Blessed Are Those

The Holy Mass as the Heavenly Wedding Banquet of the Lamb

Amongst the many images of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Catholic Christians are used to constantly thinking of the Mass as sacrifice, fellowship, and fraternal meal, yet few evoke such an intimate sense as that of a wedding feast. Despite its clear biblical and early Christian roots, most Catholics and Christians tend to shy away from this particular framework, the reasons for which we shall leave to the imagination for now. It is to be noted, however, that throughout the early Christian Church, to the writings of the mystics, to John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the exploration of the theme of a divine wedding banquet for the sacred liturgy has seen constant mention, growth and development, the culminating point of which is in none but the receiving of the Holy Eucharist, where the believer communes with their divine bridegroom and spouse, a divine embodiment, as it were, of the conjugal act, renewing the covenant between God and his people. If the baptized are truly sons and daughters of God, it is only because we have been covenantally wed into the family. All of scripture begins and ends with the image of a wedding. In the Book of Genesis, we behold Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden enjoying the forming of the covenant of marriage and, in the Book of Revelation, in chapter 19, we behold the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Across scripture, marriage is portrayed as the fundamental symbol of the covenant relationship that God desires to form with his creation. Scripture describes God as the divine bridegroom, whilst all of creation, and humanity in particular, is the bride he unceasingly pursues with relentless love. Often in the Old Testament, Israel’s breaking of the covenant promises were likened to the act of an unfaithful spouse. But God, the ever-faithful Lover, constantly promises to take Israel back in his everlasting, covenantal love, and to espouse her to Himself (cf. Hosea 2:18-22). This is why, in the Gospel of John, Christ’s first sign of the manifestation of his public ministry was during a wedding feast in Cana. By being the one who provides the wine, Christ establishes himself as Israel’s divine bridegroom (cf. John 3:29), proving the best wine, he calls his beloved to his heavenly wedding feast. By his incarnation, and through the establishment of his everlasting covenant, Christ makes himself truly of one flesh with all humanity in the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:21-33). Hence, by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism, every one of the faithful has been eternally betrothed to Christ as would a bride to a husband (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2). This betrothal sees renewal every time the baptized come together to celebrate the liturgy of the Eucharist, the celebration of the divine wedding. Of all the books in Sacred Scripture, few highlight this reality greater than the Book of Revelation.

The Revelation of Christ
Imagery in the Book of Revelation can potentially confound readers, particularly when taken out of proper context. From numbers, terrifying beasts, prophecies of destruction, horsemen with distressing duties, and bowls of wrath, it is understandable that, without proper interpretation, the contents of the book are capable of unsettling even the strongest of hearts. Hence, the decoding of this book of Sacred Scripture needs to be done with careful and prayerful consideration. Pope Benedict XVI, in addressing the Book of Revelation, speaks of it as “a complex book, but one containing great richness. [For it] puts us in touch with the vital, vibrant prayer of the Christian assembly, gathered on the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10).”1 According to Benedict, the key to unlocking the Book of Revelation is to look at it from the lens of a bride standing before her groom on the Lord’s day, i.e., during the sacrifice of the sacred liturgy, for he says, “indeed, the text unfolds into this basic premise.”2

Most interpretations of the Book of Revelation inadvertently end with it providing signs that herald the end times. Yet, Pope Benedict points out that in the festive greeting of the book, “blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear (1:3),” it is a “symphony of prayer [that] wells up from the ongoing dialogue between them and develops with a great variety of forms until it reaches its conclusion.”3 It is precisely in this harmonic symphony of prayer between those who hear the message, and the Lord to whom the prayer is directed, that the nuptial imagery finds its flowering. In that light, it is no wonder that the Catechism of the Catholic Church states how Revelation unveils the mystery and beauty of the Heavenly liturgy in which the angels, the saints, and all the martyrs, and Mary, worship God in an eternal liturgy. It is a liturgy in which the pilgrim Church on earth participates, for according the Catechism, “it is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments.”4.] Within this context, one may then look at the Book of Revelation the way John Paul II did. He referred to Revelation as “Heaven on earth,” sharing how “the liturgy [that the Church] celebrates on earth is a mysterious participation in the Heavenly liturgy.”5 Dr. Scott Hahn, in his book The Lamb’s Supper, very simply states how “the key to understanding the Mass is the biblical Book of Revelation—and, further, that the Mass is the only way a Christian can truly make sense of the Book of Revelation.”6 Thus, the narrative in the Book of Revelation, filled with abundant liturgical references of incense, hymns, singing, vestments, candles, and priests, demonstrates not only the profundity of the Mass as it is celebrated on earth, but also that, in Heaven, such a celebration is constantly taking place as an eternal liturgy.

