Sacramental Marriage and the Healing and Elevating Gift of Grace

Reading Time: 10 minutes

By Leo Pio, Catholic University

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, grace both heals and elevates.[1] God grants grace through the sacraments of healing (Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick), initiation (Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation) and service (Holy Orders, Marriage).[2] Like all the sacraments, the sacrament of marriage is important, yet it is also unique as the most common vocation. The ultimate end (or purpose) for all humans is the beatific vision. Sacramental marriage is an avenue for being in union with this end. John Paul II sees marriage as a vocation which incorporates grace that heals and elevates.[3]

Grace is necessary for the beatific vision.[4] Adam and Eve fell from a state of original grace when they sinned.[5] Whereas illuminated intellects, strong wills, and rightly-ordered emotions were the original properties of Adam and Eve, after the fall, man had darkened intellects, weakened wills, and disordered emotions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Adam and Eve “committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature deprived of original holiness and justice.”[6] The Christ was promised as the Savior of mankind to save Adam, Eve, and their descendants from everlasting death, so they may have everlasting life. Jesus makes the process of justification (or sanctification) possible.[7]

Adam, Eve, and their descendants needed, need, and will need God for salvation.[8] Mere fallen nature alone cannot save people because they need Jesus.[9] Some theologians distinguish between two types of graces, actual and sanctifying, which are bestowed through Jesus, the mediator of grace.[10] Actual grace, which is given “to all men without exception” is necessary for every salutary act.[11] Actual grace can “prepare for justification” and obtain merits for Heaven.[12] Sanctifying grace can also benefit men. Its effects are sanctifying and beautifying and also friendship with God and adoption by God.[13] Grace does not destroy human nature; rather, it “perfects nature.”[14] Supernatural grace enables natural man to be in the beatific vision of God.[15]

In light of the ultimate end, the mission of marriage is the salvation of souls.[16] By serving other people, marriage “contribute[s] … to personal salvation.”[17] Scripture instructs about that from which people are being saved (or not saved), i.e. hell, and about that to which people are going (or not going), i.e. heaven.[18] Although man received his fallen, wounded nature, Christ’s mystery of redemption heals and elevates.[19] Sacramental marriage, while part of God’s plan for the salvation of souls, is within the Church which “is not an end unto herself, but rather is fervently concerned to be completely of Christ, in Christ and for Christ, as well as completely of men, among men and for men.”[20]

Genesis provides insight regarding the original state of man and the effects of the fall.[21] From the beginning, God intended the communion of persons and original innocence. To demonstrate, at the creation of man, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[22] In another passage, God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Thus, He made woman from man and brought her to him.[23] For both of them, God desired their innocence, so they may remain free from sin and safe from the forbidden fruit, which would cause death.[24] After the fall, the relationship between God and man was damaged. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God.[25] Additionally, the relationship between Adam and Eve was harmed. Adam blamed Eve for giving to him the fruit, and Eve blamed the serpent for tricking her into eating it.[26] As a consequence of eating the fruit, they lost their original innocence, and they were ashamed to see themselves naked.[27] Their sufferings in work and child-bearing increased,[28] and God cast Adam and Eve out of the garden.[29] Persons within sacramental marriage can learn from Genesis the difference between (1) what God originally intended and (2) the effects of what He did not intend (i.e. sin).

Karol Wojtyła’s drama The Jeweler’s Shop shows the personal rift between man and woman – an effect of the fall – and offers part of a healing solution. Anna and Stefan have a wound within their marriage. Anna, at first, does not believe that Stefan can heal her “wound / that had opened in her soul.”[30] She speaks about the marriage problem, “about the inner crack in love, / about the rift, and the wound that hurts.”[31] Anna was unable to forgive Stefan, but the Bridegroom, who represents Christ, can heal Anna’s wounds.[32] For Anna, the Bridegroom turns out to be Stefan, to her surprise.[33] The Bridegroom heals by touching “the love that is in them” (the couple).[34] This love is not just a feeling; rather, it is a “synthesis of two people’s existence, which converges as it were at a certain point and makes them into one.”[35] The solution of love is so great that “You cannot live without love.”[36] This love heals the wounds and unites the persons into communion. Anna and Stefan have the opportunity to live in the drama which is comprised of the “divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love.”[37] A relationship of trust is desirable for married couples.[38]

