Holloway on… The Covenant of Christian Marriage: Part I
All great love is union and communion. The love of God is a personal joy as invigorating to the inner man as youth and life abounding. It is a holy communion with that Love who grows not old, the love God bestows and which we sense reaches its fulness in the Holy Eucharist. And in this love it is God who does the wooing, God who takes the initiative. All deep friendship found down the years of life, especially when enkindled by a mutual love of God and joy in His service, forms an alliance, it is a sort of covenant between men because first a union with Christ.
Marriage is the love basic and natural, but of the divine order in Christianity, which binds men and women when they enter upon the office of sharing with God in the love which prompts God to create us. They are officers and stewards of this love of God: their love is a reflection of His own. Let it be holy, like His own. The union of God and man through the Incarnation of God in Christ constitutes the ‘New Covenant’, i.e. the creative, saving, and fulfilling work of God who makes men and who nourishes the flesh and the spirit to life everlasting. If marriage is a co-sharing with Christ in this work of creating men, and bringing them as ‘People of God’ into an eternal fulfilment, then marriage must be like Christ’s own work. It must be an alliance, a covenant, a mutual office in which each needs the other. And it is so. The very mutual ordering and configuration of their bodies as men and as women speak an office of nature: Christ has raised it to an office of the divine order that is to say, to an office of salvation in the very being of God, to the taking up of the children of men into the divine sonship and daughterhood in Christ.
A love which goes out with Christ to others
Marriage should be entered upon in this way. It is not merely a private joy, a personal fulfilment of spirit and body between two people, which has incidental spiritual duties and responsibilities. No, the sort of love which defines marriage is a love both personal, and cherishing, and faithful, but also a love which goes out with Christ to other people, in this case, to the offspring of the couple. Their love may not be selfish. It is unitive indeed, but unitive because it is creative: the office of nature, obvious in their bodies, becomes an office and vocation also in their spirit. A selfish marriage is very likely to break up, and a marriage knit too narrowly by sexual enjoyment together is very likely to break up. Thereis no intrinsic reason why this sort of love should make a couple want to live together, especially in an exclusive fidelity of the flesh, all the years of their lives! Only a love which in various ways, from the contemplative Order to Christian marriage, ministers to Christ, has a lasting reason to remain in mutual communion.
Christ and marriage
The Incarnation of Christ among men is an Office and a Status: through this office the Son of God and Son of Man is the root and cause of our being and our salvation. This is the fundamental reason why the office of Christ constitutes the New Covenant between God and mankind. In fact, as we know, it becomes also the office of a painful redemption. It becomes ‘the New Covenant in my blood’, but a Covenant it is. Again and again St. Paul teaches us that the creation of the universe and its very order of reality centres upon and hinges upon the Incarnation of God in Christ. He teaches it in many places, and nowhere more clearly than in his Letter to the Colossians (Col. 1:15-20). The same apostle writing to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:21-33) teaches that marriage is a sacrament which images and shares in the union, the Covenant, between Christ and the Church. He says there is a certain intrinsic, inner likeness of reality between the office of Christ to the Church, and the office of Christian couples through the sacrament of matrimony. The man, says Paul, stands like Christ to his spouse: he prompts life within her womb, he is the determiner of life, and he nourishes, cherishes, and protects her as Christ does the Church. The woman responds with life which is spiritual and not merely physical. She brings forth and nourishes a perfect work, her love is total, faithful and pure.
Marriage an office and a ministry in the Church
The reason for this intrinsic analogy of being between the Covenant of Christ and the covenants of marriage is that the office of marriage is a co-sharing with God and with Christ in the work of creation. The love by which God desires us, and makes us through His Only-Begotten Son, is a love mediated through man and woman. Their own human love is a supernatural, that is to say a ‘divine’ love, a love which reflects the love of God in making us; and God’s love for us calls us into the intimate possession of the divine being. It must follow then, that Christian Marriage is, strictly speaking, an office in the Church and a specific ministry in the Church: we do not teach it that way, and we ought to do so. To do so enormously enhances the dignity of Christian marriage, and gives so much hope and joy to young couples. One knows this is true, from their reaction to such a presentation when preparing them for marriage. Marriage does not confer a character indeed, because it does not confer an unrepeatable relationship to the Being of God, or in the case of the priesthood of the altar, to the personal character of Christ the Priest. But it does confer an office and a ministry in the Church, in the same specific way as does the priesthood of the altar.
The love which makes marriage to be marriage
The nature of this status and ministry is clear in the very fact that before the altar, exchanging their vows, the man and the woman, in the likeness of Christ and the Church, are the actual ministers of the sacrament itself. The priest who officiates only blesses the union and makes sure of its validity before Christ and the Church. So, Christian Marriage is more than an office of nature. It is more than an office of personal fulfilment between individuals. It is a personal fulfilment which is an office and a ministry of creation and of bringing to perfection. This is the sort of love which makes marriage to be marriage. If the office of creation is excluded, then it is nothing more than a friendship of indefinite duration between two people, a friendship in which sexual union will be used, while the basic sweep of its meaning as spiritual fulfilment is denied and frustrated. No wonder this Humanist concept of marriage gives us marriages which do not last! If marriage is looked at in the way we suggest, then it should be taught that way to teenagers. This indeed would be ‘preparation for marriage’.
