Photo: Courtesy of Marian Tascio
Father Steve explained to our wedding guests that the couple at a Catholic wedding kneels close to the altar as a reminder that marriage is primarily "a sacrifice in service to one another."
Prayer Under the Pall
Doing the Humanly Impossible through Divine Mercy
On the morning of my wedding day, I opened St. Faustina's Diary as usual and picked up my reading where I had left off the day before. It was a continuation of St. Faustina's reflections on the occasion of her perpetual vows:
My petition while we were lying prostrate under the pall. I begged the Lord to grant me the grace of never consciously and deliberately offending Him by even the smallest sin or imperfection" (Diary, 239).
The pall was a black cloth with a white cross on it. Before they took perpetual vows, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy would lie prostrate before the altar with the pall draped over them to symbolize their death to the world. The officiating bishop then invited them to rise and promised them that through this death, Christ would enlighten them.
Later that day I knelt before the altar beside my fiancé, Matt, and listened to the homily from Fr. Steve Beseau. He told us a story about a fellow priest who had just returned from a trip to the Holy Land. This priest had asked the patriarch of Jerusalem the question that he asks of every priest he meets: "Can you tell me one thing that will help me live my priesthood better?" The patriarch replied, "If you live, your parish will die. If you die, your parish will live."
Now I have a confession to make. I know that to be the wife God wants me to be — to be fully human, made in the image and likeness of God — I need to crucify my selfishness and make a pure gift of myself to my husband and to Christ. But I don't know how. I feel the temptation to pout or pick a fight when Matt leaves his shorts crumpled on the floor, and I know that temptation is part of the Self that has to die. But pouting seems irresistible. So does storming up to him with the shorts in my hand and accusing him of not caring enough about me to keep the floor clean. And no wonder. Those reactions are the "default setting" of my fallen human nature. They're called the self because they come naturally, and I feel powerless to act against them.
In his homily, Fr. Steve shared an anonymous quotation: "Marriage isn't difficult. It's just humanly impossible." The same thing could be said about parenthood, priesthood, the religious life, and a holy single life, because they all require love, and love is humanly impossible. Sister Faustina begged God for the grace of not offending Him because she knew she had no chance otherwise. On her own, even with the best of intentions, she would have done nothing but sin continually. But when God died to Himself, He allowed His heart to be sliced open and drained of life so that Divine Mercy would gush out and drown us all in a flood of light: the light promised to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy when the pall was lifted from them and they rose as new creations.
I went to confession a week after the wedding and mentioned my marriage to the priest because one of my sins was selfishness toward my husband. He smiled and said, "Ah, so you are literally a new creation." We all are, through our baptism.
During a private retreat I made in preparation for my wedding, I knelt in the chapel before Mass and heard a prayer in my heart: "Lord, teach me to pray and teach me to love." I repeated it over and over again, and after the retreat, I found myself offering this prayer every time I knelt before a crucifix. One day, as I prayed with my eyes on the crucifix, I realized that I was staring at the answer to my prayer.
The image of Christ crucified teaches us everything we need to know about how to pray and how to love. Father Steve explained to our wedding guests — a mixture of Catholics and Lutherans — that the couple at a Catholic wedding kneels close to the altar as a reminder that marriage is primarily "a sacrifice in service to one another." Our only hope to be able to make this sacrifice — Christ's sacrifice — lies in our willingness to make Christ's prayer: "Father, into your hands I commend My spirit" (Lk 23:46). Through this prayer we allow God to finish the sanctifying work He has started in us.
In the Diary, we learn that Jesus especially wants us to meditate on His Passion. He doesn't want this for His own good but for ours. He urges us to meditate so that we can imitate.
Matt and I recited our vows in the same spot where we Catholics receive Holy Communion each week: beneath the crucifix.
Eucharist. Crucifixion. Married love. Celibate love. All of these require surrender to God's grace and Christ's example: "This is my body, given up for you" (Lk 22:19), and as Fr. Steve promised us in the conclusion of His homily, "in that [gift] will be greater happiness than you can ever imagine."
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.