When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus’ body and blood is taken into our bodies, where it is digested and incorporated into our own flesh – we literally become ‘one flesh’ with him. That’s why we also call it ‘communion’, because we become one in body and soul with Jesus.
Marriage lives this mystery in a very concrete way. When husband and wife make love, they are saying with their bodies “Take, this is my body, I give it to you. This is my life-blood poured out for you”. In their sexual union, husband and wife become one flesh, a communion of two in one.
“The expressions referring to care for the body, and above all for its nourishment…suggest … a reference to the Eucharist, with which Christ in his spousal love, ‘feeds’ the church. … these expressions … indicate the specific character of conjugal love, especially of the love by which the spouses become ‘one flesh’.” – St Pope John Paul II Theology of the Body, n 92. pg 486
The one flesh union of marriage thus images the relationship between Christ and the Church. This is what it means to be a Sacrament. A Sacrament makes visible in the physical dimension an invisible, spiritual reality. Our sexual union is sacramental, making visible and concretely accessible the mystery of self-giving, fruitful love between Jesus and his Body, the Church. We cannot ‘see’ Christ loving the Church, but we can see husbands and wives loving each other. So our love as spouses makes Christ’s invisible love visible to the Church.
A Love of Intimacy
Each of the seven Sacraments in the Church reveal an important dimension of God’s love. However, the Sacrements of Communion, Marriage and Priesthood all draw our attention to Jesus’ passionate gift of self. His love for us is spousal in nature. It is a love of intimacy, of urgency, of intimate knowledge, and passionate other-centredness.
Like husbands and wives, Jesus is passionately in love with us; he desires to be one with us. Marriage therefore, is vitally important to the Church and our understanding of God. Without marriage, we can be tempted to focus on the benevolent love of God and overlook the important spousal love, which is intimate and passionate.
The scriptures often refer to Jesus as ‘the bridegroom’. If Jesus is the bridegroom, we are the bride and heaven is the eternal wedding banquet.
About the authors
Byron Pirola is husband to Francine and father of five. Byron is a Management Consultant by day and by night, the co-director the Marriage Resource Centre with Francine and coauthors of the SmartLoving series.
Francine Pirola is the founder of CathFamily and regular contributor and editor. She has been married to Byron for over 25 years and has five children. She is also the author of the My School Diary Series that is used by over 100,000 catholic school students and teachers around Australia every year.