The Spousal Act as Sacred Sign

The Spousal Act as Sacred Sign according to Pope John Paul II  

For Pope John Paul II, since God entered human history when the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, our faith is a “face to face” encounter with the true man Jesus, Christ, who was crucified and risen.  As such, it is much more than mere ideology, philosophy or morality, even more than “revealed” truth as spoken by God through prophets of old.  In Christ, God is “face-to-face” with man, explains Scripture itself, revealing both the depths of God and of our humanity; this is Christology as anthropology or Christian Anthropology.  In this, our faith is truly the “Gospel of the Body”, since the same person of the Trinity, who creates man in God’s likeness in Creation becomes Incarnate and then Redeems mankind; it is clear that creation and redemption are inseparably tied together as one act, in order to perfect man in “the image and likeness of God”.  Sacred signs are the incarnate and efficacious means that we need as incarnate persons to receive grace and holiness from God in this world and communion with Him in heaven.

God-as-Gift; Man-as-Gift: A Communion-of-Persons in the “image and likeness of God”

Before becoming Pope John Paul II, these insights not only enabled him to participated in the Vatican Council but to act as one of the chief advisers to the document “Gaudium et Spes”, whose main theses is expressed as follows: (GS22)…only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take light… For… Christ… fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear… He who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), (21) is Himself the perfect man…He restores the divines likeness…  (23) Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (GS; 22, 23) “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.  For Adam, the first man, was a figure of him who was to come, namely Christ the Lord.  Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear. “  (GS. 22)[i]

Jesus’ prayer to the Father reveals to us the inner nature of the Trinity as a “communion of persons”, as wholly-given-gift-of-self-to-another, Father to Son, Son from the Father and for the Father; and Holy Spirit as both given and received by both Father and Son.  Our likeness to God, means that we cannot fully be mature or fulfilled ‘except in the sincere gift of self’.  As Pope, he expressed it this way:

“God create man in his own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love.  God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and the capacity and responsibility of love and communion.  Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.  As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality.  Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love.  Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy.  Either one is in its own proper form an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being “created in the image of God.”  Consequently, sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.[ii]

His teaching is clear that inscribed in our humanity “in the flesh” is our vocation to love and make a sincere gift of ourselves.  This is most clear in the pinnacle of his life’s work and teaching, given through the Wednesday audiences, known as “The Theology of the Body”.  Man’s original call to holiness and the sacredness of marriage is revealed when Christ, in contradicting both the Pharisees and even Moses for allowing divorce “due to your hardness of heart”, appeals to the Original Plan of God in Creation in quoting: “In the beginning, God made them male and female… what God has joined man must not divide”.  In Genesis, God’s Sovereignty & Gift of Self is revealed in creating the whole universe as “good”, to express His goodness, and in making man in His image, as “very good”, to reflect His goodness, holiness and love.  As Pope John Paul II states:

“Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he carries within himself the inner dimension of the gift. And with it he carries into the world his particular likeness with God, with which he transcends and rules also his ‘visibility’ in the world, his bodiliness, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness. A reflection of this likeness is also the primordial awareness of the spousal meaning of the body pervaded by the mystery of original innocence[iii]

For him, this Original Innocence includes three original experiences of man’s being that express his likeness to God as a sacred sign in his bodily gift of self in this world: Original Solitude, Original Unity, and Naked without Shame.

Original solitude is man’s first call and most primary relationship with God, not merely as a “rational creature” created in “the image and likeness of God, but as the pinnacle of material reality with an original integrated body/soul nature, created to be in a “communion-of-persons”.  Unlike animals or the rest of material reality, he alone can determine his own actions as a free creature who is responsible as “subject of the covenant” and as a “partner of the Absolute”.  His aloneness as “individuated matter” in the “flesh” means that nothing else is his equal among animals, that he cannot be fully human without others of his kind; nevertheless, this is the second relationship.  Ultimately, only the Resurrection of the body will fulfill our “flesh” in our communion with God in heaven.

