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Christ made marriage a Sacrament

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 6 May 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. According to the Second Vatican Council, the Church is a "priestly community," whose "sacred and organic nature" is realized through the sacraments, among which a special place must be given to the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony. Regarding Holy Orders, we read in the Constitution Lumen Gentium: "Those of the faithful who are consecrated by Holy Orders are appointed to feed the Church in Christ's name with the word and the grace of God." Regarding Matrimony we read: "Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereby they signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his Church (cf. Eph 5:32), help each other to attain to holiness in their married life" (LG 11). We will devote today's catechesis exclusively to the sacrament of Matrimony and return to the ministerial priesthood at a later time.

2. In a previous catechesis we recalled that the first miracle Jesus worked took place in Cana during a wedding feast. Although the significance of this miracle, by which "Jesus revealed his glory" (Jn 2:11), goes far beyond the recorded event, we can also discover the Lord's appreciation for married love and the institution of marriage, as well as his intention to bring salvation to this fundamental aspect of human life and society. He gives new wine, the symbol of new love. The episode in Cana shows us how marriage is threatened when love is in danger of running out. With this sacrament Jesus Christ reveals his own help in an effective way, in order to save and strengthen the couple's love through the gift of theological charity, and to give them the strength of fidelity. We can also say that the miracle worked by Jesus at the beginning of his public life is a sign of the importance marriage has in God's saving plan and the formation of the Church. Finally, we can say that Mary's initiative in asking and obtaining the miracle foretells her future role in the divine plan for Christian marriage: a benevolent presence, an intercession and a help in overcoming the inevitable problems.

3. In light of Cana we now want to call attention to the aspect of marriage which concerns us in this cycle of ecclesiological catecheses. It is a fact that in Christian marriage the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised in a remarkable way, because the married couple themselves are the ministers of the sacrament. The human act, "by which," as the Council says, "the partners mutually surrender themselves to each other," has been raised to the dignity of a sacrament. The couple administer the sacrament to one another by their mutual consent. The sacrament shows the value of the man and woman's free consent, as a statement of their personality and an expression of mutual love.

4. The Council also said that through the sacrament Christian married couples "signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his Church (cf. Eph 5:32)" (LG 11). "Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ's redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in the sublime office of being a father or a mother. For this reason Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state" (GS 48). This last assertion of Gaudium et Spes, that spouses "have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration" is very important. This shows precisely how they exercise their priesthood as those baptized and confirmed.

5. Through this special participation in the common priesthood of the Church, couples can achieve holiness. Indeed, through the sacrament they receive the strength to fulfill their marital and family duties, and to advance in mutual holiness. The Council says that spouses "help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children. By reason of their state and rank in life they have their own special gift among the people of God (cf. 1 Cor 7:7)" (LG 11).

6. The sacrament of matrimony is oriented toward fruitfulness. It is an inclination which is inborn in human nature. The Council says: "By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown" (GS 48). The sacrament provides the spiritual strength of faith, love and generosity for fulfilling the duty of procreating and rearing offspring. It is a resource of divine grace which confirms and perfects this natural inclination and marks the very psychology of the couple, who have been made conscious of their own mission as those who "cooperate with the love of God the Creator," as the Council says (GS 50). The realization that they are cooperating in the divine work of creation and the love which inspires it helps married couples to better understand the sacred character of procreation and procreative love, and strengthens the orientation of their love to transmitting life.

7. The Council also calls attention to the educational mission of the spouses. In fact, we read in Gaudium et Spes: "Graced with the dignity and office of fatherhood and motherhood, parents will energetically acquit themselves of a duty which devolves primarily on them, namely education and especially religious education" (GS 48). But Lumen Gentium sheds light on this exhortation where it says: "The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children" (LG 11). The Council, then, casts an ecclesial light on the mission of married couples and parents, as members of the Church, the priestly and sacramental community. Clearly, for believers Christian education is the most beautiful gift which parents can give their children, and it is the highest and truest sign of their love. It requires a sincere and consistent faith, and a life led in conformity with the faith.

8. The Council also says: "As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them" (GS 48). Fidelity and unity come from the "special gifts of grace and love" (GS 49) given by the sacrament. They ensure that, in imitation of Christ who loved the Church, "spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal" (GS 48). This too is a strength inherent in the grace of the sacrament.

