INSTITUTION AND PURPOSE
[continued from yesterday]
...When St. Paul speaks of marriage being a great Sacrament he does not use the word in the strict sense in which we use it now. He means merely that it is a great sign of something sacred, a mystical symbol of the union between Christ and His Church.
Nevertheless, on account of the similarity of the marriage bond to the bond between Christ and His Church, we are able to gather that marriage is a Sacrament in the strictest sense of the word. The union between Christ and His Church consists of sanctifying grace.
It consists further of a continual flow of all those graces which are needful for attaining the Church's end, namely, the salvation of all the souls for whom the Church was instituted.
If, therefore, the marriage bond is like the bond between Christ and His Church, it must be the means by which graces sanctifying the marriage state are conferred. A Sacrament of the new law is a sacred sign instituted by Christ to signify and to confer grace.
If, therefore, the marriage bond signifies and confers the graces needful for the marriage state, and if instituted by Christ, then it is one of the seven Sacraments of the new law. So it was then that Christ placed His divine seal on the natural contract and with His own lips proclaimed it henceforth to be a bond forged in heaven. "What, therefore, God hath joined together let no man put asunder."
From the fact that Christ raised the natural contract into a Sacrament, it follows that the parties to the contract are the ministers of the Sacrament. It is the man and woman who hand themselves over to each other making a mutual contract to live together till death. It is the man and woman, therefore, who confer on each other the Sacrament enabling them to fulfil the higher duties which are involved in the Christian married state.
The priest is not the minister of the Sacrament, but only the witness of it. Our late Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII, emphasized this when he insisted that the contract and the Sacrament were not two separate things.
"The distinction, or rather separation, cannot be approved of; since it is clear that in Christian matrimony the contract is not separable from the Sacrament, and consequently that a true and lawful contract cannot exist without being by that very fact a Sacrament. For Christ Our Lord endowed matrimony with the sacramental dignity; but matrimony is the contract itself, provided that the contract is rightly made...Therefore, it is plain that every true marriage among Christians is in itself and by itself a Sacrament; and that nothing is further from the truth than that the Sacrament is a sort of added ornament or quality introduced from without, which may be detached from the contract at the discretion of man." [Leo XIII, Encyc. Arcanum]If, therefore, the Sacrament is the mutual contract. it is the woman, who, as God's minister, confers on the man those soul beauties which make him a figure of Christ, the bridegroom of the Church; and so likewise is it the man who, as God's minister, confers on the woman those soul beauties, which make her a figure of the Church, the bride of Christ. Husband and wife are thus seen to be the complement: of each other in their supernatural, as well as in their natural, relationships...
From Marriage and Parenthood, The Catholic Ideal
By the Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard
Author of "Cords of Adam," "The Wayfarer's Vision," ETC.
Copyright, 1911, by Joseph F. Wagner, New York.