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Three Hearts: Second Meditation
The Mission of Marriage
- Mutual Support on the Journey to Heaven
- The Gift of New Life
- Witnesses to the World
- Conclusion: A Mighty Gift of God
The Mission of Marriage
Two hearts united in the sacrament of marriage become three hearts — the heart of God himself beats within them and with them, pumping his divine life into the world through their spousal love. And in turn, that spousal love changes the world.
This is why the Catechism calls marriage one of the sacraments “at the service of communion and the mission of the faithful” (CCC 1211).
Marriage is a grace that the spouses receive from God, a grace that unites them to him more intimately and powerfully, but it is also a mission.
As followers of Jesus, we are all called to build up the Church, to spread Christ’s Kingdom, to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” as Jesus himself put
it (Matthew 28:19). And the sacrament of marriage
is explicitly directed to helping the spouses fulfill that mission, in three primary dimensions.
Mutual Support on the Journey to Heaven
In the first place, the grace of this sacrament enables the spouses to support each other in their pursuit of happiness, holiness, and heaven.
Spouses accompany each other through all the ups and downs of life, leaning on each other in times of weakness, encouraging each other, and holding each other accountable amid the trials and temptations that pop up along the way.
This is expressed beautifully in the nuptial blessing prayed during the wedding Mass, when the priest or deacon says to God:
And now, Lord, we implore you: may these your servants hold fast to the faith and keep your commandments; made one in the flesh, may they be blameless in all they do… And grant that, reaching at last together the fullness of years for which they hope, they may come to the life of the blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is the first dimension of the mission of marriage: each spouse finds in the sacrament the grace necessary to help the other grow in virtue, in holiness, in the happiness that comes from living according to God’s wisdom and love.
This grace of mutual support and accompaniment also comes across in the words that express the spouses’ consent to their marriage, the core of the sacramental celebration.
In its simplest formula, the words of consent are as follows:
I, (Name), take you, (Name), to be my wife [husband]. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
This promise can truly be fulfilled, through the grace of the sacrament, so that marriage becomes a powerful life-long impetus for spiritual growth.
This first dimension of the mission of marriage is captured beautifully in a drama written by Pope John Paul II before he became pope. In one scene, a woman is describing to a jeweler how her fiancée proposed to her. She tells how they were walking along together and he simply asked her, “Would you be my life’s companion?”
That’s it exactly — together, the spouses accompany and support each other through all the Good Fridays and Easter Sundays that God sends to each one, making them all fruitful for holiness and happiness through the grace of the sacrament.
The Gift of New Life
The second dimension of the mission of marriage is found in the gift of new life that God gives to many married couples. When spouses become parents, they become an even more eloquent image of God than they were simply as spouses. This is because the love of God is always fruitful.
Even in the Trinity itself, the mutual love of the Father and the Son brings forth, from all eternity, a third person, the Holy Spirit, who “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
In another nuptial blessing, this dimension is emphasized and contemplated as the priest addresses God the Father, saying:
May they also sustain, O Lord, by their deeds the home they are forming and prepare their children to become members of your heavenly household by raising them in the way of the Gospel.
Pope John Paul II adopted an ancient phrase to describe this dimension of the mission of marriage. In the
early years of the Church, Christians met to pray and celebrate the sacraments not in public churches, but in private homes. The word in Latin for a private home is “domus.”
The homes that were used for these gatherings came to be known as “domestic churches.” John Paul II, following the example of the Fathers of the Church, used that phrase to encourage every Christian family to really become a mini-Church, an incarnation, so to speak, of the universal Church, a place where God dwells and acts in the world:
The family itself is the great mystery of God. As the “domestic church”, it is the bride of Christ. The universal Church… is most immediately revealed as the bride of Christ in the “domestic church” and in its experience
of love: conjugal love, paternal and maternal love, fraternal love, the love of a community of persons and of generations
– Pope John Paul II Letter to Families, 19
In this mission of domestic church building, the parents are Christ’s apostles, sent to announce to their children, in word and deed, the Good News of God’s love to their children, and to educate them in that love, just as St. Paul did for the church communities he started.
