Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wedding Gift

If the notion of the Mass remains elusive to my Protestant friends, the idea of daily Mass is simply incomprehensible. One such friend asked me why I make an effort to be at the celebration of the Eucharist every day.

“To receive Jesus, and to carry Him out with me into the world.”

“Why? Do you lose Him in between times?”

I tried to explain it to her, but I confess, words failed. “If you really love someone, don’t you want to take every opportunity to be with him?” I countered. Good, in so far as it went, but as it turns out, it didn’t go far enough.

Lately, though, I’ve begin to find the words to explain as I reflect on my upcoming wedding anniversary--35 years in a couple of weeks. A long time these days, but a drop in the bucket compared to couples we know who have been married fifty, sixty, and in one case, nearly seventy years. As one stand up comedian put it, that’s a long time to pick up anyone’s drawers. Add to that the fact that my husband and I entered marriage young and only nominally Christian, both physicians, in a profession where over 80% of the marriages end in divorce, the fact that we are still married is no small grace and miracle.

Part of the reason, I think, is that even though we were unchurched at the time, we had enough of a sense of God that we cracked the door, just the tiniest bit, for Him to enter. We weren’t married in the Church, but the hospital chaplain officiated at our civil ceremony and counseled us before we wed. We didn’t recite the traditional vows, but in writing our own, stumbled upon two of the great truths of marriage. We promised to make of our marriage something more than either of our lives apart--we recognized that there was something greater than ourselves involved. We voiced that we chose each other as husband/wife “this day and every day.” For nearly thirty-five years, we’ve started our days and ended our nights with that promise said aloud, reminding ourselves that marriage requires us to continually encounter each other anew, to choose to enter into life together, to surrender to each other in marriage.

Give God an inch, He’ll take a mile. Never in my wildest, romantic dreams would I have anticipated the degree to which my life and that of my husband would become so entwined--especially in the face of that most irksome of virulent gender feminist notions that unless a wife is ever vigilant to maintain her independence, she will be swallowed up, her own self eliminated by the marriage covenant.

Nonsense. That “two become one” thing? It’s real enough. I’m no longer spooked by the fact that my groom and I will say the same random thing at the same time, in the same words, after a long period of companionable and prolonged silence. I’m not surprised that I’ll be dialing his number even as his call comes in on my phone. I really can’t tell where my life ends and that of my husband begins in so many ways. When we find a spot where a boundary still raises its ugly little presence, we work to eliminate it. I know that in being fully his wife I am more fully and perfectly myself. It’s that “lose your life to find it” thing, Also true.

The language of marriage permeates the New Testament. Christ is the Church’s bridegroom. The priest, serving Christ, is espoused to the Church. We are invited to the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It is at a wedding that Mary tells the servants--and us by extension--to “do whatever He tells you.” Even a scientist like me eventually gets the picture--this sacrament of matrimony has some greater meaning than just the vocation of marriage, as grand and glorious and transforming as it is.

We humans are creatures of matter, and to us, matter matters. We live amid the molecules. It is how we learn and how we relate. We respond even to the spiritual realities of life in the world of physics and the physical. It’s why God uses them to communicate to us.

If I look back at the great sweep of salvation history, I find God isn’t much for pure symbolism. He invests the matter of this world with great force and presence, even as He uses it to communicate to us the realities of the the spiritual life. Consider the story of Moses and the seraph serpents. The brass snake he lifted up is surely a symbol and foreshadowing of the crucifixion, but it just as surely communicated the great healing power of God, His very Spirit, through matter, to matter, pointing to the day that He would take us on, molecule for molecule, in the very Flesh.

That in itself is reason enough to know that the sacrament of the Eucharist is no mere symbol, any more than my marriage is merely spiritual. My groom and I have become one, not just because we share some ethereal bond, but because we also share the physical realities of life. We wake up in each other’s arms. We sit at table together and labour together, and--as we put it in those vows so long ago--laugh, cry and disagree with each other--together. Together in matter as well as mind. Take away the matter part, and the mind alone may not sustain us.

So it is, I think, with the Eucharist. Christ enters into my life, not just in spirit, but in the physical reality in which I live and breathe, just as He became incarnate, and for the same reason--to reach me in the place I am, in the form I can recognize. He shares with me His bodily existence, and He enters into mine. It really is--as the Church teaches--the source and summit of Life. Life with a capital L. The kind of Life that is greater than the component parts.

I’ll be surprised if I live to experience another thirty-five years of this wonderful, mystical union that started the day I first received the Eucharist. But I know that if I continue to meet Him and share with Him my life, physical as well as spiritual, that the boundaries will ease and vanish, and someday, I too will become one with Christ. Really, truly, amazingly, gloriously one, in the same mysterious way that I have become one with my earthly spouse.

And that, dear friend, is why I go to Mass every day that I can.


  1. Amen!I've been a daily (weekdays) communicant for the past few years, and our 40th anniversary is next Sunday. So often I hear in prayer 'allow yourself to be shaped by the Liturgy' and I hear echos of it all through my married life. If you don't mind I would like to share your thoughts with our RCIA group.
    Jim McCullough Our Lady of Grace Greensboro, NC

  2. and that's the reason I start each day with EWTN's mass; in this area, the daily mass varies from 9AM to 5:30PM to somewhere in between.