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The Mystery of Creation and the Sacrament of Marriage

The Readings for Sunday, October 3rd, show how Jesus insisted on going back to “the beginning of creation” and restoring the original meaning of marriage.

(Photo: Josh Applegate | Unsplash.com)

Readings:
• Gen 2:18-24
• Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
• Heb 2:9-11
• Mk 10:2-16

“No human institution,” writes Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez in Male and Female He Created Them (Ignatius Press, 2003), “is so deeply rooted in nature and in the heart of man and of woman as marriage and the family.” And yet, as Estévez goes on to demonstrate, marriage has so many enemies and is assailed from every side by forces—both internal and external—seeking to pervert and destroy it.

Divorce is rampant, adultery is common, and “same-sex marriage” is now a social and cultural “reality” (not to be confused with reality). It is not surprising, then, to sometimes hear that marriage is doomed, soon an artifact of a different era, rapidly becoming a victim of politics, apathy, selfishness, and a disregard for tradition and religion.

But, however dark the horizon, we shouldn’t forget that marriage is not the artificial construct of a particular culture, nor a transitory institution aimed at repressing this or that special interest group. Marriage pre-dates cultures, civilizations, political parties, and ideologies.

In today’s first reading, taken from the creation account in Genesis 2, the first man is put into a deep sleep and the woman is “fashioned” from the rib taken out of his side. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

What exactly did that mean? This passage and question were the focus of much of Pope John Paul II’s famous “theology of the body,” given as general audiences early in his pontificate. He saw an “integral” connection between the mystery of creation and the sacrament of marriage.

He wrote: “The words of Genesis 2:24, ‘A man . . . cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh,’ spoken in the context of this original reality in a theological sense, constitute marriage as an integral part and, in a certain sense, a central part of the ‘sacrament of creation.’ They constitute, or perhaps rather they simply confirm the character of its origin. According to these words, marriage is a sacrament inasmuch as it is an integral part and, I would say, the central point of ‘the sacrament of creation.’ In this sense it is the primordial sacrament.”

This is part of the point made by Jesus in his conversation with the Pharisees. Divorce was allowed within Judaism, even being common among some Jews. The Pharisees, of course, focused on the Law of Moses. But Jesus indicated that the allowance given by Moses for divorce was a nod to man’s weakness, “the hardness of your hearts.” He insisted on going back to “the beginning of creation” and restoring the original meaning of marriage.

Creation and marriage are intimately connected, as marriage is a co-creation between the cleaving man and woman and the Triune God. In accepting the gift of the “other,” man and woman are given a profound wholeness. The very creative nature of marriage acknowledges God’s act of creation, his overflowing love, and his plan for humanity—a plan modeled in the sacrament of marriage.

Thus, the primordial sacrament is a sign revealing a mystery of infinite value: the gift of divine life. God invites man to partake in his divine nature and enter into full communion with the Trinitarian mystery. Marriage, the deepest and most profound of human communions, is a sign of that divine communion.

The primordial sacrament, wrote John Paul II, is “understood as a sign which effectively transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden from eternity in God. This is the mystery of truth and love, the mystery of the divine life in which man really shares …”

Marriage, then, was at the heart of God’s plan for man even before Creation. The Son was the author of this sacrament, for “all things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:1,3). In becoming flesh and wedding himself to humanity, he revived the roots and revealed the meaning of marriage.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the October 4, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1163 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

3 Comments

  1. Our Author does well in placing Marriage as the primordial sacrament. That the ordained fruit of love between a man and woman is life not death. Death follows with self serving sensual impurity and all the perverse horrors that have followed. “In becoming flesh and wedding himself to humanity, he revived the roots and revealed the meaning of marriage” (Olson). Love in its most intense human form is marriage, which mirrors God’s love of Man revealed to us in Christ. If Adam and Eve had been truly faithful to each other’s vocation and not wandered for other excitement, the delusion of becoming gods, although they were already created like gods in the image of God all the horrendous evil would have been avoided. Their sin was opting to be ‘like’ God in his supreme deity. Exactly the sin of Lucifer and by its form the sin we all commit when choosing pleasure over goodness. Adultery shown by Cardinal Medina Estévez the cardinal sin that ruins culture and dehumanizes humanity. Because Man is primarily a moral animal [Saint Albert the Great] which distinguishes him from all creatures. From swinger bars San Diego to New York sacred matrimony is betrayed. Christ chose the Cross as his marriage bed. Upon which pouring out his life’s blood he renewed the primordial. He consummated marriage with his wanton bride, the Church.

    • Wanton bride was an inopportune wording referencing a Church of sinners, not to deprecate the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ and the community of saints. Pardon my oversight.

  2. While appreciating this much-needed testimony for the sanctity and insolubility of Marriage, tracing it back to Genesis 2 and as it was confirmed by our Lord, I believe we should avoid using the term Sacrament for anything predating the Church’s birthday on Pentecost. Only Christian marriage seems to really have sacramental character or dignity. Quoting the Catechism: “this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” Christian marriage is called by St. Paul “a great mystery”, but he meant it in a higher sense than between Adam and Eve, even in their innocence – “in reference to Christ and the Church.”

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