While all humans have original solitude, the rising above this solitude is what makes the healing relationships – or the communion of persons (communionis personarum) – possible.[39] The communion of persons has horizontal and vertical dimensions. On the horizontal level, man “opens himself” to “a help similar to himself.”[40] This opening up of oneself in the midst of original solitude is the foundation of reciprocal love.[41] If one is open to others, the one can both give and receive love. In other words, man can offer the gift of himself and receive the gifts of others. As stated earlier, this love unites the persons. The communion of persons is a reflection of the union of divine Persons.[42] This statement is qualified by the fact that the divine Persons are one substance, while each human has a single substance.[43] Through the communion of persons, humans became the image of God.[44] Additionally, in the vertical dimension, humans can be in communion with God through Jesus, the Mediator, who loves.[45]

Marriage, if it is to have healing qualities, will not sink stuck in the opposite of love, but will engage in love as goodwill. The opposite of love is not hate; rather, it is utilitarianism.[46] Hate is not the opposite of love because people can love wrongly or hate rightly. Utilitarianism is the opposite of love because to treat persons as merely a means is to abuse the dignity of the human person.[47] Stated positively, to treat persons as if they were not merely means is to respect the dignity of the human person.[48] Also, to treat people in light of their ultimate end – i.e., union with the ultimate good, namely God – is to respect their dignity. While people can choose to respect or disrespect the dignity of the human person, their choices may or may not correspond to their ultimate end. They can choose two types of good: the apparent and/or the genuine.[49] The apparent good incites love as attraction or desire.[50] On the other hand, genuine good, which is not simply apparent, is that in which “the true essence of love is realized.”[51] Love as goodwill means “to will the good of another.”[52] God gave man free will (or free choice), which, in effect, gives him the “capacity to seek a good together with others, and to subordinate himself to that good for the sake of others, or to others for the sake of that good.”[53] Married spouses who reciprocate genuine love of goodwill are beneficial “helpers” on the journey for heaven.[54] They, like all Christians, are called to “love one another as [Christ] has loved [us].”[55] This precept includes the command to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.[56] This genuine love within marriage is unitive, and, hence, it heals the open wounds (from the fall) of a broken relationship between man and woman.[57]

Ephesians 5:21-33 provides keen insight regarding the mission of marriage, which promotes healing and sanctification. “Reverence for Christ” is the motive for husbands and wives being subservient to one another.[58] A common aim of marriage – in this case, holiness in Christ – unites the couple internally and places them on “a footing of equality.”[59] How Christ loves the church is a model for how husbands are called to love their wives, and how the Church loves Christ is another model for how wives are called to love their husbands.[60] The loves in all these scenarios are reciprocal because love is a two-way street (1) between Christ and His Church and (2) between husband and wife.[61] The reciprocal nature of marital love is directed toward sanctification.[62] Husbands are asked to love wives in such a way that Christ, the Bridegroom, would sanctify her with the word.[63] Sanctification purifies, and in this sense heals, so the wife may be spotless and wrinkleless.[64] Because of the reciprocal nature of the sacrament of marriage, wives can also help husbands in the process of sanctification by loving them.[65]

The chaste love between husband and wife absorbs shame.[66] Chaste love does not take away shame.[67] Shame, which in John Paul II’s thought is not self-defeating, is a “self-defense” against using persons as objects.[68] Shame, which goes beyond fear, can be a help in respecting the dignity of the human person: “Every person of the opposite sex possesses value in the first place as a person, and only secondarily possesses a sexual value.”[69] Chaste love within marriage “reinforces shame;” thereby, it heals the married persons from fear and elevates them above their mere passions.[70]

