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World Marriage Sunday 2021

To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and most urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time.[1]

Today the Church celebrates World Marriage Sunday. Fittingly, this year it coincides with the Feast of St. Valentine, patron saint of happy marriages. “To Have, To Hold, To Honor” is the theme designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to the Bishops, it is a time to reflect on the gift marriage is to our Church and our country, as well as an opportunity for couples to build up their own marriages.

Indeed, marriage is a gift to the Church and our country. St. John Paul II said, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.”[2] The family is the bedrock of society. The health of our culture and nation depends on the health of families. We are living in troubling times and many of our social ills are related to the breakup of the family.

What does a healthy family look like? It is a family that fulfills its mission. St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Family in the Modern World), said…

[T]he family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love…Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.[3] (emphasis added)

Husband and wife — individually to each other and together as a couple to their children — have the responsibility of demonstrating through their lives the love of God. This is only possible with the grace we receive through the Sacrament of Matrimony. When families are destroyed, the image of God is destroyed. Is it any wonder that our culture has lost sight of who God is and His love for His creation?

St. John Paul II goes on to say, “The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families.”[4] Furthermore,

Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers. Of this salvation event marriage, like every sacrament, is a memorial, actuation and prophecy: “As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children. As actuation, it gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems. As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ.”[5]

How many couples understand these lofty aspects of the sacrament? It is not just about two people in love that desire to join their lives together. They are to be an image of the love of God, and the sacrificial gift of Christ to His bride the Church, to each other, to any children which they may have, the community in which they live, and the whole world. This is the noble task of every family.

St. John Paul II quotes an early Church Father on the beauty of sacramental marriage…

Tertullian has well expressed the greatness of this conjugal life in Christ and its beauty: “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? …How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.”[6] (emphasis added)

Marriage is a sacrament of service, the couples to each other, to their children, the Church, and the world. They are one flesh and one spirit in this work.

Prayer for Married Couples:

Almighty and eternal God,
You blessed the union of husband and wife
so that we might reflect the union of Christ with his Church:
look with kindness on us.
Renew our marriage covenant.
Increase your love in us, and strengthen our bond of peace
so that, [with our children],
we may always rejoice in the gift of your blessing.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

[1] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, §20:6, November 22, 1982; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio_en.html (accessed February 10, 2021).

[2] Ibid., §86.

[3] Ibid., §17:2.

[4] Ibid., §56.

[5] Ibid., §13:8.

[6] Ibid., §13:4.