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Jesus is the bridegroom of his people

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 11 December 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the Lord of hosts; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel" (Is 54:5). Once again we quote these words of Isaiah to recall that the prophets of the Old Testament saw God as the spouse of the Chosen People. Israel was depicted as a bride, often an unfaithful one due to her sins, especially her falling into idolatry. However, the Lord of hosts remained faithful to his Chosen People. He continued to be their Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

On the groundwork laid by the prophets, the New Testament presents Jesus Christ as the spouse of the new People of God. He is that "redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" who was foretold and announced from afar; in him the prophecies were fulfilled. Christ is the bridegroom.

2. The first one to present Jesus in this light was John the Baptist, in his preaching on the banks of the Jordan: "I am not the Messiah," he told his listeners, "but I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice" (Jn 3:28-29). As is apparent, the spousal tradition of the Old Testament is reflected in the awareness that this austere messenger of the Lord had of his mission in relationship to Christ's identity. He knew who he was and "what had been given him from heaven." His entire service among the people was directed to the bridegroom who was to come. John presented himself as "the best man," and confessed that his greatest joy was to have been allowed to hear Jesus' voice. Because of this joy he was ready to accept his own "decrease," that is, to make room for him who was to be revealed, who was greater than he, and for whom he was ready to give his life. He knew that according to the divine plan of salvation the bridegroom, the Holy One of Israel, must "increase." "He must increase; I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

3. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth was brought into the midst of his people as the bridegroom who had been announced by the prophets. He himself confirmed this when, in answer to the question raised by John's disciples, "Why do...your disciples not fast" (Mk 2:18), he said: "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Mk 2:19-20). With this answer Jesus made it clear that the prophetic message about God the Spouse, about the "Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel," was fulfilled in himself. He revealed his awareness of being the bridegroom among his disciples, from whom at the end, however, "the bridegroom will be taken away." He was aware of both his messiahship and the cross on which he accomplished his sacrifice in obedience to the Father, as foretold by the prophets (cf. Is 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53, 12).

4. What appears from John's declaration on the banks of the Jordan and from Jesus' answer to the question raised by the Baptist's disciples, namely, that the bridegroom announced by the prophets had already come, is also confirmed by the parables. In them the spousal motif is indirect, but obvious enough. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son" (Mt 22:2). Everything in the parable makes it clear that Jesus is speaking of himself, but he does so in the third person, which is a feature of his discourse in the parables. In the context of the parable about the king who invites guests to his son's wedding feast, Jesus used the analogy of a wedding banquet to highlight the truth about the kingdom of God, which he himself brings to the world, and God's invitation to the bridegroom's feast. This involves the acceptance of Christ's message in communion with the new people whom the parable presents as being called to a wedding. But he also added a reference to the refusals made to the invitation, which Jesus observed in the situation of many of his listeners. He also added that all those invited in his time and at all times must have an attitude worthy of the calling received, symbolized by the "wedding garment" which is to be worn by those who intend to participate in the banquet. Whoever does not wear it is sent away by the king, that is, by God the Father who invites us to his Son's feast in the Church.

5. It seems that in Israel's world on the occasion of great banquets the clothes to be worn were made available to the guests in the banquet hall. This fact makes the meaning of that detail in Jesus' parable even clearer: the responsibility not only of the person who rejects the invitation, but also of those who claim to attend without fulfilling the necessary conditions for being worthy of the banquet. This is the case of those who maintain and profess that they are followers of Christ and members of the Church, without obtaining the "wedding garment" of grace, which engenders a living faith, hope and love. It is true that this "garment"--more internal than external--is given by God himself, the author of grace and of every good which the soul possesses. But the parable emphasizes the responsibility that every guest has, whatever his or her origin, regarding the yes which must be given to the Lord who calls and regarding the acceptance of his law, the total response to the demands of the Christian vocation and an ever greater participation in the life of the Church.

6. In the parable of the ten virgins "who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom" (Mt 25:1), Jesus also used the wedding analogy to explain his idea of the kingdom of God and the Church in which this kingdom is made concrete. Here we also find his insistence on the need for that interior disposition without which one cannot attend the wedding banquet. In this parable Jesus calls us to be ready, vigilant and fervently committed in waiting for the bridegroom. Only five of the ten virgins made the effort to see that their lamps would be burning when the bridegroom arrived. The other careless ones lacked oil. "The bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked" (Mt 25:10). This is a discreet but unmistakable reference to the lot of those who lack the interior disposition needed for meeting God, and thus lack fervor and perseverance in waiting. It refers to the threat of seeing the door closed in one's face. Once again we find an appeal being made to one's sense of responsibility concerning the Christian vocation.

7. Turning now from the parable to the Gospel account of the facts, we should recall the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, where Jesus was invited with the disciples (cf. Jn 2:1-11). According to John the evangelist, Jesus performed his first miracle there, the first sign proving his messianic mission. One may interpret his action as an indirect way of making it understood that the bridegroom announced by the prophets was present among his people, Israel. The entire setting of the wedding ceremony takes on special meaning in this case. In particular, we note that Jesus works his first "sign" at his Mother's request. It is pleasant here to recall what we said in the preceding catechesis: Mary is the beginning and the image of the Church as bride of the new covenant.