9. Finally, we read in the Council that "The Christian family, which springs from marriage as a reflection of the loving covenant uniting Christ with the Church, and as a participation in that covenant, will manifest to all men Christ's living presence in the world, and the genuine nature of the Church. This the family will do by the mutual love of the spouses, by their generous fruitfulness, their solidarity and faithfulness, and by the loving way in which all members of the family assist one another" (GS 48).

Therefore, not only each Christian considered individually, but the whole family as such, consisting of Christian parents and children, is called to witness to the life, love and unity which the Church possesses as properties deriving from her nature as a sacred community, constituted and living in Christ's love."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience, notamment les personnes consacrées, les familles et les nombreux jeunes qui découvrent Rome ou la retrouvent. Vous avez la chance de passer quelques jours au cœur de l’Église. À chacun d’entre vous, je souhaite de tirer profit de ces moments pour être fortifié dans sa foi.

Je demande au Seigneur de vous garder sur sa route et je vous accorde de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet a group of Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre from the United States. I pray that your pilgrimage to the Holy Land will deepen your love for Christ and your solidarity with the Christians living in the place of his birth. My greeting also goes to the public officials from Africa and Asia taking part in the Ninth Development Administrative Programme being held in Rome. May your efforts to promote integral development in your countries be ever inspired by respect for all and by effective cooperation on behalf of the common good. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, and particularly the groups from the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of the Risen Lord.

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgrub an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besu cher. Besonders heibe ich die Eltern, Angehörigen und Freunde der neuen Rekruten der Päpstlichen Schweizergarde willkommen, die zur Teilnahme an der heutigen feierlichen Vereidigung nach Rom gekommen sind; ebenso begrübe ich die Mitglieder der Marianischen Bürgersodalität aus Trier.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim und allen, die uns in diesem Moment geistlich verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora presentar mi más cordial saludo a los peregrinos y visitantes procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, a las Misioneras del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, a los grupos provenientes de México, y a los integrantes del Movimiento Familiar Cristiano Argentino.

A todos bendigo de corazón.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Jesus Cristo ao participar das Bodas de Caná instituiu o matri mónio como Sacramento portador da salvação para este núcleo de vida que é a família dentro da sociedade humana. O amor entre os cônjuges vem a ser sublimado pela caridade teologal ao ser assumido pelo Amor divino e enriquecido pela força redentora de Cristo. Neste sentido os esposos são “quase consagrados por um sacramento especial” 18 para procurarem a santidade pela sua união casta e fecunda, empenhando-se diligentemente na educação cristã dos filhos e, para o bem dos quais, se exigem a plena fidelidade e a unidade indissolúvel do vínculo conjugal.

Ao saudar cordialmente o grupo de peregrinos provenientes do Ceará, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná e Rio Grande do Sul, peço a Deus que abençoe as suas famílias a fim de que em cada lar, animado de um espírito novo onde Cristo possa reinar, todos sejam, inspirados pelos seus divinos ensinamentos, semeadores de paz e de alegria.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam pielgrzymów z Polski.

“Duchu Święty, Boże, gdy nie umiemy się modlić, przyjdź nam z pomocą i wspomóż prośby nasze. Oświeć umysły nasze,abyśmy zrozumieli najgłębszą i niepowtarzalną wartość ludzkiego życia. Prosi Cię o to Kościół święty w Polsce.

Daj nam łaskę wrażliwości, szacunku i miłości względem życia. Obudź wrażliwość naszych sumień na wartość życia każdego człowieka. Nie pozwól, abyśmy ulegli pokusie niedostrzegania piękna życia, także tego, które jest naznaczone znamieniem cierpienia.

Duchu miłości, otwórz nasze oczy na uśmiech i wdzięczność dziecka, zaufanie młodego człowieka i potrzeby człowieka starego. Spraw, aby nikt z nas nie czuł się obcym i niepotrzebnym na ojczystej ziemi.

Przyjdź Duchu Święty! Napełnij serca Twoich wiernych i rozpal w nich ogień Twojej miłości, prowadź nas drogą ewangelicznej prawdy”.

Odmawiam tę modlitwę wespół z Episkopatem Polski, który wypowiedział się w ostatnich dniach w związku z uroczystościami patronalnymi w naszej ojczyźnie, po św. Wojciechu, a przed św. Stanisławem, w święto Maryi Królowej Polski.

