We Become the Symbol

Wedding "unity" ceremonies, while well-intentioned, often replace sustenance with ritual and sentimentality.

If Pew Research findings are taken at face value, less than a third of self-identified Catholics believe in the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. The same research center reports that only about 40 percent of self-identified Catholics attend weekly Mass. Is there correlation? Causation? 

I think the writing is on the wall. Seriously. Who believes that they have the opportunity to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Creator of the universe, to be empowered against sinning, to be absolved of their venial sins—who believes that and yet fails to attend Mass to avail themselves of it? Precious few I suspect. 

In the unfortunate aftermath of Vatican II, we felt encouraged to “dialogue” with other Christian faiths, most of which reject any sense of a real Eucharistic presence. The dialogue is complete. Our numbers are dwindling nearly as rapidly as theirs. Our divorce rates are approaching theirs, and baptismal fonts may soon become bird baths. 

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In living un-Eucharistic lives, what we deprive ourselves of will drive us to seek compensation for our loss—compensation in all of its forms, all of which will prove insufficient.

Take, for example, our need for ceremonial unity. Please! I mean, watching the disastrous effects of attempts to fulfill that need is becoming increasingly, painfully comedic. I’m thinking here specifically of wedding “unity ceremonies.” Ceremony is important, unless of course you’re trying to replace actual sustenance with ritual and sentimentality. And that is what I see attempted at nearly every wedding I attend these days. 

One could starve to death eating a granddaughter’s pretend cupcakes. It’s a lovely ritual, chomping on pretend food, and important in the immediacy of one’s relationship with the child. But there is a time for putting away the things of children; a time wherein ceremony, in and of itself, is insufficient.

The specter of the modern wedding did not appear overnight. Jesus turned water into wine, but I think that multiplying bridesmaids is probably beneath Him. Little by little, we’ve watched weddings go from a faith and family covenant celebration to a competition. 

Couples compete for the largest wedding consort—an endless list of bridesmaids and groomsmen; they compete for the longest, most emotional maid-of-honor/best-man toast/roast monologues; the loudest, most obnoxious DJ service; and, in many instances, they compete in a quest for the least decorum and religiosity. As for “readings,” if there are any, you might get a poem written by one of the attendants rather than a Scripture. 

Though, no doubt, still part of the competition, there does seem to be a sincere attempt to express the desire for unity and permanency in the relationship, a desire expressed by a variety of secular ceremonies around the theme.

Symbols, being physical metaphors, not unlike their verbal cousins, often fall short of being adequate representations of the reality to which they allude. In the case of the unity candle, we have two individuals extinguishing their own candles, having lit a third candle to represent their unity, the lighting and extinguishing representing a dying to self to serve the other. Sweet. 

Then we have the founding of a household seemingly built on sand wherein the bride dumps her pink sand into a glass vessel at the same time that the groom dumps in his vile of blue sand, forming, as they go, a swirly, purplish sand parfait. Cute. 

Fortunately, this so-far-futile quest for the ultimate unity ceremony presents the Church a wonderful opportunity for a teaching moment. I mean, what if the bride and groom could, in some concrete way, actually become one? There is, of course, the reality of the physicality of the sexual union, a brief but splendid celebration. 

The beauty of the sexual act is that one quickly sees that oneness is not equivalency; that a quest for sameness in fact destroys oneness. In this regard, all unity ceremonies fall woefully short. However, sacrament is not ceremony. Sacrament is reality. And there is a sacrament that surpasses metaphor, that celebrates diversity and alters the reality of the participants: the Eucharist. Sacrament is not ceremony. Sacrament is reality. And there is a sacrament that surpasses metaphor, that celebrates diversity and alters the reality of the participants: the Eucharist.Tweet This

Young people feel the need for ritual. They want to spend the rest of their lives together. They want to express that, not only in word, but in action—in the auditory and the visual. This is good, and yet so dastardly insufficient, and we have the divorce rates to prove it. 

I’m not going to make any friends with this article. People are very emotionally attached to these expressions of love and the memory of the moment. I get it. However, as adults, we need to be able to separate the essential from the distraction; the symbol from the substance. Symbols will not sustain us; only substance will do that; only transubstantiation will do. 

The Trinity is the very essence of unity in diversity: three in one. Evil ravages. Love fulfills, completes. The personhoods of Father, Son, and Spirit are not lost in the Godhead, they are enthroned; infinitely, perpetually magnified by their inexhaustible complementarity. 

That is the goal of Christian marriage, and it is only accomplished fully in the Eucharist. We are what we eat. We consume the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ and become Him to one another. It is only as another Christ that we consistently possess the strength to die to self for love of the other. When Christ made plain to the apostles that marriage entailed such sacrifice, their painfully honest response was, “If the case of a man and his wife is so, then it is expedient not to marry.” 

Wow, guys. Jesus made no effort to soften the blow, no attempt to paint a rosier picture. He furthers the view of marriage as a cross, a yoke, by adding, “Not all can accept this teaching; but those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born so from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made so by men; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let him accept it who can.”

In Christ’ view, as expressed, there really is no worldly option that works well. And the life choices available to His followers are a choice between two crosses: that of Matrimony, a life of dying to self for the sake of spouse and progeny, and that of a single life of chastity, of dying to self for the sake of God’s kingdom. These are the only legitimate Christian options, and neither of them can thrive without Eucharistic love. 

Jesus has no interest in helping you to just get by spiritually; He wants you to thrive. If a full half of the country has either been divorced at least once or is just shacking up instead of marrying, can we assume that the never-divorced other half of marriages are thriving? I wager that many are just getting by. 

It is long past time to stop the (largely unintentional) insults hurled at Christ by our seeking a symbol of unity rather than embracing actual unity, the unity of a sacramental marriage built upon Eucharistic grace, a Holy Communion of persons. 

Just as the persons of the Trinity enjoy inexhaustible complementarity, so it is with man and wife. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are not just another cog in the wheel; not just another brick in the wall; not just another slice in the loaf. Rather, our very personhood is magnified and our complementarity exalted, completed in spouse and in Christ. 

Symbols have value only if they serve to remind us of realities. For millennia, the lives of thousands of saints and martyrs have proclaimed Holy Communion to be real, the most powerful reality! 

When we find our unity in reality, we become the symbol!

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]


  • Jerome German

    Jerome German is a retired manufacturing engineer, husband, father of eleven, and grandfather of a multitude. He contributes articles to Crisis Magazine and Catholic Stand. A singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he has recently (under the pseudonym Jerome Linus) taken up the long-overdue task of recording and publishing songs that he has been writing for most of his life. His first effort, In God We Trust, hit stores worldwide on January 12.

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