Such a vision would and does, condition their boy-girl friendships with a new care for chastity, and for that office of the womb which it is sacrilege to violate outside of the office of grace with Christ. It gives to the girl also a new respect for a boy, and also a motive to help him so to love, that whether the friendship leads to marriage in their case or not, she does not tempt him but respects in her loving that office of determination to life, which is the meaning of his sexuality, even as it is the meaning of Christ’s creative and saving relationship to us all. Because it is the physical basis of the very office of creation in nature and in the Church, all sex is holy. It cannot be presented as having fun in a relaxed and sybaritic manner. To do this, to teach this is to destroy the beauty of young love in boys and girls. It would be better for such people that a millstone were put about their necks and that they were drowned in the depth of the sea.
A natural priesthood
There is a certain natural priesthood in the office of parents to their children, because they are the ‘good shepherds’ of their own little flock, indeed perhaps of their one beloved lamb! The new service of Baptism reminds parents that they are ‘the first teachers of their children in the ways of the Faith’ and exhorts them to be the best of all teachers. The final blessing of the child and its parents is given before the altar, to remind the parents that ‘what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit’. The parents are co-sharers with God in a work of creation which through Christ is of the divine and not merely of the natural and biological order. They are reminded too, in the exhortation which ends the same service of Christening, that the new birth of Baptism,the milk of God, leads on with growth of time to the bread of God. It leads to the Table of Holy Communion, to the child’s first receiving of Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life. It leads also to the inner Chrismation of the soul of the child, as it grows in years, by the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. This is the sacrament both of adult, mature resistance to Satan and all his works, and also of witness and apostleship. In all of this work, the parents share intimately and by vocation and office in the Church.
Relationship to the Eucharist
There must also be, in Christian Marriage, an intrinsic relationship to the Holy Eucharist which is proper to the office of marriage and parenthood, both as spiritually unitive for the couple and life-giving for the child. It would seem that, if the office of the Covenant of Marriage mirrors the Covenant of Christ and mankind in the Church, there must be a similar special relationship between Matrimony and the Eucharist. The Eucharist as sacrifice and sacrament is the source of life and grace for us all, but what one is saying is that the graces which are promised in marriage, the special graces of life and state, must one thinks be obtained in a unique and special way through the Eucharist in the case of Christian spouses. For Christ, having loved his own who were in the world, ‘loved them unto the end’, and the sign and focus of that especial love, and source of life and power, was the giving of the Holy Eucharist: the New Covenant in my Body, and in my Blood. If Christian marriage is a co-sharing with Christ in the basic office of that Covenant between Christ and the Church, which is sealed and centres in the Eucharist, then surely there is a right and a necessity for Christian spouses to turn to the Holy Eucharist, that the graces of state which their way of life requires, may be received in fullest measure from the sacrament which is the centre of Christ’s creative work for men. This would seem to mean that the grace of Matrimony is mediated in a special way through the Holy Eucharist, and does not stand without it.
The church as an ‘extension’ on the home
In the name of their office, and their vocation in the Church therefore, Catholic couples should view their attendance at Mass, and their liturgical assistance in the Mass, as a most sacred duty and need. They should bring their children also to the Table of the Lord with the same sense of urgency and office. Here the Lord feeds their children in the noble virtues of the spirit, as they the parents are so careful to feed them with the bread of the body. Here they should bring their children to be educated in the word of the Word of God, with the same sense of necessity and duty as they are so anxious that they get the very best in the education and culture of this world and its making of money. They themselves should teach theirchildren their first prayers, their basic catechism, their first knowledge and love of God. They should not leave it all to the Catholic school. It is no accident that the Real Presence of Christ, by very Being, in the tabernacle of the parish church is the living centre of the community gathered around it which we call ‘the parish’.
Because of this, the church in which Christ is reserved as Sacrament becomes a room which belongs to, and is ‘an extension’ upon every home in the parish, whether large or humble, richer or poorer. This becomes a much richer thought and fact if the Holy Eucharist, whether as offered or as received, is itself related in a special way to the state of marriage of Christian people, and through it they receive the very graces which their sacrament signifies and demands. They have but to come, come to the source to which their office and vocation in the Church points: come to Him who is the Living Seal of the New Covenant in His Body and His Blood. I think we could get many more devout laity to come to daily Mass if we so related the grace of their state of life to the grace and office in the Church of the Holy Eucharist itself. Marriage has become too ordinary and humdrum a state and status. Moreover, its love and its grace has declined into an obsession with that which, as an experience, is its least part, namely bodily pleasure. We must regain the recognition of marriage as first and fore-most a spiritual love, and a spiritual vocation.
This is the first half of the editorial for the September/October 1979 issue of FAITH. Part II will be published in our next issue.