We will conclude by rereading those final words of John's text: "Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him" (Jn 2:11). The words "did this" state that the bridegroom was already at work. At his side the figure of the bride of the new covenant was already beginning to take shape: the Church, present in Mary and those disciples at the wedding feast."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

En ce temps de l’Avent, je souhaite aux personnes de langue française ici présentes de s’acheminer vers Noël dans l’espérance, en union de prière avec les Pères du Synode qui réfléchissent à l’avenir spirituel de l’Europe. A tous, je donne volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome the group of young people from Australia who are visiting Italy on an exchange programme organized by the International Association of Lions Clubs. My cordial greeting also goes to the pilgrims from Sri Lanka. Upon all the English speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt einer Gruppe von Vorsitzenden Katholischer Vereinigungen und Organisationen für die Familie aus ganz Europa. Euch gilt mein aufrichtiger Dank für die hingebungsvolle Vorbereitungsarbeit im Zusammenhang mit dem Internationalen Jahr der Familie 1994. Euch allen wünsche ich noch besinnliche Adventstage in der Erwartung der Ankunft unseres Erlösers. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren Lieben in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über das Fernsehen und Radio Vatikan verbundenen Gläubigen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora saludar muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española aquí presentes, así como a cuantos siguen nuestro encuentro por la radio o la televisión.

Durante este tiempo de Adviento, invito a todos a prepararse espiritualmente para que la venida del Señor sea un acontecimiento de salvación renovada que dé a los hombres nueva esperanza para hacer de nuestro mundo un lugar más justo, fraterno y acogedor.

A todas las personas procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amados Irmãos e Irmãs,

As parábolas do banquete nupcial e das dez virgens colocam diante dos nossos olhos a necessidade da resposta positiva ao convite e de conformar-nos com as exigências da vocação cristã, sendo uma delas a vigilância operosa e perseverante à espera do Seu regresso. Mantenhamo-nos alerta, estimados irmãos, e intensifiquemos a oração, nestes dias de Advento, para que o Senhor nos encontre com “a veste nupcial”, prontos para Lhe abrir a porta e entrar com Ele no festim eterno. Penhor destes dons seja a Bênção que de bom grado vos dou e estendo aos vossos entes queridos.

Ai fedeli venuti dalla Polonia

Pozdrawiam szczególnie pielgrzymkę z Zakopanego, kolejarzy z Gdańska, grupy turystyczne: “Polmozbyt” z Gdańska i “Orbis” z Warszawy oraz wszystkich innych pielgrzymów z kraju i z emigracji.

Ai gruppi di pellegrini italiani

Rivolgo ora un cordiale pensiero ai pellegrini di lingua italiana.

In particolare, saluto le Suore Catechiste di Gesù Redentore, guidate dalla Madre Generale Maria Pia De Falco, e accompagnate da Monsignor Giuseppe Molinari, Vescovo di Rieti, e dai rappresentanti di varie comunità dell’Italia e dell’Uruguay, in cui esse operano. Mi associo alla vostra preghiera affinché le celebrazioni del 50 anniversario di fondazione portino all’intero Istituto frutti abbondanti di crescita spirituale e apostolica.

Saluto parimenti il qualificato gruppo dell’Istituto Figlie di San Paolo, le quali prendono parte a questa Udienza a conclusione di uno speciale incontro di approfondimento del carisma peculiare che IL Signore ha loro affidato per il servizio del Vangelo nella società odierna.

Saluto anche i membri dell’Associazione Internazionale Cavalieri di San Marco, con sede in Venezia. Colgo l’occasione per augurare ogni bene e per esortarvi a ben continuare nella vostra attività.

Rivolgo un particolare pensiero al gruppo di Presidenti di Associazioni ed Organizzazioni Cattoliche per la famiglia, provenienti da tutta l’Europa. Vi ringrazio per la vostra visita e per l’opera che voi promuovete in favore delle famiglie e, in particolare, per il lavoro che svolgete in preparazione all’Anno Internazionale della Famiglia, nel 1994. Il Signore ve ne renda merito.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo ora il mio saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli.

In questo periodo di Avvento la Liturgia ci fa ascoltare le parole del profeta Isaia. In una lettura di questi giorni egli ci ha indirizzato questo messaggio: “Anche i giovani faticano e si stancano, gli adulti inciampano e cadono, ma quanti sperano nel Signore riacquistano forza” (Is 40, 30-31).

Cari giovani, crescete in tale speranza. Ogni vostra stanchezza finisce, quando accogliete pienamente il Signore Gesù con la sua verità e il suo amore. Egli viene incontro ai vostri passi e ad ogni vostra ricerca. Accoglietelo pienamente e coglierete in pienezza il senso della propria esistenza.

Il peso delle vostre sofferenze, cari ammalati, potrebbe essere motivo di inciampo: Gesù Bambino, Redentore dell’uomo, venendo nella vostra vita apra il vostro cuore alla speranza e dia senso ad ogni sofferenza e sacrificio.

La vostra nascente famiglia si ispiri, cari sposi novelli, alla verità e all’amore del Natale. Sappiate vivere il messaggio di comunione e di redenzione del Vangelo, per avere la forza di accogliere ogni dono ed ogni responsabilità nella vostra famiglia.

A tutti imparto di cuore la mia benedizione.

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