The Bride’s Response to the Bridegroom

Understanding the Call to Repent


How should one consider the question, “Should the Church repent”? It is a complex question when being considered in both the light of the holiness of the Church and in the darkness of the sinfulness of her members through present and historical wrongs.1 Asking the question, “Should the Church repent?” may cause a remembrance of deep shamefulness of sins committed in the past and sins that are present here and now, both individual and communal, and it may start provoking one in judgement, accusation, confusion, fear, and hardness of heart. There needs to be a way to understand repentance that is removed from the spirits of controversy, judgment, accusation, confusion, and fear, and is centered upon and holding to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

To understand the question in the light of the Good, True, and Beautiful, here it will be treated as though it is a bridal garment that needs to be delicately unfolded and laid out, for it is a question of understanding a personal identity and meaning. It is a question that is of the true restoration of the dignity of man for perfect union. This full restoration of dignity should be understood by seeing how the Bridegroom desires to robe His Bride as perfect spouse at the end of time.

As the question unfolds before us, it will be an unfolding of salvation history, an unfolding of the heart: the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ and the wounded heart of man in the stages of its re-creation. The heart is a mystery, but it is in understanding the heart that we can come to understand the Church and repentance. Salvation history is the mystery of claiming the heart of man for union. It is the mystery of the Bridegroom preparing His Bride. Who is this Bride of Christ and how must she respond to her Bridegroom? How does the Bride respond to the Bridegroom to receive the gift of the white robe of salvation, of perfect union at the wedding banquet at the end of time? This is the question of repentance.

The unfolding of the bridal garment will be done in the lens of seeing the Church as the Bride of Christ. The mystery will first unfold through an overview of salvation history in scripture and an overview of the atonement that will be taken from St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae. The mystery of salvation history and the atonement will then reveal the next unfolding, which is understanding the Bride. The Bride must be defined, named, and understood in time, and must be understood in each of her members. She must be understood in time as a gift who is called to receive the gift as Bride, respond to the gift, and has a responsibility toward the gift: a response and responsibility to her Bridegroom. As the Bride is seen, the call of repentance will then open out. The third fold is understanding the meaning of repentance for the Church as Bride and in her members. The call of repentance will open out as a response to love and an understanding of a personal dignity of the Church and her members.

In the beginning before the need of redemption, there was an unfolding of all of creation. In the Book of Genesis the unfolding of creation comes before us, and it was a creation of goodness, being declared “good” by the Creator.2 Creation belongs to and lives from the Creator, and all that has been created simply cannot exist without a Creator. The Creator is not a Creator unless there is a creation. The Creator and creation are bound together by relation. The creation of man was one that not only had a relationship of Creator to creation but was one also of a personalistic character that was a relationship of a gaze and a walking along with, an enjoyment of accompaniment. In the creation of man, we see also the creation of spousal union, for Eve as the spouse of Adam was created from Adam himself, from his wounded side.3 Eve, from the beginning, was created as spouse of bone from bone and flesh from flesh. Adam and Eve were one together in flesh; they were one together in flesh within the garden of Eden and in union and in personal relationship with God.

When sin entered Adam, the relationship between God and man severed. All relationships severed, for man listened to the serpent and desired to be his own. Man entered into darkness, shame, and nakedness, all of which was unknown to him before. Man did not understand the effects that sin was having upon him and did not know how to respond to God in this shameful state, for repentance was unknowable on the natural level and had to be revealed.

When sin entered man, God, the Creator of man, immediately began His creation of redemption; a universe of redemption became parallel to the universe of creation in time.4  The Bridegroom prepared His Bride to be born from His pierced side. The Bridegroom, through the prophets, the law, and the temple, set before man the promises of a wedding banquet. The prophesy of Hosea proclaims a marriage covenant between Israel and the Lord, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.”5 The redemption as a wedding could not take place in a world without persons. The personalistic context is fundamental, for man as person has been reconciled with God who is personal. In the fall, man had offended the infinite goodness of God, and in effect humanity became broken, and in such a state of brokenness, man had been left unable to have the purity of the sight of God and a pure empathetic personal relationship with God. From the first moments of the fall, man needed a divine intercessor, a person who fully knew the essence of God, who had an intimate and deep gaze upon God, and a person who could heal the broken heart of man in order that man could once again gaze upon the Creator and once again have a pure empathetic personal relationship with God. To restore this relationship between God and man, the person who would bring about this divine healing is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, the Son of the Father, who became man.

