This Sunday, within the Archdiocese of Toronto is being celebrated as Marriage Sunday. I am not sure if this date was chosen because this is the weekend before Valentine’s Day and it is a day to celebrate the love of all married couples; or if it was chosen because next weekend is the Family Day Weekend and the Sacrament of Marriage is the foundation of all Christian Family Life. As it is Marriage Sunday, this weekend I would like to share with you the prayer that I talk about with all couples who are preparing to be married here at St. Peter’s Parish.
I usually start one of the talks that I have with those who are preparing for marriage by reading to them the text of the nuptial blessing that will be prayed at their wedding. This text reads as follows:
who formed man in your own image,
male and female you created them,
so that as husband and wife, united in body and heart,
they might fulfill their calling in the world;
O God, who, to reveal the great design you formed in your love,
willed that the love of spouses for each other
should foreshadow the covenant
you graciously made with your people,
so that, by fulfillment of the sacramental sign,
the mystical marriage of Christ with his Church
might become manifest
in the union of husband and wife among your faithful;
Graciously stretch out your right hand
over these your servants (N. and N.), we pray,
and pour into their hearts the power of the Holy Spirit.
Grant, O Lord,
that, as they enter upon this sacramental union,
they may share with one another the gifts of your love
and, by being for each other a sign of your presence,
become one heart and one mind.
May they also sustain, O Lord, by their deeds
the home they are forming
(and prepare their children
to become members of your heavenly household
by raising them in the way of the Gospel).
Graciously crown with your blessing your daughter N.,
so that, by being a good wife (and mother),
she may bring warmth to her home with a love that is pure
and adorn it with welcoming graciousness.
Bestow a heavenly blessing also, O Lord,
on N., your servant,
that he may be a worthy, good and
faithful husband (and provident father).
Grant, holy Father,
that, desiring to approach your table
as a couple joined in Marriage in your presence,
they may one day have the joy
of taking part in your great banquet.
Through Christ our Lord.
This prayer places Marriage within the design of God when he first created the world. I like to think that God has so much love within God’s self, that this is why God cannot be on God’s own. God exists as a Trinity of persons, as Christ has revealed to us; as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is because of this love that God also creates. Science speaks of a Big Bang at creation. For me, this represents the fact that God has so much love within God’s self, that God bursts forth in love, creating the whole galaxy. God has so much love within God’s self, that scientists tell us that the universe is still expanding. For me, this indicates that God’s love is infinite and cannot be contained.
The Scriptures also tell us that the human person is made in the image and likeness of God. This means, that like God, humans are meant for love. St. Augustine said that the human person was meant for love of God and that our hearts are longing until they rest in him. The life of every person is spent in pursuit of love—whether a healthy love or a false and empty love. Those healthy loves are those which lead us to God and to the fulfillment of our calling. We all know of the harm that the unhealthy loves can do to us or our loved ones. We see this when people give everything for their careers, drugs, money or those things which leave them empty and unfulfilled. It is the wholesome and true loves—those that lead to the true and living God—which leave a person fulfilled.
In our Catholic Christian faith, we believe that Jesus has come into the world to tell each of us how we can find our way to Him and the fulfillment to which God calls us. The way to do this is the way of love. At our Baptisms, Jesus promises each of us that he will love us unconditionally. Baptism is the sacrament by which we are introduced into the life of grace and communion with the Trinity. In Baptism Jesus promises us that He will love us forever and be with us always. He also calls us to love Him and walk with him. We hear such a call story in the Gospel today. In fact, the Church teaches that every Christian has a vocation. In Latin, the word for calling is “vocare;” so a vocation means nothing other than the fact that each person who is baptized is called to follow Jesus. Each one of us must discern in our lives how we will respond to God’s love for us and how we are going to follow Him. The vocations that exist in the Church are to the priesthood or religious life, the single vocation and to marriage. In our world today, many people do not respond to God’s call. We should not be fooled, not to respond, to ignore God, is a clear response.
The most common response to God’s call is Marriage. The Bible begins and ends with Marriage. It starts with the creation of Adam and Eve and ends with the great nuptial banquet between Christ and the Church. In the Sacrament of Marriage, a baptized man, who possess Christ through Baptism, and a baptized women, who possess Christ by Baptism, promises to love the other both on behalf of themselves, but also on behalf of Christ. This is why Marriage is not private. It involves both the individuals and the God who created them. The Church’s theology states that as Christ loved the Church for her salvation, so too the couple is called to love each other for their salvation. Because God’s love for us is unconditional, the Sacrament of Marriage, which represents God’s marriage is also to be unconditional and permanent. I like to tell couples that they are to love the other one into Heaven—that their marriage is supposed to be a slice of Heaven on earth. Because of the significance of the marriage covenant, it is truly to be the most important relationship in the lives of those who enter into it. When one or both parties in a marriage are not Baptized, it is not called a sacrament, but is rather regarded as a sacred bond.
Unfortunately, because marriages are so important, they also take a lot of work. People often say to me that it is difficult to be a priest and they do not know how I do it. Every lifelong commitment is difficult and I do not think anyone can live such a commitment without God’s grace. But this does not mean that people should always stay in a bad marriage. Mistakes are made and some situations deteriorate beyond repair. It is for this reason that the Church offers annulments and that this process has been made easier for pastoral reasons. We should all pray for those who are married and assist and offer support to those who are in difficult marriages. No one gets married to get divorced or separated. When it happens, hearts are broken. Catholic Family Services offers a programme called New Beginnings for separated and divorced persons to support them and allow them to know that they are still loved by God and to help them find the happiness that they desire.
Because the sacrament of Marriage can be so difficult and require God’s grace, the Church asks that Catholics be married in the Church. In fact, a Catholic is obliged to have his or her marriage celebrated in the Church for validity. Today, many good Catholics celebrate their marriages outside of the Church because they hope for a destination wedding or hope to get a date that may not be available. Those Catholics who have celebrated their marriage outside of the Church, should be encouraged to have it validated by an exchange of consent within the Church and a blessing of their marriage. By doing so, they open their relationship up to the presence of God, and His grace, in their lives and relationship. For those who are in their first marriage, the only thing that is necessary to validate a first marriage is a little bit of paper work and a conversation with their parish priest. I would love to help any Catholic parties in our parish who would like to have their first marriage validated to do this. For those who are not in this parish, they should be encouraged to approach their parish priest. Those who are in a second or third marriage might also be able to have their marriages validated, but it might require the annulment of the previous marriages for this to be possible. It is also incorrect that those who are divorced are not allowed to receive the Eucharist. Only those who have entered into an invalid marriage should refrain from receiving the Eucharist; until such time that their marriage can be validated.
On this Marriage Sunday, I would ask anyone who is here that is married to stand for a special marriage blessing.
Loving God, we give you thanks for having made us in your image and likeness. In Marriage, you give man and woman the call to love another person in your name. Send your Holy Spirit on these married couples that they may love you and grow more and more in love with one another. Grant that after a very, very, very, very long life together, they may come to see you face to face in the Kingdom of Heaven. We ask this as always through Christ our Lord.
Blessings to all on this Marriage Sunday!
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto.