Secular Franciscan Order

Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis

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 No 43


 By Blessed Pope John Paul II

Dossier prepared by the CIOFS Ongoing Formation Team

Ewald Kreuzer, OFS, Coordinator / Lucy Almiranez, OFS

      Mike & Jenny Harrington, OFS


Session 7 - THE SACRAMENT - MARRIAGE TOB 87 - 102


Having looked at "Celibacy for the Kingdom", we now reflect on "Marriage" which remains the normal vocation. Blessed John Paul II helps us to discover the true meaning of Ephesians 5:22-33, marriage as a sacrament, the "Great mystery" and the meaning of "human life". He says - TOB 79.6: If someone chooses marriage, he must choose it exactly as it was instituted by the Creator "from the beginning"; he must seek in it those values that correspond to the plan of God; if on the other hand someone decides to follow continence for the kingdom of heaven, he must seek in it the values proper to such a vocation. In other words, he must act in conformity with his chosen vocation.


Blessed John Paul II uses St Paul's text on Ephesians 5:21-33 for his reflections.

TOB 87.2 .....Just as earlier we analysed the different words of Christ that seem to have a key significance for TOB  Christ appeals to the "beginning" (Mt 19:4, Mk 10:6), to the human "heart" in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:28), and to the future resurrection (Mt 22:30, Mk 12:25, Lk 20:35-36). What is contained in Ephesians is the "crowning" as it were of these key words. ..... therefore, if one wishes to interpret this passage, we must do so in the light of what Christ has told us about the human body. By his words he not only appealed to "historical" man (to his heart - man of concupiscence), on the one hand, the perspective of the "beginning" or of original innocence and justice, on the other hand, the eschatological perspective of the resurrection of the body when "they will take neither wife not husband"(Lk 20:35). All of this is part of the theological perspective of the "redemption of the body" (Rom 8:23)

Ephesians speaks about the "Body" referring metaphorically to the Body of Christ which is the Church , and concretely to the human body male and female destined for unity in marriage, (Gen 2:24), "For this reason he will leave his father and his mother and  unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. "The meanings converge. The passage is crucial both for the mystery of the Church as well as the sacramental character of marriage.

TOB 89.1 "Be Subject to one another in the fear of Christ."  The reciprocal relations of husband and wife must spring from their common relation with Christ. ... a reverence for holiness. ... profound consciousness of the mystery of Christ, must constitute the basis of the reciprocal relations between the spouses.

TOB 87.5 - The sacrament is a "visible sign".  ... In this sign and through this sign - God gives himself to man in his transcendent truth and in his love. The sacrament is a sign of grace .... to realize and fulfil the work of salvation in him, the work determined ahead of time by God from eternity and fully revealed in Christ.

TOB 90.2: ... while the analogy used in Ephesians clarifies the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, at the same time it reveals the essential truth about marriage, namely that marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians only when it mirrors the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, gives to the Church, his Bride, and which the Church (in likeness to the wife who is "subject", and thus completely given) seeks to give back to Christ in return. This is the redeeming, saving love, the love with which man has been loved by God from eternity in Christ, "In him he chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and immaculate before him" (Eph 1:4).

"Reverence for Christ" results from a lived experience of the redemption of the sexual attraction and desire. Through ongoing conversion, we gradually come to experience a mature level of purity. Pure men and women see the mystery of Christ revealed through their bodies, they feel it in their hearts. They realize that the call to union inscribed in their sexuality is a "great mystery" that proclaims the union of Christ and the Church. When we live as St Paul calls us to, lust is unthinkable. The "great mystery" of sexuality fills us instead with profound amazement, awe and wonder. In other words, it fills us with reverence for Christ.

TOB 90.5: Christ's "gift of self" to the Father through obedience to the point of death on the cross takes on a strictly ecclesiological character here. "Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her" (Eph 5:25). Through a total gift that springs from love, he formed the Church as his body and continually builds her, thus becoming her head. As head, he is the Savior of his body and at the same time, as Savior, he is the head. As head and Savior of the Church, he is also Bridegroom of his Bride.

TOB 92.6 If Ephesians says that "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church," this means the husband must be the first to serve (Lk 22:25-26). There is a "sacred order" to love. In imaging Christ and the Church,  Bl John Paul II writes that "the husband is above all he who loves, and the wife, on the other hand is she who is loved."

