Over at Canon Law Made Easy, Ms. Caridi has a post on the celebration of Matrimony during the seasons of Advent and Lent. I highly recommend it; you can read it here. In short, Matrimony may be celebrated during these two penitential seasons. The same, incidentally, also applies to Baptism. In her post, Ms Caridi goes over the pertinent canons concerning this. What I will do here is touch on some of the theological reasons for the celebration of Baptism and Matrimony during Advent and Lent.
Simply put the sacraments are the ordinary means by which we receive salvific and sactifying grace. Each sacrament has its own particular character; this means that the effects of grace on us is different from one sacrament to another. This makes Baptism in particular and the sacraments in general necessary for salvation. Because of this the Church desires and seeks to make the sacraments readily accessible to all who are properly disposed to their reception. So important is this for the Church that she even allows for non-Christians to baptize in cases of imminent death. The idea that the grace of Baptism would be withheld for an entire season so as to keep the “spirit” of that season is ludicrous.
One might say that’s fine for baptism, but what about Matrimony? “Matrimony is not necessary for salvation” – for some it is. “Matrimony is a great and joyous occasion” – as if the other sacraments are not. “Matrimony is not in keeping with the penitential character of the seasons of Advent and Lent” – tell that to a married couple. Matrimony isn’t just a customary ritual, a nice ceremony to celebrate the love of two people. It is a sacrament. It is an act of worship. It is a reality in which the two who are married are joined in intimate union with the One Who created them. Grace is real. It isn’t something we talk about just to make us feel good (whatever that means). Sanctifying grace which is received with every sacrament is that which brings us into God’s very life; it is that which makes us partakers of His divine nature. It makes us what God is. In Holy Matrimony, husband and wife become an icon of the marriage union of Christ and the Church, and of the nuptial union between God and the soul. Icons are not mere images (they are not photos of Grandma). Icons are efficacious and serve as points of encounter between God and man. The nuptial union of Christ and the Church is life-giving, not in the sense of discretionary handouts, but in the sense that it simply overflows (His cup runneth over). The grace received in the Sacrament of Matrimony binds the couple in such a way that their union becomes procreative. Properly understood, procreation does not only refer to having children – there is no sacrament needed for that – but in life pouring forth to all who encounter the couple. A couple who truly lives the life of Christ will through their witness necessarily affect those around them and draw them to Christ.
Finally, the marriage of Christ and the Church did not come about through a process of dating. It came about through the Cross. This is why it is life-giving. Every sacrament is first and foremost a participation in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this what Lent is all about? Is it not a time in which we bring particular attention to picking up our cross and following Him on the road to Calvary? Don’t we enter into His Passion and Death in preparation for His Resurrection on the great and glorious day of Pascha? Is this not what we do in Matrimony? It is the daily picking up of our cross and walking the road to Calvary. It is the husband loving his wife as Christ loves the Church. It is the obedience of the wife to her husband. It is the mutual submission of husband and wife to each other. It is the sacrifice of our individual lives for the life of the other and for the new life of the two made one.
Yes, Matrimony like all the sacraments is celebratory. And like all the other sacraments it is sacrificial. Keeping in mind this character of the sacrament and the grace of the sacrament (the effects of which were hardly touched upon in this post), it is quite appropriate for it to be conferred during the seasons of Advent and Lent, and it is quite appropriate to the spirituality of these two seasons.