The Eucharist is a ‘communion of life and love’ and so is marriage. Why not celebrate them together?
By Sarah Bartel
You’ve probably heard a common piece of advice to married couples for keeping romance alive: Have a regular date night. Good idea! But have you ever tried a date Mass? Though it may sound unconventional, the idea of a date Mass actually points to the heart of Catholic sacramental marriage. And this is not just romantic, it’s passionate. So, Catholic husbands and wives, good news! Something as routine as going to church together can have a powerful effect on your marriage.
Nathan and I planned our first date Mass a few years ago when we were members of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Everett. We sang as part of a small schola at the Saturday vigil Mass. We usually had our young school-aged daughters in the choir loft with us.
Not only did we face all the normal challenges of guiding children in appropriate Mass-time behavior, we dealt with the anxiety caused by the ever-present possibility that our girls might accidentally, say, send a stewardship pledge-card pencil hurtling over the railing into the congregation seated below. (Thankfully, that never happened. Still, a vigilant parent needs to make sure that nothing like that ever happens!)
One particular Saturday we hired a babysitter for the evening Mass at which we sang. It was a completely different experience, and surprisingly romantic. Nathan spruced up with a tie. I put on heels.
Not only were we able to sing with focus during the Mass, we found ourselves holding hands and sitting closer than usual. We even tried the pew-back arm drape we’ve often seen middle-aged couples do at Mass. It was a refreshing change from using our arms to restrain our daughters’ legs from kicking the pew in front of them. After receiving holy Communion, we were able to pray — and sing — with a more contemplative and grateful spirit. Enjoying dinner at a restaurant afterward completed the date and gave us the opportunity to share some goals, hopes and dreams we had for the months ahead.
The romantic potential of date Mass finds support from the social sciences. Studies show that husbands and wives who go to church together report much higher levels of physical and emotional satisfaction in their relationship. The more frequently the couple worships together, the happier they are. Daily Mass, anyone?
A couple renews their marriage vows during a special Mass of thanksgiving for marriage at Westminster Cathedral in London May 18, 2013. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales)
The date Mass concept is also theologically rich. There is a profound connection between the sacrament of matrimony and the Eucharist. What is sacramental marriage? A man and a woman vow a total gift of themselves in love to one another. Their physical self-giving expresses and renews their covenant in a life-giving way. Their marriage is not only a sign of Christ’s life-giving marriage covenant to his bride, the church, it
also shares in it.
And what happens at Mass? Jesus gives himself totally to us in the Eucharist, making himself physically present to us through this sacrament. That’s why the church calls both marriage and the Eucharist a “communion of life and love.” In fact, the grace of the sacrament of matrimony — like the grace of all seven sacraments — flows directly from Jesus’ passionate, loving, covenantal sacrifice of himself on the cross, which is made present at every Mass.
Pray for passion
Ron and Kathy Feher, creators of the Living in Love marriage enrichment retreat, tell husbands and wives to pray for passion in their marriage when they receive Communion. Christ is the perfect model of total self-giving love. The grace he gives us in the Eucharist and in matrimony can help us love our husband or our wife more and more completely.
That is why every Mass can be a date Mass — whether we get a babysitter or not. On a recent Sunday, I was navigating the kiss of peace with our four girls. (The older three all want to “shake hands” with the baby I’m holding.) As the
well-groomed, silver-haired husband in the pew ahead of me hugged his elegant wife, I overheard him tell her, “I love you so much. You are the love of my life.” How is that for romantic? Perhaps they know about praying for passion.
Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is www.drsarahbartel.com.
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