| By Dr. Mike Martocchio

The Sacrament of Marriage and the Gospel

Oftentimes, we think of marriage and family life as a private thing. Yet, if one was to look it up in Catechism, marriage is described as a “sacrament at the service of communion.” This is rooted in what we call the marriage bond that unites a husband and wife, the grace to live a united life together.

But, marriage also serves the Church as a whole. The sacrament of marriage brings with it a calling and a vocation to share the Gospel in a special way. The responsibility for being “missionary disciples,” those charged with sharing the good news of salvation in Christ, comes to us in baptism and is deepened in confirmation. But, this calling takes on a specific character in the “sacraments at the service of communion” (holy orders and matrimony).

In marriage, the call to “make disciples” (Mt 28:19) takes on a literal meaning in the procreative (reproductive) function of marriage. But, marriage as a sacrament is not just focused on bringing forth new persons, it is about building up new Christians. It is for this reason that the Second Vatican Council uses the expression “domestic Church” to describe the family (Lumen gentium 11).

The family is the building block of secular society, but it is also the building block of the Church.

When the Christian family gathers in Christ’s name, an ecclesial (Church) event is happening. Practically speaking, the family is the place where children have their first exposure to the faith and learn by watching the faith of their parents’ take action and expression.

Our Christian understanding of the sacrament of marriage itself is centered on Christ’s love for us. Ephesians tells us how the relationship between a husband and wife reflects that between Christ and the Church (5:21-33). As husband and wife, a married couple reflects Christ’s self-sacrificing love. In this way, the sacrament of marriage is a great example of what all sacraments are. Each sacrament starts with a “natural” thing, something that God has created and that humans have developed (e.g., bread and wine; water and washing, etc.). In this case, we are talking about the mutual love between a man and a woman that often begets new life. In the sacrament, that natural element is transformed and elevated to become a conduit of God’s supernatural saving grace (e.g., bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ; by washing in water we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, etc.). The married couple becomes a living image of the love between Christ and the Church.

A married couple is, and in their actions should strive to be, a visible sign to each other and the world of Christ’s saving love. This seems like a tall order, and we often don’t think of our life as a family in this way, but the grace to do so is given to us in this sacrament. We simply need to allow ourselves to lean into that grace and to realize that we cannot be the reflection of Christ’s love on our own, nor are we asked to do so. Married people are called to be living witnesses to the Gospel by relying on God’s grace in their relationship, then with their children and others. The family itself is called to be a place of evangelization.

Michael Martocchio, Ph.D., is diocesan secretary of evangelization and director of the Office of Evangelization. Email him at mmartocchio@charlestondiocese.org.