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The Sacramental Covenant in the Dimension of Sign

106 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 19 January 1983 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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."

After the catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Ai pellegrini provenienti da Paesi anglofoni 

Dear brothers and sisters,

In greeting all the English-speaking visitors who are present 1 today, I offer a special word of welcome to those who have come from Denmark and the United States. And I wish to extend warm greetings to the distinguished group of Christian clergy and lay leaders sponsored by the Plowshares Institute. I pray that God will bless you with an ever deeper love of our Lord Jesus Christ and that the Word of God will be a source of light and joy for you and all those you meet.

Al pellegrinaggio organizzato dai dipendenti delle Linee aeree portoghesi 

Queridos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa:

Está presente nesta Audiência uma Delegação dos Transportes Aéreos Portugueses - TAP-AIR - num avião da qual tive o gosto de viajar, no regresso da peregrinação a Fátima e visita pastoral a Portugal.

Relembrando gratamente essas jornadas inesquecíveis, vão para os presentes e todos aqueles que aqui representam as minhas cordiais saudações e o meu renovado agradecimento. E peço a Deus, por intercessão de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, que derrame sobre eles e sobre Portugal as suas bênçãos, desejando prosperidades e que a paz de Cristo, Redentor do homem, ilumine sempre o amor fraterno na “ Terra de Santa Maria ”!

Preghiera alla Madonna di Jasna Gora

Pani Jasnogórska!

W twojej duchowej obecności odczytuję następujące słowa z Komunikatu ostatniej (189) Konferencji Plenarnej Episkopatu Polski:

“. . . słowa świętego Maksymiliana: “Niepokalana chce, by polska odradzała się moralnie”. Odrodzenie zaś moralne u nas, w Narodzie świętego Maksymiliana, który oddał swoje życie za ocalenie rodziny:

to nade wszystok troska o ocalenie polskiej rodziny;

to także troska o miłość przeciw wszelkim objawom nienawiści;

to troska o ocalenie każdego ludzkiego życia od poczęcia aż do zgonu;

to troska o trzeźwość, o uczciwość i prawdę w życiu domowym i społecznym ”.

Wspólnie z całym Kościołem w Polsce proszę Ciebie, Pani Jasnogórska i Matko mojego Narodu o to, aby słowa świętego Maksymiliana Kolbego, patrona naszego trudnego stulecia, wypełniały się w życiu mojej umiłowanej Ojczyzny wedle programu powyżej zarysowanego.

Komunikat Episkopatu głosi: “Program duszpasterski poświęcony jest w obecnym roku chrześcijańskiej nadziei”.

Właśnie w duchu tej nadziei zanoszę te prośby do Ciebie, Pani Jasnogórska, wraz z moimi Braćmi w biskupstwie i całym Kościołem w Polsce.

Signora di Jasna Gora! Alla tua presenza spirituale rileggo le seguenti parole del Comunicato dell’ultima (189a) assemblea plenaria della Conferenza dell’Episcopato polacco.

“. . . San Massimiliano disse: “L’Immacolata vuole che la Polonia si rinnovi moralmente”. E il rinnovamento morale da noi, nella Nazione di san Massimiliano, che ha offerto la sua vita per salvare una famiglia, è soprattutto sollecitudine per salvare la famiglia polacca; è pure sollecitudine per amare contro tutte le manifestazioni dell’odio; è sollecitudine per salvare ogni vita umana dal concepimento fino alla morte; è sollecitudine per la solidarietà, l’onestà, la verità nella vita domestica e sociale”.

Insieme con tutta la Chiesa in Polonia prego te, Signora di Jasna Gora e Madre della mia Nazione, affinché le parole di san Massimiliano Kolbe, patrono del nostro difficile secolo, si realizzino nella vita della mia amata Patria secondo il programma sopra delineato.

Il Comunicato dell’Episcopato proclama: “Il programma pastorale è dedicato in questo anno alla speranza cristiana”. Proprio nello spirito di questa speranza elevo la mia preghiera a te, Signora di Jasna Gora, insieme con i miei fratelli nell’Episcopato e con tutta la Chiesa in Polonia.

