Gaudium et Spes 48

The document continues its treament of marriage and family issues, first by reinforcing the principle that marriage is a permanent covenant:

The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the jugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes.(Cf. St. Augustine, De Bene coniugali PL 40, 375-376 and 394, St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, Suppl. Quaest. 49, art. 3 ad 1, Decretum pro Armenis: Denz.-Schoen. 1327; Pius XI, encyclical letter Casti Connubii: AAS 22 (1930, pp. 547-548; Denz.-Schoen. 3703-3714.)

And what may go without saying, namely that the permanence of marriage contributes in a positive way to the health of human society:

All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole.

The end result is not just procreation, but the formation of children:

By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.

Sifting through this entire teaching, note some important qualities of a marriage:

Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.(Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Casti Connubii: AAS 22 (1930), pp. 546-547; Denz.-Schoen. 3706.)

This is what struck me:
– The sexual act is not only unitive and an expression of union, but it also serves as an act of service.
– Non-sexual acts also strive for these values of union and service.
– The marriage relationship is a progressive one in that the Church recognizes that newly married persons–generally speaking–have a lesser degree of perfection in their relationship. Growth is an expected value for a marriage, but how often is such a value emphasized or encouraged?

Christ the Lord abundantly blessed this many-faceted love, welling up as it does from the fountain of divine love and structured as it is on the model of His union with His Church.

Historically speaking, this is a difficult statement. Marriage, as founded by God through human biology and affirmed in the Old Testament, predates the model of Christ’s union with the Church. Unless the Church is saying there is some sacramental aspect added to the nature of marriage. But it would seem the unitive dimension predates the sacramental founding.

For as God of old made Himself present(Cf. Hos 2; Jer. 3:6-13; Ezech. 16 and 23; Is. 54.) to His people through a covenant of love and fidelity, so now the Savior of men and the Spouse(Cf. Matt. 9: 15; Mark 2: 19-20; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Cf. also 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:27; Apoc. 19:7-8; 21:2 and 9.) of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. He abides with them thereafter so that just as He loved the Church and handed Himself over on her behalf,(Cf. Eph. 5:25.) the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal.

There is an authenticity for which couples strive, a grace which provides for the parenting of children:

Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother.(Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: AAS 57 (1965), pp. 15-16; 40-41; 47.)

Parenthood defined as an “office.”

For this reason Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state(Pius XI, encyclical letter Casti Connubii: AAS 22 (1930), p. 583.) By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfil their conjugal and family obligation, they are penetrated with the spirit of Christ, which suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God.

Interesting phrase: “a kind of consecration.” As with the Eucharist, one earthly goal of marriage is sanctification of the faithful. The other goal, that of the worship of God, is alluded to in that phrase referring to the couple’s contribution to the glorification of God.

We’re given a practical snapshot of what this looks like:

As a result, with their parents leading the way by example and family prayer, children and indeed everyone gathered around the family hearth will find a readier path to human maturity, salvation and holiness. Graced with the dignity and office of fatherhood and motherhood, parents will energetically acquit themselves of a duty which devolves primarily on them, namely education and especially religious education.

This is very interesting: the grace of the sacrament of marriage extends beyond the biological family. And we also have a confirmation that the primary duty of religious education is with parents, not clergy, not catechists.

The child has a role:

As living members of the family, children contribute in their own way to making their parents holy. For they will respond to the kindness of their parents with sentiments of gratitude, with love and trust. They will stand by them as children should when hardships overtake their parents and old age brings its loneliness..

And the death of a spouse is seen not as a separate state, but as a continuation of the marriage sacrament.

Widowhood, accepted bravely as a continuation of the marriage vocation, should be esteemed by all.(Cf. 1 Tim. 5:3.)

Don’t look now, but “caring and sharing” rears its face:

Families too will share their spiritual riches generously with other families. Thus the Christian family, which springs from marriage as a reflection of the loving covenant uniting Christ with the Church, (Cf. Eph. 5:32.) and as a participation in that covenant, will manifest to all (people) Christ’s living presence in the world, and the genuine nature of the Church. This the family will do by the mutual love of the spouses, by their generous fruitfulness, their solidarity and faithfulness, and by the loving way in which all members of the family assist one another.

Instead of the flimsy argument “divorce is bad,” we get a positive treatment of the sacrament of marriage, and reasons to reinforce the intended permanence of marriage. It’s no wonder that millions of Catholic American marriages struggle, given the privatized notions of both sacramental awareness and the cultural setting in which they wed.

Lots more discussion on these points. Anybody want to try?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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