Pope Gregory XVI (2 February 1831 – 1 June 1846) served in a chaotic period of European history. The French Revolution had uprooted the traditional way of life from most Europeans. Gregory was concerned that too much of the Christian tradition was being set aside. In one paragraph of his encyclical Mirari Vos, he defends the sacramental and indissolubility of marriage.
Now the honorable marriage of Christians, which Paul calls “a great sacrament in Christ and the Church,” demands our shared concern lest anything contrary to its sanctity and indissolubility is proposed. Our predecessor Pius VIII would recommend to you his own letters on the subject. However, troublesome efforts against this sacrament still continue to be made. The people therefore must be zealously taught that a marriage rightly entered upon cannot be dissolved; for those joined in matrimony God has ordained a perpetual companionship for life and a knot of necessity which cannot be loosed except by death. Recalling that matrimony is a sacrament and therefore subject to the Church, let them consider and observe the laws of the Church concerning it. Let them take care lest for any reason they permit that which is an obstruction to the teachings of the canons and the decrees of the councils. They should be aware that those marriages will have an unhappy end which are entered upon contrary to the discipline of the Church or without God’s favor or because of concupiscence alone, with no thought of the sacrament and of the mysteries signified by it.
—Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos #12, August 15, 1832 (Italics original, bold added)
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote from a letter Pope Leo XIII sent to the bishops of Peru in 1898. In the letter, Pope Leo reminds the bishops that no human law can change the meaning of marriage, which is established by God. At the same time, civil law can regulate what are often called the “civil effects” of marriage: the rights and duties given to married couples in light of their role in society. The Pope also speaks eloquently of the many fruits of the sacrament of marriage.
Pope Leo XIII: We are concerned about the whole Christian flock, as Our apostolic duties require, for We have given frequent instruction concerning the sanctity of marriage. Jesus Christ, the author of the new covenant, translated the duty of nature into sacraments, and this duty cannot be divorced from religion and immersed in worldly [affairs]. Preceded by sacred rite, it can bring about a more tranquil and happy life for the spouses, strengthen family harmony, raise children more correctly, and suitably provide for the welfare of its community. Indeed, We have treated this matter in greater detail in Our apostolic letter Arcanum divinae sapientiae consilium. In that letter We wanted to remind the faithful of the vigilant cares which the Church has shown for preserving the honor and sanctity of marriage, for the Church is the best guardian and avenger of mankind. We also reminded the civil authorities of what matters they could rightfully regulate. It is not necessary for Us to bring each of these examples to your attention. It is, however, relevant to mention again that the leaders of the state have authority in human affairs which led to marriage and generally concern civil matters. However, in the truly Christian marriage, they have no authority, for this matter should be left to the jurisdiction of the Church, which is not established by men.
-Quam religiosa, no. 4 (August 16, 1898), emphasis added
A great blog post from Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Washington, DC) on marriage and why it matters for society:
The Gift of Married Love
Marriage is a private relationship with a public significance. In the human love that brings a woman and man to marriage, we already hear God speaking to us of the beauty and fidelity of love, its transforming power, and its creative energy. In the sacrament of matrimony, God speaks to us of a fullness of human love. Our limited experience of love is only a sign and beginning of love that changes us into children of God, who share his own wondrous and unending life in love.
Christ’s love for the Church is the pattern for married life. “Love one another as I love you!” (John 15:12). Perhaps, this sounds a bit impossible. To a young couple preparing for marriage, the reality of Christ’s love being the pattern of their own love gets lost in the dream-like quality of what is thought to be a perfect love. Real teachers of this truth of married love are the couples with whom we celebrate our annual Jubilarian Mass, some of whom have been married for more than sixty years. These couples speak simply and beautifully of learning to love in a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of way, of nurturing a love that can weather the stresses and strains of married love and family life. I invite you to listen to some of their wisdom.
In a society that is intent on changing the very definition of marriage and family, we must never tire of preaching the good news that “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. God himself is the author of marriage” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1603).
This Christian understanding of marriage has a very public benefit. Christian marriage is for the good of society, not just the married couple and the Church. In a society where family life is collapsing and our social order is unraveling, the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the obligation of parents to their children is a timely remedy. First, it ensures that every child will have the benefit of having a mother and a father. Second, it creates a stable environment for children in a world in which we see many children generated by parents who take no responsibility for them. We observe the proliferation of gangs and individuals who feel alienated and often react violently by hurting others. Family life is under assault because marriage is devalued within our culture. As members of the Church, we are obliged to be all the more attentive to the challenges that weaken marriage as a social institution and an expression of God’s plan for the well-being of the human race. Residents of Maryland have the opportunity to address this issue at the ballot box this week. Insuring that the definition of marriage does not change is a gift to our children and to society.
Living marriage as a vocation with a life-long mission requires commitment, faithfulness, and sacrifice on the part of each of the spouses. This is a gift that flows from the gift they make of themselves to each other, which has to be definitive if it is to endure in the face of difficulties. At every stage marriages need to be nurtured through prayer and reflection and formation. I hope you will take advantage of the spiritual and educational resources for strengthening your marriage which may be found on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Website, “For Your Marriage.”
From Seek First the Kingdom, Cardinal Wuerl’s blog
Note: We’ve been reading through the Viewer’s Guide for the video “Made for Each Other.” In the video, married couple Josh and Carrie reflect on the meaning of sexual difference. Each section of the Viewer’s Guide takes a quote from either Josh or Carrie and fleshes it out. The goal of the Viewer’s Guide is to help you, the reader, become more confident in promoting and defending the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
In part 8 (the final part), we’ll think about what it means that marriage is a gift, and how marriage is an indispensable model for the world.
