Before the liturgical changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), women and men entering a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church heard an “exhortation” read by the priest about the Sacrament of Matrimony. 

Although no longer used, it is a beautiful text worth reading, not only at the beginning but for the whole of married life. As we celebrate National Marriage Week, February 7-14 this year and its theme “Called to the Joy of Love,” I would like to share it with you now:

You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred because it is established by God Himself. By it, He gave to mankind a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race.

In this way He sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under His fatherly love. Because God Himself is its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self.

However, Christ Our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to love in marriage to describe His own love for His Church and for the people whom He redeemed by His own blood. He thereby gave Christians a new vision of what married life should be: a life of self-sacrificing love like His own.

It is for this reason that His apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is to be its prototype.

This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will influence and direct your entire future from this day forward.

That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys, and sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life and are to be expected in your own.

And yet, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death. Truly then, these words are most serious.

It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing the full import of the words you are about to exchange, you are nevertheless, so willing and prepared to pronounce them. Because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice.

You begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and fuller life you are to have in common. From this day on you will belong entirely to each other, you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections.

Whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is difficult and trying. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. When love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. Our prayer for you is that this love, with which you join your hands and your hearts today, never fails, but grows deeper and stronger as the years go on.

If you allow true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice to guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to us in this vale of tears. The rest is in God’s hands.

Be assured that God will not fail you in your needs. God pledges you the life-long support of His graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to minister to one another.