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The new logo of the SAIF, shown here, depicts a family whose shadows merge together in the shape of a Celtic cross - signifying the particular situation of interchurch families in Scotland.

In its February newsletter the SAIF included a contribution from Fr Simon Robson, O.P., who had addressed the October annual conference. We reprint the larger part of his article here.


What got me thinking about this aspect of marriage was all the difficulties that people seem to have with ordained ministers, in almost everything from the premarriage talks onwards. That the couple getting married are the ministers of the marriage is something people rarely seem to appreciate fully.

Recently I was reading Paul VI's motu proprio Matrimonia Mixta of 1970 for the first time in my life. I will quote one paragraph:

The Church recognises that mixed marriages, which are the consequences of diversity of religions and the division of Christians, with rare exceptions do not contribute to the re-establishment of the unity of Christians. Many problems are inherent in a mixed marriage itself, because a degree of division is introduced into the living nucleus of the Church, as the Christian family is rightly called: within the family, obedience to the teachings of the Gospel is made harder because of differences in matters of religion, especially with regard to taking part in the Church's worship and the upbringing of children.

Now as ministers of marriage you don't start, as the above quotation implies and as do many clergy and relatives, by wishing that things were other than they are; that a mixed marriage somehow has an inherent flaw that limits the sacrament. It is precisely in the reality of your lives that, as ministers of your marriage, you mediate the love of God.

Now however many sacraments your tradition speaks of, a sacrament is something with animal, vegetable and mineral connections which shows us what God is like. For Christians the fundamental sacrament is Christ, and then there is the Church. After that you can really have as many sacraments as you like. To say that marriage is a sacrament is simply to say that it is a sacred sign by which we worship God and by which we learn something of what God is like. And you are ministers in that you first of all show each other what God is like and secondly, but indispensably, you show God to others.

Christian marriage is for mutual love and support, it is for the care and education of children; but it is also your way of being a Christian, how you worship God, how you serve the Kingdom and support the Body of Christ. To put it in an old-fashioned sort of way, you get to heaven by being good lovers. And it is a ministry arising directly out of Christ's priesthood: our baptismal priesthood. The ordained minister of whatever denomination is the official witness of the wedding ceremony. But your ministry continues for the rest of your lives.

How does marriage tell us what God is like and how do you show God in your lives as married people? Sacraments are bodily things for bodies, and marriage is the most bodily; you show what God is like in your loving, being in love, making love. Making love with the person we most love in the world is to know the goodness and love of God and share in the life of God. And, of course, children are bodily too; their conception, their birth, their growing up. It is this knowledge of God that you minister to each other, to your children, to your families and to the whole church. Marriage is not an institution for individuals but a ministry which brings God's grace to the world.

Being ministers of your marriage: I think that this must have a bearing on your rights and duties in making decisions about your place or places of worship, the education of your children and their baptism, confirmation and communion. Because in marriage you minister to each other and your children in a way that no one else can. However most of us live in a church in which ministers are not very good at recognising other peoples' ministries.

First and foremost sacraments are to deal with life as we find it, not as we would like it to be. Hymns that speak of the eucharist as angels' bread may be nice poetry but it is bad theology; it wouldn't be the slightest use to an angel. To appreciate and to use sacraments you have to be bodily and you have to be able to mess things up. In marriage one can also fail to show others what God is like: to each other, to children, to parents, to family, to our fellow women and men. We mustn't pretend that family life isn't often painful and tragic, and there can be special pains in interchurch families. People we love are also people we are capable of hurting and they of hurting us: we experience doubts and fears about those we love; sometimes we can even hate them. And added to all of that are the basic problems of living, of getting through each day, trying to pay bills, feed people and so on. But sacraments are precisely about facing life as it really is, not as we would like it to be. And into married life and into the christian community you bring God's love and God's forgiveness.

Sacraments point to the Kingdom which has not yet come in its fulness. At the heart of every sacrament is the Crucifixion through which we are redeemed and come to share in the life of the Trinity. It means that our sufferings as well as our joys count for something; that nothing is lost on God. In our joy and pain we can meet God. The sacraments enable us to accept our limitations and work within them. I think that is the way in which the ministry of marriage has a special dimension for interchurch families. Looking back to the reservations about mixed marriages expressed in Matrimonia Mixta; our churches may be divided, but don't let your marriages be divided. You, unlike the ordained minister, are not ministering to a divided family. Being an interchurch family certainly can't restrict your ministry, indeed the possibilities for ministry are widened.

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Produced by Association of Interchurch Families, England



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