In the beginning, God created Eve from the side of Adam. This expresses a nuptial meaning; God is the creator of man and marriage…
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. Gen 2:21-24
Note the marital context of the last sentence. The nuptial binding of man and woman as husband and wife is a three step process:
- Man leaves father and mother (commitment)
- Man cleaves to his wife (mutual consent)
- They become one flesh (consummated in marital embrace)[i]
Every time husband and wife join together physically, they are recommitting their marriage. They are representing themselves to each other and to God. They are present again at their wedding. The physical union of husband and wife is a sign of the sacrament; their love for each other points to the love God has for His people, the Church.
At the foot of the cross, Jesus poured out Himself for us. He freely committed Himself to the father’s will. At the very moment of his death, Jesus’ last words were “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). In the Douay-Rheims bible, this passage is translated as: “It is consummated.” At the moment of death, Jesus’ total self-giving is the consummation of His marriage to His bride, the Church (Eph 5:21-22). Note the nuptial binding of Christ to His bride, the Church. It follows the pattern noted above:
- Jesus leaves his earthly mother, Mary (commitment to our salvation)
- Jesus cleaves to us in His sacrifice (consent to the Father’s will)
- Jesus makes Himself one with us (consummated bond with His Bride)[ii]
The bride of Adam came from his side. The bride of Christ also comes from His side[iii] As Christ slept the sleep of death, his side was pierced, flowing forth blood and water…the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, the two become one. During the mass, the priest represents Christ’s body, His one sacrifice at Calvary. In the marital embrace, the husband and wife represent themselves to each other. Both are past events made present (anamnesis). The two become one. The bride and bridegroom give themselves totally and completely to each other in the marital embrace. Christ gives Himself totally and completely to us in the holy Eucharist.[iv]
Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, describes the Eucharist as a “nuptial sacrament”…
The Eucharist, as the sacrament of charity, has a particular relationship with the love of man and woman united in marriage. Pope John Paul II frequently spoke of the nuptial character of the Eucharist and its special relationship with the sacrament of Matrimony: ‘The Eucharist is the sacrament of our redemption. It is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.’[v] Moreover, ‘the entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.’[vi] The Eucharist inexhaustibly strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage. By the power of the sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:31-32). The mutual consent that husband and wife exchange in Christ, which establishes them as a community of life and love, also has a eucharistic dimension. Indeed, in the theology of Saint Paul, conjugal love is a sacramental sign of Christ’s love for his Church, a love culminating in the Cross, the expression of his “marriage” with humanity and at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist.[vii]
Marshall Fightlin PhD, STL in his article entitled, Conjugal Intimacy, compares the conjugal intimacy of Christ in the Eucharist to the conjugal intimacy of the spouses in marriage:
The Eucharist expresses the conjugal intimacy between Christ and his Church. In the Eucharist Christ shows his sacrificial love and he enters into a communion – ‘two in one flesh’ – with his Church. We become one body with his Body, given for us. In this way, marital imagery sheds light on the mystery of Christ and his Church. This is the vision that the Church presents to us of conjugal intimacy. It is a natural sacrament of marital commitment. It is a reflection of the love that God has for us. It is a reflection and a participation in the love that Christ showed for his Church when he gave himself on the cross. It is worthy to be compared to Holy Communion. Just as Christ enters into conjugal intimacy with his Church through Holy Communion — the body union of a Christian and Christ — so the couple celebrate a little communion in their conjugal intimacy.[viii]
In the words of the consecration, “This is my body,” Christ holds nothing back. In the unspoken words of the marital embrace, husband and wife say to each other, “This is my body.” Marriage and the Eucharist are intimately linked as symbols and signs of Christ’s unbreakable love for His bride, the Church.
[i] Bible Christian Society, John Martignoni Marriage and the Eucharist http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/download/mp3/marriage_and_the_eucharist.mp3 (accessed December 31, 2015)
[ii] Martignoni, Marriage and the Eucharist.
[iii] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition (Washington, D.C.: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), 766.
[iv] Martignoni, Marriage and the Eucharist.
[v] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem §26, August 15, 1988.
[vi] CCC, 1617.
[vii] Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis §27 (Washington D.C. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2007)
[viii] Catholic Education Resource Center, Marshall Fightlin, “Conjugal Intimacy,” originally published New Oxford Review (January-February, 1984): 8-14, http://catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0026.html (accessed December 31, 2015)