At the door of our hearts
Of the many verses in Revelation, it is Revelation 3:20 that rings with familiarity for all Christians: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”7 These words were spoken by Christ to the Church in Laodicea who were, initially, accused of being neither hot nor cold for their faith in God, but, rather, lukewarm. The state of the faith of the church in Laodicea is such that Christ says, “because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth.” (3:16) James L Papandrea, in his book The Wedding of the Lamb, demonstrates that this verse, contrary to many interpretations, does not mean simply to allow Christ into one’s heart for the first time, but instead that “this invitation is given to Christians, people who have believed in Christ, though their faith has become lukewarm… [it] is clearly to deeper fellowship with Christ…”8 This deeper fellowship, according to Papandrea, is to the table of the Eucharist, hence the reference to “dining” which would occur a little later in verse 20.

Many have noted how this verse echoes the passage from the Song of Songs, a book filled with nuptial, covenantal imagery between a bride and groom. In Song of Songs 5:1-2, one sees how the bridegroom knocks on the door of the bedchamber, calls for his beloved, and invites her to his banquet. Dr. Edward Sri, in his article entitled Here Comes the Bride and the Lamb, writes:

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus echoes these words of the bridegroom as He stands at the door and knocks, inviting us to a banquet with Him—a banquet which, in light of the Song of Songs passage, would be understood as some type of marriage feast. With this in mind, we can see that Jesus wants to enter a profound intimate union with His people, like that between a husband and bride. What is not often noted about this famous biblical verse, however, is how the meal points specifically to the Eucharistic banquet. When the verse is read in its entirety, we see that Jesus makes an important allusion to the Eucharist: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” The word for “eat” (deipneo in Greek) in Revelation 3:20 is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer not just to any ordinary meal, but primarily to the Lord’s Supper (cf. Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Thus, this intimate, wedding-like, feast which Christ, our bridegroom, wants to share with us could be understood as the communion of His body with ours in the Holy Eucharist.9

Moving on to reading Chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation, then, Catholics can come to a better sense of liturgical appreciation for verse 3:20, as John now narrates, in Revelation 4:1, his vision of an open door. According to John’s account, the door doesn’t need to be opened, but instead, is already open, leading to the heavenly sanctuary. By contrast, where Christ knocks on the door a couple of verses before this, readers now see an open door that leads into the heavenly liturgy, where angels and saints congregate before the throne of the Father, worshipping Him. John then narrates how he hears “the voice like a trumpet,” which readers take to be the voice of Christ. In this consideration, then, it can be seen that with every Sunday celebration of the holy liturgy of the Mass, Holy Mother Church acts out John’s experience in chapter 4 of Revelation during the Sursum Corda of the Mass, i.e., when the priest proclaims to the congregation, “Lift up your hearts!” which reflects Christ’s beckoning us to “Come Up!” The gathered congregation then replies in one accord, “We lift them up to the Lord!” St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, echoes a similar train of thought in his writing in that: “The Church is an earthly Heaven wherein the Heavenly God dwells and walks… [it] is a divine house where the mystical living sacrifice is celebrated…”10 Thus, it is evident that all the baptized are eternally being called together to join in congregation with the saints, the martyrs, the apostles, and the whole hosts of angels, to sit and dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the mystical covenant banquet—the wedding supper of the Lamb in the Kingdom of Christ. In that communion with him, man is no longer on earth, but through our participation of the sacred liturgy, we are standing by the divine throne of God in Heaven, where Christ is renewing His prayer to his Father: “sanctify in Your name those whom You gave me, so that where I am, they may be with Me” (John 17:24).

