2010-12-10 GENERAL HOUSE

The communion of Bride and Bridegroom

The second icon described by von Balthasar is an icon of communion. The first is centred on Mary, handmaid of the Lord. Another Biblical image used by von Balthasar is that of the « bride ». By means of this image he wants to explain the communion that exists between Christ, Mary and the Church. The Church is a mystery of communion and Mary is its prototype. The perfect union between bride and bridegroom is the expression of the mystery of the communion between God and the human being which is realized in the Church. This is an image which cannot be understood without the Holy Spirit, since Mary is at once, though in different senses, mother and bride of Christ, and the Church, in its turn, is also mother and bride of Christ.

Mary?s maternal and conjugal role

From a Biblical point of view, the fundamental meaning of the mystery of Mary is found in her maternal function: she is mother of Jesus and mother of the disciples. But in her relationship with Christ there is an additional aspect, that of her « conjugal » role: she, « the Woman », the « Daughter of Sion » is the bride of Christ. How can Mary be at once mother and Bride of Jesus? Obviously, that is possible only on two different planes. As an individual she is the mother of Jesus. But by virtue of the place she occupies with regard to the mission of Jesus and to her collaboration in the work of salvation, Mary is also Bride.

The « great mystery » of the Letter to the Ephesians expresses itself at the same time: the Bride united to her Bridegroom, united because she lives from his life; united because she participates in his triple mission (tria munera Christi); united in such a way as to respond by a «free gift» of herself to the ineffable gift of the love of the Bridegroom, the Redeemer of the world1.

The Church?s maternal and conjugal role

What is said of Mary can be applied by analogy to the Church, which is also Mother and Bride. The maternal aspect of the Church maintains a perfect parallelism with what a mother does for her child: she conceives it, bears it, educates it, helps it grow, become an individual and mature in the family circle. All this applies to the Church and to Mary.

Numerous texts from tradition speak of the maternal role of the Church. Why? Because it is to her that we owe being born to supernatural life. It is our mother, the Church, who leads us to discover Christ. It is our mother, the Church, who has given birth to us as Christians. It is our mother, the Church, who instructs us in the faith. Thanks to the Church, our mother, we become children of God.

From the perspective of holiness and charisms, the Church also helps in understanding the significance of the «Marial principle» which places the Church as Bride in relation to Christ. In the Church, « holiness is judged in function of the ?great mystery? in which the Bride responds by the gift of love to the love of the Bridegroom2. »

The Marial principle operates in the Church through the communion of saints. That is, the communion of saints is the manifestation of the love of the Bridegroom which is made life. Von Balthasar explains this by the analogy of the conjugal union between man and wife, a union which engenders a child. The child is the « objective » love of the parents, and the measure of love reciprocated the « subjective » fruit. Inasfar as we are « bride », we are called to live a life in the Spirit by participating in the « subjective » holiness of the reciprocal love in the intimate life of God.

The Holy Spirit is present in the Church, as much in the institution as in the gifts and charisms. The Marial principle of the Church is its « subjective » holiness, that of existential freedom in the Spirit, in following the inspiration of the charisms « from on high ». The laws and the organisation of the Church, the « objective » fruit of the conjugal union, are destined for the holiness of the Church and should serve for our formation, so that our personal projects are open to the dimension of Trinitarian love. All this is born of love and invites to love. The Spirit is not only « law », but is also freedom. The pure, free « yes » of Mary, a living response, resonates through the whole mystical body as the living acceptance of the Spirit, response to Christ and immersion in the Father. Having been fashioned in Christ through the elements of the « objective holiness », what God wishes is our sanctification in terms of existential holiness.

« The great mystics and charismatics, in a special way the founders of new religious orders or families, or even persons who have had deep intuitions, show us the Marial charismatic profile of the Church3. » Their example gives witness of the freedom of ecclesial forms of life. This freedom is the issue of the inspirations and missions received because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Holiness lived daily in the Church finds its model in Mary.

« Vatican II, in confirming the teaching of the whole of tradition, reminds us that, in the hierarchy of holiness, it is precisely « the woman », Mary of Nazareth, who is « figure » of the Church. She « goes before » us all on the way to holiness; in her person « the Church has already attained the perfection which makes her without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph 5: 27)4. »

The charisms, inspirations and intuitions associated with the Marial principle are spread by the Spirit also through the non ministerial domain of the Church, thanks to the gift of holiness.

« The hierarchy, to which belongs in a special way the discernment of spirits, should always be aware that the new initiatives willed and guided by the Spirit in the Church rarely begins with itself: they flourish rather in the ranks of the non ministerial believers? The charism of the great popes and bishops extends to the revitalisation of the Church or of dioceses in their ensemble? founding special « families » is not in most cases their concern; but famous examples show once more to what point communities flourishing in the Spirit can be placed by them (popes and bishops) at the service of the great task of the whole Church, of salvation and of mission5. »

The Marial principle and the Petrine principle are both involved in our education in love. The institution is a pedagogical instrument which forms in us an « ecclesial soul » transforming itself by participation in the wisdom of Mary, seat of Wisdom:

« Perfect holiness is, at the same time, wisdom; it is Mary, and not Peter, who is invoked as « throne of wisdom »6.

This article continues the series starting on 5 May 2010.

1 John-Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem n° 27.

2 John-Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem n° 27.

3 Teológica, II, 314-316.

4 John-Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem n° 27.

5 Teológica, II, 316.

6 Teodramática, II, 330.


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