The story of Tobias and Sarah demonstrates that healing and elevation are possible within marriage. Sarah had already been presented in marriage to seven men, but they passed away before joining with her.[71] They died because a demon had killed them.[72] Tobias was instructed to take Sarah and pray for three nights before consummating the marriage with Sarah in order that Tobias not suffer a similar fate.[73] Tobias took Sarah as his “sister,” his bride, and together they prayed.[74] The grace of God delivered them from the demon (they were healed), and they, in effect, were blessed (or elevated) by God.[75]

In addition, Baptism, for married couples, is important for the healing and elevating effects of grace. Valid baptism is required of both husband and wife in order for the marriage to be a Sacrament.[76]  In fact, baptism is necessary for salvation.[77] Our Blessed Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”[78]  Baptism infuses the soul with the grace of the three Theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.[79] Plus, it generates one’s life of justifying (or sanctifying) grace in Christ.[80] Baptism heals one of original sin and turns him back toward God.[81]

Husband and wife are called to strengthen each other in the bond of marriage through conjugal spirituality.[82] The means by which married couples lay a foundation for spiritual conjugality are: (1) “the love planted in the heart (‘poured out in our hearts’) by the Holy Spirit,” (2) Prayer, (3) the Eucharist, and (4) sacramental Penance.[83] Like all Christians, married couples are encouraged to “pray constantly,” fast, and give alms.[84] The Holy Spirit unites the married couple in prayer to the Son.[85] The Eucharist unites the married communicants with Christ, without whom we can do nothing.[86] In Confession, the priest forgives the married penitent, so he may be healed from his sins and elevated to a new life in Jesus Christ.[87]

The vocation of marriage can incorporate the graces of God which heal and elevate. From Adam and Eve to the present, the ultimate end of humans is the salvation of souls. The Church is at the “service” of married couples.[88] Marriage is a God-given vocation that is illuminated by Sacred Scripture, particularly, Genesis, Ephesians, and Tobit. While sin entered the world, love as goodwill can heal and elevate the married couples in the communion of persons. Divine Love, Prayer, the Eucharist, and Confession are the foundation for spiritual conjugality. True, chaste love absorbs shame, and true, Divine Love absorbs death, so the married couple can have Jesus Christ, the “Resurrection and the Life.”[89]


Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Lander, Wyoming: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2012.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.

Hontheim, Joseph. 1910. “Heaven: Supernatural Character of Heaven and the Beatific Vision.” Accessed April 17, 2017.

John Paul II, Pope. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Translated by Michael Waldstein. Boston: Pauline Books, 2006.

—–. 1981. “Familiaris November 22.Accessed April 19, 2017.

—–. 1988. “Mulieris Dignitatem.” August 15. Accessed April 17, 2017.

—–. 1990. “Redemptoris Missio.” December 7. Accessed April 17, 2017.

Pohle, Joseph. The Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology. Edited by Arthur Preuss. Vol. VII. XII vols. Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2014.

Sri, Edward. Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love. Cincinnati: Servant Books, 2007.

Wojtyła, Karol. Love and Responsibility. Translated by H. T. Willetts. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.

—–. The Jeweler’s Shop. Translated by Boleslaw Taborski. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992.

Edited by: GraceAnne Sullivan

[1] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, (Lander, Wyoming: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2012), First Part of the Second Part. Question 109, Art. 2, 9.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 1212, 1421, 1533-1535.

[3] This statement is not to say that healing and elevation are the only effects of grace, but these two aspects of grace within marriage are a theme in John Paul II’s works.

[4] CCC, 1987.

[5] The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. Catholic Edition. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), Genesis 3:6-7.

[6] CCC, 404.

[7] John 14:6.

[8] Luke 1:37.

[9] John 14:6.

[10] Pohle, Joseph. The Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology. Edited by Arthur Preuss. Vol. VII. XII vols. (Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2014), 1; 1 Timothy 2:5

[11] The Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology, 82.

