The Stations of the Cross and the Marital Bed

Posted: 11 March 2012

This Lent, as you pray the Stations of the Cross and recall the Passion and Death of the Lord, you might add to your reflections the connection between Christ’s act of love for his bride the Church and the love of a husband and wife. The great spiritual writers have long spoken about the comparison between the Cross and the Marital Bed but in bringing it to mind again we can undergo a renewed appreciation of these two great life-giving realities.

The 10th Station recalls that after the arduous walk to Calvary, Christ is stripped of his garments. It is not often that one finds a Crucifix in which the Saviour is completely naked; we usually leave a conveniently-placed loin cloth to protect our somewhat prudish sensibilities. Let us not be confused though, Our Lord was stripped of all his garments; he hung upon the wood of the cross in the same way that he came into this world, naked. At Christmas we often speak about the humility and simplicity of the baby Jesus, but in this season we would do well to recall the utter humility which was forced upon the man Christ as he lay before his tormentors with nothing between him and them. This nakedness is not only a historical fact though. The first Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and he understood he was naked; his disobedience brought forth death and the feeling that his nakedness was shameful. Christ, the second Adam, would return to the tree once again, but in his nakedness he would bring forth life and redeem mankind from the curse that had been laid upon him through Original Sin. Is it not also in nakedness that a husband and wife continue to this day to overcome the sin of our first parents? Where but in the marital embrace can a man and woman experience that pure and beautiful gaze which Adam and Eve knew every day before the fall? It is in their nakedness that man and woman approach the marital bed to make of themselves a gift in the way that Christ makes himself a gift to his bride.

The 11th Station sees the Lord nailed to the Cross. We picture him writhing in agony as the long cold nails penetrate his flesh. Yet he freely took up the cross and all that it would entail. In this scene, Christ is made one with that piece of wood as much as a person could be. It is through this free and total union that life will come forth for the entire world. Christ did not go to the cross and withhold anything. He is the final lamb of sacrifice. And here too, can we not make a genuine analogy between Christ upon the marital bed of the cross and a husband and wife joined in union upon theirs? In this most intimate embrace the man and the woman are called to give completely of themselves, they share their whole bodies, including the intimate gift of their fertility, with each other and they become truly one flesh.

The 12th Station announces Christ’s death on the Cross. His last words were “It is consummated”. Everything that the life of Christ had undertaken was sealed in the act of the cross; without his death his life would have been empty. Similarly it is in the act of union between a husband and wife that their marriage is made complete. Like a wax seal pressed upon an envelope, the sexual union seals the vows made at the altar. Those vows were to love with a love that will ever be free, total, faithful and fruitful. These are the qualities of love because these are the qualities of God’s love; these are the qualities of Christ’s love from the cross. Our Lord went to his death freely; he gave himself totally to his bride to the extent that out flowed blood and water; he is every faithful to the Church and from that faithfulness flows the sacramental life. And just as Christ’s death on cross is renewed at every Mass, the wedding vows between husband and wife are renewed each time they consummate their marriage.

As we then reflect upon the Stations of the Cross this Lent, let us not only see in them a tale of woe from 2000 years ago, but rather the rich gift that they are to all people, and especially the important example they leave each married couple of the model and pattern for their own lives as an imitation of the ultimate act of love on the cross.