Part One: The Communion of Spouses in Christ
Married Love: Allegory of the Chalice
Dear friends, you will not be surprised if, as Prefect of the Roman dicastery in charge of Divine Worship, I choose an analogy from the realm of the liturgy in order to speak to you about marriage and, therefore, about married love: this very pure, great, and noble love that springs from the heart of spouses is like a magnificent chalice plated with fine gold. Let me explain.
What is a chalice? You who participate in Holy Mass every Sunday know very well: a chalice is a sacred vessel that holds the Most Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus, our Redeemer, at the moment of the Consecration, when the priest pronounces the words of the Lord: "This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." Indeed, Saint Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa theologiae:
by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.
As Archbishop Robert Le Gall of Toulouse says very well in his famous Dictionnaire de liturgie:
According to the liturgical norms of the Church, the chalice is made of a precious or noble material, like the paten by which it is accompanied. It must be appointed only for liturgical use. The chalice and the paten become sacred vessels through the blessing that is given to them by the priest.
Allow me then to make a small liturgical digression. The "chalice" is not simply a "cup". It is not just any vessel, made of ceramic or a worthless common material. Indeed, nothing is too beautiful, too precious to receive the Blood of Christ, this Blood of the Redeemer that the God-made-man, Jesus, shed on the Cross on Good Friday for our salvation: this same Precious Blood is what we adore during Mass after the Consecration. "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot", Saint Peter reminds us in his First Letter. Recall also Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars: he lived in the most extreme destitution, and the pockets of his cassock constantly "had holes in them", as we say, meaning that he used to give everything that he received to the poor, yet at the same time the Curé of Ars did not hesitate for a moment to spend enormous sums of money when it came to renovating his church, the house of God, and also acquiring liturgical vestments and sacred vessels, because, he exclaimed, "Nothing is too beautiful for the glory of God!" Thus, it would never occur to anyone — at least I hope not — to celebrate Holy Mass with a simple glass, a goblet, or a cup, except in very special, unforeseeable circumstances. However, even in that case, a receptacle that does not comply with the liturgical norms must be used by way of exception and only once in order to manifest the faith of the priest and of the faithful in the Real Presence of the Blood of Christ and the veneration and adoration that this involves.
I will give you an example of this right away: It happened near the town of Saint-Lô, in June 1944: the landing had just taken place, and a Catholic chaplain of the American army knocked at the door of one of the rare houses that had remained intact. A woman opened the door for him. The priest introduced himself and expressed the desire to celebrate Holy Mass: "Unfortunately," he said with a Texas accent, "I have lost the chalice from my portable Mass kit." "Never mind," the good woman replied, "I will take from my buffet the finest crystal glass, which, just this time, will take the place of your chalice. But I promise you that at the end of this Mass, this goblet will be put into the display case of the cabinet that you see there, and no one will ever use it again for drinking." So it was that many years later you could still see the crystal glass that had contained the Precious Blood of the Lord, a glass that had a unique story that the members of that lady's family liked to tell. But let us return to our subject.
In the natural order of creation, every marriage resembles a very precious chalice, because God is the author of it. At the wedding feast of Cana — to which Jesus and his Mother were invited, as you know — the guests sang, "I will raise the cup of salvation, and I will bless the Lord", while the water was transformed into wine, a prefiguration of what would happen at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. However, here it was still only wine, although of the best quality … for it lacked the redemptive act of the Cross, which the Last Supper on Holy Thursday anticipated by making present already this unique Mystery of Redemption, which the liturgy of the Church celebrates in the Paschal Triduum. On Holy Thursday, the "cup of blessing", therefore, becomes the "chalice of thanksgiving" that Jesus offers to his apostles, because from now on it contains his Precious Blood, which will gush from his five wounds, including his pierced Heart.
For spouses, [the Eucharist] must be a moment that structures their week and gives it great spiritual fruitfulness.
Well, then, just as the cup of blessing becomes the chalice of thanksgiving, or, better, the chalice of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, so too marriage, a natural reality created and willed by God, symbolized by the cup, is raised to the dignity of a sacrament. Indeed, to continue to "spin out" our analogy, we can say that the cup of married love is in a way covered with the fine gold of the sacrament; it becomes a chalice, because the love of Christian spouses, which springs from the Heart of Christ, has its source in the redemptive act of Christ on Good Friday. And, to our way of thinking, superimposed immediately on the image of Jesus crucified, which decorates the page of every Missal before the start of the text of the Roman Canon or of Eucharistic Prayer I, are the images, which are just as real, of the priest who holds up the chalice at arm's length toward the Cross after the Consecration: for the Sacrifice of the Cross on Good Friday and Holy Mass are one, just as, at that moment when the bread and wine are consecrated, the crucified Jesus and the priest who acts in the very person of Christ are one; in other words, the priest acts in his name and in his place (in persona Christi).
Which means that for Christian spouses, Holy Mass — the one in which they participate at least every Sunday as a family — and, therefore, Eucharistic Communion, is the source of their married life and, therefore, of their family life. In particular, the conjugal prayer and, therefore, the familial prayer of Christian spouses and of their children is deeply rooted in the Eucharist that is celebrated, received, and adored. Or else, if you prefer this more terse expression: "There is no married life animated by authentic Christian prayer unless we agree to offer our life in a sacrifice of Love as a fragrance pleasing to God. There is no authentic married life without the Mass, without the Holy Eucharist."
This sacrament irradiates married and family life, and therefore the prayer of the spouses, the prayer of the Christian family when they gather every evening to praise the Lord, like the sun from which the daylight originates, allows us to see clearly the marvelous creation that surrounds us. And the Holy Eucharist is, at the same time, that source of living water to which we come to quench our thirst for love after the exhausting march of the week, which we have punctuated with our daily stops during the family's evening prayer. But in order for the Eucharist to be truly the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ and for it to become our true food, our Eucharistic celebrations must not turn into theater, entertainment, a folklore festival, a cultural exhibition, an amusement, or a convivial meeting of friends belonging to the same club. The Eucharist is the memorial of the Passion, crucifixion, and horrible death of Jesus on the Cross and of his Resurrection. The Eucharist is man's terrifying face-to-face encounter with God, the meeting between the Thrice-Holy God and sinful man. This meeting ought to fill us with astonishment and reverential fear of God. This meeting is an encounter of faith and love. And for spouses, it must be a moment that structures their week and gives it great spiritual fruitfulness.
Cardinal Robert Sarah. Part One from "Couples, Awaken Your Love." Ignatius Press (August 16, 2021).
Reprinted with permission from Ignatius Press.
Robert Cardinal Sarah (born 15 June 1945) is a Guinean Cardinal Prelate of the Catholic Church. He was appointed as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis on 23 November 2014. He previously served as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. He is the author of The Day Is Now Far Spent, The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise and God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith.Copyright © 2021 Ignatius Press
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