The Bridegroom

dis-cern-ment: (noun)

  1. a decision-making process that determines and honors God’s will for one’s life
  2. an 11 letter word that, when spoken in the Catholic realm, often invokes a series of questions and a plethora of promised prayers

For many years, I’ve desired marriage, motherhood. But as I’ve grown in my knowledge of the faith I’ve had waves of doubting this desire. Often I hear prayers at Mass for an increase of vocations to the religious and ordained life, but rarely do I hear prayers for holy marriages.  I will hear phrases such as: “religious life is a higher calling than marriage” and “those who choose religious life want to live their lives entirely for the Lord.” I know some people reading this would like to defend those statements, and I’m not necessarily saying that they’re wrong. It’s just that I rarely hear language that edifies and elevates the vocation of married life.

This summer, I wrestled with these things a lot (and still do from time to time). I wondered what was so wonderful and beautiful about married life if religious/ordained life was put on such high pedestal; I doubted that I would be able to live my life entirely for God if I chose to be married. Then, in the midst of all that questioning, I stumbled upon the following quote, which I was reminded of when contemplating the Scripture used for the sacrament of marriage in light of Brant Pitre’s Jesus the Bridegroom:

By the virtue of the sacramentality of their marriage, spouses are bound to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the Church. Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened upon the cross.~Pope St. John Paul II

Embedded in Scripture are numerous references to the fact that Jesus is ultimate bridegroom; the Church, His bride. However, without scholarly insight, these references are often easy to miss. Yet, it is these very references that make the sacrament of marriage so unique and beautiful.

One of the Gospel readings that can be used at a Nuptial Mass is John 15:12-16, the account of Jesus at the Last Supper in which He tells His disciples to love one another as He has loved them and that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). At first glance, this is a beautiful passage in which Jesus challenges us to a heroic, saintly love – a love that is sacrificial and self-emptying. Clearly, a very fitting passage for a newlywed couple who is about to embark on a lifelong journey of love. However, Brant Pitre illuminates this passage even more by explaining the significance of the Last Supper in relation to Jesus as Bridegroom. But first, allow me to digress.

The metaphor of a spousal relationship, and the image of a wedding banquet, is used throughout the Old Testament, to describe God’s relationship with Israel. The role of Jesus as Bridegroom, and in turn the long awaited Messiah, is first revealed at the Wedding Feast of Cana (another option for the Gospel reading):

When we combine the prophecies of YHWH the Bridegroom, Jesus’ actions at Cana lead us to conclude that by transforming the water into wine and assuming the role of the Jewish bridegroom, Jesus is also beginning to suggest that the prophecies of the divine bridegroom are being fulfilled in him.~Pitre, 45

In John 15:12-16,  Jesus not only commands us to love one another as He has loved us, to die for a friend; but he models that love. Hidden among beautiful, yet simple words, this Gospel reading from John brings to mind the Last Supper, which is Christ’s wedding banquet; His crucifixion, a gift of total love:

When we come to the Last Supper and the passion of Jesus, everything changes. The hour has finally come for Jesus to give the supernatural wine of the banquet of YHWH. However, instead of changing water into wedding wine as he did at the wedding at Cana, Jesus now changes the wine into blood–the blood of the new and everlasting marriage covenant.~Pitre, 53-54

Marriage, in its sacramental form, is a beautiful sign to the Church of Christ’s sacrificial love, a reminder that we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us. Behind the veil of an ordinary life, ordinary clothes; behind the monotony of routine, and the busyness of work and tending to children and family members; married couples die to self, the way the Christ died for us, and thus reflect back to us this humble love of God.

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