The sacrament of marriage: A solemn covenant

August 10, 2018

The Pastor's Page

sacrament of marriage

The sacrament of marriage is a covenant between a husband and wife patterned on the covenant between God and the human race. God entered a pact with every living being through Noah after the flood (see Gn 9:8-17). God promised to be faithful to the people of the earth, to love them and provide for them, and that it would be an “everlasting covenant” (Gn 9:16), perpetual, permanent, and binding forever.

God is reliable and true, and always upholds his side of the agreement, while the people, on the other hand, through their stubbornness, sins and failings, broke the covenant over and over again. God is offended and disappointed, but instead of annulling the covenant, extends mercy and forgiveness out of his deep compassion, provides a new beginning, and reestablishes the covenant. God cannot go against his divine nature. God is love and is ever faithful.

The Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures provide a list of covenant renewals that confirm God’s faithfulness. The people would sin and break the covenant, and God would try again. After the people built the Tower of Babel (Gn 11), God renewed the covenant through Abram (Gn 15:17-19 and 17). Subsequently God renewed the covenant with Moses at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:3-8), and after the people worshipped the golden calf, again with the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law (Ex 34:10-26); with Joshua (Jos 24:16-28); David (2 Sm 7:8-17; 23:5); Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34), and Ezekiel (Ez 36:24-28; 37:26). God’s constant and unshakeable promise is this: “You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ez 36:28b; see also Jer 7:23; 31:33; Ez 37:27). Throughout history God demonstrates continuous, never-ending, enduring love.

Jesus is the final reestablishment of the covenant broken by previous generations. When he offered a cup of wine at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20), and it was sealed with the blood that he shed on the Cross. Jesus is the embodiment of the covenant, and he is constantly faithful to his bride, the Body of Christ, the Church (see Eph 5:25b-27,32; Rv 19:7; 21:9). He is the definitive expression of God’s everlasting bond of love with every person.

When a man and woman enter into the Sacrament of Marriage, they establish of covenant of love that is sealed by God (Mk 10:9), and they pledge to be faithful to each other in the same way that God is always faithful. If one should ever violate the vows of marriage and sin, the other promises to show the mercy and compassion of God, extend forgiveness, and renew the covenant. It is God’s desire that the covenant of marriage be indissoluble.

The Sacrament of Marriage is a spiritual bond, a covenant, not a contract. A contract is written on paper, a covenant is written on the heart; a contract has fine print with terms and conditions, a covenant is unconditional; a contract is closed with signatures, a covenant is sealed with the spoken word; a contract is for a specific amount of time, a covenant is everlasting; a contract may have penalties if specific terms are not met, a covenant when violated extends forgiveness; a contract may have an escape clause, a covenant is binding forever; a contract is designed to protect one’s own rights, a covenant seeks what is best for the other person; a contract makes no mention of God, a covenant is based on faith in God; a contract relies on human energy, a covenant relies on grace; and a contract is executed before a civil official, a covenant is established before a minister who represents God.

Sometimes people wonder whether God is faithful because God is unseen. A married couple that remains true to their wedding promises is a living witness of covenantal love. A wedding anniversary is an excellent time for the Church to reflect upon their fidelity, to celebrate the high ideals of marriage, and to declare, “This couple is proof and a beautiful example of the eternal love of the God of the covenant.”

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun