Tag Archives: Sacraments

Homily – Sunday OT 27B – The Bond of Marriage

This is a repeat of my homily from 2015, but I felt it was worth republishing.


Gn 2:7, 15, 28-24
Ps 128       R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Heb 2:9-11
Mk 10:2-16


Once again, in today’s Gospel, we find the Pharisees placing their trust in their education and intelligence, and trying to trick Jesus. You see, the question they put to Jesus — Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? — was a trick, a double edged sword.

If Jesus said no, then He’d be disagreeing with what Moses taught, and that would make Him a blasphemer. If He said yes, then He’d have to choose His interpretation. That’s because the Pharisees themselves were divided on the matter. Some taught that a man could divorce his wife only for reasons of adultery; others that he could divorce his wife if she angered him (say, if she burned supper or broken something); and still others that he could divorce her simply because he didn’t want her any more. If Jesus answered yes, He’d have to choose one camp and have the other two as enemies. The Pharisees thought they had Jesus in a corner.

But, like in all other attempts to trick Him, Jesus outsmarts them. Instead of answering their question about divorce, Jesus speaks to them about Marriage: 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 (Mk 10:6-9).

Instead of debating whether divorce was lawful or not, Jesus teaches about the meaning and reality of Marriage, and though His answer was short, He makes some very important points.

In making reference to the text of Genesis we heard in the first reading today, Jesus roots His answer in the will of God. God created man and woman, and He created them not for divorce but for partnership and union: This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gn 2:23, 24).

By creating Eve from the rib of Adam, God created her as an equal: a partner not merely because she is of the same nature and being as Adam, but because she is his equal in matter and dignity. She comes from the same piece of clay, and the rib, being close to the heart, places them side by side, and not one above the other. Therefore, Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the dignity God gave women, and that women aren’t property that can be dismissed when no longer wanted.

In creating man and woman as equals and for partnership, their union as husband and wife isn’t a mere human experience: it’s God’s plan. Therefore, He is the one who binds them to one another in the union of Marriage.

The Church has always understood that in the exchange of vows to each other, a bride and groom give themselves to each other as gifts. They offer each other as a mutual exchange of persons: ‘I give myself to you as husband, and I receive you as wife’, and vice versa. And it’s this mutual gift of self to the other that makes Marriage a sacred covenant, because it’s done in totality: total self for life. The Council Fathers of Vatican II put it in this way:

The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will … is a lasting one. ~

Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. 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 (Cf. Pius XI, Casti Connubii) (GS, 48 – emphasis added).

By making appeal to God’s plan in creation, this is what Jesus brings into the discussion. Just like Jesus can’t separate His humanity from His divinity, nor can I separate myself into two people, neither can husband and wife break the union they have established through their mutual gift of self. That’s why Jesus concludes, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:8). And why He insists that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mk 10:11-12).

Now over the years (and even in our own day!) many have misunderstood this truth about Marriage. Some have used it to keep people in abuse. The Church has never taught that someone has stay in an abusive relationship. In our Gospel passage, Jesus didn’t condemn separation; He condemned remarriage after divorce. Sometimes it may be necessary for someone in an abusive Marriage to live apart from their spouse. This is a sad and painful reality of our sinfulness. But such a separation doesn’t break the marital bond between the two; separated spouses are to continue to understand themselves as married, and to not attempt remarriage. And nor does legal divorce break the bond between husband and wife.

In some cases, though, the consent upon which the mutual exchange was built can be defective; that is, one or both people didn’t truly give themselves to each other. In such cases, the union can be declared null. That’s what we call a ‘declaration of nullity’ (wrongfully called an ‘annulment’); it’s not the Catholic version of divorce, but a declaration that, after careful study of the relationship, the bond of Marriage was never established; it was invalid. If a Marriage is declared ‘null’, then both parties are free to remarry.

This is the reality of Marriage: through the exchange of vows, a man and a woman are joined to each other so as to become one, and this union is for life. This was God’s plan in creating us male and female, that the two should come together for a communion of life and love. And this is a sacred union, one that reflects the Trinity and our union with Jesus (Eph 5:32); and one that’s revealed most beautifully in the Incarnation of Christ and in His Death on the Cross.

