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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

℣. In resurrectione tua, Christe, alleluia.
℟. Cœli et terra lætentur, alleluia.

℣. In thy resurrection, O Christ, alleluia.
℟. Let heaven and earth rejoice, alleluia.


ON this day, which is sacred to Mary, let us open the holy Gospel according to St John. There, in the second chapter, we find these words: There was a marriage in Cana of Galileeand the Mother of Jesus was there.[1] The sacred text goes on to say that Jesus also and his disciples were among the guests; but the Holy Spirit, who guided the Evangelist's hand, would have him first make mention of Mary. It was to teach us that this our blessed Mother extends her protection to those who enter upon the married life with worthy dispositions, that is, with such dispositions as to draw down upon themselves the blessing of her divine Son.

Marriage is a sacred state, for it was instituted by God. The first marriage was celebrated in the earthly Paradise between Adam and Eve, when yet they were innocent. It was God himself who dictated the conditions of marriage. Unity was to be its very basis; in other words, the wife was to have but one husband, the husband was to have but one wife. It was the type of a still more glorious unity, which was not to be revealed till a later period. The mystery of unity typified by marriage being part of the Christian revelation, we deem it a duty to put it before our readers by the following considerations.

The angels were all created at one and the same time: but the members of the human race were to be bom, each indeed from their respective parents, but yet so as that Adam and Eve were to be the common parents to whom all were to owe their origin. Such was our Creator’s design, and marriage was the means he selected for its fulfilment. An immense multitude of the angels having fallen, the places destined for them in heaven were to be filled up by the elect of earth; again, it was marriage that was to provide these citizens for heaven. Hence, God blessed marriage at the very commencement of the world, and with a blessing which was to be permanent, for, as the Church teaches us in the Liturgy,’it was not recalled, either by the punishment inflicted on original sin, or by the sentence which destroyed the world by the deluge.’[2]

Even before this second great chastisement came upon the earth, all flesh hud corrupted its way,[3] and marriage had fallen from the elevated dignity given to it by the Creator. The end for which he instituted it was forgotten; it was debased into a mere sensual gratification; it lost the sacred unity, which was its glory. Polygamy and divorce destroyed its primitive character, and two frightful evils ensued: family ties were at an end, and woman’s position was degraded into that of a being which must minister to man’s passions. The lesson intended to be conveyed by the Deluge was soon lost sight of; the world again became depraved, so much so indeed, that when the Mosaic Law came with its reforms, it had not power to restore to marriage the dignity of its first institution.

To effect this, it was requisite that God himself should descend upon the earth. When the miseries of humanity had reached their height, the Word, the second Person of the blessed Trinity, assumed our human nature, and dwelt amongst us. He called himself the Bridegroom.[4] The prophets and the Canticle of Canticles had foretold that he would take to himself a Spouse from among mortals. This Spouse is the Church—that is, the human race purified by baptism and enriched with supernatural gifts. As a dowry, he gave her his own precious Blood and merits; and then united her to himself for ever. This Spouse is One: he affectionately calls her his Only One.[5] On her part, she has no other but him. Here we have revealed to us the divine type on which marriage was formed, which, as the Apostle teaches us, derives its holiness and dignity from its resemblance to the union existing between Christ and his Church.[6] The two unions are for the same end, and bear a mutual relation to each other. Jesus loves his Church with the tenderest affection; but his Church is the issue of human marriage, for it is marriage that provides the Church with her children, and thus perpetuates her existence upon the earth. Let us not be surprised, therefore, that Jesus restored marriage to its primitive condition, and that he honours it as being his powerful aid in the accomplishment of his designs.

We have already seen, on the second Sunday after the Epiphany, how he selected the nuptial feast at Cana as the occasion of his working his first public miracle. By his accepting the invitation to assist, in company with his blessed Mother, at the marriage, it is evident that he wished to honour, by his divine presence, the sacred engagement which was to unite the two spouses; it is evident that he intended to renew, in their persons, the ancient blessing given in Paradise. Having, by his miracle at Cana, proved himself to be truly the Son of God, he began his public life and preaching. His object being to reform fallen man to the noble end for which he had been created, he frequently made marriage the subject of his instructions. He spoke of its being divinely instituted on the basis of unity. He authoritatively repeated the command given at its first institution: They shall be two in one flesh:[7] two, and only two. Speaking of the indissolubility of the marriage tie, he told his hearers that no power on earth, not even the unfaithfulness, however criminal, of the husband or wife, could sever the bond. These were his words: What God hath joined togetherlet no man put asunder.[8] Thus did he restore marriage to its normal state; thus did he abrogate the degrading liberty, or more correctly, the libertinism, of polygamy and divorce—those sad proofs of the hardness of man’s heart,[9] and of the need he had of a Redeemer. Thus did the New Law bring back to marriage its primal blessing, and make it once more a holy state, which, so far from being an obstacle, is a means to virtue, and peoples both earth and heaven with the elect.