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
John beholds before him four cherubim singing without ceasing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty . . .” (4:8) and, in the following chapter, the prayers of the saints rising as incense before the throne of God (5:8), the chorus of angels worshipping God (5:11-12), and the priests in Heaven, clad in liturgical garments, fall down before the throne of God, giving Him glory and eternally singing Him a new song (5:8-14). Yet, at the heart of this divine liturgical worship is Christ, who John describes as “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5) that was long anticipated by the Hebrew people. This symbol of the Lion of Judah was a traditional image for the majestic and triumphant Davidic, covenantal king. It stood as a symbol of “royalty and power, and is related to God’s omnipotence.”11 Hence, John is demonstrating here how Jesus was not just the only one worthy, with regard to his purity and sinlessness, but also his holiness, as well as having authority to open the scroll. However, what happens in the next verse is quite the reverse of the image of a triumphant lion. John describes this King, Christ, appearing as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (5:6). This image of the Lamb slain is drawn from the book of Exodus, wherein the firstborn, unblemished lamb was sacrificed at Passover in order to spare the lives of the Israelite firstborn sons during their captivity in Egypt—hardly a victorious image. The key to understanding this verse is in the power of Christ’s resurrection following His crucifixion. The Lamb was slain, but now is resurrected, and stands at the right hand of God. He thus “has all power and authority from God.”12 This image, therefore, alongside the Davidic, royal symbol of the Lion of Judah in Revelation 5:5-6, shows how Christ established His reign over all creation, not by means of war, might, or political influence, but by means of His sacrifice on the Cross, offering His life to save us as the Lamb of the new Passover liturgy. This is precisely why the hosts of angels are unable to contain their bliss upon the contemplation and celebration of the mystery of salvation, the oikonomia of the Trinity, in this eternal liturgy. The Lion of Judah, the Davidic King, the Lamb that was slain, has triumphed over sin and death by offering Himself as a willing sacrifice upon Calvary. This is why the angels cry out: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12).

John’s vision in Revelation, chapters 4-5, provides readers with an idea of the heavenly liturgy that the Pilgrim Church enters into with the Church Triumphant in every celebration of the Holy liturgy. Regardless of space or time, it is precisely in the holy sacrifice of the Mass that all the baptized enter through the open doors which John speaks of in the Book of Revelation. This understanding now paves the way for us to understand this blessed liturgy within the context of the nuptial imagery so prominent across scripture, i.e., that of the “wedding supper of the Lamb,” written about in the 19th chapter of the Book of Revelation. For it is in this chapter that the full role of the Church appears as the spotless spouse of the divine bridegroom who wants to enter into eternal covenant with his bride. He is the Lion and the Lamb, the slain and the triumphant, and he wishes to wed his spouse for eternity. To this end, then, we look at the very title of the Book. The term apokalypsis, where we get the word “apocalypse,” is often translated as such or the word Revelation, yet its literal meaning is the “unveiling.” The Lamb’s Supper narrates that during the time of the Apostle John, Jews commonly used apokalypsis to describe a part of the week-long wedding celebration that was customary to their wedding festivities. This part was “the lifting of the veil of a virgin bride, which took place immediately before the marriage was consummated in sexual union.”13 John was making such allusions throughout the book with the implication that the celebration of the sacred liturgy unites “Heaven and earth [so much so] that it is like the fruitful and ecstatic union of a husband and wife in love.”14

The Heavenly Liturgy
When one looks, therefore, at Revelation 19:1-6, one now beholds the hosts of angels and the assembly of the saints gathered around the throne of God in Heaven, singing praises to Him. However, the song they sing in this chapter is a new hymn. Here, they cry out in unison four times, “Hallelujah!” This is the climax of the Book of Revelation, for it is the “communion of the Church and Christ: the marriage supper of the Lamb.”15 The word “Hallelujah,” which translates into “Praise Yahweh,” is found numerous times across the Old Testament. Yet, here, its liturgical significance is compounded because, throughout the New Testament, that word is only employed four times – all four of which occur in succession in this one chapter of Revelation.16 The Jews, who practiced the Old Testament liturgy, were themselves no strangers to the Hallel Psalms, namely Psalms 113- 118. They are termed as Hallel Psalms for the principle reason that they begin and/or end with the word “Hallelujah,” praising God for His work of redemption. Jews were accustomed to singing these songs, particularly during their celebration of the Passover liturgy in praise of the Lord who brought them out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt during the Exodus – the same Yahweh who had promised to redeem them once and for all. “In fact, these are the very songs which Jesus would have sung during His final Passover meal, the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist (cf. Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26).” It is no coincidence, then, that Christ, who instituted the Holy Eucharist during his last supper, proclaimed the very same word in praise of his Father then, that John was hearing now in the Heavenly liturgy he was seeing before him in Revelation 19.