Niech te wielkie święta ożywią na nowo naszą świadomość, świadomość wiary, nadziei i miłości, w której żyje Kościół i przez którą Kościół od tysiąclecia ożywia nasz naród, nasze społeczeństwo. Kościół, który jest “kapłaństwem królewskim” Jezusa Chrystusa w ojczyźnie, pragnie służyć wszystkim ludziom w Polsce w tym nowym okresie, który się niedawno rozpoczął.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana

Saluto ora i pellegrini di lingua italiana e, primi fra questi, i Dirigenti delle Associazioni Ex Allievi ed Ex Allieve della Società Salesiana di Don Bosco, radunati a Roma per un aggiornamento della programmazione del loro sodalizio. Auspico che i grandi ideali educativi del Santo, chiamato Padre e Maestro dei giovani, costituiscano sempre motivi ispiratori della vostra vita.

Saluto poi i ragazzi dell’Associazione per le Malattie Epatiche Infantili, e porgo il mio cordiale benvenuto a tutti loro, agli accompagnatori, ai familiari ed a tutto il personale medico ed infermieristico che li assiste. Invoco da Dio speciali doni di sapienza e di luce perché le terapie per la guarigione e la risoluzione dei problemi connessi con tale tipo di sofferenza possano essere sempre più perfezionate.

Il mio pensiero va poi alla Comunità Parrocchiale di Mestrino, in Diocesi di Padova, che con questo pellegrinaggio ha voluto concludere le celebrazioni dell’ottocentesimo anniversario di fondazione. Il ricordo delle origini della parrocchia accresca l’ardore della fede, e sostenga in tutti un generoso desiderio di testimoniare il Cristo e di annunciare con nuovo vigore il suo Vangelo nella nostra epoca.

Saluto ancora gli sportivi partecipanti ai Campionati Internazionali d’Italia di Tennis. Carissimi: Sono lieto di incontrarvi in questa Udienza, e desidero esprimervi l’augurio che le vostre competizioni sportive siano sempre ispirate a rapporti fraterni e leali e si trasformino in testimonianza dei valori umani più autentici. Il vostro esempio attragga altri giovani verso una vita sana, corrispondente ai grandi esempi del Vangelo.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Desidero prendere lo spunto per il consueto saluto ai giovani, ai malati ed alle coppie di sposi novelli dalla pia pratica della recita del Rosario, con la quale è particolarmente onorata la Vergine nel mese di maggio.

Invito, voi giovani, a pregare Maria, modello di fede e testimone operosa della parola di Cristo, per ottenere vigore cristiano nelle scelte che orienteranno la vostra vita.

Voi, cari malati, cercate conforto e sostegno in questa orazione semplice e legata alla meditazione dei misteri della vita di Cristo.

E voi, novelli sposi, pregate spesso insieme, invocando la Vergine ed educando la vostra famiglia con la pedagogia spirituale del Rosario.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Appello per la Bosnia-Erzegovina

Nel corso dell’odierna Udienza generale, il Santo Padre esprime la propria compassione e quella della Chiesa intera per le sofferenze di “quanti patiscono gli orrori di una crudele guerra”. Questo il testo dell’appello di Giovanni Paolo II.

I gravissimi eventi in corso nella Bosnia Erzegovina, rattristano il cuore degli uomini di buona volontà. Oggi, vogliamo esprimere a quanti patiscono gli orrori di una crudele guerra la nostra fraterna compassione per l’immane prova a cui sono sottoposte tante persone e famiglie, colpite dal tragico conflitto.

La Santa Sede si è adoperata, secondo le possibilità che le consente la sua natura religiosa, ad interessare le istanze internazionali, in vista di un cessate-il-fuoco e di una soluzione degna dell’uomo e dell’Europa.

Vi invito ad elevare con me fervide preghiere a Dio Padre, perché:

- converta i cuori di quanti sono coinvolti nel conflitto, infondendo sentimenti fraterni;

- sostenga coloro che devono lasciare le proprie case in cerca di un riparo sicuro;

- accresca la generosità di chi aiuta ed ospita i numerosi profughi e li rimuneri con larghe benedizioni.

Che il Signore ispiri coraggio alle Autorità Governative, alle Organizzazioni internazionali ed a noi stessi, perché ciascuno sappia assumere la propria responsabilità e nessuno rimanga indifferente alle sofferenze dei popoli della martoriata Bosnia Erzegovina.

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