The Sacraments of Love and Death


Marriage exalts a husband and wife through the humble, transparent, and irrevocable gift of self[1] to the other, "in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health."[2] In marriage, the husband and wife pour out themselves to live for the salvation of one another in Christ, through the fidelity, continence, and permanence[3] of the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of marriage lifts the natural union[4] between man and woman into the divine love of the Paschal mystery, Christ and the Church,[5] and the Trinity.

The transcendence of marriage originates in God's act of creating man and woman[6]—in His bestowal of the vocation of complete companionship.[7] God fashioned Adam and Eve in His image and likeness, commissioning them a role in His creative work.[8] Marriage commemorates God's faithfulness to humanity as expressed throughout salvation history[9] and fulfilled in Christ. Marriage impresses the "indelible character of God's creative love"[10] and bears witness to the eschatological love of the communion of saints in Christ.[11] By His incarnation, Christ assumes and purifies human love, marking it with humility.[12] In His passion, Christ brings human love to fulfillment, marking it with sacrifice.[13] Christ's perfect love, made present in marriage, recapitulates the movement of the Incarnation by joining the two together into one transfigured flesh.[14] This sexual union of marriage, freely and willingly consented, incorporates the couple into Christ's total bodily and spiritual self-gift on the cross.[15]

Furthermore, marriage consecrates the couple[16] into the spousal covenant of Christ and the Church, configuring them to Christ's perfect charity[17] so that they might love with Christ's love,[18] sanctifying one another on the path to salvation. The Spirit seals[19] and elevates the spouses into the indissoluble conjugal bond of Christ and the Church. This bond of charity generates a solidarity so radical[20] in which Christ takes on the sufferings of his Church,[21] identifying with them completely,[22] and in doing so transfigures the members into himself. Marriage unites man and woman in their vocation[23] to build up the Body of Christ through the mediation of Christ's love for humanity. Marriage actualizes the Eucharist, where Christ the bridegroom offers his body and blood so that we the Church, his bride, might become one with Christ's flesh.[24]

The communion of the Trinity dwells deep within marital love.[25] God fashions the couple in His unconditional mercy, Christ reveals His divine charity in their consecrated relationship, and the Holy Spirit awakens[26] the couple to ever-deeper love.[27] Marriage disciplines the couple to gaze upon one another in wonder, [28] with the eyes of the Father who delights in his Son. [29] Just as the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and Son poured out to the world,[30] so too does the love between the husband and wife overflow in abundance[31]—a love that is made personal and ecclesial. Grace explodes forth from the nourishing womb of marriage, in the couple's faithful, generous, and compassionate service to the world[32] and by the miraculous fruit of a child.[33] The Holy Family redeems the human family as an icon of the Trinity,[34] which flourishes as a domestic Church[35] configured to the Body of Christ.

Marriage crowns a passionate friendship[36] with the mercy of the Incarnation, the self-sacrifice of the passion, the fidelity of God's covenant with Israel, the radical solidarity of Christ with the Church, and the bliss of the Trinity.[37] Marriage heals, perfects, and elevates natural love,[38] sanctifying the spouses through their mutual belonging to one another in Christ.

Anointing of the Sick

Anointing of the sick sanctifies the journeying disciple in his weakest moment, reinvigorating hope for healing and ushering in the kingdom of God. Anointing of the sick configures the will to Christ's passion, inaugurates the glorification of the body and spirit in the resurrection, and rejoins the marginalized into the Body of Christ.

