Before we begin our presentation on Marriage as sacrament, we must begin with a clear understanding of what a sacrament is. Ephesians 1:9-10 states:
“God made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor.”
If I read this passage in Latin, it might become clear how this applies to our idea of Sacrament.
Notum faceret nobis sacramentum voluntatis suae secundum bonum placitum.
See, where the Greeks use “Mystery,” Latins uses “Sacramentum/ sacrament.” Sacrament is mystery. Sacrament is an oath, the oath of enlistment into the military, the oath we give to one another to be faithful in the marital bond. A sacrament is a mystery pointing to the grace of God and is a sign of that grace. We read later in Ephesians, chapter 5:21-32:
Stand under/understand one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives stand under/understand their husbands as to Kyrie. The husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior/Joshua/Jesus of the body. As the church stands under/understands Christ, wives stand under/understand their husbands in everything. Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, to present to him the church in splendor.... Husbands love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. No one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, as we are members of his body. A man leaves father and mother and joins to his wife; the two become one flesh.” This is a great mystery; I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
In Latin, the passage again ends, “Sacramentum.” The passage does not begin, “Wives stand under/ their husbands,” but, “Stand under one another.” St. Paul then presents the marital bond as an example of this standing under one another. It does present the patriarchal view, but with God as the ultimate patriarch, and all of us: brother and sisters of Christ, mothers and fathers, fathers and daughters as the Bride of Christ. We stand under one another. How can the bride possibly understand her husband if the husband does not communicate with, nourish and cherish his bride? We must communicate, one with another, if we are to be one community, one family. This is a great mystery; I speak in reference to Christ and the church, not just about marriage.
“Husbands love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” To understand St. Paul, we must think in terms of our inner cities of a century ago, like Chicago, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh. Each community had its ethnic quarter. Tarsus had its ethnic Jewish quarter. A century ago, the ethnic Jewish quarter of Chicago spoke Yiddish. We can presume the ethnic Jewish quarter of Tarsus Turkey spoke Aramaic. St. Paul’s father sent him to study under a Rabbi Gamaliel. He lived in the Jewish capital where they spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. True, St. Paul does display extensive knowledge of Greek rhetoric, but Hebrew rhetoric as well.
The Hebrew word for “Father,” is “Abba.” The Hebrew word for the one who is to come and the process of entering into is, “Ha Bah.” The Hebrew for love is “Ah Ha Bah.” When we love one another, we call them to enter our hearts, with all of their faults and failings; joys and pains; ecstasies and pinning’s. They become part of us; he who loves his wife loves himself.
When a Jewish male marries a Jewish female, as part of the ceremony the male tells his bride, “I make you Quodesh/Holy/Dedicated to myself.” Leviticus 19 begins, “The NAME told Moses: Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be Quodesh, for I, the NAME your This One, am Quodesh. Revere mother and father, and keep my Sabbaths.” Being Holy, honoring parents and Sabbath are all tied. Sabbath is God’s anniversary (a marriage term) with us. God is Holy, the groom. We are Holy; we are the Bride of Christ. Sacred things, the wedding rings, the incense, the bridal bouquet, the flowers on the altar, the altar itself, are Holy. They remind us of the bridal contract.
We are not talking about the simple joining of two people in a contract. We remember our Ten Commandments: Remember you were once slaves in Egypt, and the NAME, your This One, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the NAME, your This One, commanded you to observe Sabbath. Hold as important father and mother, as the NAME, your This One, commanded you, that you may have a long life and that you may prosper in the land the NAME your This One gives you. You will not kill. You will not commit adultery.
We remember our rescue, as a Christian community, from our sins/our deviations from the will of God/from ourselves. We remember what it was like to be there, in Egypt, and we remember our rescue. Then God tells us to hold as important father and mother, representatives of the marital bond, the sign of God’s marital bond with us, the Judeo-Christian community. Sabbath, as anniversary, holding parents as important (the marital bond), and adultery (violating that bond) are, again, tied. Mother being unfaithful to father/ adultery shows weakness in the marital bond, not just between wife and husband, but between the bride who is the church and the groom, who is God.
As to mystery, St. Paul quotes Matthew 19: Some Pharisees/Separate Ones approached Jesus to test him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” Jesus replied, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ ‘Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother and joins to his wife, and the two become one flesh’? They are no longer two, but one flesh. What God has joined together, no man must separate.” Matthew 19:3-6
The two become one flesh. We visibly see them as two people, but Jesus refers to them as one flesh. How can this be? This is mystery; this is sacrament.
The debate in Matthew 19 involves an interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man, after marrying a woman, is later displeased with her because he finds in her עֶרְוַת/nakedness, and he writes out a bill of divorce, hands it to her, and dismisses her from his house...” In the generation before Christ the two greatest rabbinic schools, debated the key term, “עֶרְוַת/nakedness.” It is an ambiguous term and the rabbis desired to know how Jesus interpreted it. The chief rabbi of the first school was an engineer and interpreted as an engineer. St. Francis was the Catholic Hillel.
How does Jesus decide? On technical terms, he sides with the engineer. She must have broken the marital bond first, through infidelity. As to the reason, Jesus sides with Rabbi Hillel. At stake is more important than two people and their marital contract. God joins all of creation in a social contract in Genesis 9. He joins the community as a community in Deuteronomy 5.
As symbol/tangible expression of that community, he joins the two in a marital bond. What God joins, let no man separate.
Marriage is a sign of God’s grace. Christ loves the church as a community. He presents all of us sanctified to God. We sanctify each other by striving to understand one another. Ephesians 1:4-5 reminds us, “he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy/dedicated (to God and one another) and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption ( a family term) to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will.” Chapter 2 adds, “Through him, we have access in one Spirit to the Father. You are no longer strangers/Xeno- as in xenophobia, and sojourners/ parochial, but are fellow citizens with the holy ones, members of God’s household.” Notice the reference to household, Oikos as in Economy for custom of the house, and therefore marriage to the married couple leading the house.
At Mass, our parochial home, many of us do not know one another. We do not know each other’s names. We are not intimate with one another. At home, at least in theory, things are different. In the process, we promote Shalom/tranquility/peace; we communicate with each other and love one another, welcoming each other into each other’s hearts.
You will not find any reference to a marriage ceremony anywhere in the Bible. The closest is the Wedding at Cana, where we have the reception afterwards, not the wedding itself. Only from about 1100 onward did theologians and canonists discuss the issue of marriage as a sacrament. We can see in the Ten Commandments, and in the writings of St. Paul, how marriage may be the one sacrament most epitomizing sacrament. In addition, marriage is the only sacrament the New Testament refers to as “Mystery/Sacrament.” The 27 New Testament references to mystery refer to the mysterious plan of God, mystery in general, for example, the parable of the Sower, and then to marriage is a tangible example.
The great mystery is this calling out, ecclesia for those knowing Spanish, of the church/ecclesia. God calls us through his grace, his kindness. As a sign of this kindness, we call each other, through love, welcoming each other into our hearts, becoming one flesh, as a community, and as a family. That is why St. Paul calls marriage a mystery, a sacrament, representing the foundational sacrament, the Bride of Christ.