The Sacrament of Marriage

October 5, 2018

The Pastor's Page

Marriage

A Sacrament. Marriage or matrimony is one of the seven sacraments. It belongs to a special group or classification of sacraments known as the Sacraments of Commitment, the two major ways for adults to live out their baptismal faith commitment: marriage and Holy Orders.

Famous Marriages of the Bible. Marriage is a sacred institution established by God, something clearly evident from the very beginning of creation and its natural order (Gen 1:26-27) with the first marriage, Adam and Eve. Genesis continues with three other famous married couples, the patriarchs and their wives: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel. Other prominent marriages of the Old Testament include Moses and Zipporah; Elkanah and Hannah, the parents of Samuel; David and Bathsheba; and Tobiah and Sarah. In the New Testament, the first married couple is Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older couple that set the stage for the greatest married couple of all: Mary and Joseph.

Biblical Basis for the Sacrament. Jesus endorsed marriage at the beginning of his ministry when he attended the Cana wedding feast and performed his first miracle there (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus also taught, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mk 10:6-9).

Christian Symbols of Marriage. The wedding ring is the foremost symbol of marriage. Other symbols include two interlocking rings; a marriage cross, a Latin Cross with two interlocking rings attached at the center; two clasped hands; two joined hands covered with a priest’s stole; a heart, the symbol of the love shared between a husband and wife; two doves, a symbol of the joy of marriage; two ropes tied in a knot; and three flowers, one taller in the middle, which represents God, the center of every marriage, and two shorter flowers of the same height on either side, one each for the husband and wife, bound by God as equal partners.

A Touching Image. One of the most beautiful metaphors for marriage is found in the Book of Ecclesiastes, part of the Wisdom Literature. The author writes, “Two are better than one. If one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! A three-ply cord is not easily broken” (Eccl 4:9,11,12). There are three partners to every marriage, two that are apparent and visible, the husband and wife, and a third partner, invisible, but the most important, God. Instead of “tying the knot,” a common mundane way to describe a marriage, every couple is asked to weave a three-ply rope with God in the middle. The more tightly a husband and wife are bound to God, the more tightly they are bound to each other; and the more tightly they are bound to each other, the more tightly they are bound to God.

The Centrality of Love. Love is the bond shared by a husband and wife. God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Therefore the bond that a couple shares, the bond that unites them, is God. John asks, “How can a person love God, who is unseen, if a person does not love their neighbor who is seen?” (paraphrase, 1 Jn 4:20). As Christians we believe that one of the main pathways to God is through our neighbor, and that when we love our neighbor, we love God. Jesus is insistent about love of neighbor (see Mt 22:39; Lk 10:29-37; and Jn 13:34-35). For a married couple, the neighbor that stands above every other neighbor is one’s spouse, and the primary pathway to God for someone who is married is through one’s spouse. The more a person loves their spouse, the more the person loves God, and an important word of caution, the less a person loves their spouse, the less the person loves God.

Instruction on Love. St. Paul offers excellent teaching on how to practice the virtue of love in his famous Ode to Love, 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind,” one of the most popular scripture texts for weddings. He provides additional advice in Col 3:12-17.

A Solemn Covenant. A Christian marriage is covenant patterned on the covenant between God and humanity and the union between Christ and the Church. God’s covenant is unbreakable, indissoluble, and enduring. Despite human failings, God offers forgiveness, renews the covenant, and is ever-faithful. Christian couples are asked to be shining examples of God’s covenantal love through the permanence, sincerity, and depth of their love.

A Spiritual Bond. A sacramental marriage is a covenant, not a contract. A contract is written on paper, a covenant is written on one’s heart; a contract has fine print with many stipulations and conditions, a covenant is unconditional; a contract is closed with a signature, a covenant is sealed with one’s 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 has forgiveness; a contract may have an escape clause, a covenant is binding forever; a contract is designed to protect my rights, a covenant seeks what is best for the other person; and a contract is a civil or legal document, a covenant is based upon faith and sealed by God.

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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.

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