Anointing of the sick confronts human finitude and asserts our total dependence on God for healing. In the sacrament, God hears the cry of his people[39] and rushes towards them in their pain, revealing His nuptial love.[40] The grace of the sacrament strengthens the sick man in his obedience to God, inviting him to trust in God with his whole life[41] and surrender to healing on God's terms.[42] Anointing of the sick calls the ill to freely unite himself to the passion and death of Christ[43] by living out the Paschal mystery through his particular suffering as a witness to the cross, with hope in the resurrection. Anointing bestows new meaning on suffering[44] without justifying the incoherence of evil. God recasts our purpose for existence[45] and intimately deepens our relationship with him, conforming us to his Son who willingly suffered and died for us.[46]  Anointing joins our pain to Christ's and transforms our suffering into a Eucharistic sacrifice of love.[47]

Through anointing of the sick, the person of Jesus manifests divine solidarity with human brokenness and God's glory in human wholeness.[48] In hope of the Good News, we submit ourselves to his total care. Through the sacraments, Christ continues to touch his people.[49] Oil marks our head and hands, blessing the means by which we encounter God's action in the world and redeeming the sites of both sin and suffering. Christ consecrates our broken bodies into tabernacles for God's goodness.[50] Through his very healing works, Christ announces the radical healing[51] to come in the resurrection. Christ inaugurates the kingdom of God, where in fullness our bodies will not only be cured[52] but also inconceivably glorified.[53] The physical graces of anointing of the sick serve as eschatological signs of God's covenantal promise[54] fulfilled in the resurrection of all flesh.[55] In the sacrament, the dawn of Easter pervades illness.[56] Anointing bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit to renew faith and trust in God, strengthening both body and soul and rectifying our unbelief.[57] In anointing of the sick, God raises us up in his love and cultivates our disposition of thanksgiving.[58]

Anointing reintegrates the ill into the communion of saints, as Christ rushes to their bedsides through his Church.[59] Anointing overcomes the alienation of illness[60] by uniting the Body of Christ in the prayer of intercession[61] for the whole health of the Body. The Church hastens to the margins of society, continuing Christ's ministry of compassion and mercy.[62] In the sacrament, the Church reclaims the ill as her own, providing strength and support. Whereas in reconciliation, God's mercy bends down in forgiveness, in anointing, God's mercy bends down in loving acceptance of his afflicted.[63] This acceptance forgives the sins of the sick and frees the whole Body to forgive one another in their particular relationships, reconstituting group membership and forging new communal bonds.[64] Christ redefines the boundaries of human interaction.[65] Our dependence on God, as acknowledged in prayer, is practiced in our dependence on the Body.[66]

In anointing of the sick, Christ takes us into his hands through the Church, blesses us with his Spirit, remains with us in our brokenness, and gives us in communion with his paschal sacrifice. Through the grace of the sacrament and the company of the Church, Christ gives courage to the afraid, patience to the afflicted, hope to the dejected, and support to the lonely.[67]

Featured Image: Calcedonio Reina, Love and Death, 1881; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.

[1] Philippians 2: 6-11. The couple participates in the kenotic love of Christ who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him."

[2] Catholic Church, The Rites of the Catholic Church as revised by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Vol. 1 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), 727. The couple administers the sacrament to one another through their vows of consent and self-gift.

[3] John Cavadini, "The Sacramentality of Marriage in the Fathers," Pro Ecclesia 17, 4 (2008): 458.

[4] John 2:9. "When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, [he] did not know where it came from." At the wedding of Canaa, Christ signifies His sacramental elevation of marriage by transforming water into wine so that the wedding might abound in joy.

[5] Ephesians 5:31-32. “'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church."

[6] Joseph Ratzinger, "Sin and Salvation," In the Beginning... A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdemans , 1995), 72. Human beings are created in and for love.

[7] Genesis 2:18. "Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.'"

[8] Leonardo Boff, "The Sacrament of Marriage," The Future of Christian Marriage (New York, NY: Herder and Herder, 1973), 27."The transcendent dimension of marriage is already contained in the priestly account of creation, in which God gives man and the woman the commandment to grow, multiply, and fill the earth, in the image in likeness of God." They participate in God's work of creation through procreation.

[9] The sacrament of marriage extends God's covenant made with Abraham, Moses, and David throughout salvation history.

[10] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2016), 121. "God is, as it were, 'mirrored' in them; he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love. Marriage is the icon of God's love for us."

[11] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Mystery and Sacrament of Love (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 87. "As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God.... As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ."

[12] Pope Francis, op. cit., 98. "Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive, and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility increased."

