As we approach the end of the Liturgical Year, today we are invited to ponder the prophetic dimension of the Eucharist, for it is an anticipation of the Heavenly Banquet, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (cf. Rv 19:9), which will take place with the return of Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church. In his famous “Prayer of Thanksgiving,” which the Church recommends as a prayer after Mass, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “I beseech you to lead me, a sinner, to that Banquet beyond all telling, where with your Son and the Holy Spirit you are the true light of your Saints, fullness of satisfied desire, eternal gladness, consummate delight and perfect happiness” (cf. The Roman Missal, p. 1327).
In the Bible, marriage is often used to represent God’s special relationship of love with his people. For example, we read in Isaiah 54:5, “Your Creator is your husband.” In the Gospels, Jesus Christ, who is God, identifies himself as the Bridegroom. And St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth, tells them: “I betrothed you to one Husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11:2). By extension, this covenant relationship applies to the whole Church, the chaste virgin given in marriage to Christ, the Bridegroom; the whole Church is invited to the marriage feast. As we read in the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:9).
All the members of the Church are symbolized by the ten virgins in today’s Gospel. In the parable, half of the virgins are foolish, and they bring no oil for their lamps. The other half are wise enough to carry flasks of extra oil. The foolish virgins are away buying oil when the bridegroom arrives. The wise virgins are ready to welcome him, and they enter the wedding feast. “Then the door was locked.” The foolish virgins arrive too late and cry out: “Lord, Lord, open the door for us.” Not only does the Bridegroom not open the door, but he also says to them, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” This response sounds harsh to modern ears, but it highlights an essential part of the lesson: Being ready for the Lord is a matter of eternal life or eternal death. Hence Jesus concludes the parable with a warning: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The Bridegroom is Christ. We are all awaiting his arrival. We can understand the symbol of the oil as representing all that keeps the flame of our life of faith alive while we wait. Because the interior life is the unique responsibility of each person, the oil that sustains it cannot be shared. Every one of us is called to strive for holiness, putting our love for God into practice in good deeds done for others. Good deeds, acts of charity, are precious oil! We read in the Book of Revelation: “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (14:13).
The coming of the Bridegroom is on the mind of St. Paul as he writes his First Letter to the Thessalonians. He reminds us that the Lord will indeed come; he “will come down from Heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” We do not want to be found without oil on that great Wedding Day! The Apostle tells us to have hope and to be consoled because everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will all rise and be with him for all eternity. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Paul tells us to “console one another with these words.” It is indeed consoling that “we shall always be with the Lord”! But to be with him, we must be wise, not foolish!
To keep the flame of our love for God alive in our hearts, and to maintain a ready supply of oil, we need wisdom. The first reading teaches us that wisdom is readily available to all who truly want it. “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.”
Jesus Christ crucified is the Wisdom of God in person. St. Paul, keenly aware of this, once wrote: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22–24).
The word of today’s Liturgy provides us with abundant wisdom. Let us hear this word and put it into practice. That is, let us not “run out of oil,” but rather practice good deeds daily and remain strong in hope, always ready to respond to the living presence of the Lord, the Groom who comes to us.
Am I living by faith and love by remaining prepared and vigilant for eternal life? How? Why am I not always prudent and wise in cooperating with the grace of God? How am I seeking wisdom since it is perfect, sublime profitable and delightful?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.