Marriage: a call to holiness
Originally printed in The Catholic Transcript
“Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave himself on the cross.”
The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, 13
“My dear friends, you have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church’s minister and this community. Christ abundantly blesses this love. He has already consecrated you in Baptism and now he enriches and strengthens you by a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity. And so, in the presence of the Church, I ask you to state your intentions.”
From the Rite of Marriage
Your priest did not marry you. You read it correctly. The priest at your wedding didn’t marry you. Oh, he was important and all and had a major part in it. But he didn’t marry you. You did. You married each other.
When couples speak about getting married on a certain date and that a certain priest married them, they are being inaccurate and missing a very important distinction we Roman Catholics have in our rich sacramental life. It is not nit-picking to suggest that the couple actually marry each other. The priest is the official witness from the faith community. He even signs the legal marriage license. But from a sacramental standpoint, the couple marries one another.
The married couple are the sacramental ministers
Marriage is the only one of the seven sacraments that is not preformed by the ordained deacon, priest or bishop. Rather the couple becomes the sacramental minister when each says, “I do” and speaks their vows in the presence of their priest and faith community. Each of the sacraments is a sign of God’s total and unconditional love. Through each sacrament we humans get to experience this incomprehendable love. With the sacrament of Reconciliation, for instance, we experience God’s loving forgiveness. With Eucharist we get to experience God’s total Self-giving and complete love for all of us.
All sacraments are signs of God’s unconditional love
As with all the sacraments we are better able to experience the magnitude of it to the extent that the minister is fully aware of what the minister is there to do. It is an opportunity for the minister to assist the faith community in experiencing being loved by our God – a love that is total, unfettered and unconditional. This is an awesome responsibility and no minister would ever want to take this responsibility lightly. In the ordination of the priesthood there is an invocation where he is charged to “be aware of what you are about to do.” No one who is truly aware of this sacred and powerful task of being about God’s transforming ministry would or could take it lightly.
Married couples are sacramental ministers
This includes all sacramental ministers. Since the married couple is the sacramental minister of the sacrament of marriage they, too, are also included in this awesome responsibility. The married couple is sacramental ministers for the sacrament of marriage just as deacons and priests and bishops are ordained as sacramental ministers for any of the other sacraments.
What this means is that my job as the sacramental minister of marriage with my partner is to provide her with an experience of being loved by God. I am called to do this. When I first said, “I do,” at our wedding I was stating that I was being ordained by my Church to do this. I was ordained to do this on our wedding day and to continue to do this over and over, each day of our marriage.
What I am not called to do
I am not called to fix my partner, improve upon her, and straighten her out, or show her how she is wrong. Rather, I am called to love her. And I am called to love her as God loves her: unconditionally. Therefore to the extent that my partner experiences my love for her then I am doing my job well as the sacramental minister of our marriage.
I might think I love her, but if she doesn’t experience this love, then I am not. I might want to ask her: “Do I love you?” She can tell me if I am doing my job or not. She can say, “Yes, you love me. Yes, I experience your love for me.” If she does experience my love, then through this love a glimpsed of God’s love is experienced.”
What would give you an experience of being loved by me?
What this means is that it is not enough to love my partner on my own terms. I am required to love her on her terms. So I get my cues from my partner and not from my own ways of experiencing being loved, but through hers. I may think I love her because I buy her gifts or because I point out her mistakes so she can improve, or even because I do certain things for her. But none of these things I do may provide her with an experience of being loved. They do only if she tells me that they do.
None of us do this well.
We are not God. We do not love unconditionally. We are human and so we forget, fail, make mistakes. But we are called to keep trying. With God’s grace we take on this awesome responsibility to be sacramental ministers. We are called not to be perfect: we are called to be faithful. We ministers of the sacrament of marriage are challenged to call upon God’s love, forgiveness and generous blessings.
The vocation to marriage
When Jesus called the rich young man to follow him, he was calling him to a particular way of life. Jesus asked the young man to give up all he had for the sake of the kingdom. In marriage, Jesus calls you to give up yourself, all you have and all you are, to your spouse.
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is speaking to both of you as married partners. In marriage, you give yourself to a particular person. Because of this, a husband and a wife are called to a particular way of life within the marital union that is now greater than when they were not married and it is carries with it a mission that is greater than just their own lives. They now have a sacred responsibility to life as disciples of Jesus through their marriage, ministering to one another and also allowing this self giving to flow outward to their children and to the world.
We need God’s grace
You cannot fulfill your vocation to marriage without the guidance and strength that comes with God’s grace. Your happiness depends on your union with God and God’s will. You need to trust in Jesus, that he is God and that God is good. In the face of fears and inadequacies, you can trust that God will strengthen and guide you through any trial. These trials are transformed into opportunities to love generously.
A sign of God’s Love
When you do this you both become a sign of God’s love. Your marriage vows give you a new identity and meaning. You are a wife. You are a husband. You are a couple joined together by God. In doing so you are a living sign of God’s love for humanity. Your gift of self reflects, then, Christ’s gift of self for the Church. By the way you generously live your vocational calling through your marriage and your family, people are going to feel, taste, touch, experience God’s love for them. They’ll experience it when they encounter you as husband and wife. They’ll also begin to understand Christ’s love for them when they see your self-sacrificing love. This is a powerful way God’s takes form in humanity. This awesome responsibility begins when you – and not your priest - marry one another.
Marriage Is A Sacrament
Marriage is a natural institution that has existed from the beginning. Jesus raised marriage to a sacrament – an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace and provide grace to fulfill what it requires. You are the ministers of the sacrament both on the day of your wedding and throughout your lives. All that you do becomes an opportunity for grace and charity.
What Do Newly Married Couples Need?
? Peer Support
? Spiritual Strength
Foundations newsletter tries to meet these needs through:
Editorials - related to long term and successful marriage
Research – the latest scholarly findings in the marriage and family education field
Cartoons – a humorous way to laugh at ourselves and gain insight
Reader’s Corner - a national conversation with other newly married couples Toolbox - programs and resources available to strengthen and support marriage Exercises - lots of creative and practical exercises that help couples stay focused on building strong and vibrant marriages
Book and Video reviews – what out there that good and where to find them
Spirituality articles – inspiring reading to apply to your everyday lives
For more information: Contact the Family Life Office @ 203- 230-2460 or