Marriage as a Sacrament

Jack Rigert

It was not until I was married and my wife delivered our first child that I got a glimpse into the Love of the Trinity in a concrete way. Holding our daughter in my arms for the first time and looking at my wife, I was overwhelmed by this new person that she had just delivered. Now there were three of us! Later, as I reflected on this day and on the subsequent births of our other children, I began to realize how my wife and I were called to be a reflection of God’s Image in the world.  I gave myself as a sincere gift of love to my wife; she received this gift and gave herself to me. From that exchange of love, another person came into our lives: our baby. The two, my wife and I, called to become one in the Sacrament of Marriage, which is consummated in the marital embrace, became three. Wow. God not only created us in His Image, but allowed us to be co-creators with Him in the mystery of a new creation!

I remember as a boy being taught that God is a Trinity. That the Father gives Himself to the Son, the Son receives this gift and gives Himself to the Father and proceeding from the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. I had struggled with this Image of God until I held my baby in my arms and realized that her existence was entirely due to the gift of love between my wife and myself. It was at this moment that I realized for the first time that our creation as male and female makes visible God’s Image here on Earth.

As Scripture tells us in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness…” and again in Genesis 1:27, “God created mankind in his image; In the image of God he created them: Male and female he created them.” Notice that God, Himself a Communion and a family, in Genesis 1:26 above said: “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness…” and the image He created as a communion of love was mankind, male and female.

This is why Marriage is such a big deal! It was established in the beginning to be a visible, earthly sign pointing to the Trinity and our call to union and communion with God Himself. In fact, it was a sign right from the beginning pointing to the kind of relationship that God wants with us, as special and as close as a marriage, a spousal relationship, that brings forth the Love of God in the world.

It is Jesus who takes us back to this beginning when He answers the Pharisees in Matthew 19:4-6. “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’?”

Did you ever notice that the bookends of the Bible both center on marriage? The Bible begins in Genesis with the marriage of Adam and Eve, and it ends in Revelation with the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, which is the marriage of Jesus and His Bride, the Church. Between these book ends of the Bible, we repeatedly hear God inviting His chosen people to enter into a spousal relationship with Him.

It is Saint Paul in Ephesians 5:23-32 who ties these bookends together, the Spousal Love of man and woman with the Spousal Love of Jesus and His Bride the Church (we are the Church!), when he says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the Church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”

The title of this article is Sacramental Marriage.  A Sacrament is an earthly sign that makes present a heavenly reality. As signs instituted by Jesus, each of the seven Sacraments also effect what they signify and produce Grace and a participation in the life of God. So what does the Sacrament of Marriage point to or signify?  From the beginning, Marriage points to the infinitely greater mystery of Christ’s union with the Church. And where do we consummate our earthly marriage and receive Grace that helps us to love our spouse like Christ loves us? In the marital embrace, we are renewing our wedding vows to love each other freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully, just as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for Her (for you!).

Since our marriages point to Christ’s union and communion with the Church, where did Jesus consummate His spiritual union with His bride the Church? On the marriage bed of the Cross! Why did He go to such extremes? For Love!  To reverse the effects of Original Sin which was our original “no” to Gods invitation to be in complete and uninhibited communion with Him. In our “no’’, we not only damaged our relationship with God, but we also damaged our relationship with one another.  This is especially true of the relationship between men and women. The sign, our marriages, became distorted by sin, and we see the effects of that distortion today in the divorce rates, the number of children born out of wedlock and unchaste lifestyles.

On the marriage bed of the Cross, Jesus freely gave His life in an act of Divine Love to His Bride the Church and restored our relationship with God and one another. Through Jesus, we can once again experience Divine Life and Divine Love in our daily lives, and Communion with God has been restored to us once again.  It is up to each of us to say “yes” to this freely given gift of Life and Love.  Jesus showed us as men and women how to love.  As we saw in Ephesians 5, Christ shows husbands the greatest example of how to love their wives.  As He laid down His Life for His Bride on the Cross, Jesus showed that husbands are called to lay down their lives for their bride, and in this way, husbands sanctify their families.  Wives are called to honor their husbands as they lay down their lives for the sake of the family and aid their husbands in the mission of creating an atmosphere of life and love in the home.  In this way, Sacramental Marriage points to the Love of the Trinity, and we image God and proclaim His Love to the world.