The Mass and the Heavenly Wedding Feast Edward P. Sri From the Oct 2000 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
Have you ever thought of the Mass as a wedding feast? When thinking of the Mass, the words “liturgy,” “communion,” “real presence,” or “sacrifice” may easily come to mind. But a marriage? Yet throughout Church history, from the early Fathers to the mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross and the theological writings of Pope John Paul II, Catholic tradition has described Holy Communion- the culmination of the Liturgy-as an intimate union with our divine Bridegroom, Jesus, in the Eucharist.
We can understand how the Mass is a wedding feast by turning to the Book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation often scares people-not just because of the prophecies of woe and judgment about the end times which many people have derived from the Apocalypse, but also because this mysterious book seems difficult to understand. With symbolic numbers, strange beasts, various groups of angels, and apocalyptic seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath throughout the narrative, decoding this last book of the Bible can seem quite intimidating.
While the Book of Revelation is most known for providing signs about the end of the world, the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that it offers much more: It offers us important signs for our times. The Catechism teaches that the Book of Revelation reveals to us the heavenly liturgy in which the angels, Mary, the saints, and all the martyrs worship God in union with the pilgrim Church on earth (cf. Catechism, nos. 1137-38). “It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments” (Catechism, no. 1139).
Looking at the Book of Revelation with these insights from the Catechism can help us approach this mysterious book in a whole new light. We begin to notice that the narrative is filled with priests, liturgical vestments, candles, incense, hymns, readings, responses, and people singing “Alleluia” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” on “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10), the day of Christian worship. In doing so, we begin to realize that much of the Apocalypse involves worship of God around His throne in heaven-a worship into which we enter whenever we go to Mass.
I Stand at the Door and Knock
Let us begin our study with Revelation 3:20, a passage with which many Christians are familiar: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” This verse has been depicted in a famous painting of Jesus gently knocking at a door that has no handle on the outside. The painting symbolizes how Jesus “knocks” at the door of our hearts, but the only way He can enter more deeply into our lives is if we let Him in from the inside.
From a biblical perspective, many commentators have noted how this passage echoes a verse from the Song of Songs-the Old Testament book which contains a series of love songs involving a bride and groom. In Song of Songs 5:1-2, the bridegroom knocks on the door of the bedchamber, calls for his beloved, and issues an invitation to a banquet. The bride responds, “Hark! my beloved is knocking” as the bridegroom cries out, “Open to me, my sister, my love.”
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus echoes these words of the bridegroom as He stands at the door and knocks, inviting us to a banquet with Him-a banquet which in light of the Song of Songs passage would be understood as some type of marriage feast. With this in mind, we can see that Jesus wants to enter a profound intimate union with His people like that between a husband and bride.
What is not often noted about this famous biblical verse, however, is how the meal points specifically to the Eucharistic banquet. When the verse is read in its entirety we see that Jesus makes an important allusion to the Eucharist: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” The word for “eat” (deipneo in Greek) in Revelation 3:20 is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer not just to any ordinary meal, but primarily to the Lord’s Supper (cf. Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Thus, this intimate wedding-like feast which Christ our Bridegroom wants to share with us could be understood as the communion of His body with ours in the Holy Eucharist.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
We can appreciate the liturgical importance of this passage most fully if we consider how the Book of Revelation uses the image of the door just three verses later in Revelation 4:1. In 3:20, Jesus stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to open the door, so he can come in to us and banquet with us. In 4:1, John has a vision in heaven, and behold, he sees an open door! Where does this door take him? Into the heavenly worship of the angels and saints gathered around the throne of God.
Here in this vision, the open door leads John to a chorus of angels- thousands of them-worshipping the Lord (5:11-12). He sees the prayers of the saints rising like incense (5:8). He observes priests dressed in liturgical vestments falling down before the throne, giving glory to God and singing a new song to the Lord (4:4,10; 5:8-14). And he hears four cherubim ceaselessly singing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty . . .” (4:8).
The Lion and the Lamb
At the center of this heavenly worship is Jesus, who is described as the long-awaited “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5). This was a traditional Jewish symbol for the triumphant Davidic king. John uses it here to show how Jesus is the victorious King of kings worthy of honor and worship from all of heaven and earth. But in the very next verse, John tells us that this almighty Lion King, worthy of all praise, appears as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (5:6).
How is it possible that the all-powerful, triumphant “Lion of the tribe of Judah” is a defeated, bloody, dying lamb “standing, as though slain”? The imag of the slain Lamb recalls the lamb sacrificed at Passover in order to spare the Israelite firstborn sons in Egypt. Here alongside the royal image of the Lion of the tribe of Judah in Revelation 5:5-6, the image of the slain Lamb shows how Christ established His kingship not through political power or military might, but through His sacrifice on the Cross, offering His life to save us like a Passover lamb.
