John Clark is an online-homeschool course developer for Seton Home Study School, a speechwriter, and the author of two books, Who’s Got You? and How to Be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford A Decent Cape. He has written hundreds of articles and blogs about Catholic family life and apologetics in such places as Magis Center, Seton Magazine, and Catholic Digest. John and his wife Lisa have nine children and live in Florida.
This may have been the first time you’ve heard the claim in the title of this article, but in making that claim, I’m standing on some broad Catholic shoulders.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “The sacrament of Matrimony has this specific element that distinguishes it from all the other sacraments: it is the sacrament of something that was part of the very economy of creation; it is the very conjugal covenant instituted by the Creator ‘in the beginning.’”
In saying so, John Paul the Great wasn’t just drawing upon Genesis — he found precedent in St. Thomas Aquinas. In his Summa Theologiae, the Angelic Doctor proclaims, “There was matrimony in Paradise.” That is, before the Fall of Man, there was Matrimony.
When we ponder this, we should consider that the sacraments are restorative in nature; thus, when Jesus restored Matrimony and elevated it to the sacramental level, he was restoring and elevating the fundamental relationship between husband and wife. It is little wonder, then, that the first recorded miracle of Jesus took place at a wedding — the marriage feast at Cana.
Primordial is defined as “constituting a beginning; giving origin to something derived or developed; original; elementary.” It can be properly said that marriage is primordial because, just as marriage gives origin to new human life, so does Christian marriage give origin to the sacramental life. God ordained it that a man and woman fall in love, give themselves to each other in the sacrament of Matrimony, and their holy and loving union brings forth a baby who is initiated into the Church with Baptism.
In the Eastern Catholic Church, the infant receives Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist in the same day — thus is he or she fully initiated into the Catholic Church from his or her earliest moments. As my wife and I are Eastern Catholics, we have experienced this sacramental trifecta nine times with our nine children, and the outpouring of God’s sacramental grace is uniquely powerful and uplifting.
From there, the child is instructed in the Catholic Faith primarily by his parents, who continually bring him to Church so that he may be nourished with Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Penance. In the Eastern Catholic Church, parents also bring children to receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick during Holy Week every year.
As the child grows, his parents pray for the child to accept his or her vocation — whether that be a vocation to the married life, the religious life or the single life. Thus, the parents prayerfully guide the child toward the possible reception of the sacraments of Matrimony and/or Holy Orders — and regardless of their children’s calling, the parents foster, nourish, and encourage ongoing sacramental life.
When we step back a moment and look at this sacramental cycle, we might notice something both simple and profound: Matrimony serves not merely as the primordial sacrament, but as a guardian of the other sacraments.
When Giuseppe Sarto (the future Pope St. Pius X) was ordained as a bishop, he went to thank his mother, who had raised him in the Catholic Faith. When he showed his mother his new episcopal ring, his mother pointed to her own wedding ring and said, “Your ring is very beautiful, Giuseppe, but you wouldn’t have it if I didn’t have this.”
Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten the priority of marriage.
It is odd that the sacrament of Matrimony receives so little attention from the pulpit. Outside of nuptial Masses — which are growing increasingly rare — we may not even hear the word “Matrimony” mentioned in a given year of Sunday Masses. What is not odd is that the devil tries so frantically to attack and mock marriage. Considering the multifaceted demonic assault on marriage, it’s worse than merely embarrassing that the devil seems to realize something that many priests and bishops do not: Matrimony is of central importance to the Catholic Church.
You cannot weaken the sacrament of Matrimony without weakening the Catholic Church. Happily, the reverse is also true: You cannot strengthen the sacrament of Matrimony without strengthening the Catholic Church.
If you strengthen your marriage, you make the world better. Period.
To you husbands and fathers reading this, please trust that we can champion marriage. We can practice the virtues so essential to marriage, such as charity, chastity, hope and perseverance. What does that look like? It looks like saying the Rosary with your family, making dinner for your wife, buying her roses, holding hands during evening walks, teaching your son Phonics, coaching your daughter’s softball team, buying milkshakes for your kids after Confession, forgiving each other and asking forgiveness, offering hope and encouragement to your children in a world desperately lacking both.
With the graces and gifts of God, these simple and beautiful things are possible. Indeed, they are the things we fathers can do today to change the Church, and the world, for the better.