Original Unity overcomes original solitude, since “it is not good for man to be alone”, therefore God made woman, from man’s rib as his co-equal, “in his likeness”, bone from his bone and flesh from his flesh. Unlike animals, the beauty and fascination of nuptial flesh is the recognition of the other as human person, as “being subject”, as “being in relationship”, as a call to express our likeness to God in the sincere gift of self, the “communion of persons” which is the spousal “two in one flesh”.  We are conceived and born as part of a human family, in relation with God and one another.  We cannot be fully human without community.  We can only fully discover ourselves by being in relation with others, becoming mature and fully perfected only in the sincere gift of ourselves.  This is the core truth and beauty of Genesis of how we are created as male and female and enabled to make a free gift of ourselves in the sacrament of marriage.  This complete gift of self in the spousal union is a “sacred sign” that most perfectly reflects the inner Trinity, as a wholly given irrevocable gift of self that efficaciously expresses holiness & love in a “communion-of-persons”.

Original nakedness without shame is the original appreciation of the naked body as “good”, as a sacred sign created in His image, as a gift and expression of love, in the transparent, trusting, peaceful, spiritual communication between the man and the woman.  Love and self-giving are synonymous since the communion between God and man is the foundation and source of the nuptial self-giving and communion.  Man receives this gift and reciprocates it.

The Primordial Sacrament: The Body as Sacred Sign

For Pope John Paul II, through it’s nuptial language, the body, in fact it alone, efficaciously expresses holiness and love, as a sacred sign of the Divine Mystery of Love and Communion hidden for eternity in God (see Eph. 5:22-23).

“Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he carries within himself the inner dimension of the gift. And with it he carries into the world his particular likeness with God, with which he transcends and rules also his “visibility” in the world, his bodiliness, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness. A reflection of this likeness is also the primordial awareness of the spousal meaning of the body pervaded by the mystery of original innocence. Original nakedness helps us understand that the primordial sacrament was efficacious; it truly communicated God’s grace, his holiness, to man and woman. Holiness enabled them to be naked without shame. Holiness enabled man and woman to express themselves deeply with their bodies through the sincere gift of self.”[iv]

God’s grace, his gratuitous holiness and love poured into the human heart enabled the fullest and deepest capacity to be in “communion of persons” with God and with one another.  Conscious of the nuptial meaning of the body in the “sincere gift” of self, man is the subject of holiness through “the sacrament of the body”.  This is the “primordial sacrament of the Covenant of God with man, with the human race—of the Covenant that draws its origin from eternal Love,”[v]revealing the very Sacramentality of Creation and of the world.

The Fall, as such, was not simply the breaking of a law, but a fundamental turning from the primordial gift of self, within our human nature, in our relation in a “communion-of-persons” with God, with others and even within ourselves in the integral harmony of body and soul.  Yet despite the Fall, God has never ceased to speak to man, in this primordial sacrament, through the spousal language of love, and call man to holiness as an image of God’s Original Covenant with him.  In the fullness of time, this “Great Mystery” is fulfilled by God in all its saving glory.[vi] (Eph. 5:22-33)

The “Great Analogy”: anticipating the fullness to come

The Creator, Yahweh, in his Absolute Lordship, freely chooses to enter into a deeply personal bond of love and grace by irrevocably committing Himself, as “Bridegroom”,(Adonaih) in Covenant with His chosen Bride, the people Israel, and we freely respond in an oath of word and flesh.  Through a long Scriptural tradition, this “Great Analogy” reveals the mystery hidden in the very heart of God.  Beginning in Genesis, with the creation of man “in the image and likeness of God and the primordial spousal “face to face” relationship with God, the Divine Spouse binds Himself to His Bride in ever deeper ways through the texts of Hosea, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah and other prophets.  In Isaiah (54:5): “Your Creator is your husband…the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer” links spousal love as Covenant with Creator and Redeemer.  Particularly in the Song of Songs the spousal relationship between God and His Bride is abundantly detailed in all the fullness of spousal affection and nuptial reciprocity of masculinity and femininity; herein creation itself participates as a palette of sensuous delight of fragrance, color, texture, taste that are shared as gift.  In its definitive and ultimate expression in the New Covenant (in Eph. 5:21-33), Christ has purchased his Bride from the slavery of sin with the cost of His Blood, and washed her clean, so that in the wedding between Christ and the Church “they may be one as we are one” which is the “Great Mystery”.  As God’s people, His Bride, the Church, we are to be the visible sign of His Holiness and love, in the “flesh”, in this world.