But our Risen Jesus would do more than repair the injuries brought upon marriage by human frailty. He raised to the dignity of a sacrament the solemn and irrevocable contract whereby a man and woman take each other for husband and wife. The moment that two Christians are thus irrevocably united, a sacramental grace descends upon them, and cements their union, which there and then becomes a sacred thing. The Apostle, speaking of Christian marriage, says: It is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christand in the Church.[10] The meaning of these words is that marriage is the type of the union which exists between Christ and his Spouse the Church. There is one and the same object and end in the two unions—in that of Christ with the Church, and in that of the husband with his wife: this object, this end, is to people heaven with the elect. Hence it is that the Holy Ghost puts his divine seal upon both these unions.

But the grace of the seventh sacrament does more than cement the indissoluble union of husband and wife. It gives them every help they stand in need of for the fulfilment of their sacred mission. First of all, it infuses into their hearts a mutual love, which is strong as death, and which many waters cannot quench,[11] so long as they make religion the ruling principle of their lives. This love is mingled with a sentiment of chaste respect, which serves as a check upon evil concupiscence. It is a love which time, far from impairing, makes purer and stauncher. It is a love calm like that which is found in heaven. When sacrifices are to be made, it makes them almost without an effort, and is intensified by the making. The sacramental grace also fits the husband and wife for the great duty of educating their children. It gives them an untiring devotedness for their welfare; an affectionate patience with their faults; a supernatural discernment for treating them according to their age and dispositions; a ceaseless remembrance of the fact that these dear ones were created for heaven; and, finally, a deep-rooted sentiment that they belong to God more truly than to the parents, through whom he gave them life.

Thus was the married state transformed by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony. The Christian Law restored to it the dignity of which the vile egotism of pagan passion had deprived it. After so long a period of degradation, mankind was again brought to the knowledge of what marriage really is—namely, love surrounded by sacrifice, and sacrifice prompted and aided by love. Truly a sacrament was needed for bringing about such a change as this! The change came, and admirable indeed it was. Two centuries had not elapsed since the promulgation of the Gospel, and paganism was still powerful; and yet we find a writer of those days giving the following description of a Christian husband and wife.’How shall I find words to describe the happiness of a marriage, whose tie is formed by the hands of the Church, which is confirmed by the sacred oblation, sealed by the blessing, proclaimed by the angels, and ratified by the heavenly Father? How wonderful a yoke is that which is taken up by two of the faithful united together in the same hope, in the same law, in the same duty! They have the same God for their Father, they serve the same Master, they are two in one flesh, they are one heart and soul. They pray together, they prostrate together, they fast together; they instruct each other, they exhort each other, they encourage each other. You see them together in the Church, and at the holy Table. They share in each other's trials, persecutions, and joys. There are no secrets between them; no such thing as shunning each other, or being wearied of each other's company. They have not to hide from each other, in order to visit the sick or the needy. Their alms excite no disputes; they approve of each other’s sacrifices; they interfere not with each other’s practices of piety. They have no need to make the sign of the Cross stealthily; neither are they afraid to give way, in each other’s presence, to feelings of love and gratitude for their God. They sing together the psalms and canticles: and if there be any rivalry between them, it is which of them shall best sing the praises of God. Oh! these are the marriages which gladden the eyes and ears of Christ. These are the marriages to which he imparts his blessing of peace. He has said, that he would be where two are united together; therefore, he is in such a house as the one we are describing; and the enemy of man is not there.’[12]

What a picture! and how great must be the sacrament which can bring about such results as this! Here is the secret of the world’s regeneration: it was our Lord Jesus Christ himself who created the beautiful existence of a Christian family, and implanted it on our earth. Long ages passed, and this was the type which, in spite of human frailty, was the only one acknowledged either by the conscience of individuals or by the public laws of nations. But the pagan element, which may be repressed, but which never dies, strove to regain what it had lost; and at length the time came when it succeeded in falsifying, in the majority of Christian countries, the notion of marriage. Faith teaches us, that this contract, now become a sacrament, comes under the jurisdiction of the Church, in what regards the bond, which constitutes its very essence: but the modem world looks on the Church as a power incompatible with the progress of liberty and enlightenment; and therefore the State takes the Church’s place, as often as it is deemed good for society! and marriage has been debased into a civil act. The immediate consequence of this has been, that the State can legalize divorce, and therefore paganize Society. The influence exercised over the world by the long predominance of the Christian spirit has not been entirely removed by this iniquitous secularization of marriage; still, from the principles laid down by our modem Governments we have this logical and practical result: that a marriage may be indissoluble and sacramental in the eyes of the Church, and null in the eyes of the civil power; and again, a marriage held to be legal by the State may be counted as invalid by the Church, and therefore not binding on the conscience. The rupture between Church and State is, therefore, consummated.

