Sacrament Matters: ‘Grace Builds on Nature’

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Sacrament Matters: ‘Grace Builds on Nature’

By Dr Christine Wood, Director of the Office of Evangelisation & Catechesis

Ever heard the saying ‘grace builds on nature’? It’s been a long-held principle in Catholic teaching that God’s grace is received by humans, transforms them, and brings them to perfection. It doesn’t mean, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ Rather, whatever is authentically human, including the goods of human society, is open to receiving and being transformed by God’s grace.

The sacrament of matrimony is a grace which God bestows upon a couple to perfect their natural bond of marriage. The latter is the foundation for the sacrament. Through the sacrament of matrimony, a couple participates in Christ’s marriage to his Bride, the Church. The sacrament of matrimony can only be received by a baptised man and woman who give themselves to each other in a life-long, total gift of self, which is open to transmitting life.

The sacrament of matrimony perfects the natural bond of husband and wife, making it holy and heaven-oriented. The sacrament constantly gives grace to husband and wife that they may perfect their mutual love: so that the husband can reflect Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church, and that the wife can reflect the Church’s fidelity and love for Christ.  

Some Christians in the current marriage debate take the position that Christians can support the removal of gender from the definition of marriage because it’s set within a legal or secular framework. They believe this doesn’t compromise their Christian belief about marriage because they consider religious marriage to be separated from the civil or secular world. 

This cannot be the Catholic position since the sacrament of matrimony presupposes and builds on the natural marital union of one man and one woman. The redefinition of marriage would undermine the sacrament.

The Christian Gospel is not dissociated from the world and society; nor is it a private religious belief. It is the message of eternal life for the whole of society. The Gospel reveals God’s plan for marriage and the family. Christians contribute much to the good of society, including the Christian view of marriage. Indeed, if Christians withdraw from the public sphere, they disobey Christ’s command to be leaven in the world.

The Gospel should permeate the social order and inform the laws of our nation. Since grace builds on nature, the law of the Gospel (the law of God’s love-in-truth), is meant to build and inform our civil laws. Not only does God reveal supernatural truths in his Gospel; he also reveals natural truths like the fact that marriage is only ever between one man and one woman.