Marriage expresses Jesus' unbreakable love of His people
When the Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament, it means that the couple's relationship expresses in a unique way the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and His people.
According to "Marriage as Sacrament," an item on the U.S. bishops' website foryour marriage.org, marriage is "a sign or symbol which reveals the Lord Jesus and through which His divine life and love are communicated."
In a sacramental marriage, God's love becomes present to the spouses in their total union and also flows through them to their family and community, the bishops' material points out. "By their permanent, faithful and exclusive giving to each other, symbolized in sexual intercourse, the couple reveals something of God's unconditional love. The Sacrament of Christian Marriage involves their entire life as they journey together through the ups and downs of marriage and become more able to give to and receive from each other."
In marriage, the grace of the sacrament brings to the spouses the particular help they need to be faithful and to be good parents. That grace also helps a couple to serve others beyond their immediate family and to show the community that a loving and lasting marriage is both desirable and possible.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson recently wrote in his column in the Review that marriage is both a fundamental social institution and a sacrament instituted by Christ. "The Church teaches that a man and woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. A family is a community of faith, hope and charity; it assumes singular importance in the Church as a 'domestic church' with Christ at its center," the archbishop pointed out.
A marriage is not whatever anyone says it is, he added. "It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves to one another in love and to be open to the gift of life. Authority, stability and relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society. God chose to raise up marriage as a sacrament, not simply a social contract; and the family is much more than simply a social arrangement. As a domestic Church, it is the most fundamental and important community that human beings belong to."
The institution of marriage, which is the bedrock of human society, is "a partnership between a man and a woman. It is a critically important relationship in human life because it provides a loving context for the continuation of our species," the archbishop noted.
"Not only do a man and a woman enter into a unique covenantal relationship with each other, they also become more closely united to Christ. As a sacrament, holy matrimony is a sign that causes what it signifies. That means that it is a sign not only of the human love and togetherness of this man and this woman but also of their union with Christ and His communion with all of us, the members of His body, the Church."
If you're married, Archbishop Carlson added, "your vocation to follow Jesus is lived out concretely in the vows you have taken to love, honor and freely give yourself to your spouse. This is not easy. The grace of the Sacrament of Marriage and the frequent reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance are needed to help make married life a 'way to holiness' that a woman and a man live out together."
Minimum standards are not enough to sustain healthy, loving and life-giving marriages, Archbishop Carlson noted. "Much more is required of Catholic women and men who receive the vocational call to witness to Christ in and through the Sacrament of Marriage.
"A good friend of mine is fond of saying that a husband's job is to help his wife get to heaven. Marriage is a spiritual journey between partners. It must be sustained by prayer and the sacraments, by mutual love and respect and by the willingness to make sacrifices for the good of one's spouse and family. For men and women who desire to share their lives with one another, marriage is not an option or merely a social arrangement. It is much more than that. It is a sacrament -- a sign that causes what it signifies, the loving and life-giving union of a man and a woman in Christ."
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