(LifeSiteNews) — On this day, which is sacred to Mary, let us open the holy Gospel, according to St. John. There, in the second chapter, we find these words: “There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” (John 2:1)
The sacred text goes on to say that Jesus also and his disciples were among the guests; but the Holy Spirit, who guided the evangelist’s hand, would have him first make mention of Mary. It was to teach us that this our Blessed Mother extends her protection to those who enter upon the married life with worthy dispositions, that is, with such dispositions as to draw down upon themselves the blessing of her divine Son.
Marriage is a sacred state, for it was instituted by God. The first marriage was celebrated in the earthly paradise between Adam and Eve, when yet they were innocent. It was God Himself who dictated the conditions of marriage. Unity was to be its very basis; in other words, the wife was to have but one husband, the husband was to have but one wife. It was the type of a still more glorious unity, which was not to be revealed till a later period. The mystery of unity typified by marriage being part of the Christian revelation, we deem it a duty to put it before our readers by the following considerations.
The angels were all created at one and the same time: but the members of the human race were to be born, each indeed from their respective parents, but yet so as that Adam and Eve were to be the common parents to whom all were to owe their origin. Such was our Creator’s design, and marriage was the means He selected for its fulfillment. An immense multitude of the angels having fallen, the places destined for them in heaven were to be filled up by the elect of earth; again, it was marriage that was to provide these citizens for heaven. Hence, God blessed marriage at the very commencement of the world, and with a blessing which was to be permanent, for, as the Church teaches us in the liturgy, “it was not recalled, either by the punishment inflicted on original sin, or by the sentence which destroyed the world by the deluge.” (Missale Romanum: Præfatio super Sponsum)
Even before this second great chastisement came upon the earth, “all flesh had corrupted its way” (Genesis 6:12) and marriage had fallen from the elevated dignity given to it by the Creator. The end for which He instituted it was forgotten; it was debased into a mere sensual gratification; it lost the sacred unity which was its glory.
Polygamy and divorce destroyed its primitive character, and two frightful evils ensued: family ties were at an end, and woman’s position was degraded into that of a being which must minister to man’s passions. The lesson intended to be conveyed by the deluge was soon lost sight of; the world again became depraved, so much so indeed, that when the Mosaic law came with its reforms, it had not power to restore to marriage the dignity of its first institution.
To effect this, it was requisite that God Himself should descend upon the earth. When the miseries of humanity had reached their height, the Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, assumed our human nature and dwelt amongst us. He called Himself “the Bridegroom.” (Matthew 9:15) The prophets and the Canticle of Canticles had foretold that He would take to Himself a spouse from among mortals. This spouse is the Church, that is, the human race purified by baptism and enriched with supernatural gifts.
As a dowry, He gave Her His own precious blood and merits; and then united Her to Himself forever. This spouse is one: He affectionately called Her His only one. (Song of Solomon 6:8) On Her part, She has no other but Him. Here we have revealed to us the divine type on which marriage was formed, and which, as the apostle teaches us, derives its holiness and dignity from its resemblance to the union existing between Christ and His Church.(Ephesians 5:32)
The two unions are for the same end, and bear a mutual relation to each other. Jesus loves His Church with the tenderest affection; but His Church is the issue of human marriage, for it is marriage that provides the Church with Her children, and thus perpetuates Her existence upon the earth. Let us not be surprised, therefore, that Jesus restored marriage to its primitive condition, and that He honors it as being His powerful aid in the accomplishment of His designs.
We have already seen, on the second Sunday after the Epiphany, how He selected the Nuptial Feast at Cana as the occasion of His working His first public miracle. By His accepting the invitation to assist, in company with His Blessed Mother at the marriage, it is evident that He wished to honor, by His divine presence, the sacred engagement which was to unite the two spouses; it is evident that He intended to renew, in their persons, the ancient blessing given in paradise. Having, by His miracle at Cana, proved Himself to be truly the Son of God, He began His public life and preaching.
His object being to reform fallen man to the noble end for which he had been created, He frequently made marriage the subject of His instructions. He spoke of its being divinely instituted on the basis of unity. He authoritatively repeated the command given at its first institution: “They shall be two in one flesh: two, and only two.” (Matthew 19:5, Genesis 1:24) Speaking of the indissolubility of the marriage tie, He told His hearers that no power on earth, not even the unfaithfulness, however criminal, of the husband or wife, could sever the bond.
These were His words: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 11:6) Thus did He restore marriage to its normal state; thus did He abrogate the degrading liberty, or more correctly, the liberalism of polygamy and divorce – those sad proofs of the hardness of man’s heart, (Matthew 11:8) and of the need he had of a Redeemer. Thus did the new law bring back to marriage its primal blessing, and make it, once more, a holy state, which so far from its being an obstacle, is a means to virtue, and peoples both earth and heaven with elect.