The Marriage of the Lamb
This understanding then illustrates with clarity the sequence of events that follow after. In John’s vision, the bride is given a wedding dress of white linen. Contrary to the mere understanding of a wedding garment, this dress, according to Papandrea, is “reminiscent of the priestly clothes we have already seen [earlier in the book], but in this context, we are told that the white wedding dress of the bride is “the righteous works of the Holy ones. (cf. Matthew 22:11-13)”17 The bride, as Tradition understands it, is the Church, yet the purity she is clothed in is, in essence, not her own, but, rather, the purity that her divine bridegroom confers upon her for all her merits flow from him. The romantic would not be far off in seeing here a likening to a human wedding, wherein a groom would be apt to overlook all the faults of his bride on their wedding day and choose to look at only what is good and pure in her. Likewise, the Lamb of God does on the day of his wedding banquet. The book then narrates how the angel instructs John to write the words, “Blessed are those who are called to the wedding banquet of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). Dr. Brant Pitre, in his book Jesus the Bridegroom describes this event as nothing short of the celebration of the Eucharist. He writes, “The wedding supper described here… [is] an allusion to the wedding banquet of the Eucharist, to which Christians on earth (known as the saints) are invited.”18 Hence, this celebratory ceremony is the Lord’s Supper, which Catholics gather across the world to celebrate daily at the table of the feast that is the sanctuary of the Catholic Church. With the aforementioned reference of the Passover liturgy and how it parallels what happens in the Eucharistic celebration, one sees how this biblical rendition of the Lamb’s wedding banquet has to be some form of a covenantal, Passover celebration. Therefore, considering the Book of Revelation’s liturgical leitmotif, the celebration, understood in the context of its happening after Christ’s institution of the new and everlasting covenant, would, as mentioned, have to be nothing but the liturgy of the new Passover, the Eucharist, celebrated by John on earth and witnessed by him in Heaven. The passage also takes a spectacular twist from the Mosaic Passover because, here, the Lamb who was sacrificed is also victor and bridegroom. On that note, then, the Eucharistic Passover then necessarily becomes an intimate wedding banquet, a celebration when the bridegroom-Lamb comes to wed his bride and take her to be with him forever. This becomes the feast and celebration wherein the divine bridegroom unites himself in a new and everlasting way, once and for all, to his bride, fulfilling a final consummation of the union between Christ and His Church (cf. Rev. 21- 22; Eph. 5). Followed to its logical conclusion, it becomes clear that every celebration of the Holy Mass is a moment where Heaven kisses earth, allowing all who participate and celebrate in it to have a foretaste of this exquisite union to be, when the baptized enjoy union with their divine bridegroom in Heaven eternally. The Catechism of the Catholic Church enshrines this perfectly:

The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for the wedding-feast of the Lamb. (CCC 1612)

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)

Consummation in Holy Communion
Because of this, receiving Christ in Holy Communion becomes, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most intimate joining of the receiver with Christ, for when he utters the words, “this is my body,” he echoes the nuptial language of a bridegroom to his bride in their bedchamber for the first time. In receiving Christ in the Eucharist, “we become what we will be for all eternity, when we are taken up to Heaven to join with the Heavenly throng in the marriage supper of the Lamb.” During the liturgy of the Eucharist, particularly when we receive Christ in Holy Communion, we are literally and metaphysically in Heaven, at his wedding banquet, with him. In this context, then, it becomes clear that the celebration of the Holy Mass is truly the wedding feast celebrated in Heaven. Hence, like a bride who longs to be one with her groom, so our hearts should be filled with ardent longing for Holy Communion with our divine bridegroom, whose very Eucharistic body enters into ours in the most intimate way possible. As a human bridegroom becomes one in flesh and spirit with his bride, Christ becomes so intricately united to us in our receiving of his body and blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. He fills us with the gift of his divine life which we are then called to nurture and to bear fruit of. Receiving Christ in Holy Communion becomes the point of consummation for the nuptial covenant the baptized share with Christ. Hence, the Eucharist is not only the sacrament of our redemption, but is, as Pope Benedict describes in Sacramentum Caritatis “the sacrament of the bridegroom and of the bride, [for] the entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church.”19 Pauline theology summates this well in portraying matrimonial and conjugal love as the sacramental sign of the love Christ has for his Church, a love which saw its consummating point in salvation history upon the Cross at Calvary. This became the ultimate expression of covenantal nuptial union between God and man whilst “at the same time the origin and heart of the Eucharist.”20 Precisely because of this, the faithful may take to heart the words of the Priest at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, echoing the call to the divine wedding banquet of the Lamb in Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.”