 The “Great Mystery”: Marriage–Primordial Sacrament of Redemption

For Pope John Paul II, despite the Fall, God never ceased to call man, through the “Great Analogy”, to reflect God’s spousal love for man and be a sign of God’s holiness and love at the deepest nuptial level of his being.  In the Incarnation, The Sacrament is Christ Himself, since Jesus, the New Adam, visibly and irrevocably unites fleshly humanity and Divinity as equal in the Person of the Son as the most efficacious sign of God’s Holiness and Love.  The creation of man “in the image and likeness of God” is fulfilled and completed in such a superlative way that in Christ, “to see me is to see the Father”.   Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, he has chosen and purchased His Bride, the Church, from the slavery of sin by His Blood on the cross, washing her clean, redeeming her and making her as holy, perfect and loving as He is.  In Him, our Creator and Redeemer becomes Our Spouse, with His Bride the Church, and so this “Great Analogy” becomes fulfilled, in what St. Paul calls the “Great Mystery” (Eph. 5:22-23), wherein the Original Covenant and all subsequent are perfected and fulfilled in the New and Everlasting Covenant which reveals the “mystery hidden in God before all ages”.

In the Sacrament of Marriage in particular, through the spousal relationship with Christ and His Bride the Church, marriage draws its new origin from the mystery of Redemption in order to serve the “union of the sons of God in truth and love” (Gaudium et Spes 24:3).  In this way, the spousal act becomes an efficacious and saving reality of grace, for the man and woman as spouses, and is a visible sacred sign of their whole life, and of the New and Everlasting Covenant with God in Christ until death; “grace, has become their portion in this sign as “their own gift” (1 Cor. 7:7).

This visible, historical, nuptial relationship of Christ with the Church, is the foundation of the whole sacramental order and the “re-creation” and re-constitution of the “sacrament of man”, the “sacrament of the world” and “the sacrament of creation”.  In Christ, all these are restored as sacred signs efficaciously conveying the Divine Love and Life to the world such that “through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.”  Through this “Great Mystery” a deep concern of the Desert Fathers is answered concerning the Easter Exultet: “Oh happy fault!  O necessary sin of Adam that purchased for us so great a Redeemer!”  Although they acknowledge the ineffable gratuitousness of Our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, out of love, to save us.  Nevertheless, there is a fundamental question: “How can an action of man, the sin of Adam, cause God to do something He hadn’t already intended?”  However, through the “Great Mystery”, we can understand that from the beginning God had always intended to express his love “in the flesh” as incarnation.

While the “Great Mystery” ultimately looks to the Nuptial Banquet in heaven, the sacrament of marriage visibly expresses, in this world, here and now, the love of Christ and the Kingdom of God, in and through the couple, to their family and to the world, in this life.  Although the spouses conjugally beget their children, it is the Church, as Pilgrim Bride, who virginally gives birth to these children through the Baptismal Font.  Her whole life is one of hopeful anticipation of her wedding banquet and spousal consummation with her Lord that is yet to come in heaven.  As eloquently as the spousal act expresses the “Great Mystery” in the “language of the body” in this world, the Church, as Virginal Bride, foreshadows the mystical and eschatological spousal union that will take place between Christ, the Redeemer, with His Bride, the Church, in our communion with God in heaven.

In his document on the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II pointed out that it is precisely the nuptial meaning of the Eucharist that we will celebrate in heaven since, in this life no matter how close the “two in one flesh” may become there is still a separation.  However, in heaven, there will be a perfect communion of ourselves in God which means perfect unity without limit or barrier, yet without the loss of self.  The “Great Mystery” is the full redemption of our bodies and the completion of our humanity and the fulfilment of “communion-in-person” in “the image and likeness of God” in heaven.  It is in and through our flesh that sin and death are conquered and humanity is “re-created” in the proper image and likeness of God’s holiness and life, so that in heaven, we might share in the Mystical Union of Christ with His Church.  With full hope of the resurrection of our bodies, marriage is the “Primordial Sacrament of Redemption”.

