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Chapter 33: Eucharistic Life as Fulfillment in the Lord Jesus

Question H: How does the sacrament of matrimony extend the Eucharist into the basic personal relationships of most Christians?

1. Most adult Christians are married persons. They prepare the gift to be offered in the Eucharist in the mutual self-giving of marriage, while the love and service of the Lord to which they are sent forth from the Eucharist begin in loving and serving one another and their children (see GS 48).

2. Christian children are holy, and women are saved by bearing and raising them (see 1 Tm 2.15). Most men, for their part, learn to love somewhat as they ought in trying to fulfill their family responsibilities, subordinating selfish interests to the needs of their spouses and the demands (often enough irresistible, urgent, and unreasonable at the same time) of infants, difficult adolescents, and even grown children. Members of families fulfill themselves as human persons in and through their mutual relationships; then they offer this human fulfillment in union with Jesus’ sacrifice in the Church’s eucharistic communion with God.

The Church never has doubted that marriage is a way toward heavenly perfection (see DS 802/430). The Epistle to the Ephesians teaches that the love of husbands and wives for each other ought to be appropriate to the two different roles.24 The wife’s love ought to be an act of receptive submission and respect, which excludes any claim to “liberated” autonomy; the husband’s love ought to be an act of tender and perfect care and even, if necessary, of absolute self-sacrifice, which excludes any temptation to domineering exploitation. Jesus gave himself for the Church, to purify her in the baptismal bath for her marriage to himself, a marriage celebrated in the Eucharist. Similarly husbands must sacrifice themselves to make their wives’ love perfect. Marriage foreshadows the union of Jesus with the Church (see Eph 5.23–33; S.t., sup., q. 42, a. 1).

3. However, every good act and upright relationship of every Christian becomes eucharistic in essentially this same way. Why, then, does the marital relationship have the special status of a sacrament, by which the Lord enters and remains in the lives of married Christians (see GS 48)?

4. The marital covenant is the union of two in one flesh. This is a real union, since the act proper to marriage is a single human function of the partners together. Husband and wife share in it as incomplete coprinciples, each completed by the other. This real unity of the marital covenant symbolizes the unity of our Lord Jesus and the Church (see Eph 5.32), for the Church is his fullness (see Eph 1.23) and he fulfills the Church (see Col 1.19–20). The unity of the new covenant which marriage signifies is accomplished in Jesus’ sacrifice and actualized for us in the Eucharist.

5. All members of the Church share in the life of Jesus by participating in the Eucharist. “Truly partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with him and with one another. ‘Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread’ (1 Cor 10.17). In this way all of us are made members of his body (cf. 1 Cor 12.27), ‘but severally members one of another’ (Rom 12.5)” (LG 7).

6. By this sharing, the bonds of marriage and family life are incorporated within and transformed by the life of the Mystical Body of the Lord Jesus. Hence, the status of the marital relationship as a sacrament, by which our Lord in a special sense is included in every Christian marriage and family, is a consequence of the intrinsic relationship of marriage to the Eucharist, insofar as the former is a sign of that which the latter realizes.

In marriage, the man and woman are fulfilled in three ways: by faithful love, by becoming parents, and by constituting a bond of communion with one another which both represents and realizes the communion which Christ establishes in the Eucharist (see DS 1327/702). Divine-human communion is perfect unity with full respect for and fulfillment of uniqueness; marriage should express and realize this ideal of love (see S.t., sup., q. 42, a. 1; q. 49, a. 4).

The primary purpose of marriage—“primary” not in the sense of “most important,” since the sacramental aspect is most important, but in the sense of “most specific”—is the having and raising of children, who are called to live forever in heaven (see DS 3704–5/2228–29). This common teaching of the Church, which basically is a fact of biology and anthropology, has not in the least been denied or qualified by Vatican II. While the Council does not use the words “primary” and “secondary,” it neither repudiates the distinction nor denies the primacy, rightly understood, of having and raising children: This purpose distinguishes marriage from every other type of companionship (see GS 50; S.t., sup., q. 49, a. 3).25

The Eucharist and the sacraments of anointing and matrimony consecrate the earthy foundation of human and Christian life. The Eucharist centers upon eating, nourishment, and survival itself. Anointing and matrimony more explicitly and pointedly bring to bear the consecration of the glorious life of the risen Jesus, who is present bodily in the Eucharist, upon the beginning and end of bodily life, as it comes from nothingness to being and the touch of eternal life, and as it goes from mortal life to fulfillment in the everlasting arms of Life himself.

24. This point often is rejected today. For a positive, philosophical exposition of the Christian conception: Robert E. Joyce, Human Sexual Ecology (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1980), 63–85.

25. For a comparative analysis of texts to show that the teaching of Vatican II is not significantly different from that of St. Thomas: Germain Grisez, “Marriage: Reflections Based on St. Thomas and Vatican Council II,” Catholic Mind, 64 (June 1966), 4–19. “Primary” is a technical, logical term; in this sense, the primary end of a bridge club is playing bridge, even if most people participate more for sociability than to play the game, and the primary office of a king is to rule, even if his personal interest is in exploiting the people. Vatican II did not change the received view, but neither did it use the expression “primary end” which had been widely misinterpreted.