Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita

Bill and his family have fled Houston as Hurricane Rita gains strength and takes aim at the Gulf Coast of Texas. If you have friends or family in the area, or even if you don't, start praying and fasting.
Exhortation Before Marriage

I recall this post from 2003 concerning the old Exhortatio Ante Matrimonium. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, this exhortation was typically read at weddings (actually before the marriage, hence the name). It is truly beautiful and sums things up quite nicely -- so well, in fact, that there isn't much more I can say other than it is something truly worth reflecting on. No harm in posting it again:
Dear friends in Christ: As you know, you are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious, a union which was established by God Himself. By it, He gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way He sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under His fatherly care.

Because God Himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe His own love for His Church, that is, for the People of God whom He redeemed by His own blood. And so He gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self-sacrificing love like His own. It is for this reason that His Apostle, St Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.

This union is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.

Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that, recognizing their full import, you are nevertheless so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth you belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this common life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son; and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today, never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs; He will pledge you the life-long support of His graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive.
As our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II was fond of saying, Laudetur Iesus Christus. Let Jesus Christ be praised.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Marriage and Mass

Really cool:
In the Latin Rite the celebration of marriage between two Catholic faithful normally takes place during Holy Mass, because of the connection of all the sacraments with the Paschal mystery of Christ. In the Eucharist the memorial of the New Covenant is realized, the New Covenant in which Christ has united himself for ever to the Church, his beloved bride for whom he gave himself up. It is therefore fitting that the spouses should seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives by uniting it to the offering of Christ for his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and by receiving the Eucharist so that, communicating in the same Body and the same Blood of Christ, they may form but "one body" in Christ.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1621. Wow!
Not even the angels in Heaven can ...

My fiancée and I have our second marriage preparation meeting this weekend. We are looking forward to it! We really want to engage our preparation for marriage, not as a list of requirements to be checked off, but as a great mystery to be embraced. Yes, there are regular prep sessions, engaged encounter retreat, FOCCUS, NFP classes, witness forms, relationship biographies, etc... but these requirements reflect, for us, how intricate and significant married life really is. It spite of requirements, it seems marriage is something that is simply profound, or is that profoundly simple? But that's too easy to say...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraphs 1623 and 1624, says:
In the Latin Church, it is ordinarily understood that the spouses, as ministers of Christ's grace, mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church... The various liturgies abound in prayers of blessing and epiclesis asking God's grace and blessing on the new couple, especially the bride. In the epiclesis of this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity.
I think there is a tendency in our culture to see marriage as our own... that is, it belongs solely to the couple (and to society at large, seeing fit to redefine marriage in whatever way). The Roman Catholic understanding holds that matrimony is a sacramental covenant, given by God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and mutually conferred by the couple upon each other. What is a sacrament if not a means by which God gives grace for sanctification and holiness? So, then, marriage is a means through which God perfects a couple in holiness, both in their mutual self-giving and consent as well as in their self-giving to God as one flesh. It therefore seems that marriage cannot belong to the couple alone simply because such an understanding omits the essential element of God, since He gives grace in order to draw the couple closer to Him! The sacrament binds the couple together as one flesh, but it also binds the couple together to God in a sacramental bond.

This is quite profound, actually! As the Catechism paragraph above states, the sacrament is conferred by the couple on each other by expressing their consent before the Church. Consent is at the root of what makes a marriage valid and sacramental:
- Fidelity: Consent to be faithful to each other.
- Commitment: Consent to be faithful until death.
- Openness to new life: Consent to be fruitful by allowing love to grow and bear fruit, opening the relationship to children.
A marriage that includes the full consent of the couple to each other is, then, indissoluble until death. But these should not be taken just as formal requirements. If that is all they are, then it's difficult to expect them to be taken seriously. No, they are actually at the heart of marriage itself. In an era of quick divorce, fidelity until death is quite a challenge. The same can be said of the third requirement of openness to new life.

For couples that are biologically capable, welcoming children involves allowing the extension and expansion of an overflowing love to bear fruit in new life. As stated above, the ever available source of this love is the Holy Spirit. Yet, having children is, as you parents know, a great responsibility. Yet, it is inseparably linked to married life, which is also a great responsibility. This, of course, demonstrates something basic about our God: that love and life are inseparably linked to one another. Just as God's love bore fruit in the garden of Eden and in all creation, so does a married couple's love grow and bear fruit in new life. And, because of His love, God always gives of Himself, from Himself, (directed outwardly) for the good of His Creation, even so does married love also give of itself, from itself, not just the couple to each other (as one flesh), but also outwardly into creation. And, just as God sacrificed His only begotton Son, Jesus Christ, out of love for the entire world, so the couple must embrace sacrifice in subordination to each other. (remember St. Paul - husbands must love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself over for the Church's sanctification!) Where is this leading...?

The Second Vatican Council beautifully summed this up in Gaudium et Spes, by drawing upon Scripture:
Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day.
True married love enables a man and woman to become sacramental participants in God's divine love, as one flesh, and through this, they also become participants in God's act of creation as co-creators in the outpouring of God's love of the world.

As St. Paul said, this is indeed a great mystery to me. But what I understand is this. Not even the angels in Heaven can do what a couple does when it brings new life into the world, or what a woman does when she nurtures new life in her womb. We humans are of great value to God, and women, in particular, are richly gifted.


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