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.