‘This mystery…’ (Eph 5: 32)
Love sanctified by the grace of the sacrament
Fr Wojciech Goralski
Marriage is an earthy reality: a natural social institution being an exceptional gift of the Creator for his creation in his original plan it constitutes a sacred value, remaining from the very beginning in the relation to the economy of salvation. The truth about this special relationship between man and woman, gradually shown in the Old Testament as a way of revealing God’s covenant with Israel, is completed historically in the New Testament. Then the salvific value of that gift, presented as a real reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church in the life of the married couple. The bridal love begins to be realised in Christian marriage. One can say that, commencing from the Book of Genesis (2:8) and ending with the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians (5:32), marriage is revealed more and more as a personal gift, through which God reveals his friendship with man. Being a human reality it assumes a religious character and thus shows the truth about the inner bond of the order of creation with the order of redemption. To understand marriage as a covenant we must definitely read the above-mentioned fragment of the Letter to the Ephesians, seeking the reason for sacramental marriage in the whole text (5:21-33). It can allow us to assume that marriage between Christians does not only reflect the salvific relationship between Christ and the Church but also constitutes an example showing the highest level of covenant of love. The understanding of marriage in the light of the relationship between Christ and the Church authorises us to claim that love of Christ for the Church is not only reflected in marriage but also constitutes the basis of spouses’ love and the source of sacramental grace. It is from here that marriage gains its sanctity and sacramental dignity. Referring to the long teaching of the Church about the sacramentality of marriage, including the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council, the post-conciliar Code of Canon Law (1983) states that ‘The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized’ (canon 1055 § 1). Giving the natural reality of marriage the dimension of sacrament Christ did not change its essence at all but he included it into the supernatural order. ‘Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ's redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother’ (48). Therefore, in marriage one should see the unity of the human reality and the divine reality. A sacrament is not something above or beside marriage or is ‘added’ to it but constitutes the marriage itself if it has been contracted between Christians. No wonder that the Code of Canon Law, directly after the quoted fragment, includes the following statement, ‘For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament’ (1055 § 2). Since marriage is a sacrament it must be a sacred relationship and thus grace-giving (the so-called sacramental grace). Asking about the character of the grace, which the sacrament of marriage gives, one should first of all say that thanks to it, love of the spouses gains a deeper dimension: Christ evokes between them love similar to his love for his Church. The relationship between man and woman, established as marriage, receives from Christ the ability of real revival in itself, otherwise actualisation, of the relationship of Christ’s love for the Church. Then one must state that this grace, constituting a source of sanctification, is to continually change the spouses, regardless of their human vices and weaknesses. Supporting their human love it helps them preserve mutual faithfulness, abide in the inseparable bond and realise natural aims of marriage: their own good and procreation and education of offspring. Thus the sacrament of matrimony really realises the covenant between Christ and the Church and is also a challenge for the spouses to share in the eschatological feast of the Son of God. One could ask here: Do, and to what extent, Christian spouses use this sacramental grace that they receive while establishing their marital covenant? Do they appreciate the gift of grace at all? Can they collaborate with this grace every day, building their marital community? At the same time one can ask: why are so many Christians, not having any marital obstacles, satisfied to be in civil relationships (or in informal relationships)? Why do they give up this special gift, which is the sacrament of marriage? The words of St Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, ‘This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church’ 95:32) seems to indicate that this close relationship of people who ‘become one body’ (Eph 5:31), constituting a mystery, has its basis in Christ’s love for the Church. It is in Christ and his love for the Church that a true relationship between man and woman is expressed.