I was speaking with a friend the other day about Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s marvelous book Mystery and Sacrament of Love: a Theology of Marriage and of the Family for the New Evangelization.
In the book, Cardinal Ouellet explains the graces of the sacrament of marriage are not a one off thing that happens at the marriage ceremony, but continually available to the couple, to enable them to participate in their marriage in the life of the Holy Trinity.
I also remember how I was told in marriage the priest does not confer the sacrament, but the couple confers it on each other.
So my friend said she was twenty-one and her husband 27 when they married. They didn’t have much of a clue about the Catholic faith, though they were brought up Catholic. But they have both grown in faith since then.
I began to think about this again upon reading this post at Fr. Ray Blake’s blog. He writes about some of the concerns he has in the wake of the changes in annulment proceedings and the effect it is having on some parishioners. He writes:
Already in my parish a couple of people with less than perfect marriages have been asking if possibly they might not be married after all; doubts have been sown. According to Cardinal Kasper the Holy Father has said he believes 50% marriages could be or are invalid, which seems a rather pessimistic attitude to the sacraments. Of course if one suggests 50% of marriages are invalid, could one not apply the same criteria to ordinations, if bad catechises could be criteria for invalidity, as some are suggesting, could not bad theological formation (or moral formation) be a good reason to suggest one’s priest or bishop’s ordination was null and void and the same for the sacraments he has celebrated?
That way of course lays theological madness and sees a return to a new Donatist Crisis, which actually one does see amongst certain uber-Catholics of an ultra-‘traditional’ stripe. The Church has always understood that Christ is greater than the Church, than the sacraments, and certainly greater than the weak and limited people who receive the sacraments, by his Grace he makes up for our sins and deficiencies.
It occurred to me that these couples with “less than perfect marriages” can start by by believing more and more in the supernatural graces of the sacrament of marriage, pressing in to God in Jesus Christ until they start to see those graces manifest in their lives and in their marriages. We really do have such a loss of faith in the efficacy of all the Catholic sacraments, starting with the amazing, amazing grace of our Baptism. We are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light when we are baptized. We are given new natures, totally by grace, nothing we deserve and our task is to work out this gift, this new identity and incorporate it ever more in our daily lives.
Any marriage that has two people who are wholly devoted to obeying God in love and marriage is bound to succeed.
Of course there are circumstances where in reality no real marriage took place and the impediments to grace—lack of capacity, fraud, unwillingness to have children, and so on —continue. But the default should not be among Catholic couples to think, oh, my marriage is difficult, therefore maybe it isn’t valid. The sacrament is a sign of continuing, ongoing graces. Avail yourself! Same with your baptism—learn about your new identity in Christ.