From the first moments of the fall, God had been revealing the mystery of redemption, how man will be clothed in glory. In Genesis 3:21, man was clothed in garments made by God Himself, for God sees the dignity of man that is far beyond the effects of sin. God sees His Bride at the fall and takes action to restore her to Himself. Immediately after the fall, God was directing man on how to live and respond to overcome the effects of sin. God continued to act through his prophets, directing man in the plan of salvation on how to repent and offer sacrifice, how to be clothed again in dignity and in truth. Man was being led through salvation history on how to repent and give his heart to God, but man’s act was not perfect and could not properly atone for sin.

The mystery of God’s work in salvation history becomes unveiled by the Incarnation and by the cross. God became man. Jesus Christ as a Divine Person was fully God and fully human. His heart was perfect in love and obedience to the Father. Only through Jesus Christ and the cross could man perfectly repent and atone for sin and again receive intimate relationship with God. Without the atonement of the cross, man cannot make sense of the teachings of the prophets, and without the resurrection, man cannot make sense of the teachings of the prophets. Man cannot come to understand the secrets of the wisdom of God without the cross. The cross is the light by which man can see all the secrets of the mystery of God. In the cross is the mystery of the heart of Jesus Christ. In the Cross is the mystery of the Bride of Christ, the Church.

Considering the effects of Christ’s Passion in the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas uses the term satisfactio, which is a reparation of love.6 The term atonement is effectively used in translation, for it is the end of satisfactio as a fullness of reconciliation. Aquinas writes that an offense is properly atoned for when someone offers something which the offended one loves equally or loves even more than he detested the offense.7 The phrase “loves equally” is not an equation, but is rather an acknowledgment of a personal dignity, for it is a reconciliation in deep affirmation of the worth of a person, even in grave sin. With God there is infinite dignity, and in the atonement, Jesus Christ brings out man’s personal dignity. By the sufferings on the cross, Jesus Christ as man fully atoned for sin. Jesus offers to the Father the act of repentance of love for man’s sake by substituting His own human love in obedience as man. Where man had failed to obey and had failed to love, Jesus substituted his own human heart, his human love and obedience in atonement to God. Aquinas writes that by His suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more than was necessary to compensate for the offense of sin.8

All of salvation history, this universe of redemption, has a repetition of a call to repent and to believe. If Jesus Christ gave more than was necessary to compensate for the offense of sin and had offered to the Father the act of repentance, then why is there a call to repent, and further, why did God create the Church, His spouse, from His pierced side? The universe of redemption before the atonement was parallel to the universe of creation as redemption was being made known through the law, the prophets, and the temple. By and through the cross, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Church is the realized universe of redemption as the spouse of the Redeemer and is fully intertwined in the here and now of creation in time where sin, the effects of sin, and the devil are active. The realized and effective fullness of redemption is actualized by the Church. The Church as Spouse of Christ can now effectively repent and be in communion with God, whereas before the atonement, repentance was an act that could not be an actualized communion. The Church in time is intertwined with the world in sin, and now as sin surrounds her, she can properly respond to sin, ask for mercy, be forgiven, and be in communion with the Trinity.

How can one understand the Church and know who she is as the Spouse of Christ? This is a question that is being revealed as man comes to know and understand her. The definition of the Church is a living definition as the reality of the Church, the person of the Church, becomes more and more realized by her members.9 She is fully realized in God, but she, in time, is not perfected in her members, for, as stated above, it is in time where she is in the midst of sin, and because she in her members is not yet perfected there is a temporal blindness to understanding her. Just as in time a man does not fully understand who he is, so too the members of the Church, the Church in time does not understand, see, and grasp fully the mystery of who she is. This realization will only come in the fullness of time. On the perfection of the Church, The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“The Church . . . will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,” at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will “be united in glory with her king.” The Church, and through her the world, will not be perfected in glory without great trials. Only then will “all the just from the time of Adam, ‘from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect,’ . . . be gathered together in the universal Church in the Father’s presence.10

We see through the Catechism that perfection only comes at the end of time and until then, the Church must endure sufferings. The sufferings perfect her as she is united with the Bridegroom, but until the time of perfection, she is coming to know herself more and more as Bride.

The Church is the Bride from the side of Christ on Calvary. As Eve was created as the spouse of Adam, created bone from his bone and flesh from his flesh, so too the Church was created as spouse from the pierced side of Christ and is flesh of His flesh. St. John Chrysostom writes:

“There came out from His side water and blood” (Jn 19:34). Beloved, do not pass this mystery by without thought. For I have still another mystical explanation to give. I said that there was a symbol of baptism and the mysteries (the Eucharist) in that blood and water. It is from both of these that the church is sprung “through the bath of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Ti 3:5), through baptism and the mysteries. But the symbols of baptism and the mysteries come from the side of Christ. It is from his side, therefore, that Christ formed his church, just as he formed Eve from the side of Adam.

