by the Rev. John D. Byrnes
The catechism of the Catholic Church begins with the description of the role of marriage within human life and the role of the Sacrament of Marriage within the Christian life (1601). This is an important distinction. Marriage is a part of all human life; the Sacrament of Marriage is part of a Christian life.
Many theologians, who discuss the Sacrament of Marriage, begin their presentation with an overview of the Old and New Testament descriptions of marriage. When reading these overviews, one might want to separate the religious truths found in the material in Genesis on Adam and Eve from an overly simplistic approach to the historical validity of the Adam and Eve story. The reader should realize that religious truths do not depend on whether Adam and Eve really existed or not. Even though the Adam and Eve account might be mythological, there are still religious truths about the dignity of the human person both male and female, about marriage and about sexuality that the account clearly presents.
The New Testament material well deserves special attention. The presence of Jesus at the wedding in Cana should not be presented as an "institution of the Sacrament of Marriage." Neither the text nor the context exegetically allow this. Theoretically, however, many Church rights have described Jesus' presence at Cana as the beginning of the sacrament, but today this scriptural interpretation would not be a solid position to take.
Jesus seems to have been unequivocally insistent on the indissolubility of marriage. Because of his reference to Genesis, to the very beginning of a union of a man and a woman, his insistence on indissolubility seems to apply to all marriage, not just Christian marriages.
Jesus taught that all marriages should be a life-long, mutual commitment of husband and wife. What really happens in true Christian marriage is that a man and woman abandon their own individual life, give themselves completely to one another, as Christ does to his Church and together form one new unit living one new life. They are not only two in one flesh, they are two in one life.
Marriage is not a mere human union. It is a supernatural union, a sacrament that gives grace - the share of Christ's strength to enable the two partners to achieve this ideal. When a man and woman are kneeling before God's altar to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony, man and woman are there and God is there not as a cold abstract reality, but as a living and vibrant reality. There is a sense in which it could be said that these three persons are one. There they are certainly one in Christ.