[13] Ibid.,102. "Consequently, love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, 'expecting nothing in return '(Lk 6:35) and the greatest of loves can lead to 'laying down one's life' for another." The merciful love of Christ calls for our full response, though we can never compensate for God's gift in Christ.

[14] Matthew 19:6. "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

[15] John 15:13. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." This is Abraham's aqedah of Isaac, fulfilled in Christ's Paschal sacrifice.

[16] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, op. cit., 76. "By means of baptism, man and woman are definitively placed within the new and eternal covenant." As individuals, we are placed into this covenant by baptism. In marriage, the couple enters into this covenant together, as one body.

[17] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." This is Christ's perfect charity.

[18] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, op. cit., 84. "They love one another not only as Christ loved, but already, mysteriously, with the very love of Christ, since his Spirit has been given to them."

[19] Ibid., 78. "The Holy Spirit... seals the indissoluble covenant-relationship."

[20] John Cavadini, op. cit., 451.

[21] Acts 9:4. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Christ identifies with His Church even after death. Just as God heard the cry of Israel in Egypt, Christ hears the cry of His people, mourning with them and in them.

[22] Mark 15:34. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Christ marries into the depths of our suffering in His cry of abandonment from the cross where the Church is born from His side.

[23] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, op. cit., 88.

[24] Ibid, 310. "All the more in that Christ's pierced side, from which blood and water flow, at the same time marks... the birth of a Bride endowed with a beauty like the Bridegroom's and inaugurates the spousal covenant in which the Bridegroom's very own Body and Blood are entrusted to the Church-Bride, so that the Bridegroom and Bride become 'one flesh' and so one Mystical Body."

[25] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 314. "The Trinity is present in the temple of marital communion."

[26] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 76. "After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child's smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child." Like a mother awakening a child, in marriage, the Holy Spirit awakens the couple to Christ's love for the Church in their love for one another.

[27] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, op. cit., 77. "Christ's redemptive involvement pleases the Father, who in turn 'blesses' the couple with a specific gift of the Holy Spirit."

[28] Ibid., "The aesthetic experience of love is expressed in that 'gaze' which contemplates other persons as ends in themselves."

[29] Pope Francis, op. cit., 127. "The love of friendship is called 'charity' when it perceives and esteems the 'great worth' of another person. Beauty... enables us to appreciate the sacredness of a person."

[30] John 7:37. "Streams of living water will flow from within." The love of the Trinity flows out to the Church.

[31] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, op. cit., 97. "Christian marriage can be seen as an overflowing source of Trinitarian life."

[32] Pope Francis, op. cit., 80. "Love refuses every impulse to close in on itself." Marital love creates space for others and is ordered towards servitude of the Church.

[33] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, op. cit., 98. "Children are an expression of the freedom of fruitfulness and are therefore a symbol of the Holy Spirit." Literally, the gift of flesh begets new flesh by the union of two bodies in the conception of a child.

[34] Pope Francis, op. cit., 63. "Jesus restored marriage and family in the image of the Trinity."

[35] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), 1657. "Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one's life."

[36] Pope Francis, op. cit., 123. This friendship is defined by "concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life."

[37] Ibid.,125. "Marriage is likewise a friendship marked by passion, but a passion always directed to an ever more stable and intense union." In marriage, the works of revelation surround the couple in God's stable union and dynamic love.

[38] Marc Cardinal Ouellet, op. cit., 82.

[39] Exodus 2:23-24. "The Israelites groaned under their bondage and cried out, and from their bondage their cry for help went up to God. God heard their moaning and God was mindful of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Throughout salvation history, God listens to His people in their suffering with compassion.

[40] In marriage, the couples vow to one another "in sickness and in health". The marriage between Christ and the Church recalls God's covenant of complete self-gift with Abraham.

[41] Luke 9:23. "Whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it." This is the aqedah of Abraham (Genesis 22): the handing of one's entire self over to God so that by partaking in relationship with God, we will be remembered in the resurrection.