And so Moses, too, in his account of the first man, has Adam say: “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23), hinting to us of the Master’s side. Just as at that time God took the rib of Adam and formed a woman, so Christ gave us blood and water from his side and formed the church. Just as then he took the rib from Adam when he was in a deep sleep, so now he gave us blood and water after his death, first the water and then the blood. But what was then a deep slumber is now a death, so that you may know that this death is henceforth sleep.

Have you seen how Christ unites to himself his bride? Have you seen with what food he nurtures us all? It is by the same food that we have been formed and are fed. Just as a woman nurtures her offspring with her own blood and milk, so also Christ continuously nurtures with his own blood those whom he has begotten.11

Until the Church is united with the Bridegroom in the presence of the Father, she is given the ability to respond to the Bridegroom, for it is her responsibility. The Bride’s response and responsibility to the Bridegroom is in the Spirit where she opens herself up sacramentally for all to come. The Bride, not yet being fully perfected and united to the Bridegroom, responds to the Bridegroom with the Spirit saying, “Come,” and indeed “Come, Lord Jesus!”12 Her response to the gift is “Come.” As the Bride calls out to Christ, He comes closer and closer. His second coming comes closer and closer. The closer the Bridegroom is, the closer is the Church in perfect union.

If the response of the Bride is “Come,” then her responsibility is sacramental. As we read above, “Just as a woman nurtures her offspring with her own blood and milk, so also Christ continuously nurtures with his own blood those whom he has begotten.” The Church nurtures her children by the sacraments. The members of the Church, in union with the Church through the sacraments, draw into the mystery of being the spouse of Christ, and join in the response of the Bride, saying “Come, Lord Jesus.” This calling out to and the drawing nearer to Christ is a repentance. Guy Mansini comments on St. John Chrysostom’s theological work by pointing out that the Church is true spouse of Christ and as Christ is the Bridegroom, He is the absolute priority to the Church, for the Church’s being and growth are fully dependent on Christ. The sacraments of the Church are true to what is signified and the being of the Church, the life of the Church is also sustained in her through the reception of the sacraments; her growth being in a reception of baptism and is nourished and grows in the reception of the Eucharist.13

The Bride of Christ, being united to Christ in His flesh, has the responsibility for a sacramental outpouring over the whole world. Only through being united to receiving the grace of the Church can one truly repent and receive the grace from Christ, the source of all grace. As a person continues the journey of repentance by receiving the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, she becomes holy. In her becoming holy, she becomes more and more of the spouse of Christ. She joins in the Spirit and the Bride’s call saying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”14 There is only one Spirit and one Bride. Man enters into the call of the Spirit and the Bride by being the Bride, humanity is the Bride in the Sacraments, being born and nourished by the Bridegroom Himself. In The Church of God in Jesus Christ: A Catholic Ecclesiology, Roch Kereszty comments on St. Bernard of Clairvaux regarding the Bride as Church and individual soul and he writes:

. . . “The love story” of the individual soul with Christ, is not merely a parallel line with structural similarities. The challenge for the individual is to become the one unique spouse of Christ by going through the stages of the drama of the church and by participating in the being, attitude and actions of the church-bride. In Bernard’s work the story of the individual soul occupies the central stage, that of the church remains in the background. Yet the space and objective structure for the individual soul’s development is provided by the events of salvation history. Moreover, the soul on her way to becoming bride is much more than an abstraction. Her figure comes alive as the embodiment of Bernard’s personal experience. Even though Bernard alternately distances himself from the bride only to again identify himself with her, most incidents bear the mark of Bernard’s personal experience, including the bride’s longing for the groom, her reprimand by him, the process of her purification, the adventures of mystical experience, and the description of spiritual marriage at the end.15

As is seen above, the individual soul becomes the unique spouse of Christ by being one in participation of the Church. The soul becoming spouse goes through a process of purification and experience as spouse in a mystical adventure. The purification process is through the sacramental life of the Church. The soul continues to die to the former life by an ongoing act of repentance, penance, and acceptance of grace. As the soul accepts this purification, she is sanctified and made holy and is spouse in the Spouse of Christ. This process of purification and sanctification is the process of true repentance. True repentance is in the heart of man being moved to act to receive a transformation that is sacramental, and this is the Church being perfected.

The sacrament of Penance is conditionally necessary for salvation upon the commission of post-baptismal serious sin. St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “After sin the sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation, even as bodily medicine after man has contracted a dangerous disease.”16 Further, Aquinas writes that repentance must be habitual for man, that “he should repent continually, both by never doing anything contrary to penance, so as to destroy the habitual disposition of the penitent, and by being resolved that his past sins should always be displeasing to him.”17 Penance is also virtuous, as Aquinas writes, “It denotes an act of the will, and in this way it implies choice, and if this be right, it must, of necessity, be an act of virtue . . . Now it belongs to right reason than one should grieve for a proper object of grief as one ought to grieve. And this is observed in the penance of which we are speaking now; since the penitent assumes a moderated grief for his past sins, with the intention of removing them.”18 The Sacrament of Penance as is seen is an ongoing purification as an ongoing movement of repentance and acceptance of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Repentance is an act of the will to receive mercy and can only be fully realized in the Sacrament.19 The individual soul, after receiving the sacrament of baptism, is on a continual journey of perfection through the sacrament of penance, and further all of the sacraments contribute to the perfection of the individual as spouse and the Church as Spouse.

