Marriage as a sacrament belongs to an entirely different order than the mere union of man and woman through a civil contract. It basically regards a husband and wife as symbols of another marriage; namely, the nuptials of Christ and His Church.
The analogy of the heavenly nuptials goes back to the Old Testament, where God appears as the Bridegroom, and Israel appears as the bride. When God becomes incarnate in Christ, He called Himself, and was called, the Bridegroom; it is the new Israel, or the Church, which becomes His bride or His spouse. It is often forgotten that our Blessed Lord called Himself a Bridegroom. When our Lord was asked why the disciples of John fasted, but His own did not, He answered: “Can you expect the men of the bridegroom’s company to go fasting, while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot be expected to fast” (Mark 2:19).
John the Baptist called himself “the friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29), or what might be, in modern language, the “best man.” The title of Bridegroom, which belonged to Christ, was shared by no other, as John himself said: “The bride is for the bridegroom; but the bridegroom’s friend, who stands by and listens to him, rejoices too, rejoices at hearing the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29).
On the other hand, the wife’s relationship to the husband is the relationship of the Church to Christ. That is why when St. Paul speaks of marriage he says, “Those words are a high mystery. . . applying . . . to Christ and His Church” (Eph. 5:32). The ultimate consummation of this espousal of Christ and His Church will be after the resurrection, when the Church “without spot or wrinkle” will appear “as a bride adorned for her husband” or as the “spouse of the Lamb” (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 21:2, 9; see Rev. 22:17).
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