This year, we have been aligning the theme of our bulletin articles with the theme of our Family of Faith formation program here at our Cathedral parish. The last sacrament we are studying this year is the sacrament of Marriage. It is always helpful to me to begin with where we find this sacrament in Scripture. Part of the definition of a sacrament is that it was instituted by Christ, so we can always find something about the sacraments in the scriptures.
Marriage is unique among the sacraments in the way that it was instituted. Jesus did not “invent” marriage; marriage was a part of the human race since the very beginning with Adam and Eve. Marriage has been the most basic part of society in every culture in all parts of the world. This is why we say that Jesus raised marriage to the level of a sacrament. Any man and woman in the world can get married, but only baptized Christians have the sacrament of Marriage as a source of grace and strength.
The most clear example of Jesus raising marriage to be a sacrament is found in the story of the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus attended this wedding of somebody who was presumably his friend or at least a friend of his family. During the feast, the wine ran out, causing a clear panic among the servers and a potential point of embarrassment for their newlywed hosts. When Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine,” she interceded for the couple as she does for us even today. We know how the story ends and that Jesus turned approximately 150 gallons of water into wine. This is clearly way too much wine for even the best wedding reception! The Church has always seen this abundance of wine (which gives joy to the heart, according to the Psalms) as a symbol of God’s abundant grace given through this new sacrament. The Catechism says, “The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence” (CCC 1613).
By becoming a sacrament, marriage for Christians is a sign of God’s faithful love for his Church. The Gospels describe Jesus as a “bridegroom” who lays down his life for his spouse, the Church. When describing the reasons for celibacy, I often say that Jesus was never married. While this is true, this renouncing of marriage is for the sake of another marriage: being married to the Church. Christ and his Church are united in a mystical union which gives birth to new life, such as in baptism! Christ laid down his life for his bride, which St. Paul encourages all husbands to do for their own wives. Since marriage is a fairly common sacrament, the depth and beauty of this great mystery is sometimes forgotten about. During this month, I hope to at least begin the exploration of this sacrament of spousal love.