[12] The Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology, 82, 152.

[13] The Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology, 347-362.

[14] Summa Theologiae. I, q. 1, a. 8, ad 2.

[15] Joseph Hontheim, “Heaven: Supernatural Character of Heaven and the Beatific Vision.”

[16] CCC 1534.

[17] CCC 1534.

[18] Matthew 25:31-46.

[19] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio. (December 7, 1990),, Ch. II, 14. John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, (August 15, 1988),, Ch. II, 4.

[20] Genesis 3:16; Redemptoris Missio.Ch. II, 18, quoting Paul VI’s Address at the opening of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, September 14, 1964: AAS 56 (1964), 810.

[21] This insight, in effect, can benefit them in the quest for the salvation of souls, including their own souls.

[22] Genesis 1:26, emphasis added.

[23] Genesis 2:22

[24] Genesis 2:25; 3:3; 3:22

[25] Genesis 3:8

[26] Genesis 3:12-13.

[27] Genesis 3:7

[28] Genesis 3:16, 19

[29] Genesis 3:24

[30] Karol Wotyła, The Jeweler’s Shop (Translated by Boleslaw Taborski. San Francisco: Ignatius Press,1992), 295.

[31] The Jeweler’s Shop. p. 299.

[32] The Jeweler’s Shop, 299-300.

[33] The Jeweler’s Shop, 308.

[34] The Jeweler’s Shop, 299.

[35] The Jeweler’s Shop, 300.

[36] The Jeweler’s Shop, 305; “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God loved us into existence.

[37] The Jeweler’s Shop, 301.

[38] Edward Sri, Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love (Cincinnati: Servant Books, 2007), 73.

[39] John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (Translated by Michael Waldstein. Boston: Pauline Books, 2006), 162.

[40] Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 162; Genesis 2:18, 20.

[41] Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 163.

[42] Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 163.

[43] CCC 245.

[44] Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 163. Clarification: This statement does not mean that man was not in the image of God before Eve was made.

[45] 1 Timothy 2:5; Philippians 2:8.

[46] Love and Responsibility (Translated by H. T. Willetts. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 28.

[47] Love and Responsibility, 26, 28.

[48] Love and Responsibility, 26, 28.

[49] Love and Responsibility, 83.

[50] Love and Responsibility, 80-81.

[51] Love and Responsibility, 82-83.

[52] CCC 1766

[53] Love and Responsibility, 29.

[54] Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 162; Genesis 2:18, 20.

[55] John 15:12; Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 162; Genesis 2:18, 20.

[56] John 15:13.

[57] Love and Responsibility, 39.

[58] Ephesians 5:21; cf. Matthew 23: 11-12.

[59] Love and Responsibility, 28.

[60] Ephesians 5:24-25.

[61] Love and Responsibility, 84.

[62] Ephesians 5: 26, 33.

[63] Ephesians 5: 25-26.

[64] Ephesians 5: 27.

[65] Ephesians 5: 21, 33.

[66] Love and Responsibility, 182.

[67] Love and Responsibility, 182.

[68] Love and Responsibility, 182.

[69] Love and Responsibility, 122, 182.

[70] Love and Responsibility, 182; cf. 1 John 4:18

[71] Tobit 6:14

[72] Man and Woman He Created Them, 596.

[73] Tobit 6:18

[74] Tobit 8:5-8,

[75] Man and Woman He Created Them, 596.

[76] CCC 1625

[77] CCC 846

[78] John 3:5

[79] CCC 1266, 1813

[80] CCC 1266

[81] CCC 405.

[82] Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 641.

[83] Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 641.

[84] 1 Thessalonians 5:17; cf. Tobit 12:8, Matthew 6:1-18.

[85] CCC 2673

[86] John 15:5

[87] Matthew 18:18; cf. Matthew 8:23

[88] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (November 22, 1981), 1.

[89] John 11:25; Clarification: Here “absorbs” is used in two different senses.

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