Sacramentum vs. Mysterion: The “Great Mystery”

In consideration of the Theology of the Body, the Latin word “sacramentum”, understood as entering a covenantal “oath” that entails the “initiation to a new form of life,” an “unreserved commitment” and “faithful service even…(unto) death”, is certainly helpful in our consideration of the person as a whole hearted, irrevocable gift of self to the other.   The formal definition of “sacrament” as: “signum efficax gratiae”, helps us to appreciate that this covenantal oath, founded in Christ, involves incarnational or “sacred signs” that efficaciously confer the indwelling life and holiness of God that they signify.  But, as such, this is a restrictive later development of the word.  However, Pope John Paul II, in union with the documents of Vatican II, returns to the original meaning of “sacramentum-mysterium” that includes the ecclesial dimension and the personal encounter with Christ (Sacrosanctum Concilium 59), calling the Church “the universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen Gentium 48), that is “a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all the human race” (Lumen Gentium 1).  Without denying the Scholastic tradition that formally defines the 7 Sacraments, or addressing any confusion in statements about sacraments being “instituted by Christ”, or, in both the Summa and the Catholic Encyclopedia, that all sacraments came “after the Fall”, Pope John Paul II uses the original meaning of “sacrament” understood as the realization of the eternal divine plan for the salvation of humanity.  He helps us to understand that the etymology of the word “sacrament”[vii] originally comes from the Greek word  “mystērion,” which addresses the Divine Intent to use efficacious sacred signs to fulfill our humanity, in the “image and likeness of God, and effect a “communion of persons’ between us and God and within humanity (in the spousal union).  This plan, proclaimed in Genesis as God’s Original Plan and creative purpose for the world in Creation, is proclaimed in the Gospels and realized only through the Incarnation and Redemption brought by Christ.

Through Logos everything is created, all life is given and the spousal relationship with God is first instituted; in his Incarnation, Christ unites our body with Divinity and through his Spousal union with His Bride the Church, he Redeems all of Creation.  In all cases, it is the Son who effects grace through efficacious means. As we have seen, the Sacrament is Christ himself as the Incarnate efficacious sacred sign of Divine Love, who unites creation and redemption and perfects humanity in the “image and likeness of God”; the ability of creation, the world, man, the Church or the sacraments to be an efficacious sign of grace, comes from Him.  As specifically authorized by Ephesians 5:22-23, where Paul calls marriage a “Great Mystery”, God’s original “primordial” purpose in Creation is linked to the spousal union of Christ with His Bride, the Church, and fulfilled as the Sacrament of Redemption in the Resurrection of the Body.  In this we can see that marriage as a “Primordial Sacrament” gets its efficacious foundation as a sacred sign in the “Great Mystery”, as a participation and visible reflection of the Christ’s union with the Church in the New and Everlasting Covenant, as such it is the foundation of all the sacraments in its hope of fulfilment in the Nuptial Banquet of Eternal Life; as such it is the “Primordial Sacrament of Redemption.”

RATUM ET CONSUMATUM: The Sacramental Sign as Truth in Word and in Flesh

There are two essential aspects of a sacramental marriage: ratum et consumatum.  The juridical, or “ratum”, is what Pope John Paul II calls that “part of the sacrament that the couple contracts by means of the word, as a publicly proclaimed oath and as a sacramental sign in virtue of its content”.[viii]    The priest, who has guided their discernment and ensures that they understand and appreciate what constitutes a proper marriage, acts as the official witness for the Church, ensuring that they properly, objectively and publicly express their intent as they enter into marriage.  Although the couple, as ministers, administer the sacrament themselves, by giving and receiving to one another, the priest officially witness their vows: “I . . . take you . . . as my wife.” “I . . . take you . . . as my husband.”  “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health; I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  He ensures that each legal and sacramental form is completed as a formal, clear and objective statement of their intent.  In this way, their vows are not only before God, but confirmed by the Church, and along with “official” witnesses (usually two), this is a public act by which two baptized persons, a man and a women, become husband and wife in their married vocation for life.  With the conclusion of the Nuptial Mass and the Nuptial Blessing, the liturgical and juridical obligations seem to be complete.

However when Pope John Paul II states that “without consummation marriage is not yet constituted in its full reality”[ix], it may seem like simple Canon Law; an issue that is presumed to be resolved as of the Honeymoon.  But with the background of the Theology of the Body discussed so far, we can appreciate the insight that this oath must be expressed “through our bodies” as a “sacred sign”, an efficacious means of Divine holiness and love.  He is clear that the marriage oath, as truth expressed in the spoken word, in the intentional order, as an expression of intellect, will, consciousness and heart, is incomplete as a sacramental sign, without a simultaneously constitution in the real order.  In the words: “I take you as my wife—as my husband.  I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  I will love you and honor you all the days of my life”; the conjugal truth as reality in “flesh” is presumed.  Deeper than this, their words express readiness to become “two in one flesh” in the “language of the body”.  The intentional order must be constituted in the real order, not just as a conjugal reality in the couples lives,  but as a reality established by the Creator and founded in creation: “The man will leave his father and his mother and unite himself with his wife and the two will be one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Clearly, man needs the body not only to exist but to be holy, particularly in the “spousal act”, as the “sacred sign of marriage”, founded in the “Primordial Sacrament” and reconstituted in the “Great Mystery”, it is an efficacious means of grace, bringing holiness and love to the couple and their family, acting as a prophetic sign to the world of the power and redemption of the Covenant between Christ and His Bride the Church.

