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Pope Francis Extols the “Unimaginable Dignity” of Christian Marriage

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© Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Diane Montagna - published on 05/06/15

Marrying “in the Lord” means loving as God loves, forever

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VATICAN CITY — When a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the Church, by giving himself completely to her, it has an enormous effect on the Christian community, Pope Francis said on Wednesday in his general audience catechesis.

Reflecting on St. Paul’s famous discourse on marriage contained in Ephesians, chapter 5, the Pope extolled the “unimaginable dignity” and beauty of Christian marriage, reminding pilgrims and faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square: “The love between spouses is the image of the love between Christ and the Church.”

Marriage has been inscribed in creation’s design by God himself, he said. Therefore, for Christian men and women, entering into the sacrament of marriage is an act of faith in God’s plan for humanity and an act of selfless love.

The decision to marry also contains “a missionary dimension,” he added. When a Christian man and a woman decide to “marry in the Lord,” they “participate as spouses in the missionary life of the Church,” by living not only for themselves or their own family, but for all people. 

“It takes courage to love each other as Christ loves the Church,” Pope Francis acknowledged. But marriage “is the route of love: to love as God loves, forever.”

Here below is a translation of the full text of the Pope’s catechesis.


Dear brothers and sisters,

Good morning. In our journey of catecheses on the family, today we touch directly on the beauty of Christian marriage. It is not simply a ceremony performed in church, with flowers, a dress, and photos … Christian marriage is a sacrament that happens in the Church, and that the Church also performs, thus initiating a new family community.

It is what the Apostle Paul sums up in his famous expression: “This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul affirms that the love between spouses is the image of the love between Christ and the Church. What unimaginable dignity! But in reality it is inscribed in God’s plan for creation, and through the grace of Christ countless Christian couples, even with their limitations, their sins, have lived it fully. 

Speaking of the new life in Christ, St. Paul says that Christians — all of them — are called to love one another as Christ loved them, that is, “to be subject to one another” (Eph. 5:21), which means being at the service of one another. And here he introduces the analogy between the husband-wife couple and Christ and the Church. It is clear that we are dealing with an imperfect analogy, but we should understand its spiritual meaning which is lofty and revolutionary, and at the same time simple, and within the reach of every man and woman who relies on God’s grace.

The husband — Paul says — is to love his wife “as his own body” (Eph. 5:28); to love her as Christ “loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). But do you husbands who are here understand this? To love one’s wife as Christ loves the Church? This isn’t a joke, it’s a serious matter. The effect of this radical dedication required of man, for the love and dignity of the woman, after the example of Christ, must have been enormous in the Christian community.

This seed of gospel newness, which restores the original reciprocity of devotion and respect, matured slowly in history, but in the end prevailed.

The Sacrament of Marriage is a great act of faith and love: it bears witness to the courage of believing in the beauty of God’s creative act, and of living that love which urges [husbands and wives] always to go beyond, beyond themselves and even beyond their own family. The Christian vocation to love unconditionally and without limit is what, through the grace of Christ, also stands at the foundation of the free consent that constitutes marriage. 

The Church herself is fully involved in the history of every Christian marriage: she is built up by its successes and suffers by its failures. But we must ask ourselves seriously: do we also accept, through and through, as believers and as pastors, this indissoluble bond between the history of Christ and the Church and the history of marriage and of the human family? Are we prepared to take this responsibility seriously, i.e., that every marriage goes along the road of the love Christ has for Church? This is something truly great.

In the depths of this mystery of the creature, recognized and restored in its purity, there opens up a second great horizon that characterizes the Sacrament of Marriage. The decision to “marry in the Lord” also contains a missionary dimension, which means having at heart the willingness to act as a steward of God’s blessing and grace of God for all. Indeed, Christian couples participate as spouses in the mission of the Church. It takes courage to do this! Therefore, when I greet the newlyweds, I say: “Be courageous,” because it takes courage to love each other as Christ loves the Church.

The celebration of the sacrament cannot leave out this co-responsibility for family life in relation to the Church’s great mission of love. Therefore, the life of the Church is enriched by the beauty of every marriage covenant, and is impoverished whenever it is disfigured. In order to offer to everyone the gifts of faith, love and hope, the Church also needs the courageous fidelity of spouses to the grace of their sacrament. The people of God need their daily walk in faith, love and hope, with all the joys and struggles this walk entails in marriage and family life. 

The route is thus marked out forever. It is the route of love: to love as God loves, forever. Christ does not cease to care for the Church: he loves her always, cares for her always, like himself. Christ does not cease to remove from her human face spots and wrinkles of every kind. This irradiation of the strength and tenderness of God, which is transmitted from couple to couple, from family to family, is moving and so very beautiful. St. Paul is right: this is truly a “great mystery!” Men and women, who are brave enough to carry this treasure in the “earthen vessels” of our humanity  — these courageous men and women —  are an essential resource for the Church, and for the world. May God bless them a thousandfold for this.

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

MarriagePope FrancisVatican
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