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Wedding Rings on Bible

In the Catholic Church, there are seven Sacraments. A Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible reality, instituted by Christ, which imparts grace. There are:

Three Sacraments of Christian Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.

Two Sacraments of Healing: Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.

Two Sacraments of Service: Holy Orders and Matrimony.[1]

The first thing you should notice is that marriage is a Sacrament of Service. That should get your attention. Marriage is to be other-focused, the pouring out of your life for the good of your spouse and any children with which you may be blessed.

All other Sacraments were instituted by Christ, whereas marriage was elevated by Christ to a Sacrament. It is the “primordial” Sacrament being created by God (see Genesis 1 and 2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Christian spouses are fortified and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and dignity of their state”[2] by the Sacrament.

Let’s take a closer look at the definition of a Sacrament. It is a visible sign of an invisible reality. What is the visible sign of marriage? The husband and wife. What is the invisible reality? God Himself! In marriage, the husband and wife are to be to each other, a visible sign of who God is. In addition, they are to be a visible sign of who God is to any children they may have, to their extended family, neighbors, coworkers, and everyone they meet.

You cannot get a more noble task…or a more impossible one! We can’t do that on our own. We are broken, wounded, and selfish human beings. That is why God gave us the sacraments – to impart grace. Through grace, God gives us power to love as He loves. It is in surrendering ourselves to God that He gives us grace to act as He does.

More than 50 years ago, it was common for the priest to proclaim an “Exhortation before Marriage” to the couple before reciting their wedding vows. Unfortunately, this exhortation is no longer popular. It is the most beautiful description of married love that we have ever read. Following is the entire text of the exhortation. We urge you to prayerfully meditate on the words with your spouse.

Exhortation before Marriage

My dear friends: You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because it is 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.

This union, then, 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 its 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 will 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 mutual 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, the 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. [Emphasis added.][3]

“Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy.”[4] This is your task in marriage. Ask God for the grace to live your marriage well in self-sacrificial love.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, internet: https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2.htm, 1210-1211 (accessed January 26, 2021).

[2] Ibid., 1535.

[3] Internet: https://stmonicachurchkzoo.com/sacraments/exhortation-before-marriage/ (accessed January 27, 2021).

[4] Ibid.