Marriage as the Primordial sacrament

Blessed John Paul II writes "That mystery, as God's salvific plan in regard to humanity, is in a certain sense the central theme of all revelation, its central reality." This is why he calls marriage the "primordial" sacrament (first in order - foundational). It is "the most ancient revelation of the plan in the created world." TOB 93

Even the Eucharist is "nuptial". Each time we celebrate it, it is a renewal of Christ's total self-gift to us on the cross and our response in love and gratitude as his bride. Since the “one flesh” union of man and wife foreshadowed Christ and the Church right from “the beginning,” “All the sacraments of the new covenant find in a certain sense their prototype in marriage,” says Bl John Paul II. This is why Baptism is a “nuptial bath” and why the Eucharist is “the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” When we receive the body of Christ into our own, in a mysterious way, like a bride, we conceive new life in us – life in the Holy Spirit. It is this same Holy Spirit that forms the bond that unites spouses in the Sacrament of Marriage.

TOB 93.1 St Paul's linking of the "one flesh" union with the union of Christ and Church "is the most important point of the whole text, in some sense its keystone".

TOB 91.8 "The union of Christ with the Church and spousal union of man and woman in marriage are in this way illuminated by a particular supernatural light. Guided by this supernatural light, St Paul demonstrates a keen understanding of the "sacramentality" of the body. TOB 96.6; 19:4 "The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible; the spiritual and divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it."

We are called to love as Christ loves. This is the new commandment Christ gives us, "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12). How did Christ love us? "This is my body... given for you" (Lk 22:19).  Man is the highest expression of the divine gift, which he bore within; in his likeness to God. He transcends the sign to its meaning, the conjugal significance of the body in the mystery of original innocence.


TOB 95.4 The analogy with the love that unites spouses is strongly highlighted in this passage. Isaiah says:

 For your creator is your husband, Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. (Is 54:5)

TOB 97.5: Just as the "first Adam" - man, male and female - who were created in the state of original innocence and called in this state to conjugal union (in this sense we speak about the sacrament of creation) was a sign of the eternal Mystery, so also the "second Adam," Christ, who is united with the Church through the sacrament of redemption in an indissoluble bond analogous to the indissoluble covenant of spouses, is the definitive sign of the same eternal Mystery. Thus, when we speak about the realization of the eternal mystery, we are speaking also about the fact that it becomes visible with the visibility of the sign.

TOB  98.1: ....The sacramentality of marriage is not only a model and figure of the sacrament of the Church (of Christ and the Church), but also constitutes an essential part of the new heritage, that of the sacrament of redemption with which the Church is endowed in Christ. Here one must go back once more to Christ's words in (Mt 19:3-9), in which Christ, in responding to the question of the Pharisees about marriage and its specific character appeals only and exclusively to its original institution by the Creator at the "beginning".  ...In his dialogue with the Pharisees (Mt 19), Christ not only confirms the existence of marriage instituted from the "beginning" by the Creator, but he declares also that it is an integral part of the new sacramental economy, of the new order of salvific "signs" that draws its origin from the sacrament of redemption, just as the original economy emerged from the sacrament of creation; and in fact, Christ limits himself to the one and only sacrament, which was marriage instituted in the state of original justice and innocence of man, created as male and female "in the image and likeness of God."


Spouses find that through the grace of their sacrament, together with other sacraments, they can experience their love for each other as something beautiful, healing and redemptive. Marital love participates not only in the mystery of creation through procreation, it also participates in the mystery of redemption.  Eph 5:25-26: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her, in order to make her holy."

TOB 90.2 Ephesians reveals the essential truth about marriage, namely , that marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians only when it mirrors the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, gives to the Church, his Bride, and which the Church seeks to give back to Christ in return. This is the "redeeming,  saving love, the love which man has been loved by God from eternity in Christ". Here we can see the divine dimension of the sacrament, the divine gift (grace) communicated through marriage.

The grace of Christ's spousal love restores in us the holiness experienced by the first married couple. Holiness is not automatic, we need, through all our trials and struggles in our daily lives, to continually open ourselves like a bride to receive the gift of Christ's love, allowing it to inform us and transform us. Not by doing, but of letting it be done to us.