This is why the myriads of angels cannot contain their joy as they contemplate the mystery of Christ’s work of redemption in this heavenly worship. The Lion King has conquered sin and death by offering himself up as the Passover Lamb slain on Calvary. Thus, they cry out: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12).
John must have had an amazing experience being caught up into this awe-inspiring worship of the Lamb in heaven. Yet, if only we could view the Mass with the eyes of angels, we would see what John has seen-the heavenly liturgy of the angels and saints gathered around God’s throne. Indeed, John’s vision in Revelation 4- 5 gives us a glimpse into the celestial worship which we actually enter into every time we go to Mass. Whether it be High Mass on Sunday at St. Peter’s in Rome or a simple weekday Mass in a small parish church in the countryside, we approach the throne of God in worship with the cherubim, elders, angels, and saints singing “Holy, holy, holy . . .” as we celebrate the sacrifice and victory of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Now we are ready to look at the climax of this heavenly liturgy in the Book of Revelation: the wedding supper of the Lamb in chapter 19. Here we will see that the celestial worship culminates in the revelation of the Lamb of God as our divine bridegroom-a bridegroom who wants to enter us and banquet with us in Holy Communion as Revelation 3:20 had subtly foreshadowed.
In Revelation 19:1-6, we find the multitudes in heaven along with the angels and elders singing to the Lord again, but this time they sing a new song. Four times they shout out “Hallelujah!” in their praise of God. This is significant because the important liturgical word “Hallelujah” (which means “praise Yahweh”), while found many times in the Old Testament, is used only four times in the entire New Testament. And all four instances occur right here in rapid-fire succession in these six verses from Revelation 19.
This sudden chorus of “Hallelujah’s” in Revelation 19:1-6 would bring to mind the famous “Hallel Psalms” of the Old Testament (Psalms 113-18). This group of Psalms is called “Hallel” because they often begin or end with “Hallelujah’s,” praising God for His works of redemption. What is interesting is that these Hallel Psalms were the songs which the Jews would sing during the Passover meal. They sang “Hallelujah” in praise of Yahweh who rescued Israel from the Egyptians in the Exodus and who would redeem His people once again. In fact, these are the very songs which Jesus would have sung during His final Passover meal, the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist (cf. Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26).
The Wedding Supper of the Lamb
This background may provide an important clue for understanding the last of the four “Hallelujahs” in Revelation 19-a turning point in the heavenly liturgy, when the great multitude resounds in praise of God for the supper of the Lamb:
Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready . . .
And the angel instructs John to write: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).
What is this festive supper of the Lamb? It is the Lord’s supper, the Eucharist. First of all, the supper and the Lamb bring to mind the Passover supper in which Jews would sacrifice a lamb and eat of it as the main course of the meal. Further, when we read about a Lamb’s supper within the chorus of Hallel Psalm-like Hallelujahs in verses 1-6, the Passover allusions become even more evident. Thus, this climactic supper of the Lamb is clearly some type of Passover meal, and in light of the liturgical framework of the Book of Revelation, it would be understood as the new Passover of the Eucharist.
But this passage tells us something even more dramatic. In Revelation 19:6-9, the Lamb is revealed to be a bridegroom! And that means this Passover supper is a wedding feast! The Bridegroom-Lamb is Jesus, and the Bride represents us, the Church, whom Jesus is coming to wed. Indeed, this is the wedding feast in which the Lamb unites Himself to His Bride, symbolizing the final consummation of the union between Christ and His Church (cf. Rev. 21- 22; Eph. 5). Through the Eucharistic liturgy here on earth, we can participate in this heavenly marriage between Jesus and the Church as a foretaste of the communion we hope to have with our divine Bridegroom for all eternity in heaven.
Here we see that Holy Communion is truly just that: the most profound union on earth that we can have with Our Lord who truly comes in to us through the open door of the liturgy (cf. Rev. 3:20; 4:1). In this light, the Mass really is a wedding feast. Like a bride who longs to be one with her groom, so our hearts should be filled with ardent longing for Holy Communion with our divine Bridegroom, whose very Eucharistic body enters into ours in the most intimate way possible. Just as a bride and groom become one flesh in marital union and then become fruitful and multiply, so does Our Beloved unite Himself to us, so that He may fill us with His life and bear fruit in our lives spiritually. Indeed, receiving the Eucharist is an ineffable union of love with Our God. As the priest says at Mass, echoing the invitation to the wedding banquet of the Lamb in Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
 Donal A. McIlraith, The Reciprocal Love Between Christ and the Church in the Apocalypse (Rome: Columban Fathers, 1989), 68-69.
 Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 129.
 For a more detailed discussion of these and other liturgical themes in the Book of Revelation, see Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper.
Edward P. Sri is assistant professor of religious studies at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. He is the author of Mystery of the Kingdom (Emmaus Road Publishing). See ad below for more details