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The treasure of the sacrament of matrimony

In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul II explains to us the meaning of the sacrament of matrimony, as well as explaining what a great gift and treasure this sacrament is for spouses.

The treasure of the sacrament of matrimony

We should continuously call to mind the basic truth that Christ revealed to us about what an extraordinary gift this sacrament is. From divine revelation, we know that we were created in His image and likeness, so it is the Creator who endowed us with reason and free will, and the ability to love. As St John Paul II states: “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio 11). One cannot forget that a person has not just a body, but also an immortal soul. He or she is therefore an embodied soul, that is, a spirit which inhabits a body and expresses itself through that body. So a person’s call to love encompasses not just the soul, but also the body. A person’s body is to participate in spiritual love and be the means of expressing it. To exist “in the image of God” means to love, since “God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion” (FC 11). This most important calling of mankind to love is carried out in either marriage or virginity.

Marriage as a sacrament becomes the image and icon of the Holy Trinity. Through the marital act, the spouses participate in the life and love of God in the One Holy Trinity

The holiness of the marital act

St John Paul II emphasises that in the sacramental marital union, the marital act, in which a man and a woman give themselves mutually, is not “a strictly biological phenomenon, but pertains to the very internal essence of the human being as such”. The conjugal relations of the spouses who by the power of Christ become inseparably united by the bonds of love in the sacrament of matrimony are meant to express the total selfless gift of the entirety of the person of the spouse. The only source of the spouses’ mutual love is Christ. If the spouses linger in a state of mortal sin, during that time they lack love in themselves if they consciously and wilfully close themselves to their only source, which is Christ. If they are in a state of grace, the marital act becomes a sign of the sacrament of matrimony and a source of mutual sanctification. Just as one cannot receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin, so spouses should not enter into the marital act until they reconcile themselves with God in the sacrament of confession. A man and a woman have all the less right to sexual relations when they are not united in the sacrament of matrimony. One should remember that marriage as a sacrament becomes the image and icon of the Holy Trinity. Through the marital act, the spouses participate in the life and love of God in the One Holy Trinity. The conjugal relations of spouses are intended to be experienced as a holy act expressing mutual love in the love of Christ.

Sins which kill love

Marital infidelity and pre-marital sex are among the most serious of sins. Also the use of contraceptives is a mortal sin, since it thwarts fertility, which is a gift from God. Contraception and the contraceptive mentality are also expressions of opposition to God and His plans. They say “no” to God and reject His invitation to join Him in the creation of new human beings. The sexual act with the introduction of any kind of contraception ceases to be a sign of mutual total giving of one’s self in love, and becomes an expression of mutual egoism, working against God’s intentions for love, and so it is a mortal sin. Where fertility and the possibility of conceiving a child is treated not like a gift but like a threat, there is no love. It is important to remember that marital love is directed towards family and the raising of offspring, and that spouses are called to collaboration with God in the work of creating new people. St John Paul II emphasised that “The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally. This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility. This fertility is directed to the generation of a human being, and so by its nature it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole series of personal values. For the harmonious growth of these values, a persevering and unified contribution by both parents is necessary. The only ‘place’ in which this selfgiving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God Himself which only in this light manifests its true meaning. The institution of marriage is not an undue interference by society or authority or the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator. A person’s freedom, far from being restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer in creative Wisdom” (FC 11).

A sign of salvation

St John Paul II emphasised that the community of love between God and man finds its characteristic expression in the marital covenant of man and woman. “Their bond of love becomes the image and the symbol of the covenant which unites God and His people” (FC 12). Revealed entirely in the mystery of the death on the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is “that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation; the marriage of baptised persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ. The Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave Himself on the Cross” (FC 13). At the moment of receiving the sacrament of matrimony, the love of men and women, who by baptism were united in the New and Eternal Covenant of Christ with the Church, “is elevated and assumed into the spousal charity of Christ, sustained and enriched by His redeeming power. By virtue of the sacramentality of their marriage, spouses are bound to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the Church. Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers” (FC 13).

“Their bond of love becomes the image and the symbol of the covenant which unites God and His people” (St John Paul II)

The Movement of Pure Hearts in Marriage

Dear spouses! Remember always the invaluable treasure that you received in the sacrament of matrimony, which is Jesus Christ Himself. Unite yourselves to Him and present all your problems, troubles and joys to Him in your daily prayer. Only with Him will you overcome all difficulties! If spouses pray together, go regularly to confession and receive the Eucharist, they build their future on the indestructible rock which is God Himself. The Lord Jesus invites you to the Movement of Pure Hearts in Marriage (MPHM) because he wishes to renew, deepen and heal your marital relations. In order to join the MPHM, first you should recognise all your sins and omissions in the sacrament of confession, take part in the Holy Mass and, after receiving Holy Communion, pray the following Prayer of Entrustment of the MPHM (see previous page).

Pray the Prayer of Entrustment of the MPHM every day and introduce all the commitments included in it into your married life. You must also put your daily lives in order so that prayer will be the first priority, followed by work and rest. Be vigilant that television and the Internet don’t become gods in your home and thieves of time at the cost of prayer and rest. Take care of the gift of a pure heart, without which you cannot love. Therefore stay vigilant and always keep yourselves in a state of sanctifying grace, and if it happens that you fall gravely, get yourself immediately to the sacrament of confession.

“In situations when faith is tested, when our loved ones cause us such pain that we no longer have the strength to forgive them, let us beg Mary to implore the virtue of longanimity and the grace to look at our spouses and others with the eyes of Christ. That we should wish for them the grace to reconcile with God, and even more, that they should become saints” (as above page 41).

The Lord Jesus wishes you to share your experiences of life and faith with others on the pages of Love One Another! So we ask you to write your testimony down and send it to the editors.

You may inform our editors about the great event which was your entry into the MPHM by sending us your address and your dates of birth and entry into the MPHM. We will then enter you into our Book of Pure Hearts and send you a special blessing. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you!” (2 Cor. 13:13).


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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