Ai vari gruppi di pellegrini italiani

Rivolgo ora il mio cordiale saluto ai Dirigenti del Sindacato Nazionale Autonomo Lavoratori Scuola, riuniti a Roma per celebrare il III Congresso Nazionale,

A tutti i congressisti, che sono impegnati a difendere i principii dell’umanesimo cristiano e democratico, vada il mio fervido augurio di buon lavoro perché il mondo della scuola sia preparazione e allenamento per una vita sempre più degna dell’uomo. Vi sostenga la mia benedizione.

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Un caloroso saluto alle studentesse dell’Istituto romano “ De Vedruna ”, accompagnate dai familiari e dalle Religiose dell’Istituto.

Care studentesse, il cinquantenario della fondazione della Scuola, che è la prima istituita in Italia dalle benemerite Suore Carmelitane della Carità, e il secondo centenario della nascita di Santa Gioacchina De Vedruna, fondatrice della Congregazione, sono motivo sufficiente per una comune esultanza. Tutte vi esorto ad una seria preparazione per il vostro futuro, mentre vi assicuro il mio affetto e la mia benedizione.

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Estendo poi il mio affettuoso saluto a tutti i giovani presenti.

Carissimi, sono certo che l’Ottavario di preghiera per l’Unità della Chiesa, iniziato ieri, trova un’eco tutta particolare nel vostro cuore e nella vostra coscienza: la vostra gioventù incoraggia a sperare che quanto non si è riusciti a raggiungere nel passato, lo posiamo attendere per il futuro: lanciate dunque la vostra fresca vitalità alla conquista della nobilissima causa dell’Unità della Chiesa, con l’assistenza dello Spirito Santo e l’intercessione di Maria!

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Anche a voi, cari ammalati, è affidata una missione importante per il progresso e il successo delle attività ecumeniche: voi rappresentate nel vostro corpo, per così dire, in modo sensibile, le divisione e le sofferenze che gravano sul Corpo mistico della Chiesa: in tal modo, potete sentirvi più vicini alle sue ansie e alle sue speranze, e partecipare maggiormente dell’incrollabile fiducia, con la quale essa invoca quell’Onnipotenza divina che ridona salute e vita sia agli spiriti che ai corpi. Proprio attraverso la prova che il vostro corpo subisce, siete chiamati in modo speciale ad unire la speranza vostra personale con quella di tutta la Chiesa.

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Salute e gioia anche a voi, cari sposi novelli! Il vostro amore recentemente consacrato dalla grazia divina si apre adesso ad una progressiva e feconda maturazione, che avrà compimento soltanto nella vita eterna, superando prove e difficoltà. Simile al vostro è anche il cammino della Chiesa verso la perfetta unità! Fatevi anche voi partecipi della sua stessa speranza, fondandovi sulle divine promesse, affinché anche la vostra nuova famiglia sia sempre fondata su quel “ solo Pastore ”, che è Cristo! Essa sarà perciò segno di unità e di perseveranza. E’ quanto vi auguro di tutto cuore, con la mia benedizione.

Durante l’udienza generale, il Santo Padre ricorda l’inizio dell’Ottavario di preghiere per l’Unità dei Cristiani.

Cari fratelli e sorelle!

Questa udienza si svolge nel secondo giorno della Settimana di preghiere per la ricomposizione dell’unità fra quanti credono in Gesù Cristo e attendono da lui la salvezza. È un momento, questo, di grande importanza ecclesiale: vorrei che fosse profondamente condiviso da tutti i fedeli della Chiesa cattolica e dai cristiani delle Chiese e Comunioni ancora da noi separate, ai quali mando il mio affettuoso e confidente saluto.

Ispirandoci al motto proposto alla riflessione di quest’anno: “Gesù Cristo, vita del mondo” (cf. 1 Gv 1, 1-4), preghiamo perché egli vivifichi e unifichi sempre più quanti credono in lui. Con la sua grazia, assecondata da uno sforzo perseverante, fatto di umiltà, di carità e di buona volontà, vogliamo giungere un giorno a quel tanto desiderato traguardo, per il quale lo stesso Signore pregò: “Che siano una cosa sola” (Gv 17, 11).

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