t just happen during the wedding ceremony itself. The flow of grace continues for the rest of their lives — the sacrament doesn’t stop until one of the spouses dies. Christ doesn’t stop ministering to each spouse through the other. The spouses’ sins can place obstacles to the flow of the grace; but the sacrament itself continues to act in their lives, and through them in the life of the Church and of the world.
This too comes across in the words spoken over the couple during the nuptial blessing. The priest or deacon makes the following petition to God, asking him to make his own divine strength flow into their spousal love, so as to make their marriage a living icon of Christ’s own love for his Church:
Look now with favor on these your servants, joined together in Marriage, who ask to be strengthened by your blessing. Send down on them the grace of the Holy Spirit and pour your love into their hearts, that they may remain faithful in the Marriage covenant.
That is the point at which the nuptial blessing shows that in the sacrament of marriage two hearts become one, because they are joined to a third. God’s deepest identity is love — “God is love,” the Scriptures tell us (1 John 4:8). And the bond of love in the heart of the Trinity is so full and vibrant, that it is in fact the third Person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit.
So, by asking God to “send down the grace of the Holy Spirit” and to “pour your love into their hearts,” the Church here unveils what really happens inside the mystery of this sacrament.
The hearts of husband and wife, given to each other out of love, are united not only to one another, but to God’s own heart, so that their mutual love, a natural love, is somehow infused with God’s own love, and is super- naturalized.
As long as they keep nourishing and activating their spousal love, it becomes, in a sense, a living fountain that makes God’s own eternal and redeeming love flow and spread into this fallen world, furthering Christ’s redemption.
Conclusion: Marriage and Salvation History
That’s amazing enough in itself, but the nuptial blessing continues as the priest prays:
May the grace of love and peace abide in your daughter, and let her always follow the example of those holy women whose praises are sung in the Scriptures.
May her husband entrust his heart to her, so that, acknowledging her as his equal and his joint heir to the life of grace, he may show her due honor and cherish her always with the love that Christ has for his Church.
￼The words of this blessing show that in the sacrament of marriage, the history of salvation as played out through the drama of the Old Testament and the grace of the New Testament, continues to unfold.
Husband and wife become a living, efficacious image of God’s saving, self-giving love for mankind, and of Christ’s self-sacrificing, life-giving love for the Church. By making marriage into a sacrament, then, Jesus actually takes something that has had a sacred meaning from the very beginning of human history, and then he elevates it to an unimaginably higher level.
This is God’s vision of marriage. This, if you are married, is the astonishing dignity of your sacrament — it’s so, so much more than hugging a dolphin on the end of a dock.
Let’s take some time now, in the silence of our hearts, to let the magnificence of God’s vision for marriage fill us with humble awe and joyful reverence. The following questions and quotations may help your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1 Compare the vision of marriage depicted in popular culture with God’s vision of marriage. What are the similarities and the differences? Where do the differences come from?
2 Jesus’ first miracle took place at and contributed to a wedding, in Cana (see John 2). God’s providence could have arranged for his first miracle to take place anywhere. What might the significance be of having it happen at a wedding?
3 The words most often used to describe how spouses reflect God’s love in their own relationship with each other are love, honor, and respect. What do those verbs mean in the context of marriage? How do they differ from each other? What does it look like, in my mind, to “love, honor, and respect” one’s spouse?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not
have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is
not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
– 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, NABRE
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior
of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but
I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.
– Ephesians 5:21-33, NABRE
￼￼￼￼Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body. Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers. Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never forsake you or abandon you.” Thus we may say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper,[and] I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
– James 4:7-10, NABRE
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