Given at Westminster Cathedral on 13th May, at the Mass in Celebration of Matrimony.
Every year, in our celebration of this Marriage Mass - such a happy and joyous occasion – we hear the account of the Marriage Feast of Cana.
Each year our diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land includes a visit to Cana, an opportunity for those married couples present to renew the vows first made on their wedding day. On each of these moving occasions, there are also people for whom the moment is marked by sadness and no little pain: those who have never had the children for whom they longed, those whose loving spouse has died, those whose marriage has not endured. Today, here, as we gather to celebrate the sacrament of marriage in our Catholic life, let us have in our prayers all we know we carry such burdens in their hearts.
The narrative of the wedding feast at Cana has the action of God as its focus. For this reason the event is described as ‘the first of the signs that Jesus gave’. There are many aspects to this rich sign of God’s love and providence, made visible in Christ Jesus. But there is one aspect I would like to stress. It is this: the provisions made for us by the Lord reach far beyond the provisions we make for ourselves.
Here this is illustrated in the provision of wine. A superabundance is provided by the Lord, an abundance that goes far beyond the intentions of the wedding planners. And that wine stands for all the good things which are so essential for our peace and joy: the mercy of God, the willingness to forgive and accept forgiveness, the sense of purpose that sees us through difficult and confusing times, the gift of new life that lifts us outside of ourselves, the gift of love, sometimes hard to find yet often overflowing. These are the gifts that we celebrate today, just as those newlyweds in Cana were astonished at all they unexpectedly received.
Here too we can recognise and remember that so many of our blessings come to us through the intercession of our Blessed Mother. Let’s never forget to turn to her.
Today is a great day for remembering, for looking across the years - be they comparatively few, like ten, or rather longer: some couples here today are celebrating 50 or 60 years of marriage, one or two even longer. I am sure you recall so many moments of joy, as well as those moments of tension and struggle at which we may now even smile a little.
But today is also a day for looking forward. Let me put it like this: in the provisions made for us by the Lord the best is yet to come!
I was once given a sharp lesson in the purpose of marriage by a young couple preparing for their wedding. The husband-to-be stated his intention very clearly. ‘What I want above all’, he said, ‘ is to help this woman I love with all my heart to get to heaven! And I hope she will get me there too!’
Yes, this is the ultimate provision made for us by the Lord: the invitation to the eternal feast of heaven which is so often described as a celestial marriage feast. This is the hope and the vision that can endlessly nurture your love for each other.
The Sacred Scriptures have many ways of describing this future. One is so appropriate for today. The vision of heaven is described ‘as beautiful as a bride all dressed up for her husband’. Now, gentlemen, this is something you really do understand! The vision of beauty and goodness that filled your heart as you stood at the altar is only a beginning! The best is yet to come, promised to us as long as we keep our hearts open, longing, penitent and loving.
The first reading of our Mass this afternoon echoes these great themes. It tells us that already, in Christ, we exult with joy and rejoice in God’s promises because already we are clothed ‘like a bridegroom wearing his wreath - his garland - like a bride adorned in her jewels’. Yes, the great promise of the beauty of heaven is already begun in our lives even though its fulfilment still lies ahead, in the hands of the Almighty.
The action of God in our lives, though all the blessings God brings, is also expressed in this reading from Isaiah: ‘For as the earth makes fresh things grow, as a garden makes seeds spring up so will the Lord make integrity and praise spring up in the sight of the nations.’
Integrity and praise. These is the fruits we seek to bear.
Every action of ours that is marked by integrity is a work of witness to the presence of God in our world. Think of the opposite of integrity: double talk, dishonesty, manipulation, deceit, even sharp practice, these are the things that undermine the integrity that gives witness to the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, every action that is generous and praiseworthy is a witness to the goodness of God. The opposites are also clear: constant conflict and bickering, false claims of innocence and superiority, promoting our own importance rather than that of the Lord. These are the spirit of the anti-Christ which take away the peace and confidence of hope that marks a true way of living. They are not unfamiliar in our culture and ways of life. But our witness is to something different!
In one of the most moving passages of the Book of Revelation, God says ‘See, I am making all things new’ and the repost comes, ‘It is already done’ (Rev. 21:5-6).
This is our joy today: that you recognise and give thanks for all the goodness ‘already done’ in your lives, in your marriages, in your families; and, secondly, that you truly grasp that the best is yet to come. What lies ahead is the complete fulfilment of all that, here and now, we grasp only in part, yet knowing that, in God’s mercy, all will be fulfilled.
So, I say: happy anniversary to you all, to each and every one. And I say, live today in the light of the great promise yet to be fulfilled! Get each other to heaven! The best is yet to come. Amen!
And now I ask you to stand and prepare to renew the vows first made on your wedding day.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster