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The sacrament of Christian marriage: a nuptial Mass homily
Fr Glen Tattersall is a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Together with his colleague, Fr John McDaniels, he is chaplain in the Archdiocese to those Catholics who worship in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The chaplaincy is based at St Aloysius' Church Caulfield. This article is taken from a homily preached by Fr Tattersall on the occasion of a wedding and nuptial Mass.
Dear friends, you are about to commit yourselves to something remarkable and wondrous. In God's Providence you have met, and you have fallen in love with each other. You want to express that love in the life-long and exclusive commitment that is marriage; in fact your desire and resolve to do this is the expression of your acceptance of a call.
You have a vocation not just to marriage in general, but to this marriage to each other: a personal invitation from God, who is Love and the source of all true human love, to live out a life of mutual love and in that pledge to be an image of Divine Love, and especially to mirror the union between Christ and the Church.
You know very well that marriage is no mere 'piece of paper'. It's not simply one option in a smorgasbord of lifestyles open to those who are lovers. To fall truly in love, and then to want to give that love authentically and totally to the beloved, and to receive the other's love in return, demands that you make this commitment: that you enter into a unique union of mutual fidelity that by its nature is between man and woman only, and which must be exclusive, indissoluble, and open to God's plan for new life.
Marriage, thus understood, is rooted in the very nature of man and woman. We cannot change it without betraying ourselves, the gift of love, and the Giver, Who is God.
Marriage is this, and it is also more than this, for Jesus Christ added to the existing beauty of marriage by making it a sacrament. A sacrament is a visible sign, instituted by Christ, which by His will and power conveys to those who receive it, grace, that is, a created share in the very life and love of God Himself.
By virtue of this sacrament, a mysterious connection is affirmed between every Christian marriage and the union between Christ and the Church, an identity which St Paul is at pains to insist upon in the first reading today.
In falling in love and receiving the sacrament of marriage, man and woman choose to join themselves so deeply to Christ, and to each other in Him, that their love is a sort of self-realisation of the Church. That is, the relationship which exists between Christ and the Church is mysteriously made present in their communion with each other.
Through the sacramental reality of marriage, Christ Our Lord redeems and renders holy every type of human love: the erotic love of desire and ecstasy, and the love of affection and friendship; but above all Christ confers that Divine love which unfailingly seeks the true good of the other, the love that enables both sacrifice and forgiveness: Charity.
It may be a surprise to some to hear that the sacrament of marriage celebrates and consecrates erotic love between the spouses. Contrary to what the media might tell you, the Catholic Church is not puritanical.
It is because our sexuality is such a great good, a reality so bound by God to the deepest aspects of human nature, and since at the same time our sexuality is as powerful as we often are frail, that the Church - faithful always to the voice of Her own spouse, Christ - acts to guide and nurture us, to protect the sacred nature of sexuality and our own humanity in the process.
Sometimes, after the fashion of Christ's words in today's Gospel, this involves hard sayings: 'What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.'
Sexuality as eroticism today has become a diversion, an appetite to be satisfied in the way that hunger or thirst might be met. But to do this trivialises sex, and ultimately dehumanises us. The exercise of our sexual powers involves our whole personality, rather than being a mere function of the biological organism.
It also involves the personality of another human being. Love demands openness to the other. By its nature love compels one to move beyond oneself, and in a way even beyond the beloved person. In marriage this means that the spouses help each other to grow in intimacy with God, and that in return they desire to co-operate lovingly with Him and each other in accepting and nurturing the gift of children.
Erotic love, when it is experienced in marriage, invites the spouses to transcend themselves; in its joy it is also an affirmation of the goodness of creation and hence of the Creator.
But if the spouses are to be saved from the dangers of idolatry, of setting each other up as substituting for God, or of descending into a self-gratification which turns the other person into an object, and hence a victim, then charity must also be present.
This love is, above all, self-giving. It is a sacrifice, whose archetype is Calvary, involving losing one's life in order to gain it. To love is to permit oneself to suffer on account of another. Nowhere is this more mysterious or painful as when suffering is caused by the direct actions of the beloved. But in God's plan marriage finds a purpose even in this.
In the certainty of unfailing forgiveness, which flows from the power of the Cross and is guaranteed by the indissolubility of marriage, the relationship between the spouses is less and less conditioned by their limitations, and resistances to each other.
On the contrary, these factors become part of the journey, and will progressively teach you mutual surrender. Shaped by Christ's redeeming grace, human measures give way to make space for mercy as one of the highest expressions of married love.
Since love is characteristic of human nature as created by God, and since humanity is both fallen and called to a supernatural destiny beyond its own unaided powers, love is at once something already granted by God, and yet something for which one must also strive by the power of Divine grace. Love is therefore always both a starting point and a goal.
As we rejoice with you at the beginning of your married life, we pray for you that together - with your children and your children's children - you may reach the goal. Always keep before you that truth of which St John, the beloved disciple, assures us: 'Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us' (1 John 4:10).
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 22 No 11 (December 2009 - January 2010), p. 20
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