The Bride has been formed from the pierced side of the Bridegroom and has a response and responsibility to the Bridegroom to be a mother by her sacraments, transforming her children into herself as spouse in union with Christ in the presence of the Father. In and through the Bride can man enter into a purification of repentance and become purified and perfected, becoming one in the Bride and one in Christ. Properly speaking in the gifts of the sacraments, repentance and sanctification belong to the Church herself, and in so she herself is always repenting and drawing closer to the Bridegroom, this is in her members being purified. This full restoration of dignity should be understood by seeing how the Bridegroom desires to robe His Bride as perfect spouse at the end of time.

One may understand now that the question “Should the Church repent?” is a mystical question of the heart of man, of man entering into a complete and perfect union as the Bride of the Bridegroom. God is the Creator of the heart of man and has re-created the heart of man in the fires of His Divine love. The Bridegroom desires to restore the dignity of His Bride and clothe her in His glory. He has made the bridal garment, and He has been unfolding the garment for the wedding banquet that shall come. As the Bride awaits for the coming of the Bridegroom, she must prepare herself fully by properly responding to sin that is in the world. As the Bridegroom has taken upon Himself the sin of the world, suffered, died, resurrected, and ascended and has formed His Bride, the Church, from His pierced side on the cross, the Church as Bride has a response and responsibility to the Bridegroom to be united to Him in His suffering, to also receive the sin of the world in order that those in sin may be born into new life through the sacraments. The Church is true Spouse as she, through the Spirit, brings man into herself to become one in her and one in the Bridegroom. Her response and responsibility as Bride is to be an agent of Truth to take upon herself the sin of the world that all who come to her through the reception of the sacraments may receive the promises of mercy so that all may be one. Truly, the response of the Bride with the Spirit is, “Come!” that all man shall come to her, and “Come!” for the second coming, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

  1. For further analysis on the question “Should the Church repent?” see also: Bergen, Jeremy M. “Whether, and How, a Church Ought to Repent for a Historical Wrong.” Theology Today 73, no. 2 (2016); Dulles, Avery. “Should the Church Repent?” First Things 88 (December 1998); and Hinze, Bradford E. “Ecclesial Repentance and the Demands of Dialogue.” Theological Studies 61, no. 2 (2000).
  2. Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. 2nd Catholic ed., Ignatius ed. San Francisco: Thomas Nelson Publishing for Ignatius Press, 2006, Gen 1:1–31 (Hereafter cited as RSV).
  3. RSV, Gen 2:21–25.
  4. De La Soujeole, Benoît-Dominique de. Introduction to the Mystery of the Church. Thomistic Ressourcement Series, Volume 3. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2014, p. 107–110. (Here after cited as De La Soujeole, Introduction).
  5. RSV, Hos 2:19–20.
  6. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Edited by John Mortensen and Alarcón Enrique. Translated by Laurence Shapcote. Latin/English Edition of the Works of St. Thomas Aquinas. Lander, Wyoming: Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2012, III, q.48, a.2. (Hereafter cited as ST III.)
  7. ST III. 48. 2.
  8. ST III. 48. 2.
  9. For further understanding about the complexity of defining the Church see: De La Soujeole, Introduction, “Part Two: Speculative Theology: Definition of the Church” p. 339–510.
  10. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. 2nd ed. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1997, §769. (Hereafter cited as CCC.)
  11. Guy Mansini, Ecclesiology, Sacra Doctrina Series (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2021), 137. Hereafter cited as Mansini, Ecclesiology.
  12. RSV, Rev. 22:17 and 20.
  13. Mansini, Ecclesiology, p 137–38.
  14. Paul VI, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, November 21, 1964. See also Lumen Gentium 4, 7, and 39.
  15. Roch A. Kereszty, The Church of God in Jesus Christ: A Catholic Ecclesiology (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2019), p. 293.
  16. ST III. 84. 5.
  17. ST III. 84. 9.
  18. ST III. 85. 2.
  19. See also CCC, Article 4: “The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation”, 1422–98.
Christina Rine About Christina Rine

Christina Rine serves as the administrative secretary at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies. She has a B.S. in English from the United States Naval Academy. Prior to her acceptance to the Naval Academy, she was enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was an Electronic’s Technician.