If you recall, last year I wrote a series of bulletin articles on the Sacraments – looking at each sacrament through the lens of the theological axiom “lex orandi, lex credendi” (the law of prayer is the law of belief). This is a method of understanding the sacraments by looking at the rituals by which they are celebrated. We also took a look at the scriptural roots of each sacrament, the matter and form of each sacrament, and finally looked at the effects of the sacraments. I mentioned at the end of the last academic year that we had already examined five of the seven sacraments and planned to complete that look by examining the Sacrament of Matrimony and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In picking up where we left off last year we are now going to turn to the Sacrament of Matrimony. First we will examine it in light of its scriptural basis, then examine its matter and form before moving on to the marriage ritual itself and then addressing a couple of important topics related to marriage.
To begin with, we see throughout scripture, numerous metaphors and comparisons used to describe God’s relationship with people – we may think of the Good Shepherd and the flock, or we may think of the Body of Christ with its various parts as some of the most familiar. One of the clearest metaphors that is used is the image of the bride and the groom. In the Old Testament, particularly in the prophets, we see the relationship between God and Israel compared to the relationship between a groom and a bride. We see in Jeremiah God directly referring to Himself as the husband of Israel, “for I am your husband” (Jeremiah 3:14, Douay-Rheims). We see this analogy playing a major role in the book of Hosea and perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable uses of this can be seen in Ezekiel Chapter 16.
This use of this metaphor is carried on into the New Testament, however in the New Testament it is further refined and used to express the love and the relationship between Christ and the Church. We see St. John the Baptist discuss this and use the image of the groom to describe Christ’s relationship to the Church (John 3.29). We also see a reference by Christ Himself to His role as the Bridegroom in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (cf. Matthew 25.1-13). It is St. Paul who takes this metaphor and explains it theologically in his letter to the Ephesians where he speaks of the relationship between husband and wife and then directly points out that he is doing this in order to show us, “a great mystery” – one which he speaks “in reference to Christ and the Church.” (cf. Ephesians 5.22-33).
So it is clear from scripture that in order to understand marriage we must understand how God and His people, how Christ and His Church are bound to one another. If a husband and wife are related to one another as Christ is to His Church then what do we see as the defining characteristics of that relationship? The Church points us to three – fidelity, permanence and fruitfulness, flowing from the bond of love. Just as Christ is bound to the Church faithfully, permanently and with a great fruitfulness, so too should a husband and wife be bound together, in love, faithfully, permanently and with great fruitfulness.
This points out one of the fundamental ends of marriage, to reveal to the world the love that Christ has for His Church! The Nuptial Mass itself speaks of this great calling when it prays in one of the collects, “O God, who consecrated the bond of Marriage by so great a mystery that in the wedding covenant you foreshadow the Sacrament of Christ and his Church…” and in one of the Prefaces we hear, “the Sacrament of holy Matrimony” is “the abiding sign of your [God’s] own love.” Perhaps the clearest (and one of the most beautiful) references is found in one of the Nuptial Blessings, “O God, who, to reveal the great design you formed in your love, willed that the love of spouses for each other should foreshadow the covenant you graciously made with your people, so that, by fulfillment of the sacramental sign, the mystical marriage of Christ with his Church might become manifest in the union of husband and wife among your faithful.” What a beautiful and noble gift marriage is!
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)
It is hard to believe that it was fifteen years ago this weekend that our nation suffered the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Like many people who have memories of that day we remember exactly where we were when we heard the initial reports coming in of such a devastating tragedy. I was in the Seminary at the time and between Morning Prayer and the first class of the day some of the seminarians were watching the news in one of the living rooms and I remember coming out of my room with books in hand and seeing the beginning of the news coverage. At that time there was no real understanding of what exactly was going on – reports of a plane flying into a building, it seemed, at first, to be a tragic accident. By the time I got back upstairs from our first class of the day the awful reality had dawned, this was no accident, but a deliberate act of terror. We sat glued to the television until it was time for Mass and I remember the fervent prayers that were offered up that day, as well as the desire for the Lord to protect our nation. In an unfortunate twist of events the seminary phone system had gone down and before the common use of cell phones this was a huge difficulty since no one could contact his family directly or swiftly. And then there was the utter silence of the skies. Our seminary is located near Mitchell Airport and you would grow used to the sound of the planes taking off and landing, sometimes passing right over the seminary building, but that day and for a few days thereafter there were no planes and suddenly the silence felt pregnant and frightening.
