Marriage and sacrament

I’ve been writing lots of ‘other stuff’ for a week or so, partly in preparation for our congregational mission audit day on Sunday which is very much in the forefront of my mind just now.  But I’ve also been wanting to try to put down thoughts on marriage in the wake of the debates about broadening our understanding of who can marry last week.  Usually, I’d be tempted into the ‘church-state’ issue, but I found myself thinking about the theologian Karl Rahner on the sacraments and whether what he said illuminates the Church’s position on marriage.  So here goes.

As I understand it, Rahner’s point about the sacraments is that you can’t confine grace to what the Church mediates through the sacraments.  It does not have a monopoly of the supernatural, divine world.  Rahner argued that through Christ’s incarnation, the divine for ever finds its home in the human.  It is in the very depths of our humanity that we meet God, and it is through our human senses and emotions and relationships that we experience God, and God’s love, grief, joy  – God’s grace, in fact.

What the Church does, Rahner said, is to take and celebrate this life experience – the ‘liturgy of the world’ – in the sacraments.  In fact, he said that we can only fully participate in the mystery of the Eucharist if we have fully participated in the divine mystery of our own lives.   Sacraments are ‘celebrations of what is already there in human experience’.

What the sacramental celebration of marriage is doing is naming human love as already a place of divine grace, a place of sanctification and the presence of God.  This is what gives meaning and depth to our liturgies – that they reveal and focus and illuminate for everyone the ‘liturgy of life’.

So the movement is from life to the Church, and not vice versa.  Trusting human experience is not ‘giving into the fashions of society’ or ‘abandoning principles’, it is recognising where the divine is to be found – in committed love, mutual self-giving, a life lived with and for another.  What the Church has to do is to rejoice and celebrate that extraordinary and divinely natural experience in all its mystery, and in all the rich variety of forms it might take.

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3 Responses to Marriage and sacrament

  1. Mother Mary says:

    In the Orthodox church, it is thought that the grace of God may touch us anywhere and at anytime; both in church through the sacraments, and within the deepest part of our heart. The sacraments are seen as healing, as is the grace that we receive at other times. The relationship can be seen as a spiral; the sacraments lifting us up to receive the grace that is given in daily life, and visa versa. There are many stories, both from early church history through to the last century, which the church has acknowledged as grace in human experience (I am particularly thinking of the saints of the Second World War and Communist era,) but it is probably true that this tends to happen when the expression of grace is extraordinary and stunning rather than in ‘ordinary’ daily life. An exception might be some of the stories from the daily life of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
    There is joy and thanksgiving within all the sacraments, but marriage is also healing in that it is a voluntary step towards a God given vocation that promises to be a path that will lead the couple closer to God. This can influence others, as the couple are said to begin a new domestic Church that has a domestic ministry.
    Metroplitan Kallistos writes that in the first part of the Marriage Service, The Betrothal, the chief ceremony is the exchanging of rings which is a token of the couple’s free will and consent, while the second part culminates in The Crowning with crowns of leaves and flowers (Greek) and silver and gold (Russian):
    ‘…this outward and visible sign of the sacrament signifies the special grace which the couple receive from the Holy Spirit, before they set out to found a new family or domestic Church. The crowns are crowns of joy, but they are also crowns of martyrdom, since every true marriage involves an immeasurable self-sacrifice on both sides.’
    The sacramental Church and the domestic Church are united through the couple’s marriage.

  2. Eamonn says:

    ‘human love as already a place of divine grace, a place of sanctification and the presence of God’. Absolutely.

    Wouldn’t that apply equally, Mother Mary, to covenanted relationships other than marriage in the traditional sense?

  3. alisonpeden says:

    I love the idea of the spiral – lifting us through human life and the sacraments. But I would still look for grace in ‘ordinary’ life and the ‘sacrament of the present moment’. My point – or perhaps, the popint which Rahner makes and which I am attracted to – is that our attention needs to move from the Church’s definitions and boundaries to God’s saving work of grace in ordinary, daily, bodily human lives. And yes, Eamonn, I’d agree that such a view would take us into a new view, and a new theology, of marriage.

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