And yet that which Christ has appointed cannot be effaced by man. What Jesus has instituted is to last to the end of time. Therefore let Christians fear not: let them continue to receive from their mother, the Church, the doctrine of the sacraments; let them continue to look upon marriage as a divine institution, such as we have been describing it to be; and thus, they may save Society and re-Christianize it, or, if that cannot be, they will save their own and their children's souls.

The close of this week, and these reflections upon the divine sacrament of matrimony, lead us to think of thee, dear Mother of Jesus! The marriage feast at Cana, which was honoured by thy presence and blessing, is one of the great facts of the holy Gospel. Why, O thou purest of Virgins, who wouldst have refused the dignity of being Mother of God had it called for the sacrifice of the treasure already conferred on thee—why wast thou present at these nuptials, if not to teach a sublime lesson? This lesson is that holy and perfect continency is a state far superior to that of marriage. It is a lesson which exercises an immense influence upon the married life, inasmuch as it secures to it its Christian dignity and happiness. Who, then, could have been more appropriately chosen by God than thou, to bless a union which is so holy in itself, and instituted for so sublime an end? Shield it with thy protection now more than ever, for the world's laws have legislated for its ruin, and sensualism has destroyed in thousands of Christians the sense of right and wrong. There are exceptions: there are some who receive this sacrament with the holiest of dispositions: upon these, O Mary, lavish thy blessing. They are the inheritance of thy divine Son; they are the salt of the earth, to keep it from universal corruption; they are the pledge of a better future. They are thy children, sweet Mother! then watch over them, add to their number, that so the world may not perish.

To Mary, the Virgin of virgins, and Protectress of Christian Marriage: to Mary, who was the Spouse of the Eternal Word before she became his Mother by the Incarnation: let us, to-day, offer this beautiful sequence of the Catholic Germany of the Middle Ages; let us devoutly present it to her as the ring of her chaste nuptials.

Sequence

Ave Virgo nobilis,
Desponsari habilis
Summo Regi, annulum,
Arrhabonis titulum, Suscipe, Maria.

Novum florem virgula,
Paranympho credula,
Concipis, quam Jaspidis
Color monstrat viridis plenam fide pia.

Virtus spei stabilis,
Numquam in te labilis
Fuit neque veritas,
Signat ut serenitas cœlica Sapphiri.

Lucens Chalcedonius,
Sed sub divo pulchrius,
Pandit te eximio
Charitatis radio fervide igniri.

Ut Smaragdi claritas
Monstrat et viriditas,
Mente cunctis purior
Es, et elegantior actu virtuali.

Sardonyx inturbidus
Ruber, niger, candidus,
Te designat limpide
Conversatam placide gestu virginali.

Bene rubens Sardius
Indicat apertius,
Mortis Christi gladium
Sauciasse nimium spiritum Mariae.

Exprimit Chrysolithus,
Præ fulgore inclytus,
Flammeis scintillulis,
Claram te miraculis ac dono sophiæ.

A Beryllo pallido,
Sed nitenti fulgido,
Humilis in animo,
Et benigna proximo rite comprobaris.

Tandem pretiosior,
Cunctis gemmis gratior,
Asserit Topazius,
Cunctis quod limpidius Deum contemplaris.

Ecce nunc, qui rubeas
Guttas jacit aureas
Chrysoprasus, nimii
Æstu desiderii refert te fervere.

Ut Hyacinthus celeri
Se conformat aetheri,
Sic fers opem anxiis,
Tuis quos auxiliis cernis indigere.

Insuper te omnibus,
Deo et hominibus,
Prædilectam, roseus
Color et purpureus probat Amethysti.

Recte evangelica
Margarita cœlica
Es mercantum omnium;
Felix qui commercium consequitur Christi!

Grandis niger dicitur,
Venis albis cingitur.
Qui te vere humilem
Hinc et acceptabilem reseret Achates.