TOB 102.2: ... precisely through participation in this salvific love of Christ - marriage is confirmed and simultaneously renewed as the sacrament of the human "beginning," that is , as the sacrament in which man and woman, called to become "one flesh," share in the creative love of God himself. They share in it both by the fact that, created in the image of God, they have been called in virtue of this image to a particular union, and because this union has itself been blessed from the beginning with the blessing of fruitfulness. (Gen 1:28).

The love (grace) man and woman knew "in the beginning" through their bodies was a foretaste or preview in some sense of the love (grace) that Christ would pour out within history through his body. In fact, the love the first couple knew in their bodies depended in some sense on the love that Christ would pour out on his bride, the Church. Creation foreshadows and prepares us for redemption; the union of the first Adam and Eve foreshadows and prepares us for the union of the new Adam and Eve, Christ and the Church.

The incarnation is not an afterthought in God's mind. (CCC 280). "From the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ."

Christ speaks of marriage in Mt 19 as a "sacrament" in which the one-flesh union of man and woman is a sign of their destiny to be united "in truth and love" as adopted children of God in Christ, as a communion of persons in the likeness of the Trinity.

Insisting on indissolubility, Christ opens marriage to God's salvific action, flowing from the "redemption of the body", and to the unity of love. The "ethos of redemption" allows us to understand the personal dignity of the human body, which dignity lies at the root of the conjugal covenant's indissolubility. Christ's moral conclusions from indissolubility about divorce and remarriage constituting adultery show that this sacrament constitutes an encouragement to man to participate consciously in bodily redemption. Christ gives as a duty to men and women to protect each other's dignity and their own dignity. As a sacrament of God's saving power, marriage exhorts man to dominate concupiscence, which will produce the fruit of unity and indissolubility.

TOB 99.6: Therefore what God has joined let man not separate" (Mt 19:4-6). With respect to the "certificate of divorce" Christ answers, "Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. ... and marries another commits adultery" (Mt 19:8-9). "the one who marries a woman divorced by her husband commits adultery" (Mt 5:32).

TOB 101.5: Those who unite with each other as spouses according to the eternal divine plan so as to become in some sense "one flesh" are in turn called by the sacrament to a life "according to the Spirit," such that this life corresponds to the "gift" received in the sacrament. In virtue of this "gift" by leading a life "according to the Spirit", they are able to discover the particular gratuitous gift in which they have come to share. Just as "concupiscence" darkens the horizon of interior vision and deprives hearts of the lucid clarity of desires and aspirations, so life "according to the spirit" (or the grace of the sacrament of Marriage) allows man and woman to find the true freedom of the gift together with the awareness of the spousal meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity.

Human spouses are called to model their spousal life and love on Christ and the Church. Created in the image of God, the spouses' love is called to a particular communion of persons that is (pro)creative. This original meaning is renewed and deepened when spouses unite "out of reverence for Christ" in the "redemption of the body." Ephesians links the redemptive and spousal dimensions of love, fusing them into one. In the sacrament of marriage, Christ's redemptive and spousal love permeates the couple's life. The spousal significance of the body in masculinity and femininity is "newly created" by its insertion in Christ's redemptive, self-giving love.

The spousal meaning of the body is fulfilled in its redemptive significance, not only in marriage and in continence for the kingdom, but also in suffering, in birth and in death. Marriage as a sacrament remains a living and life giving part of this saving process.


Questions for reflection

1.             In the spousal imagery passages quoted Is 54:4-10, what do they tell you about what God is like, how He   relates to you.

2.             How does the spousal meaning of the body take on the redemptive meaning of the body?

3.             What do you understand by the "Great Mystery", that Blessed John Paul II refers to?

4.             How does our Lord renew the spousal covenant with His bride in the celebration of the Eucharist?

5.             What essential truth about marriage does Ephesians reveal?

6.             If a husband has had an addiction to pornography since he was a teenager, and the wife has had multiple affairs, is there hope for them to have a marriage that truly reflects the love of Christ for the Church? How will       this be possible?

7.             Discuss Blessed John Paul II's reference to marriage being the primordial Sacrament.

References :  'Man and Woman He Created them' - John Paul II,