By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage, Family & Life
Here is a Catholic “parlor game” (does anyone really use this phrase anymore?) a married couple could do some evening. List all of the gifts God has given you. No need to go in order of significance; this isn’t a theological debate. I hope that all Catholic couples would list things such as life, Jesus, each other, children if you have been so blessed, the Church, the beauty of creation, the goodness of the saints, the truth of God, and of course the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. God created marriage and the family, and through the Church, Jesus gave the world the seven sacraments which includes the Sacrament of Matrimony that a married couple lives every day of their lives.
I pray that all married people reading this column experience marriage as a gift from God. Each of the seven sacraments are “signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body.” (CCC 774). This means that marriage is a “sign and instrument” used by the Holy Spirit to share the “grace of Christ.” Your marriage is a gift of grace not only to the two of you, but to the entire Church including your children, your extended family and your parish and local communities.
The celebration of the seven sacraments involves words as well as an action that is part of each sacrament. The minister of the sacrament must carry out what is called the “form” (the words) as well as the “matter” (the action) to make the sacrament valid. Could you imagine if I was baptizing a baby and I said the words but did not pour water from the baptismal font over the baby’s head? The gathered family members would wonder if I was even a validly ordained deacon! You must have the water bathing the body AND the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” or you do not have baptism.
Let me now comment on the words and actions to be completed by the ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministers of this sacrament are the husband and wife and that the minister witnesses the consent of the man and woman as they enter sacramental life. The “form” of the sacrament is the “I do” that each states as a sign of consent to their vows. The “matter” of the sacrament is ultimately the fulfillment of the two becoming one flesh in conjugal (or sexual) union.
Thank you if you have stuck with this column to this point because I guess I turned the first half into a catechism lesson. Think about what the Church teaches for a moment. God created marriage and the family – OK, pretty easy to get – God created everything. Next, Jesus gave us the Church, and through the Church we receive the sacraments. Again, something that most Catholics can get their heads around. God gave us the gift of sexual union to be a part of one of the sacraments – Matrimony – and marital sexual union is meant to be a beautiful sign of grace within the sacrament each time that sexual union occurs.
Now this is where much of the world (including a number of Catholics) are going to say “Hey Deacon, you lost me on that one.” A reason why this is a tough concept for some is the fact that our society teaches that sex is one of many pleasurable behaviors that any consenting adult can engage in with another consenting person or with themselves. In contrast, what Jesus and his Church teaches is that sexual union is meant to be a physical sign of the marital sacrament, and is only to be entered into by two people after they have expressed their “I do’s” before the Church in the wedding ceremony.
Let me say to some of you, the ones who are ready to turn the page because you think the Church is out of touch with reality and needs to “get with the times about sex,” please stick with me. I hope that even those who are ready to walk away from this column can see that the “sexual revolution” that started in the 30s or the 50s or the 70s or any point in between has not led to a “Garden of Eden.” We live in a world where divorce is too high, women are objectified via rampant online pornography, more than 40 percent of all births are outside of marriage, STD’s continue to increase and mutate, and abortion is described as a “health” or “economic” choice. How different would the world be if we all saw sexual union as a gift given by God as part of the Sacrament of Marriage?
I am out of space, so in my next column I will again take up this topic and write about the role of conjugal love – sexual union – in marriage and how the Church understands God’s gift of marital sexual union.