PART II: Christ as Groom, the Church as Bride, & the “Sensual” 7 Sacraments!
In my last post, I analyzed the following poem and explained why I thought it reflected genuine feminism and genuine Christian marriage.
“The Guitarist Tunes Up”
1 With what attentive courtesy he bent
2 Over his instrument;
3 Not as a lordly conqueror who could
4 Command both wire and wood,
5 But as a man with a loved woman might,
6 Inquiring with delight
7 What slight essential things she had to say
8 Before they started, he and she, to play.
–Frances Darwin Cornford (d.1960)
…And now for Part II of my analysis!
The powerful yet utterly gentle illustration of love that this poem makes is precisely the way that Christ the Bridegroom loves His Bride, the Church.
Two thousand years ago, Christ the Groom gave His most “genuine gift of self” to His Church, His Bride, by dying for her on a Cross. Today, Christ the Groom gives of Himself to the Church by allowing His very life to enter into and transform His Bride through the seven sacraments.
As a Groom, Christ, the most perfect God made Man, fulfills every need and desire of His Bride — and transforms her– through His sanctifying grace.
Just as Christ Himself was transformed by God the Father, His “face chang[ing] in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29), so too does Christ wish to transform His Bride the Church (or more particularly, her members) here on earth!
Christ wishes for His Bride, the Church, to be holy and without blemish: He wishes for all of the members of His Body to enter Heaven, but He does not “command” His love or ever do anything forcefully. Instead, Christ the Groom is a gentle lover. Christ the Groom does not “come, see, and conquer,” but comes, shows that He understands, and asks gently that His faithful accept Him into their very beings.
Christ’s sanctifying grace is powerful, yet He gently knocks on the doors of the hearts His children, that He may hallow them (make them holy) and make them His.
“Actual grace” moves us from outside, pushing us toward Christ. We need actual grace if we are not Baptized, or if we are in the state of mortal sin and we have willingly separated ourselves from Christ and thus lost our sanctifying grace received at Baptism. Actual grace is also what prompts us to repent and be reconciled with God in the Sacrament of Confession.
Yet actual grace is a lesser, external grace. It is only when we allow Christ to enter our lives through the “sanctifying grace” of the sacraments that He is able to flood us with Himself and transform us! It is through the sacraments that He wishes to transfigure our souls to be “dazzling white” just like His soul (Luke 9:29)!
The seven sacraments that Christ the Groom loves His Church, the Bride, through are: Baptism into His Family, Confirmation (a sealing of Baptism), Reception of His Body in the Eucharist, Reconciliation to Himself (a.k.a. Confession), the “Trinity” of Marriage (husband, wife, and Him), Holy Orders (where priests act in His place—after He breathes on them the Holy Spirit), and the Anointing of the Sick (where He performs a final healing of those preparing to enter Heaven).
As St. Augustine stated, the seven sacraments are “outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification”: hence, “sanctifying” grace. Christ Himself is always loving His Bride (us!), cleansing His Bride (us!), and preparing His Bride (us!) to be with Him in Heaven!: He does so by living within us, through giving us His sanctifying grace via these seven sacraments.
Indeed, Christ the Bridegroom ceaselessly desires all of the members of His Bride, the Church, to be in union with Him through these sacraments, that they may be “perfect as [their] Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ), and prepared for eternal union with Him in Heaven. For Ephesians 5:25-27 reads: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Christian marriage transforms the husband and wife into “one flesh” and enables them to grow in holiness by becoming more open vesicles to the Holy Spirit (so open, in fact, that new life –babies!– can be created).
The mystical marriage of Christ the Groom with His Bride the Church enables Her members to also be transformed in holiness and to become true temples of the Holy Spirit (so open, in fact, that it is Christ’s life, via sanctifying grace, that lives in them now). Galatians 2:20 says: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Now that’s true Christian transformation.
Moreover, Christ the Groom promises His Bride, the Church, that He will stay with her till the very end: as every Christian marriage should be.This is why Christ left His Body, the Church here on earth, with a protector, a vicar to stand in His place before He returned to His Kingdom: the pope.
Christ Himself said: “And so I say to you, you are Peter (in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke: “Kepha”), and upon this rock (again, in Aramaic, “kepha”) I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The gates of Hell will never prevail against the Catholic Church here on earth because Christ will never leave His Bride, His very Body, alone in evil’s way and to fall into satan’s hands. On the contrary, Christ will protect His Bride by leaving her a vicar (a pope); He will also provide for her until the very end of time through apostolic priesthood.
Christ Himself thrice told St. Peter: “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” in John 21.
Why? Because by first establishing this Divinely protected papacy, Christ also consequently established the passing on of the authority necessary for all apostolic priests to obtain in order to transmit His grace through the seven sacraments.
Christ the Groom loves His Bride the Church through the seven sacraments, and it is only through papal-seeded apostolic secession (priesthood) that He transmits the authority (invested into priests by the power of the Holy Spirit) to “feed [His] sheep.” Christ’s sanctifying grace — his LIFE within — is transmitted through these priests who receive the sacramental priestly power of the Holy Spirit to act “in persona Christi'” (in the person of Christ– as His representative, like a channel) via the “laying on of hands” (see 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6, etc.).
Just as the man (the guitarist) in this poem is so very sensual and romantic with his wife (the guitar), how very “sensual and romantic” Jesus Christ the Bridegroom is to His Bride, the Catholic Church! The man (the guitarist) in this poem speaks a “language of the body” to his wife (the guitar) that he will always protect her, put her needs first, and provide for her.
Through the papacy and apostolic secession, so too does Christ the Groom always protect His Bride the Church, put her needs first, and provide for her (with his sanctifying grace). And just as sex is “earthly yet divine,” so too is the way Christ touches His Bride, the Church, through the “earthly yet divine” seven sacraments!
Through the sacraments, the Divine, Christ Himself, touches us via the most earthly, outward (even tangible!) signs, such as: the giving of His Spirit in Baptism with water (and the sealing of Baptism in Confirmation with the laying on of hands), the giving of Himself in the Eucharist under the form of bread and wine, the giving of His mercy in Confession via His words of absolution (stated by a priest who acts as His representative), the giving of His ability to create new life (babies!) and to unite two into “one flesh” in Holy Matrimony, the giving of His divine healing in the Anointing of the Sick with holy oil, etc.
These seven sacraments are earthly, yet divine, just as Christ Himself is human yet divine: God made Man!
And, O, how utterly romantic! For it is in humbling Himself in such earthly ways that Jesus Christ offers us sinners His most perfect “genuine gift of self”: His sanctifying grace—by definition, His very LIFE within us—the only merit that we may ever accept from Him (for He accomplished it on the Cross) that has the power to grant us eternal life!