What About Sacramental Grace?

Peter Nixon’s blog post from last month got expanded into the latest issue of Commonweal. Good. He was certainly among the best of the Catholic bloggers of the last decade.

I was pondering his musings about the relative frequency of divorce among Christians:

The good folks at Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate report that 28% of Catholics who have ever married have experienced divorce. While a daunting figure in many ways, it is significantly below the rate for Protestants (39%) and those with no religious affiliation (42%). There are many factors that explain these differences, but one of them is almost certainly a strong presumption against divorce that has historically been deeply woven into the Church’s culture.

It occurs to me there may well be a significant factor among many that explains this. A very significant aspect: the grace of the sacrament.

Divorce is hard, as Peter concedes, in just about every case. It’s likely that the future prospect combining remarriage and excommunication isn’t figuring in most Catholics when there’s a hole the size of a house in one’s heart.

It’s long been my contention that marriage as a sacrament has a primary purpose, above all others, even above maintaining breeding stock. It’s holiness. I know we treat marriage far too casually where this is concerned. And likely the Eucharist, too, from time to time.

If I were a bishop heading to synod this Fall, I’m not totally sure where I would move. Clearly, I’m not going as a bishop, and even less likely as an observer/participant/witness for the sacrament. Peter has a suggestion which seems obvious to me:

(C)ouple the reform proposals with a more aggressive pastoral effort to support marriage, such as a renewed commitment to movements like Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille and outreach to civilly married couples interested in bringing their marriage into the Church. I find the idea intriguing and should the Synod ultimately recommend any changes I hope that efforts like this are part of the package.

I sure hope they are. I think bishops talking about marriage makes about as much sense as lay people talking about bishops. And yes, I think the sense-making is significant. The Church is richer for having people aspiring to holiness coming together to listen to what other holy people have to say about their vocation. Most clergy are born into families with married couples. And most lay people have regular contact with clergy in their parishes Sunday after Sunday. I think there’s a whole lot to be said in mixed company. There’s bound to be some more sacramental grace in that, right?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to What About Sacramental Grace?

  1. I just want to point out that the Catholic Church recognizes the marriages of all baptized Christians, including Protestants, to be sacramental.

  2. Todd says:

    Yes, but only those that have been contracted lawfully according to the same standards of its own believers.

    I think there are two important distinctions for Catholics. One, Catholic couples often have an understanding of their marriage as a sacrament. Not all Protestants would. Cooperation with sacramental grace–a fiat, if you will–is part of the picture. A believer has to accept the gift of grace. Two, I also think the Eucharist as well as other sacraments provide an important link of faith for Catholic couples. Not only their own marriage and participation in the Eucharist, but also the sacramental life of their children and their faith community. That is a powerful experience of reinforcement, and I do think many Catholic couples live their faith and their marriage in this context.

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