By way of final analysis, one considers how, in the New Testament, weddings were typically composed of two parts. The first, the engagement, would be a formally binding contract in which the bride and groom were already considered married. The woman, thenceforth, would be called “wife.” Yet, it wasn’t until the second part was complete that both man and wife would come together to live under the same roof. This second part was the wedding banquet. Christ used the parable of the 10 bridesmaids in Matthew 26 to illustrate this two-part wedding structure. When Christ first came on earth, he gave birth and formally and bindingly engaged himself to his bride. For all intents and purposes, therefore, she is his bride, and nothing will ever separate her from his love. Yet, she is awaiting the full revelation of her bridegroom which will take place when he returns. Our present day and age has us living between this engagement and the wedding banquet, yet we come to celebrate it, renewing this nuptial bond at every Eucharistic liturgy. The time will come, however, when the bridegroom will return to claim his bride and take her to his home. There, when she enters his kingdom as a bride to her wedding feast, her contractually-complete, binding marriage will be fully realized. That day will be Christ’s day. It will be the day of his wedding banquet, where he and his bride will enjoy eternal life together for, “thus eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven is described as a celebration, [as] a great wedding reception.”21

  1. “Prayer in the first part of the Book of Revelation (Rev. 1:4-3: 22).” General Audience of 5 September 2012 | BENEDICT XVI. Accessed May 17, 2017. w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20120905.html.
  2.  Ibid.
  3.  Ibid.
  4.  Council, Second Vatican Ecumenical. “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” (1994), [1139
  5.  Paul, Pope John, II. ” BEAUTY HAS IMPORTANT ROLE IN EASTERN SPIRITUALITY.” Pope John Paul II 3 November 1996 Angelus. Accessed May 17, 2017. ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP961103.HTM.
  6. Hahn, Scott. The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. Image, 1999, 4.
  7. Version, New Revised Standard. “Catholic Edition, The Holy Bible.” NRSV Bible (1998), Revelation 3:20.
  8.  Papandrea, James L. The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011, 151.
  9.  Sri, Edward. “Here Comes the bride…And the Lamb.” Catholics United for the Faith – Catholics United for the Faith is an international lay apostolate founded to help the faithful learn what the Catholic Church teaches. November 05, 2012. Accessed May 17, 2017. cuf.org/2000/10/here-comes-the-bride-and-the-lamb/.
  10. THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH. Accessed May 17, 2017. romanitas.ru/eng/THE%20MYSTERY%20OF%20THE%20CHURCH%207.5X9.25.htm.
  11. Papandrea, James L. The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011, 113.
  12.  Ibid
  13.  Hahn, Scott. The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. Image, 1999, 125.
  14.  Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16.  Sri, Edward. “Here Comes the bride…And the Lamb.” Catholics United for the Faith – Catholics United for the Faith is an international lay apostolate founded to help the faithful learn what the Catholic Church teaches. November 05, 2012. Accessed May 17, 2017. cuf.org/2000/10/here-comes-the-bride-and-the-lamb/.
  17. Papandrea, James L. The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011, 177.
  18.  Pitre, Brant. Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. Image, 2014.
  19.  XVI, Pope Benedict. Sacramentum caritatis. Libreria Editrice Vaticana (Vatican Press), 2007.
  20.  Ibid.
  21. Papandrea, James L. The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011, 177.
Marcus Benedict Peter About Marcus Benedict Peter

Marcus Benedict Peter hails from Malaysia, and has had over nine years’ experience in faith formation, missionary work, and evangelization. He has ministered in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, India, and the United States. He is currently pursuing his MA in Theology at Ave Maria University, Florida.

Comments

  1. Ruth Lamb says:

    Thank you for this article. You have presented our union with the Eucharist in relation to the Book of Revelation so beautifully and clearly. As a layperson I have not had this explained so well. I will keep this as a wonderful meditation.

  2. Raphael Tettey says:

    Excellent analysis of the mystical reality of the Eucharist. I enjoyed reading this article so much, I had to read each line several times to savour it’s deeper meaning. Gosh, I’m so excited and look forward to each mass as a man looks forward to his bride entering his bedchamber to consummate their marriage!

    • Marcus B. Peter Marcus B. Peter says:

      Thank you, Raphael. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Writing this article greatly deepened the manner in which I approach the Mass as well.

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