Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Yesterday, we looked at the fact that the book of Revelation reflects the shape of the Mass. We noted that that it begins with a penitential rite, moves on to the Liturgy of the Word and is filled with thanksgiving. The final thing to note is that it climaxes in exactly the same way that our worship on earth climaxes:
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” ‘(Revelation 19:9)
Reality, like the Mass, is consummated with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
It is easy to see the imagery in the book of Revelation originating in cloud cuckoo land. But the reality is that Revelation is thoroughly and complete rooted in what Catholics see going on around them at any ordinary Mass in any sleepy little parish in the world.
They get these ideas from the apostles, who get it from Jesus. It is Jesus, after all, who inaugurates his entire ministry with a miracle performed at, where else?, a wedding. And in case you missed his meaning, all you have to do is turn the page in John’s gospel from chapter 2 to chapter 3 and you are told by no less than John the Baptist who the real Bridegroom is:
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30)
Jesus also explicitly describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a wedding feast. And his apostle take up the thread of thought by seeing every marriage between baptized person as a participation in this mystical marriage between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church. For instance, Paul tells us:
As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “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 am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:24-32)
And so the early Fathers of the Church look at John’s language about the mystical Marriage Feast of the Lamb is and see it as a quite obvious reference, not only to the cosmic union of the Bridegroom and Bride at the end of time, but also as a reference to the Eucharist. For the Eucharist is a particiapation in and an anticipation of the mystical Marriage Feast of the Lamb at the Consummation of All Things. That is why Jesus said “The hour is coming and has now come”. The Kingdom of Heaven is already here, but we live in the “now and not yet”. When he comes again in glory the foretastes we have received in this life will blossom into the fullness of life and the Bride and Groom will at last live happily ever after in the eternal marriage supper of the Lamb.