But our risen Jesus would do more than repair the injuries brought upon marriage by human frailty. He raised to the dignity of a sacrament the solemn and irrevocable contract whereby a man and woman take each other for husband and wife. The moment that two Christians are thus irrevocably united, a sacramental grace descends upon them, and cements their union, which there and then becomes a sacred thing. The apostle, speaking of Christian marriage, says: “It is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ, and in the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32)
The meaning of these words is that marriage is the type of the union which exists between Christ and His spouse the Church. There is one and the same object and end in the two unions – in that of Christ with the Church, and in that of the husband with his wife: this object, this end, is to people heaven with elect. Hence it is that the Holy Ghost puts His divine seal upon both these unions.
But the grace of the seventh sacrament does more than cement the indissoluble union of husband and wife. It gives them every help they stand in need of for the fulfillment of their sacred mission. First of all, it infuses into their hearts a mutual love, which is strong as death, and which many waters cannot quench, (Song of Solomon 8:6,7) so long as they make religion the ruling principle of their lives.
This love is mingled with a sentiment of chaste respect, which serves as a check upon evil concupiscence. It is a love which time, far from impairing, makes purer and stauncher. It is a love calm like that which is found in heaven. When sacrifices are to be made, it makes them almost without an effort, and is intensified by the making.
The sacramental grace also fits the husband and wife for the great duty of educating their children. It gives them an untiring devotedness for their welfare; an affectionate patience with their faults; a supernatural discernment for treating them according to their age and dispositions; a ceaseless remembrance of these dear ones being created for heaven; and, finally, a deep-rooted sentiment of their belonging to God more truly than to the parents, through whom He gave them life.
Thus was the married state transformed by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony. The Christian law restored to it the dignity of which the vile egotism of pagan passion had deprived it. After so long a period of degradation, mankind was again brought to the knowledge of what marriage really is – namely, love surrounded by sacrifice, and sacrifice prompted and aided by love. Truly, a sacrament was needed for the bringing about such a change as this! The change came, and admirable indeed it was.
Two centuries had not elapsed since the promulgation of the Gospel, and paganism was still powerful; and yet we find a writer of those days giving the following description of a Christian husband and wife:
How shall I find words to describe the happiness of a marriage, whose tie is formed by the hands of the Church, which is confirmed by the sacred oblation, sealed by the blessing, proclaimed by the angels, and ratified by the Heavenly Father? How wonderful a yoke is that which is taken up by two of the faithful united together in the same hope, in the same law, in the same duty! They have the same God for their Father, they serve the same master, they are two in one flesh, they are one heart and soul.
They pray together, they prostrate together, they fast together; they instruct each other, they exhort each other, they encourage each other. You see them together in the Church, and at the Holy Table. They share in each other’s trials, persecutions, and joys. There are no secrets between them; no such thing as shunning each other, or being wearied of each other’s company. They have not to hide from each other in order to visit the sick or the needy. Their alms excite no disputes; they approve of each other’s sacrifices; they interfere not with each other’s practices of piety. They have no need to make the sign of the Cross stealthily; neither are they afraid to give way, in each other’s presence, to feelings of love and gratitude for their God.
They sing together the psalms and canticles; and if there be any rivalry between them, it is which of them shall best sing the praises of God. Oh! these are the marriages which gladden the eyes and ears of Christ. These are the marriages to which He imparts His blessing of peace. He has said that He would be where two are united together; therefore, He is in such a house as the one we are describing; and the enemy of man is not there. (Tertullian, Ad uxorem, lib. ii, cap. ix)
What a picture! And how great must be the sacrament which can bring about such results as this! Here is the secret of the world’s regeneration: it was our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who created the beautiful existence of a Christian family and implanted it on our earth. Long ages passed, and this was the only type which, in spite of human frailty, was the only one acknowledged either by the consciences of individuals or by the public laws of nations.
But the pagan element – which may be repressed, but which never dies – strove to regain what it had lost; and, at length, the time came when it succeeded in falsifying, in the majority of Christian countries, the nation of marriage. Faith teaches us that this contract, now become a sacrament, comes under the jurisdiction of the Church, in what regards the bond, which constitutes its very essence: but the modern world looks on the Church as a power incompatible with the progress of liberty and enlightenment; and therefore the state takes the Church’s place, as often as it is deemed good for society! And marriage has been debased into a civil act.
The immediate consequence of this has been that the state can legalize divorce, and therefore paganize society. The influence exercised over the world by the long predominance of the Christian spirit has not been entirely removed by this iniquitous secularization of marriage; still, from the principles laid down by our modern governments we have this logical and practical result: that a marriage may be indissoluble and sacramental in the eyes of the Church, and null in the eyes of the civil power; and again, a marriage held to be legal by the state may be counted as invalid by the Church, and therefore not binding on the conscience. The rupture between Church and state is, therefore, consummated.