The Nuptial “language of the Body”

Likewise, the three promises, pledged immediately before the marriage vows, presume reality in “flesh” in the language of the body: “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?  Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?  Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the Law of Christ and His Church?”  All these express truth that is owned and expressed by the couple as “my” irrevocable and unrepeatable gift of self to you, including all future-oriented meaning, “all the days of my life,” i.e., until death, including the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage.

In the same way that we are born into community, learn a language and make it our own, it is also true with the “language of the body”.  When the spouses, as free conscious bodily-subjects, publicly profess their oath in marriage, they are aware that the depth of truth that they express as their own, is not from their emotion or experience, but comes from existence itself, “from the beginning”, as truth intrinsically and perennially authored by our humanity.  The “nuptial meaning” is the singular language of the body at it’s most fundamental level of existence and at the deepest level of our vocation as “person”, with all the richness of masculinity and femininity at all levels, revealing the capacity to be both a deep affirmation “for” and a gift “to” the other.  This means respecting the other as a person, created for his (her) own sake, never using the other as an object but as a cherished gift.  It is the deepest words of the spirit—words of love, gift and faithfulness, that we use as the appropriate spousal-bodily language that we take as our own to express ourselves.  For Pope John Paul II, through the “language of the body” we must proclaim God’s truth and love in the “flesh”; in this sense there must be a “prophetism of the body” in which in the “flesh” our bodies speak the truth of holiness in the spousal act, in the whole hearted gift of self in unity and in openness to life.

The Liturgy of Marriage: the sacred sign expressed through the “language of the body”

In Pope John Paul II’s continuing analysis of Ephesians 5, it is clear through St. Paul that the Christian “style” of reciprocal relations and shared life in marriage means that we must overcome selfishness to act in an entirely different way than the “using”, appropriating or dominating one another that is typical of concupiscence[x].  Through the gift of spiritual maturity and the virtues of charity and chastity[xi], the reciprocal fascination and pleasure of eros is purified and integrated[xii] becoming agape[xiii], a whole hearted and mature gift of self, allowing “being naked without shame” in a mutual submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.[xiv]  Herein, love so unites the husband and wife, allowing them to totally give themselves and mutually penetrate one another, in the fullest sense of “two in one flesh” and of “communion of persons”, that they spiritually belong to each other; the “I” becomes in a certain sense “you” and the “you” becomes “I”.[xv]  As a sacrament, the intensely rich and personal[xvi] “language of the body” is elevated and becomes a sacramental sign, an efficacious means by which grace is infused through the conjugal covenant of man and women into the terrain of man’s humanity,[xvii] penetrating both soul and body, masculinity and femininity with the power of holiness.  In this way the spousal act is the liturgical language, not only indissolubly establishes (fieri)[xviii] the marriage but continually building and strengthen it (esse)[xix], by being the efficacious means of worshipping God, as a sacred sign, and realizing grace and the Covenant through conjugal shared life.[xx]  Furthermore, as their oath is manifest in the “language of the body”, in the “praxis of love”[xxi], the mundane, practical, daily obligations and duties of love, faithfulness and conjugal integrity, unity and indissolubility are transformed and recognized as grace-filled opportunities and spiritual expressions of Creation and Redemption.[xxii]

