The Sacramental Covenant in the Dimension of Sign
Pope John Paul II
GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 19 JANUARY 
At the general audience of Wednesday, 19 January, held in the Paul VI Hall, Pope John Paul delivered the following address.
1. The texts of the prophets have great importance for understanding marriage as a covenant of persons (in the likeness of the covenant of Yahweh with Israel) and, in particular, for understanding the sacramental covenant of man and woman in the dimension of sign. As already considered, the language of the body enters into the integral structure of the sacramental sign whose principal subject is man, male and female. The words of matrimonial consent constitute this sign, because the spousal significance of the body in its masculinity and femininity is found expressed in them. Such a significance is expressed especially by the words: "I take you as my wife...my husband." Moreover, the essential "truth" of the language of the body is confirmed with these words. The essential "non-truth," the falsity of the language of the body is also excluded (at least indirectly, implicitly). The body speaks the truth through conjugal love, fidelity and integrity, just as non-truth, that is, falsity, is expressed by all that is the negation of conjugal love, fidelity and integrity. It can then be said that in the moment of pronouncing the words of matrimonial consent, the newlyweds set themselves on the line of the same "prophetism of the body," of which the ancient prophets were the mouthpiece. Expressed by the ministers of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, the language of the body institutes the visible sign itself of the covenant and of grace which, going back to its origin to the mystery of creation, is continually sustained by the power of the redemption of the body, offered by Christ to the Church.
Perform act of prophetic character
2. According to the prophetic texts the human body speaks a language which it is not the author of. Its author is man who, as male and female, husband and wife, correctly rereads the significance of this language. He rereads that spousal significance of the body as integrally inscribed in the structure of the masculinity or femininity of the personal subject. A correct rereading "in truth" is an indispensable condition to proclaim this truth, that is, to institute the visible sign of marriage as a sacrament. The spouses proclaim precisely this language of the body, reread in truth, as the content and principle of their new life in Christ and in the Church. On the basis of the "prophetism of the body," the ministers of the sacrament of marriage perform an act of prophetic character. They confirm in this way their participation in the prophetic mission of the Church received from Christ. A prophet is one who expresses in human words the truth coming from God, who speaks this truth in the place of God, in his name and in a certain sense with his authority.
3. All this applies to the newlyweds who, as ministers of the sacrament of marriage, institute the visible sign by the words of matrimonial consent. They proclaim the language of the body, reread in truth, as content and principle of their new life in Christ and in the Church. This prophetic proclamation has a complex character. The matrimonial consent is at the same time the announcement and the cause of the fact that, from now on, both will be husband and wife before the Church and society. (We understand such an announcement as an indication in the ordinary sense of the term.) However, marriage consent has especially the character of a reciprocal profession of the newlyweds made before God. It is enough to examine the text attentively to be convinced that that prophetic proclamation of the language of the body, reread in truth, is immediately and directly addressed to the "I" and the "you": by the man to the woman and by her to him. The central position in the matrimonial consent is held precisely by the words which indicate the personal subject, the pronouns "I" and "you." Reread in the truth of its spousal significance, the language of the body constitutes by means of the words of the newlyweds the union-communion of the persons. If the matrimonial consent has a prophetic character, if it is the proclamation of the truth coming from God and, in a certain sense, the statement of this truth in God's name, this is brought about especially in the dimension of the inter-personal communion, and only indirectly "before" others and "for" others.
Sacrament's visible sign
4. Against the background of the words spoken by the ministers of the sacrament of marriage, there stands the enduring language of the body, which God originated by creating man as male and female: a language which has been renewed by Christ. This enduring language of the body carries within itself all the richness and depth of the mystery, first of creation and then of redemption. Bringing into being the visible sign of the sacrament by means of the words of their matrimonial consent, the spouses express therein the language of the body with all the profundity of the mystery of creation and of redemption. (The liturgy of the sacrament of marriage offers a rich context of it.) Rereading the language of the body in this way, the spouses enclose in the words of matrimonial consent the subjective fullness of the profession which is indispensable to bring about the sign proper to the sacrament. Not only this, they also arrive in a certain sense at the sources from which that sign on each occasion draws its prophetic eloquence and its sacramental power. One must not forget that before being spoken by the lips of the spouses, who are the ministers of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, the language of the body was spoken by the word of the living God, beginning from Genesis, through the prophets of the old covenant, until the author of the letter to the Ephesians.
Decision and choice
5. We use over and over again the expression "language of the body," harking back to the prophetic texts. As we have already said, in these texts the human body speaks a language which it is not the author of in the proper sense of the term. The author is man, male and female, who rereads the true sense of that language, bringing to light the spousal significance of the body as integrally inscribed in the very structure of the masculinity and femininity of the personal subject. This rereading "in truth" of the language of the body already confers per se a prophetic character on the words of the marriage consent, by means of which man and woman bring into being the visible sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church. However, these words contain something more than a simple rereading in truth of that language spoken of by the femininity and masculinity of the newlyweds in their reciprocal relationships: "I take you as my wife...as my husband." The words of matrimonial consent contain the intention, the decision and the choice. Both of the spouses decide to act in conformity with the language of the body, reread in truth. If man, male and female, is the author of that language, he is so especially inasmuch as he wishes to confer, and does indeed confer, on his behavior and on his actions a significance in conformity with the reread eloquence of the truth of masculinity and femininity in the mutual conjugal relationship.
Has lasting effect
6. In this sphere man is the cause of the actions which have per se clear-cut meanings. He is then the cause of the actions and at the same time the author of their significance. The sum total of those meanings constitutes in a certain sense the ensemble of the language of the body, in which the spouses decide to speak to each other as ministers of the sacrament of marriage. The sign which they constitute by the words of matrimonial consent is not a mere immediate and passing sign, but a sign looking to the future which produces a lasting effect, namely, the marriage bond, one and indissoluble ("all the days of my life," that is, until
death). In this perspective they should fulfill that sign of multiple content offered by the conjugal and family communion of the persons and also of that content which, originating from the language of the body, is continually reread in truth. In this way the essential "truth" of the sign will remain organically linked to the morality of matrimonial conduct. In this truth of the sign and, later, in the morality of matrimonial conduct, the procreative significance of the body is inserted with a view to the future—that is, paternity and maternity, which we have previously treated. To the question: "Are you willing to accept responsibly and with love the children that God may give you and to educate them according to the law of Christ and of the Church?"—the man and the woman reply: "Yes."
Now we postpone to later meetings further detailed examinations of the matter.
Weekly Edition in English
24 January 1983, page 9
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