Along with these memories, however, are other memories of how, in the midst of the tragedy people turned to each other for comfort and strength and, more importantly, they turned to God – packing churches, lighting candles, praying in the silence of their hearts. And even though it is fifteen years after the event, we should still turn to God for protection as we fight more outbreaks of terrorism and more innocent people fall victims to those who are angry and deluded by a false notion of God and religion. We should turn to God and pray for those who lost loved ones on that day. We should pray to God for the repose of the souls of those who were killed that day and were caught unaware by death. Below is a prayer that Pope Benedict XVI prayed at Ground Zero on April 20, 2008. Perhaps we can pray it this weekend ourselves:
"O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first responders: our firefighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.
We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness. Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.
We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.
God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the Earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events. Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all."
This weekend marks Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer activities and the beginning of a brand new school year. We have had a really beautiful summer with many sunny and warm days, though there is definitely a part of me that is longing for the cooler days and changing colors of autumn. School is back in session and I am happy to report that the school year at St. Mary’s has gotten off on the right foot!
Seeing as it is Labor Day weekend, I thought it would be worthwhile to include a few reflections on work. In 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1st. St. Joseph becomes the model for all workers and in part of his decree for this new feast day, in the Acts of Pope Pius XII, we read:
“As the mother of all men, a most provident mother, the Church is greatly concerned to protect and improve the conditions of workmen, and to establish and promote their associations, which Pope Pius XII wished to see put under the patronage of St. Joseph. For as the saintly Joseph acted as father to Christ, and Christ Himself was not displeased to be called a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, their relationship united Joseph with Jesus, from whom he drew in abundance that spirit by which man’s toil is ennobled and elevated.”
Pope Pius XII also composed a prayer which would is perhaps something we can pray this Labor Day as well as, perhaps, every day that we head off to work:
Prayer to St. Joseph Model of Workers
Pope Pius XII
O glorious Patriarch, Saint Joseph, humble and just artisan of Nazareth, thou hast given to all Christians and particularly to us an example of a perfect life through diligent labor and admirable union with Jesus and Mary. Assist us in our daily work in order that we, Catholic artisans, may also see in it an effective means of glorifying God, of sanctifying ourselves, and of being a useful member in the society in which we live. These should be the highest ideals for all our actions.
O dearest Protector, obtain for us from the Lord humility and simplicity of heart, love for our work and kindness towards our fellow-laborers; conformity to God's will in the unavoidable trials of this life together with joy in bearing them; recognition of our specific social mission and a sense of responsibility; the spirit and discipline of prayer; docility and respectfulness towards superiors; the spirit of brotherhood towards our equals; charity and indulgence with our dependents.
Accompany us in times of prosperity when the opportunity is given for an honest enjoyment of the fruits of our labors; sustain us in our hours of sadness, when Heaven seems to be shut in our regard, and even the very tools with which our hands toil appear to rebel against us.
Grant that, in imitation of thee, we may keep our eyes fixed on our Mother, Mary, thy dearest Spouse, who as she spun silently in a corner of thy shop would let the sweetest smile course over her lips. Besides, may we never take our eyes off Jesus, Who was busily occupied with thee at the carpenter’s bench, in order that we in like manner may lead on earth a peaceful and a holy life, a prelude to the life of eternal happiness that awaits us in Heaven forever and ever. +Amen.