And yet, that which Christ has appointed cannot be effaced by man. What Jesus has instituted is to last to the end of time. Therefore, let Christians fear not: let them continue to receive from their mother, the Church, the doctrine of the sacraments; let them continue to look upon marriage as a divine institution, such as we have been describing it to be; and thus, they may save society and re-Christianize it – or, if that cannot be, they will save their own and their children’s souls.
The close of this week, and these reflections upon the divine sacrament of matrimony, lead us to think of thee, dear mother of Jesus! The Marriage Feast at Cana, which was honored by thy presence and blessing, is one of the great facts of the holy Gospel. Why, O thou the purest of virgins, who wouldst have refused the dignity of being Mother of God had it called for the sacrifice of the treasure already conferred on thee – why wast thou present at these nuptials, if not to teach a sublime lesson? This lesson is that holy and perfect continency is a state far superior to that of marriage. It is a lesson which exercises an immense influence upon the married life, inasmuch as it secures to it its Christian dignity and happiness.
Who, then, could have been more appropriately chosen by God than thou, to bless a union which is so holy in itself, and instituted for such a sublime end? Shield it with thy protection now more than ever, for the world’s laws have legislated for its ruin, and sensualism has destroyed in thousands of Christians the sense of right and wrong. There are exceptions: there are some who receive this sacrament with the holiest of dispositions: upon these, O Mary, lavish thy blessing. They are the inheritance of thy divine Son; they are the salt of the earth, to keep it from universal corruption; they are the pledge of a better future.
They are thy children, sweet mother! Then watch over them, add to their number, that so the world may not perish.
To Mary, the virgin of virgins, and protectress of Christian marriage – to Mary, spouse of the Eternal Word before becoming His mother by the Incarnation – let us, today, offer this beautiful Sequence of the Catholic Germany of the Middle Ages; let us devoutly present it to her as the ring of her chaste nuptials.
Hail, O noble Virgin! called to be the Spouse of the great King! Receive, O Mary, this ring as the expression of our loving congratulation.
Tender branch! thou believedst the Angel’s word, and conceivedst Jesus, the fresh Flower. The green-colored Jasper shows thy fervent faith.
Thy hope, like thy truth, was changeless and unwavering. Its emblem is the Sapphire, with its heavenly blue.
The bright Chalcedony, whose beauty doubles in the light of day, signifies the burning flame of charity that glowed within thy heart.
The pure green Emerald tells us that thou surpassest all creatures in the purity of thy soul and in the loveliness of thy holy deeds.
The limpid Sardonyx, with its veins of red and black and white, bespeaks thy innocent and peaceful and modest bearing.
The deep red Sardius plainly tells us, that thy soul, O Mary, was wounded through and through by the sword of the death of Christ.
The Chrysolite, with its sparkling golden rays, denotes thy admirable miracles, and the wisdom wherewith thou wast gifted.
The pale yet shining Beryl reminds us aptly of thy humility, and of thy love of thy neighbor.
The Topaz—that richest and loveliest of gems—tells us, that no creature enjoyed so clearly, as thou, the contemplation of our God.
See, now, the Chrysoprasus! What say its red golden drops, but that thy soul burned with exceeding love?
As the Hyacinth, which adapts its color to the air around it, thou helpest them that are in trouble, and need thy aid.
The Amethyst, with its ruddy and purple color, symbolizes thy being beloved by God and man.
Truly art thou the spiritual Pearl of the gospel, after which all are in search. Oh! happy they that find the merchandise of Christ!
The Agate, a large black stone with white veins, speaks to us of thy humility, which makes thee so dear to God.
The very sight of the many-colored Onyx tells us that God enriched thee with every virtue, O thou whom the Prophets longed to behold!
The Diamond, which is proof against every blow, loudly proclaims thy courage and patience in all adversities.
The cool transparent Crystal makes us think of thee, who wast a Virgin in mind and body, and the commencement of our hope.
The beautiful amber-like Ligurius reminds us of the grace of temperance and fear that beautified thy soul.
The Loadstone attracts iron to itself; so thou, O Virgin! touchest with the wand of devotion the heart-strings of them that repent.
The Carbuncle, like a bright eye glistening in the gloom, tells us that, far and wide, thy praise is loudly and ever proclaimed.
O Queen of heaven! O rich in every virtue! cleanse us from vice, and give us to rejoice in thy Nuptials.
Arabia and Ophir, Saba and Tharsis, yield an abundance of Gold.
From which we form this our humble gift—this jewelled Ring. O glorious Spouse of Jesus! deign to accept the offering we this day present unto thee! Amen.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.