3. Holy Communion: Eucharistic and Marital

Covenant renewal

The mutual self-giving in the communion of intercourse can be seen likewise in a fourth similarity between it and Holy Communion, the aspect of the covenant. In the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, the New Covenant is constantly renewed. The person who worships devoutly at Mass and receives Holy Communion worthily is at least implicitly renewing on his part the covenant which Jesus established at the Last Supper. On the part of Christ there is no need for renewal of this covenant because as God’s Son his sacrifice was perfect, and God’s love as expressed in this covenant remains constant.  However, on the part of man, who is constantly changing—growing closer to God or growing away from him—there is the constant need to renew our covenant, our pledge of fidelity to the Father in and through the Son and with the help of the Holy Spirit. When the worthy communicant receives the Body of Christ and says “Amen,” he is in effect also saying, “I’m with you, too, all the way. If any sacrifice is demanded of me in order to be faithful to you, I am ready and willing to make it with your help.”

Sexual intercourse in marriage should likewise be a renewal of the covenant the couple first made as they exchanged their promises to be faithful to each other under all circumstances.  When they commune with each other in this way, they can once again renew their pledge, their covenant, to take each other completely, regardless of the consequences, be they wealth and health or poorness and sickness. Thus, sexual intercourse which is at least an implicit renewal of the marriage covenant is likewise a simultaneous giving and receiving, just as is the Holy Communion of the Eucharist.

Not every person who receives Holy Communion has these thoughts on his mind, nor is it necessary that the couples be thinking in these terms. Both of these are actions, and certain actions have a meaning in themselves and retain this meaning at the subjective level unless the human persons involved directly contradict it. For example, for the communicant’s reception of the Eucharist to be a Holy Communion, he must fulfill certain conditions at least negatively, lest what is meant to be a means of holiness for him becomes in fact a means of condemnation. He must be in the state of sanctifying grace, a friend of God, and have at the least nothing in his life which marks him as unwilling to give himself to God in any serious matter. To be opposed to God in any serious matter is to expel God from one’s heart, to lose the state of sanctifying grace. The more open to God that he is, the more he will receive in Holy Communion, but at the bare minimum he cannot have any deliberate obstacles to a true communion with God, a true willingness to give himself all the way to God in any serious matter.

For the communion of sexual intercourse to be a true renewal of the covenant, and therefore a true means of growing in holiness for each other, it likewise must fulfill those conditions laid down at the time of the first covenant of their wedding day.  If it is to be a truly meaningful and personal encounter with all the connotations of meetings between persons and not just bodies, if it is to be a simultaneous giving and taking, then it must involve that mutual pledge of giving to each other and acceptance of the other in this act without regard for the consequences. As with the reception of the Holy Eucharist, at the bare minimum, there can be no deliberate obstacles to this giving and receiving, lest what is meant to be a holy communion of spouses be turned into something considerably less than sacred and even sacrilegious.

To be continued tomorrow.  (By John Kippley, Ave Maria 1967; Sex and the Marriage Covenant, Ignatius 2005)

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