It is no coincidence Christ performs a Eucharistic miracle while attending the Wedding at Cana.
St. John records Christ and His mother attending a wedding, where Christ performed “the first of His signs” (John 2:11). Here, Jesus turns water into wine in celebration of the wedding of a man and a woman.
The symbolism should not be lost on us, Catholics. Let us look closer at the connection between the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Matrimony, especially the conjugal act.
Tomorrow we will enter the Holy Triduum, as it will be Holy Thursday. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the institution of two Sacraments at the Last Supper: Holy Orders and the Eucharist.
THE CRUCIFIXION AS THE KEY
To see how the sacraments of Matrimony and the Eucharist are related, let us look to the crucifixion of our Lord for answers.
The Christ was to come to liberate His people as the Savior. Jesus fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies, but He did it in a most unusual manner.
Here, the King of the Universe, rather than take His rightful place on an earthly seat of power to be crowned a king, He humbled Himself to die in judgment of all people’s sins. He showed true love by sacrificing His life for His people. He granted them true liberation, from sin and death, rather than mere earthly, temporal freedom.
Sacrifice, as we saw in a prior post, is the key component of love. Christ completely gave Himself up for us on the Cross. This is the model of love we are to follow.
THE CRUCIFIXION AND THE EUCHARIST
The apostles likely had difficulty falling asleep following Christ’s crucifixion. They had aspirations of ruling alongside Jesus in His coming (earthly) kingdom (Luke 9:46; 22:24). But now what? Their Lord had just been executed.
But then they rewound the tape, as Dr. Scott Hahn says, and realized that Christ’s death was actually a sacrifice. His institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper the night before He died was what made Good Friday not merely an execution, but an eternal sacrifice to the Father of Heaven.
When Jesus hung from the Cross, after He had died, a soldier pierced His side to ensure He was dead. What flowed out from Christ’s side was blood and water (John 19:34). Blood and water.
Blood and water are symbols of the Sacraments of the Church. By Baptism (water) and the Eucharist (Blood), all of mankind could enter into the Church and thus, into communion with God–an actual spousal union.
Jesus is identified as the bridegroom in Scripture (Mark 2:19; John 3:29), and His Church is called His bride (Revelation 19:7; 21:2,9-10).
Thinking back to how Eve was formed, from a rib from the side of Adam (Genesis 2:22), we can see the symbolism. In the Old Covenant the first wife came from the side of the first husband. Now in the New Covenant, the bride is born from the side of the Bridegroom, Christ.
This is why the Miracle at the Wedding at Cana carries so much meaning. Jesus is not back there merely messing with the drinks at the wedding reception—as one Protestant pastor once told me as his exegesis of John 2. Rather, Christ is foreshadowing His own wedding to His own people, to come about three years later upon His death on the Cross.
All of that by way of backdrop to get to the heart of what I wish to draw out for us to reflect on for Holy Thursday.
THE EUCHARIST AND THE CONJUGAL ACT
I heard a sermon once by a priest while I was in college that comes to mind here. He described the altar in a Catholic Church to be like a marriage bed. A really decorative bed has four pillars—one at each corner—with a canopy overtop and perhaps veils running along the sides. Obviously, the conjugal act takes place in the marriage bed.
Just as a husband and a wife give themselves entirely to each other in the conjugal act, so too Christ, the Bridegroom offers Himself sacramentally in the Eucharist to His bride, the Church.
The conjugal act is a sign of the New Covenant (a.k.a., Eucharistic) relationship of Christ to His people.
Another term for the Eucharist is Communion. The meaning of Communion is the merging of con and un in Latin, which mean “with” and “one,” respectively. Thus, Communion means to be “one with” each other. We see this in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, whereby the two are made one flesh (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:8). This unity is renewed each time the couple performs the conjugal act with each other.
Going back to Holy Thursday, when Christ instituted the Eucharist, He identified it as the “New Covenant.” Christ was about to die on the Cross the next day, thereby fulfilling the Old Covenant. In its place, He established a New Covenant for us to have communion with God. Communion with God is (quite literally) made possible by partaking in the Eucharist.
Christ loves us so much; He is willing to humble Himself to make Himself sacramentally present in the Eucharist at Mass. He truly gives Himself away, and we are to return the gift. We are supposed to give ourselves wholly back to Him, to let Him be the Lord over every aspect of our lives.
This mutual self-giving modeled in the Eucharist becomes the standard for Matrimony for all Christians to follow. This is how St. Paul can give the following command: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
So, just as Eve was wed to Adam, the New Eve (Mary) attends a wedding with the New Adam (Jesus). Here Christ performs a Eucharistic miracle. This is symbolic of the New Covenant to be established between God and His people, the Church, in nuptial terms. By the grace of God, all married couples can follow Christ’s example from the Cross and from the Eucharist of giving one’s self away, in love.
So, what do you think?
Do you have a better appreciation for the conjugal act?
Does the Eucharist take on a new meaning for you?
Please leave a comment below!