Marriage and the Eucharist
We’re into week 2 of the 6th chapter of John marathon! This is when we first get the titular line of the chapter, Jesus saying that He is the “Bread of Life”. Exciting stuff for our Catholic faith! We’ll be hearing more in the coming weeks about how Jesus satisfies when nothing else does, and about how His Body and Blood are the source of eternal life. These are things that I hope we’ve heard before and I hope we never tire of hearing. But I’d like to take a tangent this week, if you will allow me, and talk about the relationship between the Eucharist and marriage.
Pope St. John Paul II, in an apostolic exhortation called Familiaris Consortio, made a rather bold and strangesounding claim: “The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage” (paragraph 57). What does that even mean? Marriage pre-existed the Eucharist, and it might be difficult to see how what happens on the altar at every Mass is the source for the marital relationship.
Marriage did pre-exist the Eucharist. Men and women coming together to commit their lives to one another for their mutual good and for the procreation and education of children— this was going on from the beginning of human history. It was inscribed into humanity way back in chapter 2 of Genesis that a man would look at a woman and say “At last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! I’ll leave mother and father and join my life to yours!” So why does Christian marriage not find its source in Genesis 2? Because of Genesis 3.
In Genesis 3, we as the human race decided to go with our plan for life and marriage and family and to deviate from God’s plan. That deviation hurt us such that we couldn’t really live out the fullness of Genesis 2 anymore—our hearts were hardened. We no longer could make a complete gift of ourselves to our spouse after the Fall.
Jesus came to restore us. Our hearts were hardened, so He took on a human heart and allowed it to be pierced for us. From that heart flows blood and water, which are the sources of Christian life. His sacrifice for His Bride, the Church, was a total offering of Himself on the cross. He continues to offer Himself at every Mass: His entire body, all of His blood, His very soul, and His sacred divinity. When we receive Him in the Eucharist, He is then able to say to us who received Him that we are truly now “bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh”. He is the Bridegroom and we the Bride.
Christ restores the plan for marriage by His Eucharistic sacrifice, His complete gift of self. In John 6, the people begin by wanting to make Him a king over all; Jesus turns away from that offer, because His desire is to be the husband to those willing to receive Him.
Christian marriage looks to the example of Jesus, so that husbands can love their wives as Christ loves the Church. But Christian marriage also depends upon the Eucharist, so that we can be incorporated into Christ’s body more and more. The union of husband and wife becomes deeper and deeper the more the husband and wife are both united to Christ.
I know there’s been a lot of confusion about what marriage is and how people define it. But when we’re talking about the Catholic sacrament of matrimony, it’s pretty easy to see its defining feature: it’s a conformity to the covenantal bond between Christ and His Church imaged in, made possible by, and made fruitful through the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass.
As we listen to the rest of John 6, let’s hear it also as Jesus’ marriage proposal to His intended Bride! Let’s learn from Jesus, lean on Jesus, and be loved by Jesus.
Parish FOCUS Missionary