Illico Onychinus
Mixtus fert, quod
Dominus Piis te virtutibus
Adornavit omnibus, quam optarunt vates.

Nunc te prodit largiter
Adamas, qui firmiter
Cunctis obstat ictibus,
In adversis omnibus fortem, patientem.

Indicat perlucida
Te Crystallus frigida
Mente, carne virginem,
Nostræque originem spei existentem.

Sic te temperantia,
Ac timoris gratia
Ornant, ut egregius
Aperit Ligurius similis Electro.

Magnes ferrum propius
Attrahit celerius:
Virgo pœnitentium
Chordas tangit mentium pietatis plectro.

Approbat Carbunculus,
Lucens nocte oculus,
Longe, late, largiter
Laudis tuae jugiter famam dilatari.

Regnans in coelestibus,
Ornata virtutibus,
Munda nos a vitiis,
Et de tuis nuptiis facias laetari.

Insuper in copia
Exsultat Arabia,
Ophir, Saba pariter,
Tharsis dat similiter aurum affluenter.

Ex quo praesens parvulus
Sit gemmatus annulus,
Quem oblatum hodie
Per nos, sponsa gloriae suscipe clementer.

Amen.
Hail, O noble Virgin!
called to be the Spouse of the great King!
Receive, O Mary, this ring
as the expression of our loving congratulation.

Tender branch! thou didst believe
the angel’s word and conceive
Jesus, the fresh Flower.
The green-coloured Jasper shows thy fervent faith.

Thy hope, like thy truth,
was changeless and unwavering.
Its emblem is the Sapphire,
with its heavenly blue.

The bright Chalcedony,
whose beauty doubles in the light of day,
signifies the burning flame of charity
that glowed within thy heart.

The pure green Emerald
tells us that thou surpassest all creatures
in the purity of thy soul
and in the loveliness of thy holy deeds.

The limpid Sardonyx,
with its veins of red and black and white,
bespeaks thy innocent
and peaceful and modest bearing.

The deep red Sardius
plainly tells us that thy soul, O Mary,
was wounded through and through
by the sword of the death of Christ.

The Chrysolite,
with its sparkling golden rays,
denotes thy admirable miracles,
and the wisdom wherewith thou wast gifted.

The pale yet shining
Beryl reminds us
aptly of thy humility,
and of thy love of thy neighbour.

The Topaz,
that richest and loveliest of gems,
tells us that no creature enjoyed so clearly as thou
the contemplation of our God.

See, now, the Chrysoprasus!
What say its red golden drops,
but that thy soul burned
with exceeding love?

As the Hyacinth,
which adapts its colour to the air around it,
thou helpest them
that are in trouble and need thy aid.

The Amethyst,
with its ruddy and purple colour,
symbolizes thy being beloved
by God and Man.

Truly art thou the spiritual Pearl of the Gospel,
after which all are in search.
Oh! happy they that find
the merchandise of Christ!

The Agate,
a large black stone with white veins,
speaks to us of thy humility, which
makes thee so dear to God.

The very sight of the manycoloured Onyx
tells us that God enriched
thee with every virtue,
O thou whom the prophets longed to behold!

The Diamond,
which is proof against every blow,
loudly proclaims thy courage
and patience in all adversities.

The cool transparent Crystal
makes us think of thee,
who wast a Virgin in mind and body,
and the commencement of our hope.

The beautiful amber-like Ligurius
reminds us of the grace
of temperance and fear
that beautified thy soul.

The Lodestone
attracts iron to itself;
so thou, O Virgin! touchest with the wand of devotion
the heart-strings of them that repent.

The Carbuncle,
like a bright eye glistening in the gloom,
tells us that, far and wide,
thy praise is loudly and ever proclaimed.

O Queen of heaven!
O rich in every virtue!
cleanse us from vice,
and give us to rejoice in thy nuptials.

Arabia and Ophir,
Saba and Tharsis,
yield an abundance
of gold.

From which we form this our humble gift,
this jewelled ring.
O glorious Spouse of Jesus!
deign to accept the offering we this day present unto thee.

Amen.

[1] St John ii 1.
[2] Missale Romanum: Prœfatio super Sponsam.
[3] Gen. vi 12.
[4] St Matt. ix 15.
[5] Cant. vi 8.
[6] Eph. v 32.
[7] St Matt. xix 5. Gen. ii 24.
[8] St Matt. xix 6.
[9] Ibid. 8.
[10] Eph. v 32.
[11] Cant. viii 6, 7.
[12] Tertullian, Ad uxorem, lib. il, cap. ix.