Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center
October 23, 2002
Marriage: Sacrament of love
Couple images God's life and love in marriage
By Steve Weidenkopf
In the hustle and bustle that comes with our cultural preparations for the celebration of a wedding, it is perhaps easy to overlook the important aspects of marriage. Marriage is more than the wedding it is a lifelong commitment of love between a man and a woman. Our Lord Jesus Christ raised the institution of marriage between baptized persons to the dignity of a sacrament. An important question for all engaged couples to ponder during their preparation for marriage is "What exactly is a sacrament?"
The traditional definition of sacrament that many Catholics learn in parish religious education programs or Catholic schools is "a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." While this definition is theologically accurate it lacks the motivational zeal to inspire us to great things. So how can we understand marriage as a sacrament? One way to understand the sacraments is to think of them as visible signs that reflect an invisible reality. In marriage, what is the invisible reality that men and woman are called to make visible? The answer is simple yet profound the very life and love of God.
In the beginning, God created man, male and female, and he created the institution of marriage (cf. Gen. 2:24-25). God created humanity with a unique nature; human beings are created male and female in the "image and likeness of God." Now, how are we to understand that scriptural passage, "made in the image and likeness" of God? In order to answer the question we need to know who God is. As Christians we believe in one God in three divine persons known as the Trinity. God is a loving, life-giving communion of persons. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and their love is so real, powerful and intense that it is another divine person, the Holy Spirit. So humanity, created in the "image and likeness" of God is called to image forth into the world the life-giving, loving relationship of the divine persons, i.e. to become a communion of persons. Where is it that two separate human beings, a man and a woman, enter into a communion of persons? Marriage.
Moreover, made in the image and likeness of God means also that we are called to the fundamental mission of God love. God calls each person to a vocation of love for he himself is love (cf. 1 John 4: 8). We are called to love as God loves, not as we think of love. Our language handicaps us in this area as we only have one word to describe love (the ancient Greeks had three). I can say, "I love pizza" and "I love my wife." The same word is used but I mean something very different in those two statements. God wants us to love as he loves. There are four basic characteristics of how God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. Husbands and wives are called to love precisely this way in marriage. They are called to love freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully not just with words but with actions and most important in the most intimate way, the sexual expression of their wedding vows.
The Church in her rite of marriage helps couples recognize this call to love as God loves when the priest or deacon asks the couple the following three "questions of intention to marry."
Have you come here freely and without reservation (totally) to give yourselves to each other in marriage?
Will you love and honor each other (faithfully) as man and wife for the rest of your lives?
Will you accept children lovingly from God (fruitfully), and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?
Once the couple affirms their consent to these questions the priest/deacon will say, "Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, join your right hands and declare your consent before God and his Church." Then the bride and groom will exchange their sacramental vows to love each other as God calls us to love.
I, __, take you,___,to be my husband/wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
The Catholic Church desires to help couples live a happy successful joy-filled marriage. Couples can do this by living their marriage according to God's plan for marriage and building their relationship on the true nature of love. In this way, couples live fully the institution of marriage, raised to the dignity of Christ Our Lord to a sacrament.
Steve Weidenkopf is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Denver.