In my last 101 Wednesday post, I shared paragraph 1601 from the universal catechism. This week, I want to talk a little bit about it. Well, a little bit about one small part of it. Every week or two, I will write a little bit more about this packed paragraph. I’m no theologian (not that you would mistake me for one) but I have had a long term interest in studying and understanding the Church’s teaching on marriage and God’s laws for marriage. Chief and I, for a time, shared our understanding with others in premarriage programs and RCIA. Much of what I will write on this will be drawn from those times.
“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”
covenant vs. contract
The difference between covenant and contract ought to be noted. For the purposes of this discussion, I will say this:
A contract is a legally binding agreement outlining certain obligations and benefits between parties. It establishes the duties of each of the parties, the limits to those obligations and benefits and outlines the circumstances (even implicitly) under which the contract can be broken. It shows the way in and the way out.
A covenant, on the other hand, is a complete, total and irrevocable exchange of persons. It says “I am yours. You are mine.” There are no back doors. There are no limits. It is permanent. Rather than setting limits, it expands horizons. “For better or worse…. Until death do we part.” We pledge to give ourselves fully in all aspects of our relationship. (and often we fail!) It means for life, no matter what, once a true and valid marriage is established.
Throughout Salvation History God entered into a series of covenants with us. These covenants had a “sign” and a means of renewal. Two examples readily recognized by us would be the covenant with Noah and the sign of the rainbow and the New Covenant ~ established by Christ on Holy Thursday, culminated by His passion, death and resurrection ~ in which the sign and renewal is the Eucharist.
Luke 22:19, 20
Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.“*
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
*here, “memory” does not simply mean to remember or recall to mind, it means to make present
There is also a covenantal sign and renewal specific to marriage… any guesses as to what it is? (I will talk more about this in a future 101 Wednesday entry.)
Marriage, as a covenant, is also a sign to the Church and the world. It is a sign of God’s faithful love and total self-giving to His creation. Let’s face it, if anyone ever had a “right” to terminate a relationship/covenant, it is God against us. And yet He does not. He gave Himself to us. He is our God, we are His people. As Paul tells us, it is a great mystery that fallen man, through marriage, reflects the generous, self-donating, irrevocable love of God for us. It’s also a piece of our road map. No matter how much we sin and fail, God is ready to take us back, give us back our place as his beloved when we repent. He is like the father of the Prodigal… standing, watching and waiting for our return. Likewise are we to do with our spouses. Yes, our imperfect spouses and they with our imperfect selves! For life. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. A covenant, not a contract.
In a week or two, I will post another thought on one of the parts of paragraph (which is only one sentence!) 1601 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Be sure to head over to Dawn’s at No Heavy Lifting for more 101 Wednesday posts.