From the beginning of the book of Genesis to the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, God chose to use the imagery of marriage to show us the relationship He desires to have with His people. Because the human person has been created as a body-soul unity, God uses the physical realities to reveal to us the deeper meaning behind spiritual realities. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” Romans 1:19-20.
I would like to write specifically about the relation between Marriage, the Church and the Eucharist (the Eucharist according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church). This is an inexhaustible subject and all the time in the world would not be enough to penetrate into the depths of this great Mystery.
Like I said, marriage is what God chose to reveal to us the type of relationship He wants with us. So we must begin by asking what is marriage and what does the word of God show us about marriage? Marriage was established ‘in the beginning’ when man was created:
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:18-24
In this passage we are given the ‘steps’ of marriage: “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” From this verse we can see 3 chronological steps that occur in the ‘process’ of marriage. The first is a man leaves his father and his mother. The leaving of one’s father and mother shows that there is a certain type of commitment that must take place. Adam did not have a father or a mother, and so this verse has been given for all those after Adam—to us. In the spousal love between a man and a woman there must be a commitment. This committed love is an essential part of spousal love. Leaving one’s own family signifies the commitment to a new family, a new beginning, new life. The second step is ‘cleaves to his wife.’ This is the marriage ceremony. At the marriage ceremony the spouses cleave to each other. They commit themselves to each other by the total and complete gift of self. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The spouses seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives” (paragraph 1621). The third step is “and they become one flesh.” It is only once there has been the act of commitment and the offering of self, that a man and woman ‘become one flesh’ in the marital embrace. The marital embrace is the consummation of this love. From this moment on, each time the couple again embrace each other in the marital embrace, it is a renewal of their wedding vows. The marital embrace is a re-presentation of the total and complete gift of self offered at the wedding ceremony and fulfilled in the “becoming of one flesh.” It makes present again the offering of the bodies. The union that takes place between the man and woman in the bodies signifies the total and complete gift of self to the other.
And this is the type of relationship God desires to have with us. And Jesus Christ, taking the image that God Himself has given us, brought about and fulfilled the marital union between God and His people. He did this through the Incarnation, His Passion and Cross, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Coming down from Heaven, God is now God-with-us. In Jesus Christ, humanity has been wed to a divine Person and now God is with us. Jesus, leaving his Father, became man for us. And 33 years later, He also left his Mother Mary, for us. Can you imagine the dialogue between Christ and Mary before He left for Jerusalem? The trust that Mary had, knowing that her Son has been destined for “the rise and fall of many” and to be a “sign of contradiction” (Luke 2:33). The depths of Jesus’ love for us, to leave his home, his friends, his family, to embark on a journey of suffering, pain and sin, and death—for us. He who knew not sin came to know sin, for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane we see the free consent and commitment of Christ to us, as He prays only for the Father’s will to be done. Here is the beginning of the wedding ‘process’, the process of total self-giving. Jesus, choosing to give himself to us, unites His will to the Father’s and “moves towards the wedding day and ceremony”. The process of total self-giving reaches its fulfillment on the Cross. When all that could be given had been given, God said “it is consummated”—it is finished. Whenever a man and woman have made this commitment, given themselves to each other, and when the two have become one, God says “it is consummated.” The process of the total giving of self has been finished when the two become one.
When Christ “slept the sleep of death” on the Cross, God brought forth from His side the Church. And this is signified by the blood and water which gushed forth from the pierced heart of Jesus. The water represents the waters of baptism, by which one enters into the Church. And the blood represents the blood of Christ, the blood of the Eucharist, through which we are able to receive Christ’s total gift of self. By Christ’s total gift of self on the Cross, man is able to receive Christ so that the “two may become one.”
Every time a husband and wife become one again through the marital embrace this is what is happening: the husband and wife are making present again the gift of themselves and the gift of their bodies (signifying their total gift) that they presented to God and to each other on their wedding day. Every time the husband and wife become one flesh, the bridegroom gives himself completely to the bride—to be received by the bride; and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. When the wife receives the husband into her body, she is receiving his love and his very life into her. And he is implanting the very seeds of life which could very well grow until a life is fully formed in her. The two, husband and wife, have become one, and very often bring forth another, a child. The two have become one have become three…it is here that the family of man most fully mirrors the family of God.
And how does this happen between Christ and His Church? “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church…” (Ephesians 5:31-32). This is where the heart of the Mass, the Eucharistic celebration, comes into play.
Mass is re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is not a re-sacrificing—the sacrifice is not repeated, rather the celebration of the sacrifice is repeated. That is why it is said that a priest celebrates Mass. During Mass, the priest, along with the whole Church (this includes all the members of the body of Christ, not simply the ones present), brings before the Father the sacrifice of Christ that was made 2000 years ago. The priest presents again to the Father the gift of self that Christ made years ago. The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of a past event and this re-presentation makes present the event being recalled—Christ’s gift, our “wedding day”. Each time we receive Jesus Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity) in the Eucharist, the two become one. The bridegroom, Christ, gives himself completely to his bride and the bride is completely open to receiving the bridegroom. The bridegroom gives to us His life and His love. Christ himself said “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…” (John 6:54). Christ, through the Eucharist, plants the seeds of eternal life in us.