In Christian marriage, spouses model the love and self-gift of Christ. By giving of themselves and serving one another, their family and community, they help one another live out Christ’s call to discipleship, love and service. Marriage provides a foundation for a family committed to community, solidarity and Jesus’ mission in the world.
The Ministers of the Sacrament
How can a marriage between two non-Catholic but baptized Christians be a sacrament, if a Catholic priest does not perform the marriage? Most people, including most Roman Catholics, do not realize that the ministers of the sacrament are the spouses themselves. While the Church strongly encourages Catholics to marry in the presence of a priest (and to have a wedding Mass, if both prospective spouses are Catholic), strictly speaking, a priest is not needed.
The Mark and Effect of the Sacrament
The spouses are the ministers of the sacrament of marriage because the mark—the external sign—of the sacrament is not the wedding Mass or anything the priest might do but the marriage contract itself. This does not mean the wedding license that the couple receives from the state, but the vows that each spouse makes to the other. As long as each spouse intends to contract a true marriage, the sacrament is performed.
The effect of the sacrament is an increase in sanctifying grace for the spouses, a participation in the divine life of God Himself.
The love between spouses in marriage reflects the love of Christ for the Church.
The mutual love of spouses reflects God’s own love for humanity (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1604). In Scripture, God’s “communion of love” with his people is seen in the covenant he forms with them, as well as Jesus’ self-offering on the cross. The covenant of love into which spouses enter in marriage reflects the love of Christ for the Church and his self-gift on behalf of humanity (Compendium 219).
Marriage reflects the communion and union of the Trinity.
During the Rite of Marriage, the couple exchanges rings as a sign of love and fidelity in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Like the members of the Trinity, the united couple also becomes a “community of persons.” Just as the Father, Son and Spirit are united in “pure relationality,” mutual love and self-gift (Caritas in Veritate 54), Christian spouses are called to give of themselves to one another (Familiaris Consortio 19).
Marriage frees us for sacrifice and self-gift.
During the exchange of vows, the couple promises Marriage United in Love, Strengthened for Service to give of themselves to each other and to love and support each other despite their shortcomings and failings. Spouses help each another “overcome self-absorption, egoism, [and] pursuit of one's own pleasure” so that they can serve others in imitation of Christ (Catechism 1609, Compendium 219). With Christ’s help, spouses are able to love, forgive, and serve (Catechism 1642). The Nuptial Blessing especially highlights how the couple is called to care not only for each another, but also for children, family and the wider community.
Marriage strengthens us for service in the world.
The love between spouses helps them to be signs of Christ’s love in the world (Compendium 220). Their love for one another is realized in “the common work of watching over creation” (Catechism 1604). They help each other live their vocation as lay people, seeking God’s kingdom in their daily lives by working for justice, peace, and respect for the life and dignity of all (Compendium 220; Familiaris Consortio 47). Christian spouses, the Compendium notes, are to be “witnesses to a new social consciousness inspired by the Gospel and the Paschal Mystery” (220).
Marriage provides the foundation for family and the formation of “new citizens of human society.”
From marriage comes the family, “in which new citizens of human society are born” and made children of God through the grace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism (Lumen Gentium 11). The home is called the “domestic church” (Catechism 1666)—the place where parents teach faith, love, justice, and concern for others to their children. Parents are “the principal and first educators of their children.” The family is the community where children “learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom.” (Catechism 1653, 2207).
The family gives testimony to faith, love, unity, peace and justice.
The married couple—itself a sign of grace—works to form a family which is a “sign of unity for the world” and a “witness to the Kingdom” of justice and peace (Compendium 220, Familiaris Consortio 48). The home is the place where each person learns “solidarity and communal responsibilities” (Catechism 2224). Parents train children, from childhood on, to recognize God's love for all, to care for “the material and spiritual needs of their neighbor,” to share in common with others, and to be involved in the local community (Apostolicam Actuositatem 30).
Marriage and the family inspire solidarity with the human family.
In the section called The Family and Society, the Catechism notes that being a member of a family helps us to broaden our definition of who is included in our family. In our fellow citizens, we learn to see “the children of our country,” in the baptized, “the children of our mother the Church,” and in every human person, “a son or daughter” of the Father. Our relationships within the immediate family provide a foundation so that our relationships with all our neighbors become “personal.” We come to recognize our neighbor not as a “unit” but as a “someone” who “deserves particular attention and respect” (2212). In this way, the work for justice, life, and dignity begins in the family.
The rights of families and married couples should be prioritized in public policy.
The well-being of individuals and societies is linked to “the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family” (Gaudium et Spes 47). Therefore, we must “enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman” and which “assume responsibility for [the family’s] economic and fiscal needs” (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate 44).
In particular, we should preserve the rights of the family in civil laws and policies and work to ensure “that governments give due attention to the needs of the family regarding housing, the education of children, working conditions, social security, and taxes.” We should also work to ensure that migrants’ “right to live together as a family” is safeguarded (Apostolicam Actuositatem 11).
Information courtesy of About.com Catholicism – The Sacrament of Marriage by Scot P. Richert