This homily was given by Cardinal Vincent Nichols at the annual Mass for Matrimony, celebrated at Westminster Cathedral on 15th May 2021.
Today I welcome you all to this Mass in celebration of Marriage. I welcome those couples present here in the Cathedral and all of you participating in this celebration at home. This is a day of thanksgiving and rejoicing and I thank Deacon Roger and all who have prepared everything for us. Of course, I look forward to next year when, I trust, we will be able to fill this Cathedral once more with couples celebrating the anniversaries of their marriage, even as you do today, in this rather more subdued way.
We celebrate this Mass in these days between the Ascension and Pentecost. Now those two feasts are full of the richness of our faith. And these days can be a real time of creativity for us, thinking afresh about our faith and how it is lived out in a marriage, in a family home.
The Ascension marks the ending of the physical presence of Christ among us. Yet, it also reveals his bodily glory. It reminds us that, yes, our bodies are made of the dust of the earth, but they are destined for glory. Pentecost reminds us of the flow of the Holy Spirit who will revive and strengthen us, launching, if you like, our life in the spirit.
Now in our lives, as we live them, we live in body and spirit, all the time. Body and spirit are intertwined, they cannot be separated, not in our life in Christ, as I shall explain, nor in life within a marriage. A marriage is a sharing of body and spirit. A relationship of body alone is not enough. A relationship of spirit alone is not enough. Rather, marriage is that all-encompassing sharing of body and spirit, the total gift of one human being to another and reflecting the complementarity of male and female.
Now this intertwining of body and spirit is seen in the work of our faith, in the work of our salvation. We know, in faith, that in Christ we are one body. He is our head; we are the members of his body. We are bound to him, now, in the power of the Holy Spirit, precisely through the gift of Pentecost. We are bound to him in eternity, for we see our future, in body and spirit, in the gift of the Ascension. Maybe you recall the words of the Ascension? ‘Where he our head has gone, we his body are most certainly to follow’.
So, in our faith we profess, now and forever, that we are bound together in Christ, body and spirit. That is the assertion of every sacrament we celebrate. It’s certainly the assertion of the promises of marriage. You are now and forever bound together in Christ. And those promises you renew this afternoon.
But it’s also expressed and made real in every celebration of the Mass. Now and forever, in the Mass, we are bound together in Christ. In this, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacramental presence of his Body and Blood, is crucially important. It is so central to our faith. The presence of Christ in the liturgy, then, is not just of the spirit. Rather that presence has concrete, physical expression, the presence of his Body and Blood in the Sacred Element of the Mass. And that’s important in two ways, ways which also teach us about ourselves.
The first is this: the Body and Blood of Christ is really present in the Mass so that we may offer him to the Father, as we make present again his offering of himself on the cross for our sake. Through the real presence of Christ, the Mass becomes his sacrifice, a sacrifice given to us, a sacrifice that we offer to the Father, every day, for the salvation of the world. And, what is more, we can join in that Sacrifice, offering to the Father our own efforts, sufferings and joys. We can do this because we are part of his body, we are one with him. At every Mass, then, we not only offer the Sacrifice of Christ but, united with him, we offer ourselves to the Father, for the salvation of the world.
And then, secondly, the real presence of Christ is very important so that in the Mass we are nurtured by his Body and Blood which we receive in Holy Communion.
Now let me apply these points to our lives.
There are these three things. First, today we celebrate the manner in which we live in body and spirit, the manner in which we live in Christ, as part of his Body, and especially the manner in which this is reflected in all that is best in marriage. There’s no separating body and spirit, neither here nor even in death, except for a painful while, before we become one again in the fullness of heaven.
Secondly, today, we celebrate the sacrifice that marks so many married lives, the ways in which you give to each other, you give up so much for each other. Just as through the sacrifice of Christ we are taken beyond our sinfulness, so too you get beyond your limitations in the sacrifices you make for each other.
Thirdly, today as we rejoice in the nourishment that we receive in the Body and Blood of Christ, you resolve again to nurture each other, to be that source of encouragement, of compassion, and new beginnings for each other within the bond of marriage.
So today is a day of thanksgiving. Today we thank God for his presence in our body and spirit; we thank God for so many sacrifices made in families today; we thank God for all the nurture and encouragement, given and received in the shared life of matrimony. Today is a day of thanksgiving, and therefore it’s a day of Eucharist, indeed.
Now I invite those who are present to be ready to renew your promises of marriage, and those who are at home to be ready likewise, so that on this day you may be refreshed and filled again, body and spirit, with the saving presence of the Father.