Diocesan Mass in Celebration of Marriage, Stockport, 10th February 2018

On this day, when so many couples come together to celebrate significant wedding anniversaries, we can see that the promises of marriage can never become out-dated. A survey last month found that the vast majority of teenagers in this country still want to get married when they grow up, despite the fact that an increasing numbers of couples cohabit. More than three out of four young people aged between 14 and 17 described marriage as one of the key aspirations for their lives and recognised that merely living together was not the same reality (Cf. Centre for Social Justice, The Times 27th January 2018). It should not surprise us that, in the face of every discouraging trend, the young still aspire to the vocation of marriage for this was inscribed by the Creator into the very nature of man and woman; its unbreakable bond restored by Christ himself “as it had been from the beginning” (Mt. 19:6) and he raised marriage to become a Sacrament. The Scriptures begin and end with a vision of marriage and speak throughout of its high purpose, even seeing it as an image of the union of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5: 32). Christ chose to begin his public life at a wedding, thereby confirming the goodness of marriage; indeed, the first of his miracles would be for the sake of a married couple.

No-one could be surprised that, for 20 centuries, in all her teaching and in the witness of countless lives, the Church has defended the greatness of marriage. She has re-proposed marriage to every generation as a path to holiness, for the perfecting of human love and as the foundation of the family. The Church has always recognised divine wisdom in this call to love and faithfulness inherently open to receive the gift of children. She possesses no authority to change or compromise the promises on which marriage rests. Until very recently the State also recognised the bond of marriage and with great reverence sought to protect it as vital to the well-being of society and the health of the family. If the present Government is seeking the greatest shake-up of marriage registration laws for 200 years then it should surely be seeking to strengthen marriage not to further undermine it.

There is a justified concern among our contemporaries to protect the natural environment and its vital ecology; yet generations to come will surely be surprised that we failed as a society, and sometimes even as Christians, to actively propose and defend marriage as it came from the hands of the Creator. We cannot be unaware of the disturbing trends. The number of couples entering marriage has reached historic lows; half of marriages end in divorce increasingly facilitated by the State; and according to the predictions of the Marriage Foundation, only half of today’s 20-year olds will ever enter marriage, a number which falls to less than 24 per cent among those on lower incomes. There are currently many anxieties around Brexit; yet, even this seems a small issue when compared with the human and social crisis now assailing the institution of marriage and impacting upon the future of the family. This is an issue which should surely be raised to the very top of our public concerns.

The Church declares that “the well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of married and family life … and (she) hopes to encourage Christians and all who are trying to preserve and foster the dignity and supremely sacred value of the married state” (Gaudium et Spes n. 47).  These words of the Second Vatican Council half a century ago present an even greater challenge to us today. As a Diocese, thanks to the support of the Our Mission Together we hope to take new initiatives to promote the vocation of marriage; and with Caritas Diocese of Shrewsbury to support the family in this time of crisis. However, as we give thanks here today and celebrate so many years of married and family life, may we all recognise our own part in raising our voices and giving our witness to the perennial, enduring gift and grace of marriage of which God himself is the Author (cf. Gaudium et Spes 48).

 

(Photo by Simon Caldwell)