The body is a thing of beauty, the physical manifestation of an original creation lovingly designed and animated by God Himself. A sacramental worldview informs the Catholic mind, as George Weigel remarks upon in his Letters to a Young Catholic: "Catholicism insists that everything is of consequence, because everything has been redeemed by Christ". He adds: "And
if you believe that, it changes the way you see things. It changes the way everything looks." 1
The Catholic mind does not deny the doctrine of original sin, but more importantly, it does not deny the efficacious grace merited by the cross. Our nature, though fallen, has been redeemed in Christ. And our bodies participate in that redemption, perhaps nowhere more perfectly than in the sacrament of matrimony.
The only human institution to survive both the fall and the flood, marriage points us back "to the beginning," allowing for our unique participation in His Divine love. Truly chaste married love between Christian spouses is the closest thing to heaven on earth, and so we afford it the greatest reverence and respect.
This weekend I had the privilege of participating in not one but three separate wedding festivities: an engagement party on Friday night, a nuptial Mass and a gorgeous reception on Saturday, and a bridal shower on Sunday afternoon. All three events were for different couples at different stages of their relationships; all three were incredibly unique.
It was a beautiful juxtaposition of the different stages of engagement, ranging from the initial excitement and furious planning surrounding the proposal to the nervous anticipation and delight as the wedding date approaches, finally culminating with the profound joy of the big day itself.
Each stage is unique and unrepeatable, and each is necessary to prepare the couple for entry into the sacrament. The gradual unveiling begins as the commitment to one another deepens, and with a profound reverence for the dignity and beauty of the other, the two begin a lifetime journey of becoming one, joining hands for the long walk to heaven.
I was reflecting on all this as I watched my best friend unwrap her gifts at yesterday's shower, blushing prettily as article after article of delicate lace was pulled from tissue paper to squeals of delight from her future sisters-in-law. This bride is a particularly radiant specimen, and nowhere is her beauty more perfectly reflected than in the eyes of her prospective groom. Their love story is one of beauty and sacrifice, revealing a selflessness from another era. The chivalry of the bridegroom in his efforts to cherish and uphold the purity of his bride... there are no words for the love these two share.
Which is part of what made yesterday so special. Their wedding night will truly be a cause for celebration, totally unique for both husband and wife, the beginning of a lifetime of love. A line from Song of Songs came to mind as I watched her unwrap her gifts, "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, do not stir up love before its time..." and I was struck by the rightness of the tradition of the bridal shower. This daughter's time was drawing near, and her joy was palpable.
What would have been completely inappropriate at any other time in her life (and indeed, in any other relationship) was now perfectly and wonderfully right. The world is profoundly mistaken about sex, affording it too little respect rather than too much. We shower our brides with garments to adorn their bodies for sacramental worship, not merely for use and for pleasure. This is where Victoria's Secret falls short, missing the point of pretty underwear entirely.
Unfortunately, many Christians, in a misguided effort at purity, swing too far in the opposite direction, operating from a negative understanding of chastity that understands true love to be the mere postponement of pleasure rather than the fullest embrace of the beloved. This man and this woman are preparing to give themselves to one another fully, in an exchange of unbreakable vows witnessed by representatives of the body of Christ. What would be inappropriate the night before the wedding will be wonderfully fitting on their wedding night, because their bodies will be affirming truths spoken and pledged by their words at the alter.
To a culture that largely denies even the possibility of chastity and purity in romantic relationships, I offer these three couples as evidence to the contrary. And I have a sneaking suspicion that their experience of every aspect of married love is going to to be out of this world. Literally.
1. Weigel, George. Letters to a Young Catholic, p. 13, 2004.