It seemed to me last weekend that suddenly there were more, newer small people at Mass than I had seen previously. It’s hard to get a count, but distributing Holy Communion and greeting folks at the doors, I saw more babies in bundles, or in buckets, some of whom were not bigger than a loaf of bread.
When visitors come to our church, it is rare that they do not marvel at the number of children and young families here. Even regular parishioners often find occasion to remark on how loud it was at Mass on a particular Sunday, what Fr. Nick used to call the “chirping” of our small parishioners.
In our day there are few public places left where entire families mingle freely with people of every age and state of life. Our society has specialized, and stratified, in a way that make it rare for people to rejoice together in the full spectrum of human life in all its rambunctious glory. Spaces are set aside for kids just like parks are designated for dogs, though perhaps not as many; and more and more other places and events operate on the expectation of “adults only.”
This weekend, Jesus presents yet another of his parables that involves a wedding, in this case, the King’s wedding feast for his son. Like in last week’s Gospel, there is much drama and even violence to distract us from the setting of the feast in question. But over and over, from the time of His first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee, Jesus associates Himself and what He brings, the Kingdom of God, with a wedding. Both indirectly and directly, He repeatedly refers to Himself as “the Bridegroom.” Who, then is His bride? And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2). His bride is the Church!
Christian marriage is a microcosm of the reality of salvation through Christ in the Church. Saint Paul states it plainly that when a man and woman undertake marriage, they are giving their flesh to the loving exchange of the Bridegroom Christ and His bride. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32). Marriage is not simply one of the seven sacraments, but is in fact foundational to the Church herself. In some ways, a timeline could be so constructed that the sacrament of Matrimony precede Baptism, as the Christian family formed when a man and woman freely and mutually promise one another permanent love, forms the necessary home for the new life, both earthly and eternal, that their physical union brings about.
Every once in a while, somebody shows up on the grounds of the parish and asks whether they can get married in our church. Under some circumstances, that can work out. But our church is not just another “venue” for somebody’s “special day.” Rather, it is the banquet hall for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, to which Christ Himself alludes this weekend, and at which He provides His very flesh as food for the feast.
So it has been a source of delight for me this year that we have seen an unusual number of weddings here for parishioners who have grown up here, or spent significant portions of their lives here, participating in this holy and glorious banquet. Some of the bridal couples have included people I have known since childhood; perhaps not since their parents brought them here in bundles, but a very long time nonetheless.
This why we, Catholics, marry in the “banquet hall of the Lamb;” in the church, and not on a beach or on a cliff or in our backyard or in a courthouse or in a garden or while skydiving or under water. God who created us and called us to be made new, that is, re-created by the life-giving sacrifice of His Son, also calls us to offer the sacrifice of our lives to our life partners, our spouses, before Him in His dwelling place.
It is no wonder young parents can be a little self-conscious about the squawks and cries of their little ones! But no, it is not inappropriate for them to be here in the Holy Place, to be frolicking under the tables at the King’s banquet. Marriage makes possible new life. As our heavenly marriage to Christ the Bridegroom in His bride the Church gives us eternal life in the Spirit, so do our earthly espousals bring about new life in the flesh.
So it is true, good, and beautiful for couples who have already marked their 40th, 50th, or even 60th wedding anniversary to worship close by folks who are still waiting to reach their 60th day of fresh air and sunshine. In fact, both groups have much to offer one another in this life, and on the path to glory, where we all hope to be together in the same “hall filled with guests.” For that is no ordinary wedding reception, and this is not just another “venue;” our King’s wedding feast for His son is not for “adults only.”