1. In our previous consideration we have tried to study in depth—in the light of the Letter to the Ephesians—the sacramental "beginning" of man and marriage in the state of original justice (or innocence).
We know, however, that the heritage of grace was driven out of the human heart when the first covenant with the Creator was broken. The perspective of procreation, instead of being illumined by the heritage of original grace, given by God as soon as he infused a rational soul, became dimmed by the heritage of original sin. We can say that marriage, as a primordial sacrament, was deprived of that supernatural efficacy which at the moment of its institution belonged to the sacrament of creation in its totality. Nonetheless, even in this state, that is, in the state of man's hereditary sinfulness, marriage never ceased being the figure of that sacrament we read about in the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-33) and which the author of that letter does not hesitate to call a "great mystery." Can we not perhaps deduce that marriage has remained the platform for the actuation of God's eternal designs, according to which the sacrament of creation had drawn near to men and had prepared them for the sacrament of redemption, introducing them to the dimension of the work of salvation? The analysis of the Letter to the Ephesians, especially the classic text (5:21-33), seems to lean toward such a conclusion.
2. When in verse 31 the author refers to the words of the institution of marriage contained in Genesis (2:24: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and the two shall become one body"), and then immediately states: "This is a great mystery; I mean that it refers to Christ and the Church" (Eph 5:32), he seems to indicate not only the identity of the mystery hidden in God from all eternity, but also that continuity of its actuation. This exists between the primordial sacrament connected with the supernatural gracing of man in creation itself and the new gracing, which occurred when "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy..." (Eph 5:25-26)—gracing can be defined in its entirety as the sacrament of redemption. In this redemptive gift of himself "for" the Church, there is also contained—according to Pauline thought—Christ's gift of himself to the Church, in the image of the nuptial relationship that unites husband and wife in marriage. In this way, the sacrament of redemption again takes on, in a certain sense, the figure and form of the primordial sacrament. To the marriage of the first husband and wife, as a sign of the supernatural gracing of man in the sacrament of creation, there corresponds the marriage, or rather the analogy of the marriage, of Christ with the Church, as the fundamental great sign of the supernatural gracing of man in the sacrament of redemption—of the gracing in which the covenant of the grace of election is renewed in a definitive way, the covenant which was broken in the beginning by sin.
3. The image contained in the quoted passage from the Letter to the Ephesians seems to speak above all of the sacrament of redemption as that definitive fulfillment of the mystery hidden from eternity in God. Everything that the Letter to the Ephesians had treated in the first chapter is actuated in this mysterium magnum (great mystery). As we recall, it says not only "In him [that is, in Christ] God chose us before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight..." (Eph 1:4), but also "in whom [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, so immeasurably generous is God's favor to us..." (Eph 1:7-8). The new supernatural gracing of man in the sacrament of redemption is also a new actuation of the mystery hidden in God from all eternity—new in relation to the sacrament of creation. At this moment, gracing is in a certain sense a new creation. However, it differs from the sacrament of creation insofar as the original gracing, united to man's creation, constituted that man in the beginning, through grace, in the state of original innocence and justice. The new gracing of man in the sacrament of redemption, instead, gives him above all the remission of sins. Yet even here grace can "abound even more," as St. Paul expresses elsewhere: "Where sin increased, grace has abounded even more" (Rom 5:20).
4. The sacrament of redemption—the fruit of Christ's redemptive love—becomes, on the basis of his spousal love for the Church, a permanent dimension of the life of the Church herself, a fundamental and life-giving dimension. It is the mysterium magnum (great mystery) of Christ and the Church. It is the eternal mystery actuated by Christ, who "gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). It is the mystery that is continually actuated in the Church, because Christ "loved the Church" (Eph 5:25), uniting himself with her in an indissoluble love, just as spouses, husband and wife, unite themselves in marriage. In this way the Church lives on the sacrament of redemption. In her turn she completes this sacrament just as the wife, in virtue of spousal love, completes her husband. In a certain way this had already been pointed out "in the beginning" when the first man found in the first woman "a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:20). Although the analogy in the Letter to the Ephesians does not state it precisely, we can add also that the Church united to Christ, as the wife to her husband, draws from the sacrament of redemption all her fruitfulness and spiritual motherhood. The words of the letter of St. Peter testify to this in some way when he writes that we have been "reborn not from a corruptible, but from an incorruptible seed, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Pt 1:23). So the mystery hidden in God from all eternity—the mystery that in the beginning, in the sacrament of creation, became a visible reality through the union of the first man and woman in the perspective of marriage—becomes in the sacrament of redemption a visible reality of the indissoluble union of Christ with the Church, which the author of the Letter to the Ephesians presents as the nuptial union of spouses, husband and wife.
New actuation of the mystery
5. The sacramentum magnum (the Greek text reads: tò mystérion toûto méga estín) of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of the new actuation of the mystery hidden in God from all eternity. It is the definitive actuation from the point of view of the earthly history of salvation. It also speaks of "making the mystery visible": the visibility of the Invisible. This visibility is not had unless the mystery ceases to be a mystery. This refers to the marriage constituted in the beginning, in the state of original innocence, in the context of the sacrament of creation. It refers also to the union of Christ with the Church, as the great mystery of the sacrament of redemption. The visibility of the Invisible does not mean—if it can be said this way—a total clearing of the mystery. The mystery, as an object of faith, remains veiled even through what is precisely expressed and fulfilled. The visibility of the Invisible therefore belongs to the order of signs, and the sign indicates only the reality of the mystery, but not the unveiling. The "first Adam"—man, male and female—created in the state of original innocence and called in this state to conjugal union (in this sense we are speaking of the sacrament of creation) was a sign of the eternal mystery. So the "second Adam," Christ, united with the Church through the sacrament of redemption by an indissoluble bond, analogous to the indissoluble covenant of spouses, is a definitive sign of the same eternal mystery. Therefore, in speaking about the eternal mystery being actuated, we are speaking also about the fact that it becomes visible with the visibility of the sign. Therefore we are speaking also about the sacramentality of the whole heritage of the sacrament of redemption, in reference to the entire work of creation and redemption, and more so in reference to marriage instituted within the context of the sacrament of creation, as also in reference to the Church as the spouse of Christ, endowed by a quasi-conjugal covenant with him.
Source: L'Osservatore Romano