130. Easter Vigil Nuptials

Baptistry of the abbey church inside the Catholic Cistercian monastery Viktring in Klagenfurt, Austria. Baptistries (Latin baptisterium) are in Christian architecture the separate centrally-planned structures surrounding the baptismal font.

Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery. [It] is a bath of water in which the “imperishable seed” of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.

                                                                        – Catechism of the Catholic Church (1617 and 1228)

The Sacred Triduum begins today and culminates in the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, the holiest celebration of the liturgical year. And during this celebration, the nuptial mystery of Christ’s love for the Church is made vividly present in the liturgical ritual of the blessing of the baptismal waters.

I first learned of the nuptial significance of this ritual from a book published by Ignatius Press called Sex and Sacredness (1982). Therein, the British essayist Christopher Derrick very creatively guides the reader through a reflection on the masculine and feminine symbols of this rite and their “sacred marriage” (see pp. 67-73). Unfortunately, in sharing over the years what I learned from Derrick, this “great mystery” has not always been welcomed. That’s understandable in light of how deeply wounded we’ve become in our pornographic culture.

It can happen that we become so conditioned by pornographic lies that they become the default “light” in which we see the body. But when the “light” in which we see the body is actually darkness, the body loses its true character for us as a sign of divine realities and we tend to associate it almost exclusively with what is profane and offensive. We may assent intellectually to the goodness and holiness of the body, but in practice we can’t see it because our eyes are not sound. As Jesus said, if our eyes our sound, the entirety of our bodies will be filled with light; but if our eyes are not sound, our bodies will be shrouded in darkness (see Mt 6:22-23).

[tweetthis]Lord, untwist the lies we have believed about our bodies.[/tweetthis]

 

So, before we venture into an explanation of the glorious nuptials of the baptismal rite, let us ask the Lord to take us out of the darkness and into the light. Lord, please (please!) show us the goodness and beauty of our bodies as you created them to be – as a sign of the “great mystery” of your love for the Church. Untwist the lies we have believed about our bodies and our sexuality so that the entirety of our bodies may be filled with divine light. Amen.

Symbols of the Bridegroom and the Bride

As the Catechism observes, “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” (CCC 1617). The idea of Baptism as a “nuptial bath” comes from Ephesians 5:25-26 – “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water accompanied by the word.” This “washing,” John Paul tells us, is “the expression of spousal love.” It “makes the Church the Bride of Christ” (TOB 91:7).

In turn, when Christ’s spousal love is poured out in the sacrament of Baptism, his Church-Bride “brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life” (CCC 507). This is a virginal birth, of course, by grace. The offspring of the New Adam and the New Eve are born not of the flesh, not of a husband’s physical seed, nor of a physical (genital) union, “but of God” (Jn 1:13). Nonetheless, because grace builds on nature, there is a certain analogy between the two orders. This means the natural way of conception and birth serves in some way as the model, the “prototype” of supernatural conception and birth.

The Catechism states that “baptismal grace . . . has begotten us in the womb of the Church” (CCC 2040). We may be inclined to dismiss such language as a merely poetic way of describing some ethereal reality, but, for Mother Church, this spiritual truth becomes quite concrete in the visualization of the liturgical rite. Inscribed in the baptistry of the Pope’s Cathedral in Rome (the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran), we read: “At this font, the Church, our mother, gives birth from her virginal womb to the children she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

If the baptismal font is a liturgical sign of the Church’s womb, it should not surprise us to see in the liturgical rite some sign of the Bridegroom’s presence and life-giving gift as well. And this is precisely the significance (the “sign value”) of the priest and the action he performs in this rite. As the sacramental presence of Christ the Bridegroom, during the rite of Baptism at the Easter Vigil, the priest submerges the Christ candle into the font (once or three times) and prays for the Spirit to descend upon the waters “so that those who will be baptized in it may be ‘born of water and the Spirit’” (CCC 1238).

“The meaning is profound,” writes Monsignor Nicola Bux, a professor of Sacramental Theology and Consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We can recognize in the symbolism of the ritual that “the priest is the fertilizing organ of the ecclesial womb … Truly in the person of Christ Head he engenders children that, as father, he fortifies with the chrism and nourishes with the Eucharist.” This is why, Bux concludes, “by reason of the marital functions to the Church Bride, the priest must be a man.”

Limiting priesthood to men makes zero sense … unless … unless priesthood inherently expresses that which only men can do. Women can certainly do most of the things men can do. Men can certainly do most of the things women can do. But there is something only men can do (because they’re men) and only women can do (because they’re women) and they must do it together in order to be able to do it at all…

Only a man can be a father and only a woman can be a mother.

This is the natural reality upon which the supernatural reality of Baptism – and, in fact, the whole Christian life – is based. And this is why confusion about the meaning of sexuality involves a danger perhaps greater than is generally realized: it’s the danger of confusing the very basis of man’s natural and supernatural existence. As John Paul II wrote, “Such confusion must clearly affect the whole spiritual position of man” (Love and Responsibility, p. 66).

This is why the Church and the world need the Theology of the Body. Please help us at The Cor Project to get this message out to the world! Become a Member today and help make Saint John Paul II’s teaching go viral!

Image: Baptistry of the abbey church inside the Catholic Cistercian monastery Viktring in Klagenfurt, Austria. Baptistries (Latin baptisterium) are in Christian architecture the separate centrally-planned structures surrounding the baptismal font. Copyright: CC BY-SA (Source: Wikipedia)