Last week’s article described the natural order of marriage. This article will focus on why we call marriage a sacrament. For marriage is unique among the sacraments insofar as it was already a sacred institution before the time of Christ and remains so outside of the Christian faith. What did Jesus Christ add to marriage that made it one of the seven sacraments in the order of grace?
We begin with the fact that John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the groom, an image that Jesus Himself later affirmed. See Matt. 9:14-15; Mark 2:19-20; John 3:29. The letter to the Ephesians and the Book of Revelation describe the Church as the bride of Christ. See Eph. 5:21-33; Rev. 19:6-9, 21:1-3, 9-11. As a hymn says, “From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride. With His own blood He bought her. And for her life He died.” Their wedding feast is celebrated under symbols at each Mass and will be celebrated in fullness of glory at the end of earthly time.
And thus, every Christian married couple is meant to be a living example of the love between Christ and His Church. And every Christian family is meant to be what the Vatican II Council calls a “domestic church,” a second Nazareth in which Jesus, Mary and Joseph are welcomed, and the kingdom of God is shown to the world. See Lumen Gentium (1965) 11; Catechism 1655-58. As with the Church throughout the world, there will still be struggles, sacrifices and shortcomings. But, as Jesus said to His people “I will be with you always to the end of the world,” Matt. 28:20, so He promises each Christian couple that He will be with them always, in all the mountains and valleys, the sunshine and the storms of life together.
Thus, every couple married in Christ receives a commissioning and a promise. The commissioning is to build up God’s kingdom on earth, starting in the home. A couple is meant to help each other grow in holiness, to teach their children the faith by both word and practice, and to give an example of love, life and faith to a world very much in need of that witness. And Christ promises that, if they will welcome Him and the Church into their lives, the offerings of married life will, like the seed that falls upon good ground in the famous parable, bear great fruit on earth and make them worthy of eternal life.