Virginity: Continence for the Kingdom of God

Our treatment of marriage as a sacred sign would certainly not be balanced without at least mentioning Pope John Paul II’s extensive consideration of continence or virginity for the Kingdom of God.  It is certainly true that marriage as a sacramental sign efficaciously expresses the Kingdom of God in the holiness and intimacy of spousal love in this world.  But it is equally true that continence, or virginity, is a sign of the Kingdom of God to come, as an image of the Church as a Pilgrim Bride, in this world, who hopes for the Wedding Banquet in the world to come.  Our world rejects marriage as a call to holiness and rejects celibacy even more so; yet both complement the other in a “prophetism of the body”, that there is something much more to this world than nature.  To the “man of concupiscence” both speak as a sign of the higher call of virtue and love in the complete gift of self made through the body in a greater way than the world could imagine.  On the natural level, even Genesis seems to consider celibacy to be unnatural, that “it is not good for man to be alone”.  Yet, it is in the sacred sign of the priesthood that humanity is transformed in the “flesh” to be “alter-Christus” in the “image and likeness of God”.  The priest is not called to be a frustrated celibate.  His personal call by Christ is in the irrevocable, complete and whole hearted “gift of self” to Christ and His Church, as a living witness and sign of God’s Kingdom to come where “there will be no more marriage but we will all be as brother and sister”.  For the priest, as beautiful as marriage is, the nuptial calling of his heart, body and life must be first and foremost the calling from and relationship with Christ, which for him is a holier, more powerful and more loving gift than he could ever have imagined elsewhere.  His “adequate human formation in maturity and chastity” is essential.  However, it is fascinating that in the documents on Religious Formation, sins against charity equal sins against chastity since, as persons called to community, celibacy only makes sense in the context of a whole hearted gift of self within the love of community.  As human beings called by nature to a “communion-of-persons” virtuous sublimation and focusing of spousal energies to reflect God’s kingdom entails a whole transformation of the exclusivity of eros into the inclusivity of agape.  It is only possible through a healthy prayerlife and sacramental life that makes Christ “personal” and “real” as the life-giving source of holiness and love.  It is also only possible in the daily effort of forming genuinely loving and holy communities of faith that are living signs of God’s Kingdom.

The Wedding Banquet of the Lord

With all the has been said about the “Gospel of the Body”, about the body being a “sacred sign” and about the Great Mystery, it is most important that we understand the spousal meaning of the Eucharist with respect to the Banquet of Eternal Life.  In the compassion of our God, in Christ, God has not only become face to face with man, even becoming one in nature with man, and He becoming the Groom and we the Bride, but, in the Eucharist, Christ has become our food.  “This is my body…this is my blood”, becomes the most eloquent and total gift of the Bridegroom for his Bride that is possible.  In the Encyclical on the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II taught that the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste in this world of our oneness with God our Spouse that will last for Eternity.  Even in this world, the “nuptial meaning” of the Eucharist is revealed as superior to any spousal act of any human couple, since in Holy Communion, God can penetrate and personally enter into communion with us in an infinitely deeper way, since He can transcend the material “individuality” of the flesh.  The ultimate nuptial destiny of our bodies is in the resurrection, in the total communion with God, with the angels and saints that we receive in heaven, while not losing our own self.

The Theology of the Body: personalistic and irrefutable  

In his personalistic method, Pope John Paul II compels us with truth that is readily self-evident through human experience in the “language of the body”. It is based not merely on casuistic laws, that “the Church says so” or that “God says so”, but on truth in the flesh, in human experience and is therefore practically irrefutable.  This is the strength of Christian Anthropology; faith and reason are not at odds, since we can discuss and compare human experience.  We can see in this the foundation of Humanae Vitae, understood as goodness according to the nature of the human person in the integrity of our very flesh, bone and soul, in the “image & likeness of God”.  We can understand our bodies “as temples of the Holy Spirit”, as destined for the Resurrection in Christ in the fullness of the completion of our humanity in a “communion of persons” in the “image and likeness of God.”  We can understand our vocation to holiness in the “flesh” in this world and the next.


[i] Gaudium et Spes; 22, 23, 24.

[ii]Familiaris Consortio; 11

[iii] TB; 19 (Feb/20/80); 3.

[iv]TB; 96 (Oct/6/82); 1.

[v]TB; 116 (Jun/27/84); 4.

[vi]TB; 97 (Oct/13/02; 2.

