Sacraments are visible signs of an invisible reality. Just as the Word became flesh, through the ministry of the church spoken words transform the very nature of things. Matrimony is the only sacrament where the parties confer the sacrament upon themselves by their spoken vows before the priest as a witness. (See 1623; Catechism of the Catholic Church)
For years I lamented the difficulties of marriage to a man who is chronically ill with multiple serious conditions, most recently with Parkinson’s disease. I asked a priest about it, comparing myself with a cousin whose husband has MS and is now only able to move one hand.
How was she able to handle the trials of that with grace and humor and hope? According to him the difference was that she had a sacramental marriage and I didn’t. I’ve often thought about that conversation, regretting that I had deprived myself of God’s grace.
Almost 35 years ago, my husband and I eloped and were married by a justice of the peace. I wanted to be married in the church; he wanted to live together first. I later regretted the compromise, but not the marriage.
Could a sacramental marriage make such a difference? Even if it would, I never imagined that anything would change his heart and make it possible.
After years of prayer, our God who makes all things possible DID make it possible. Despite his reluctance and my skepticism, we were sacramentally married last weekend!
While I tried to keep things simple, he surprised me with a bouquet of my favorite flowers and a lovely rose-gold wedding band with tiny jewels. He insisted that we order a cake and bought sparkling wine in a hand-painted bottle to sweeten our belated celebration.
We had photos this time and he asked me to send them to people. A friend took photos at our first wedding, but the lab lost the film. Thank God for digital photography.
The Catechism explains the effects of the sacrament of matrimony:
Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,”and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. (1642)
Sacramental grace is real. We were foolish to doubt and delay. It has already made a difference; we both feel strengthened by the power of God’s grace.
We once had a house with cracks in the basement walls, so we had wall anchors installed. In a similar way, validating our marriage has strengthened our foundation, anchoring ourselves to Christ and his church, and binding ourselves more securely to one another.