June 22, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Eucharist reflects and strengthens unity and love of marriage

(Sixth in a series)

Pope Benedict XVI devoted a substantial section of his apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist to “The Eucharist and Matrimony.”

He calls the Eucharist “a nuptial sacrament.” His presentation on this theme is profound and clear. I quote at length:

“The Eucharist, as the sacrament of charity, has a particular relationship with the love of man and woman united in marriage. A deeper understanding of this relationship is needed at the present time.

“Pope John Paul II frequently spoke of the nuptial character of the Eucharist: ‘The Eucharist is the sacrament of our redemption. It is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and Bride.’ Moreover, ‘The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1617).

“The Eucharist inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32). The mutual consent the husband and wife exchange in Christ, which establishes them as a community of life and love, also has a eucharistic dimension.

“Indeed, in the theology of St. Paul, conjugal love is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for his Church, a love culminating in the Cross, the expression of his ‘marriage’ with humanity and at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist. For this reason, the Church manifests her particular spiritual closeness to all those who have built their family on the sacrament of Matrimony. … [T]he Synod also called for an acknowledgment of the unique mission of women in the family and in society, a mission that needs to be defended, protected and promoted. Marriage and motherhood represent essential realities which must never be denigrated” (n. 27).

The Holy Father then turns to several pastoral problems. Not surprisingly, he addresses the indissoluble character of marriage: “The indissoluble, exclusive and faithful bond uniting Christ and the Church, which finds sacramental expression in the Eucharist, corresponds to the basic anthropological fact that man is meant to be definitively united to one woman and vice versa” (cf. Gen 2:24, Mt 19:5). “… If the Eucharist expresses the irrevocable nature of God’s love in Christ for his Church, we can understand why it implies, with regard to the sacrament of Matrimony, that indissolubility in which all true love necessarily aspires” (cf. CCC, #1640) (n. 28).

The pope comments that it is no surprise that the Synod on the Eucharist gave special attention to the painful situations experienced by some of the faithful who are divorced and remarried.

He calls it a “complex and troubling pastoral problem, a real scourge for contemporary society, and one that increasingly affects the Catholic community as well. The Church’s pastors, out of love for the truth, are obliged to discern different situations carefully, in order to be able to offer appropriate spiritual guidance to the faithful involved” (n. 29).

“The Church’s practice of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments is based on the Scripture (cf. Mt 10:2-12); their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist” (cf. n. 29).

Yet the Holy Father points out that “the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving Communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance and commitment to the education of their children” (n. 29).

Pope Benedict emphasizes that diocesan tribunals should be able to operate in an expeditious manner regarding marriage cases where “legitimate doubt exists about the validity of the prior sacramental marriage.” He expresses concern that there be full respect for canon law, pastoral sensitivity and prompt functioning. He also notes that “pastoral care must not be understood as if it were somehow in conflict with the law” (cf. n. 29).

Finally, the exhortation notes that given the complex cultural context which the Church today encounters in many countries, the synod recommended devoting “maximum pastoral attention to training couples preparing for marriage and to ascertaining beforehand their convictions regarding the obligations required for the validity of the sacrament of Matrimony. … Marriage and family must be promoted and defended from misrepresentations of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself” (cf. n. 29). †

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