[vii] Footnote #88, TB (Sept/08/82), ff; Pope John Paul II helps us to understand the word “sacrament” in noting that the ancient etymology originally came from the Greek word “mystērion,” which at first referred to the military plans of the king (Jud. 2:2), but elsewhere (Wisdom of Solomon 2:22 and Daniel 2:27) signified God’s creative plans and the end that he assigns to the world and that are revealed only to those who are faithful confessors.  This sense of “mystērion” appears once in the Gospels, “To you has been entrusted the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11 and its parallels Matt 13:11; Luke 8:10). For St. Paul, this term returns seven times with the highpoint in Romans .” . . according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed” (Rom 16:25-26).  In his later letters the “mystērion” is identified with the Gospel (see Eph 6:19) and specifically with Jesus Christ himself (see Col 2:2; 4:3; Eph 3:4); this is a turning-point, since “mystērion” is no longer merely God’s eternal plan, but the realization of this plan on earth, revealed in Jesus Christ. With the application of the term “mystērion” during the Patristic Age to the historical events that show God’s will to save man, such as the mysteries of the life of Jesus, the prophecies and the symbolical figures of the Old Testament, and some confusion with the pagan “mystery” cults, gradually the Latin term “sacramentum” was used. Although, “sacramentum” originally referred to the military oath taken by Roman legionaries, since this entailed an oath that was an “initiation to a new form of life,” of “unreserved commitment” and “faithful service even at the risk of death,” Tertullian shows that these dimensions are present in the Christian sacrament of baptism, of anointing and of the Eucharist. Thus, in the Third Century, the term “sacramentum” is applied both to the mystery of God’s salvific plan in Christ (see e.g., Eph 5:32) and to its concrete realization through the seven fountains of grace, now called “sacraments of the Church.”  As valuable as this understanding is, it is a later development of an earlier understanding.  Although Saint Augustine applied “sacrament” various religious rites of both the Old and the New Testament, to the biblical symbols and figures and also to the revealed Christian, all of these “sacraments”, according to St. Augustine, belong to the great sacrament, namely, the mystery of Christ and the Church. St. Augustine further specified the term “sacrament”: “signum efficax gratiae”, (an efficacious sign of grace)–that the sacraments are sacred signs, having in themselves a likeness with what they signify and that they efficaciously confer grace by what they signify. St. Isidore of Seville (Seventh Century) underlined another aspect: the mysterious nature of the sacrament which, under the veil of material appearances, conceals the action of the Holy Spirit in man’s soul. In the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century, St. Thomas’s definition in the Summa became definitive: “Non omne signum rei sacrae est sacramentum, sed solum ea quae significant perfectionem sanctitatis humanae. Not every sign of a sacred thing is a sacrament, but only those that signify the perfection of human holiness” (III, qu. 60 a. 2).  From this point on, “sacrament” was understood exclusively in the sense of the seven sources of grace and theological studies focused on delving into the essence and the action of the seven sacraments, thereby working out in a systematic way the main features contained in the Scholastic tradition. It is essential to note that it is only within the last century that the neglected ecclesial dimension and the personal encounter with Christ aspects of the sacrament were again given due attention, being expressed in the Constitution on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium 59). Above all, however, Vatican II returns to the original meaning of “sacramentum-mysterium” when it calls the Church “the universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen Gentium 48), a sacrament, of “a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all the human race” (Lumen Gentium 1). In conformity with its original meaning, sacrament is here understood as the realization of the eternal divine plan for the salvation of humanity.

[viii] TB; 103 (Jan/04/83); 2.

[ix] TB; 103 (Jan/05/83); 2.

[x] TB; 113 (Polish text) (Jun/06/84B); 3.

[xi] TB; 117bis (Jul/04/84); 5.

[xii] TB; 113 (Jun/06/84B); 4.

[xiii] TB; 113 (Jun/06/84B); 5.

[xiv] TB; 117bis (Jul/04/84); 3. [

xv] TB; 117 (Polish text); 4.

[xvi] TB; 117 (Polish Text); ff.

[xvii] TB; 117bis (Jul/04/84); 2.

[xviii] TB; 117bis (Jul/04/84); 2.

[xix] TB; 117bis (Jul/o4/84); 2. [xx] TB; 117bis (Jul/04/84); 2.

[xxi] TB; 117bis (Jul/04/84); 6.

[xxii] TB; 117bis (Jul/04/84); 3.  

Author: Alan Boisclair

Fr. Alan Boisclair is a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, BC. He is in full time ministry teaching Pope JPII's TOB exclusively throughout the Archdiocese and beyond. Currently he is teaching 9 full 11 Week/22 hour TOB Courses throughout the Archdiocese each year.