“The gift for life…the gift of life.”
Josh sums everything up in these concise words. Marriage is the gift for life and the gift of life. It’s unique and irreplaceable—the fundamental institution for life.
The Church affirms that the love of husband and wife is a great good in and of itself, even if, for non-deliberate reasons, they do not receive the gift of a child. Marriage uniquely bridges sexual difference without emptying the difference of man and woman of its meaning and value.
The Church also teaches that human marriage is a foreshadowing of the marriage between Christ and his Church and that sacramental marriage actually participates in and shows forth the love between Christ and his Church (see Eph 5:28-33).
Marriage lived in truth is an indispensable model of communion for the world and is always an affirmation of life. The love of husband and wife reminds the couple and the rest of the world that no one is completely an isolated individual, that we need one another at the most fundamental level. This love is meant to be the context for welcoming, forming, and educating new life. This is why marriage, as a personal relationship, has always been recognized to have great, public significance. The love of spouses, the responsibilities of mothers and fathers, and the rights of children—all are tied to the unique truth of marriage and its protection and promotion.
The Church will never waver in her teaching that marriage is the union of a woman and a man. Marriage is the union of two distinct persons: man and woman, who, in the sacrament, signify Christ and his Church and embody the very love between them. From the beginning, man and woman are made for each other. There is nothing else like it. To abandon sexual difference in marriage would be to abandon the quest for unity between men and women.
- “We were made for each other, as a man and a woman.”
- “That connection…to be authentic, it has to be the whole person.”
- “Making love and having children…that depends on our difference.”
- “That’s why it’s unique to a man and a woman.”
- “It’s not just about biology…”
- “We share a common humanity, but our sexual differences are essential to who we are.”
- “Every time we make love…we’re making life…giving life…It’s not just sex…I come alive, and there’s a sense of forever in that.”
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from an apostolic letter written by Bl. Pope John Paul II in the Jubilee Year 2000, Novo Millenio Ineunte. In it, the Holy Father offers encouragement to those who build and strengthen the family – encouragement needed perhaps even more today than twelve years ago.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: At a time in history like the present, special attention must also be given to the pastoral care of the family, particularly when this fundamental institution is experiencing a radical and widespread crisis. In the Christian view of marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman — a mutual and total bond, unique and indissoluble — is part of God’s original plan, obscured throughout history by our “hardness of heart”, but which Christ came to restore to its pristine splendour, disclosing what had been God’s will “from the beginning” (Mt 19:8). Raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, marriage expresses the “great mystery” of Christ’s nuptial love for his Church (cf. Eph 5:32).
On this point the Church cannot yield to cultural pressures, no matter how widespread and even militant they may be. Instead, it is necessary to ensure that through an ever more complete Gospel formation Christian families show convincingly that it is possible to live marriage fully in keeping with God’s plan and with the true good of the human person — of the spouses, and of the children who are more fragile. Families themselves must become increasingly conscious of the care due to children, and play an active role in the Church and in society in safeguarding their rights.
- Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (2000): no. 47; bold emphasis added
Today is Good Friday, part of the “Easter Triduum,” the Church’s remembrance of and participation in Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection. On Good Friday we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial.
In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Bl. John Paul II reflected at length on the connection between marriage and the cross:
“The communion between God and his people finds its definitive fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the bridegroom who loves and gives himself as the savior of humanity, uniting it to himself as his body.
“He reveals the original truth of marriage, the truth of the ‘beginning,’ and, freeing man from his hardness of heart, he makes man capable of realizing truth it its entirety.
“This revelation reaches its definitive fullness in the gift of love which the Word of God makes to humanity in assuming a human nature, and in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ makes of Himself on the Cross for His bride, the Church. In this sacrifice there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation; the marriage of baptized persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ.
. . .
“Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the church of what happened on the cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.”
Bl. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (no. 13, emphasis added)
Today the Church celebrates Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday, commemorating Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and the institution of the Eucharist. The evening of Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the “Easter Triduum,” the three days of intense recollection of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.
In his 2007 apostolic exhortation about the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict devotes one section to explaining the connection between marriage and the Eucharist. His words provide a fitting reflection for Holy Thursday.
The Eucharist, a nuptial sacrament
“The Eucharist, as the sacrament of charity, has a particular relationship with the love of man and woman united in marriage. A deeper understanding of this relationship is needed at the present time. Pope John Paul II frequently spoke of the nuptial character of the Eucharist and its special relationship with the sacrament of Matrimony: ‘The Eucharist is the sacrament of our redemption. It is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.’ [MD, 26] Moreover, ‘the entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.’ [CCC, 1617] The Eucharist inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32). The mutual consent that husband and wife exchange in Christ, which establishes them as a community of life and love, also has a eucharistic dimension. Indeed, in the theology of Saint Paul, conjugal love is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for his Church, a love culminating in the Cross, the expression of his ‘marriage’ with humanity and at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist. For this reason the Church manifests her particular spiritual closeness to all those who have built their family on the sacrament of Matrimony. The family – the domestic Church – is a primary sphere of the Church’s life, especially because of its decisive role in the Christian education of children. In this context, the Synod also called for an acknowledgment of the unique mission of women in the family and in society, a mission that needs to be defended, protected and promoted. Marriage and motherhood represent essential realities which must never be denigrated.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis (no. 27, emphasis added)