Christian Marriage: The Mystery of Crowning
The five first mysteries we spoke of until now aim at the personal union of the Christian to God through his Son Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit. The two last mysteries, Crowning and the Priesthood, are directed towards the service of others. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.
Marriage as a permanent union between a man and a woman, is a universal institution in all cultures and civilizations. The universality of this fact is a sign of God’s plan for human beings. This is what Holy Scripture affirms in the story of the creation. After creating the man, “the Lord said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helper as his partner’” (Genesis 2:18). And when God created the woman, “the man said, ‘this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called woman for out of man this one was take.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife” (Genesis 1:27)
In another story, the same Book of Genesis affirms that both man and woman are created in the image of God: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
- The grace of the mystery of Crowning
Christian life is a participation in the life of Jesus Christ. When a man and a woman conclude their marriage in the Church, they commit themselves to live their new life according to the will of God Revealed in the teaching of Jesus Christ. Their human love is sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit given to them through the blessing of the priest. The sacrament perfects their love for each other and strengthen their indissoluble unity. Their relationship to each other and their love for each other are transformed into the kind of relationship and love which exist between Christ and the Church, a love of self-giving, of fidelity and indissoluble unity: “Husbands, love your wives , just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). “Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, signify and partake of the mystery of the unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his Church. The spouses thereby help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and by the rearing and education of their children. And so, in their state and way of life, they have their own special gift among the People of God” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 11.
The source of the grace of this mystery is Christ himself. When a man and a woman accept to conclude their marriage before Christ, “Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and follow him, to rise again after they had fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burden, to ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Ephesians 5:21), and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Par. 1642.
- The characteristics of Christian marriage
Christian marriage is not a simple human contract between a man and a woman, neither is it a pure social institution protected by the laws of the society. These two elements, natural and social, are also parts of the Christian marriage. But there is more in the Christian marriage: there is a religious element, that is, the relation to God and to the teaching of Christ. From these three element: natural, social, and religious, derive the four characteristics of the Christian marriage.
- Monogamy, not polygamy
Christian marriage is a permanent union between one man and one woman. Man and woman are created in the image of God, their love for each other must be in the image of God’s love. God’s love is absolute, and man’s love for God must be absolute, not divided between God and other gods. That is what the first commandment demands: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” In the same way must be the mutual love between one man and one woman in the marriage. As Christianity is defending monotheism against polytheism, likewise is it defending monogamy against polygamy.
- Fidelity, not adultery
The sixth commandment reads: “You shall not commit adultery”. Jesus asked even more from his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Here also God’s love is our model. As we are asked to love one God and to turn away from other gods, likewise man and woman in marriage must be faithful to each other and not let their hearts be divided between several loves. This fidelity in love is essential for the harmony and the unity of the human person. And it leads to the real liberty. Those who are not faithful to their partner imagine that they are free, but in fact they are slaves of their passions. The dignity of the human person requires that he dominates the blind impulses in himself, and acts out of conscious and free choice. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin”, says Jesus, and then he adds: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8: 34, 36).
Marriage in Christ gives the man and the woman true freedom. Freedom is a grace from God and a commitment from both partners. This commitment is marked by imperfection, and sometimes by failure. The grace of sacrament of matrimony empowers the partners to grow in fidelity and to forgive each other in case of failure.
- Indissolubility, not divorce
Some Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce: “Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh .Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10: 2-9).
In Christian marriage, the consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. “Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this dispensation of divine wisdom” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Par. 1640.
In some cases it becomes clear that a marriage, even concluded in the Church, is not valid, because of the lack of free choice or other reasons determined by law. The Church in that case declares the annulment of the marriage. This annulment is not considered by the Catholic Church as divorce, since the marriage was invalid.
- Pro-life and not pro-death: No to abortion
Marriage has two goals: the first is the establishment of a link of love between a man and a woman, the second is the procreation of children and their education in a sane atmosphere of love. The first goal is general to all couples, since man and woman are created to find in each other the fulfillment of their sexual desire. Marriage regulates this desire under the protection of the society. The second goal must be intended by all who get married, even if they cannot have children, due to some biological deficiencies.
“bye its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 48, 1.
Christianity believes that life is a gift from God meant to be shared through the procreation of children, it believes also that life is sacred, and no abortion is to be allowed neither by individuals nor by state laws. The legalization of abortion by any State does not make it ethically good. Abortion is always a sin, since it is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. It is a preeminent threat to human dignity, because it attacks human life itself. Abortion harms the mother as well. Some die and others are scarred physically and emotionally. This was strongly affirmed by the United States Bishops in their statement of abortion in 1989:
“Abortion on demand remains our nation’s legal policy because the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion throughout pregnancy have not been overturned. Because of those decisions may citizens believe that women have a moral right to abort their unborn children. This has led to erosion of respect for the right to life, which is bestowed by the Creator and cannot legitimately be denied by any nation or court. More than one and a half million unborn children in the United States continue to die each year by abortion, and increasing numbers of women suffer abortion’s physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Often they suffer alone, deserted by men unwilling to acknowledge their own responsibilities as fathers”.
- Self-giving, not egoism: the family, “a domestic Church”
Jesus was totally “a man for God” and totally “a man for others”. In his example, and filled with his Spirit, the spouses look not only to each other, but also to God and to others. Looking to God, they worship him, in participating together with their children in the Eucharistic Liturgy, looking to others, they are active in parish activities, and in different works of service and charity.
The Church is the place where Crist perpetuates his salutary action through the presence of his Holy Spirit. When Christ himself is the bond which unites a man and a woman in the mystery of crowning, the family they are building becomes a “domestic Church”, according to an ancient expression. Christianity does not aim at changing the human nature, but gives it its full dimension, by uniting it to God, who is its origin and to its future.
“For from the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are bor. By the grace of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism these are mad children of God, thus perpetuating the People of God through the centuries. The family is, so to speak, the domestic Church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of faith to their children” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 11.
In the Byzantine rite of this mystery, crowns are placed on the heads of the bride and the groom, and the choir sings the words Holy Scripture uses of the man and the woman in paradise: “O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor, and grant them dominion over the works of you hand”. By this mystery time is linked to eternity, and God’s blessing granted to Adam and Eve in paradise is now granted again to each man and woman who are married in Christ. By his coming, Jesus started God’s Kingdom on earth. Each mystery, in its own way, makes present this Kingdom, and the Church, by crowning the bride and the groom in the mystery of Crowning, declares them responsible of incarnating God’s Kingdom in their new marital life and in their work in the Church and in the society.