His description of his own mission applies beautifully to this second dimension of the marriage mission: “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19).
Witnesses to the World
But there is still another, a third, dimension to the mission of marriage. The grace-infused love of husband and wife supports each other on their path to spiritual maturity, it gives rise to a domestic church, but it also radiates out into the world at large.
The nuptial blessing puts it like this, when it petitions God for the newly married couple:
… and with the strength that comes from the Gospel, may they bear true witness to Christ before all…
The solemn blessing at the end of the wedding Mass gets even more specific about what “bearing true witness” really means. The priest invokes God’s blessing with the words:
May you be witnesses in the world to God’s charity, so that the afflicted and needy who have known your kindness may one day receive you thankfully into the eternal dwelling of God.
The witness that each Christian is called to give to the world is magnified and boosted by the grace of this sacrament, such that every married couple is enabled to spread the “sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15) more widely and effectively than either spouse would be able to do alone.
Conclusion: A Mighty Gift of God
Jesus only left us seven sacraments, seven guaranteed fountains of divine grace. And marriage is one of them. It is glorious in itself, because it brings three hearts together into one, imaging the Trinity and becoming a fountain on earth of God’s heavenly love.
But it also imbues the spouses with the supernatural strength they need to engage in their threefold mission of mutual support, domestic church building, and bearing witness to the world. The sacrament of marriage is an amazing, mighty gift from God.
Let’s take some time now to prayerfully reflect on its riches, its wonders, and its joyous demands. The following questions and quotations may help your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1 In my personal experience of family life, what has most helped me become aware of my mission to help build a “domestic church”? What could help me become even more aware of it?
2 Think of examples from my own experience of situations where the mutual support of spouses impressed me or made a lasting difference in my life. What aspects of today’s society make this dimension of marriage harder to live out than it might have been in past societies?
3 Write up a “mission statement” that describes how I feel God is calling me to live out this three- dimensional marriage mission, or how I would like to live it out.
Quotations from the Rite of Marriage to Help Your Meditation
Note: Although these liturgical texts are not taken
from the Sacred Scriptures, they reflect the mind of the Church as regards the sacrament of marriage, and are as useful for meditation as any other liturgical texts.
Holy Father, maker of the whole world, who created man and woman in your own image and willed that their union be crowned with your blessing, we humbly beseech you for these your servants, who are joined today in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
May your abundant blessing, Lord, come down upon this bride, and upon her companion for life, and may the power of your Holy Spirit set their hearts aflame from on high, so that, living out together the gift of Matrimony, they may adorn their family with children and enrich the Church.
In happiness may they praise you, O Lord, in sorrow
may they seek you out; may they have the joy of your presence to assist them in their toil, and know that you are near to comfort them in their need; let them pray to you in the holy assembly and bear witness to you in the world, and after a happy old age, together with the circle of friends that surrounds them, may they come to the Kingdom of Heaven. Through Christ our Lord.
– Nuptial Blessing
… For you willed that the human race, created by the gift of your goodness, should be raised to such high dignity that in the union of husband and wife you might bestow a true image of your love.
For those you created out of charity you call to the law of charity without ceasing and grant them a share in your eternal charity.
And so, the Sacrament of holy Matrimony, as the abiding sign of your own love, consecrates the love of man and woman, through Christ our Lord.
– Preface: Matrimony as a Sign of Divine Love
May God the eternal Father keep you of one heart in love for one another, that the peace of Christ may dwell in you and abide always in your home…
May you be blessed in your children, have solace in your friends, and enjoy true peace with everyone…
May you be witnesses in the world to God’s charity, so that the afflicted and needy who have known your kindness may one day receive your thankfully into the eternal dwelling of God…
– Solemn Blessing at the End of the Wedding Mass