[42] Job 38: 2. "Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance?" When Job cries out against unjust suffering, God reveals that the horrific wonders of the world are not for us to understand or control. Instead, we are called to trust in God's merciful providence.

[43] Catholic Church, op. cit., 1522. "By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ's Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior's redemptive Passion."

[44] Ibid., 1521. "Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus." Suffering is given meaning because it is shared in Christ's saving action and offered as a gift to the Church.

[45] 2 Corinthians 12:9. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Suddenly, God's grace is made manifest through our very brokenness.

[46] Bruce Morill, Divine Worship and Human Healing (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 70. "Solidarity in human suffering is the revelation of divine love."

[47] Colossians 1:24 "In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church." Our own afflictions are bound to the cross and taken up in Christ's perfect sacrifice.

[48] Bruce Morrill, op. cit., 95.

[49] Matthew 14:36. "People brought all the sick to Him, and begged Him just to let them touch the fringe of His cloak. And all who touched Him were healed."

[50] Deuteronomy 6:4-11. "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates." Even in illness our bodies remain temples for worship and capable of glorifying God.

[51] Bruce Morrill, op. cit, 69. "Do not permit the offense of the miracle story to replace the offense of the Gospel – the scandal of the cross and the mystery of the resurrection." All experiences of curative healing should point towards the even greater wonder of Christ's salvific act in the passion and resurrection.

[52] Matthew 11:5. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."

[53] Charles Gusmer, And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying (New York, NY: Pueblo, 1984), 150. Christ cures and goes beyond the cure: "The blind see his glory, the deaf hear the good news, the lame walk with Christ." Christ does not just cure, but He converts us in healing us to a deeper fullness than we even know we need.

[54] The same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of salvation history who liberated the Israelites from Egypt – will raise us up from evil eternally in the eschaton.

[55] 1 Corinthians 15:21-23. "For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order."

[56] John 10:10. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and may have it abundantly." Christ came not only to endure suffering, but also to build the kingdom of goodness and health.

[57] Mark 9:24. "I do believe, help my unbelief!" In healing us body and soul, Christ also heals our fear and doubt, assisting us in faith.

[58] Luke 17:16. "And then, one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice, and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him." As demonstrated by the healed leper who returned to thank Christ, our own healing is consummated in our praise and thanksgiving of God's salvific goodness.

[59] Charles Gusmer, op. cit., 154. "Jesus's ministry to the sick is continued in His Body: the Church."

[60] Matthew 27:46. "Abba, abba, why have you forsaken me?" The experience of isolation from community invokes Christ's abandonment on the cross.

[61] Karl Rahner, Meditations on the Sacraments (Munich: Ars Sacra, 1974.), 89. "Nevertheless we are surrounded by the invisible and silent company of all who, in circumstances like our own, have accepted the will of God, of all who have found eternal life in this life and death of ours, and who have allowed themselves to be wholly absorbed into this mystery which softly and silently detaches us from ourselves." Even in the solemn silence that penetrates the prayers and articulated intentions of the sacrament, there is a communion that persists among believers—a solidarity in the human condition.

[62] Mark 6:12-13. "So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them." Anointing of the sick is part of the apostolic mission of the Church who carries out Christ's work on earth.

[63] Christ repetitively heals the greatest outcasts in society: the lepers, the blind, the poor, the crippled, the uncleanly, and the possessed.

[64] Bruce Morrill, op. cit., 98.

[65] Matthew 9:20. "A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak." Christ receives a gesture in love that should have been received as defaming, according to societal constraints, and thus He rewrites the boundaries of communion.

[66] Matthew 9:2. "And there, people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher." The ill rely on their brethren to bring them to Christ, and so, all parts of the body rely on one another in their journey towards God.

[67] Catholic Church, The Rites of the Catholic Church as revised by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Vol. 1, op. cit., 825. "When he/she is afraid, give him courage, when afflicted, give him patience, when dejected, afford him hope, when alone, assure him of the support of your holy people."


Kathryn Thompson

Kathryn Thompson graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2017 and is a first year medical student at the University of Chicago.

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