Let us pray today, then, for all married couples, especially those experiencing difficulties; for those preparing for Marriage; and for all the Bishops participating in the Synod on the Family, which opens today. Amen.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XVII

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.  We continue with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XVII: Chapter III: The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals, continued

Taking up where we left of a couple of weeks ago, we continue with the Council’s examination of the Sacraments, dealing now with specific Sacraments, namely Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick.

As we already noted, the Council asked that the rite of Baptism for infants be revised to reflect more specifically “that those to be baptised are infants” (no. 67). This new rite should include appropriate options for when several children are being baptised, as well as a shorter rite for use in mission countries or in danger of death when clergy is not readily available (no. 68). Yes, in specific situations (especially in danger of death!), lay people are authorised to baptise. This is because, as we saw in Part IV, “it is really Christ Himself who baptizes” (no. 7). In fact, because of this, anyone, even an atheist can baptise in danger of death, so long as the intention is there and the proper words are used (I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit).

Likewise the rite of Confirmation is to be revised in order that its connection to Baptism and Christian Initiation is made more visible. For this, the Council Fathers directed that “candidates … renew their baptismal promises just before they are confirmed” (no. 71).

The rite for the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Confession) is also to be revised to “more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament” (no. 72). While the act of confessing sins committed is necessary for the Sacrament, the focus of this intimate encounter with Christ is not sin, but rather His mercy and love. And penance — whether in relation to Confession, Lent, etc. — is not punishment, but an act of love; an act of love offered to increase our desire to avoid sin, to strengthen repentance, and to make reparation for sins.

The Council Fathers also called for a renewed understanding of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: it “is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death” (no. 73). Like Penance, the Anointing of the Sick is a Sacrament of healing, specifically for the seriously ill and the elderly. This Sacrament may be repeated as often as necessary.

In the context of impending death, the Anointing of the Sick is combined with Confession and Viaticum to create what is commonly called “the Last Rites”. (Viaticum is Latin for ‘go with you’, referring to the Eucharist as our food for the final journey.)

Continuing with the remaining Sacraments, those that we refer to as Sacraments of service to the community (Marriage and Holy Orders), the Council Fathers called for a revision of both of these rites as well (nos. 76-79), so that the nature and purpose of each Sacrament might be better signified and explained. This included provisions that the Nuptial Blessing and the Prayer of Consecration at ordination could henceforth be said in the mother tongue so that those present might better understand the meaning of these Sacraments (cf. nos. 76, 78). (To be continued…)

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XVI

Pastor’s Message — Vatican Council II — 50th Anniversary

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.  We continue with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XVI: Chapter III: The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals

As many of you will remember from your own catechetical formation, the seven Sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions” (Catechism, 1131). That is, they are visible signs (words and actions) that make happen what they mean. “The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct” (no. 59).

As such, then, the Sacraments presuppose faith — as well as “nourish, strengthen, and express it” (no. 59) —, but also presuppose an understanding of the signs (words and actions) being used. Perhaps we have taken this for granted in recent years. Nonetheless, the Sacraments nourish the Christian life and express it.

Alongside the Sacraments, the Church also has “sacred signs [that] bear a resemblance to the sacraments” (no. 60). They provide spiritual benefits, and even grace, but are not themselves Sacraments; they are not tied in a particular way to a specific effect, but simply dispose and nourish the person for the Sacraments. Examples of sacramentals are: the Sign of the Cross, holy water, Rosary beads, a Crucifix, blessed oils, blessed candles, scapulars, and many more… “There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God” (no. 61).

These sacramental objects or signs, “are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ” (no. 61), but care must be given that they do not turn into superstition, that sacramental objects are not reduced to amulets. In themselves they have no power, but “for well-disposed members of the faithful” (no. 61) they can be food for faith and sources of God’s blessings.

And so, while encouraging the frequent use of the Sacraments and sacramentals, the Council Fathers did issue some corrections:

The vernacular (mother tongue) can be used to administer the Sacraments and sacramental, as this will “be of considerable help to the people” (no. 63). In mission lands, local elements “capable of being adapted to Christian ritual, may be admitted along with those already found in Christian tradition” (no. 65). The catechumenate for adults is to be restored (no. 64), and a new rite of Baptism for adults is to be prepared (no. 66), as well as a rite to welcome baptised non-Catholics into communion with the Church (no. 69). The rite of Baptism for infants is to be revised, and the “roles [and duties] of parents and godparents … should be brought out more clearly in the rite itself” (no. 67). (To be continued…)

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