Grace and the Sacrament of Marriage
Originally published in Catholic Outlook September 2012
|The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony imparts a special sacramental grace that helps couples live loving and lifelong marriages.|
By Ann O’Brien, Senior Manager, CatholicCare Social Services – Diocese of Parramatta
A great thing about Catholic marriage, the thing that makes it special, and different from other couple relationships or a civil marriage, is that Catholic marriages are sacramental.
Catholic Marriage, or the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, imparts a special sacramental grace to us. It is this grace that helps couples live loving and lifelong marriages.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes a sacrament as “A sign and instrument by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ … throughout the Church…”
The Catechism also describes the grace that flows from the Sacrament of Matrimony as “This grace proper to the Sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.”
God gives us this gift of grace to assist us to live our married lives in the way God intended.
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the couple who are getting married administer the Sacrament of Matrimony to each other. The Sacrament of Marriage is a contract, but it is also a covenant. This is another beautiful aspect of the grace that flows from the sacrament.
Of course, marriage is much more than just a contract or permanent commitment. It is the place where a man and a woman seek and find intimacy and deep union with each other. It is where spouses cooperate with God in the creation of new life and a place of lifelong support and love.
The Church has summarised the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage in two terms: ‘procreative love’ and ‘unitive love’. By the grace of unitive love, married spouses are given strength to remain together and grow in their mutual charity all the days of their lives. They also receive the grace to share their very being with others, who are not yet conceived or born.
Their love is, therefore, also procreative, going beyond themselves to the children that they are open to receive from God. The sacrament further enables the mother and father to be loving parents and provide for the physical and spiritual needs of their children.
When we make our marriage vows, we promise that we take our spouse, "in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do us part".
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, God is giving us the promise of His assistance to cope with the sickness as well as with the health, with the bad times as well as with the good.
People often ask couples who have remained successfully married, how they achieved this. People often ask spouses who have forgiven the serious failings of the other, how they managed to forgive. The plea may be “God give me strength!” The answer is: "He does, through the Grace of God!"
Even if couples are well matched and prepared it is not easy for any two people to live together day and night, year after year with all their faults and imperfections. It is not easy to live holy lives and it is not easy to sustain a lifelong relationship.
All these things take sacrifice and effort. No one comes to marriage without some emotional wounds from past relationships. One of the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage is to heal those wounds through the love of the couple for each other.
We are often held back from intimacy and the true communion of persons in marriage by fears of being rejected; being dominated; hurting our spouse’s feelings or feeling our spouse may need more than we believe we have to give.
The feeling and expression of anger, from time to time, is an inevitable part of an intimate marriage. Anger is a blocking of the flow of love from one spouse to the other. Anger can be resolved by the spouses removing that block together.
There are also times in every marriage when one spouse must be a Good Samaritan to the other, when one must put aside all personal needs to be fully available for the other.Through the Sacrament of Matrimony God gives us the graces throughout our entire married lives to carry whatever crosses are sent our way. God never asks us to do the impossible.
Articles on the Year of Grace published in Catholic Outlook are archived at: www.parrayearofgrace.org.au
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