angel_01.gif (2832 bytes) The Wine of the New Covenant angel_02.gif (2330 bytes)

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The Wedding Feast at Cana - by Tintorretto - from Santa Maria della Salute, Venice


The Wine of the New Covenant

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Father Marie-Dominique Phillipe, O.P.

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The Symbolism of Wine

eucharist6.jpg (19496 bytes) It is amazing to see in the Gospel how Jesus, in His Divine Pedagogy, wanted by Two (2) different Events or Miracles, to Teach us about and Lead us to the Great Mystery of the Covenant, in His Body and in His Blood. In order to do that, He took Bread and Wine, Unleavened Bread and a Cup of Wine. According to the Gospel of Saint John, the First (1st) Sign that Jesus realizes for His Apostles and His Friends, is the Transformation of Water into Wine at Cana. I like this Gospel of Cana very much. It is Amazing, First of all because it is a Feast. Unlike the other Prophets, Jesus doesn't hesitate to accept this Invitation, and Saint John insists that Mary is invited. Since Jesus had already left His mother, had gone to the Desert, and had started His Apostolic Life, He is invited with His Disciples. This shows that Jesus didn't want to come Alone, but wanted to come with His Disciples. He had Chosen them, and wanted to Present them to His mother. It must have been a Great and Beautiful Moment - Jesus presenting His Apostles to Mary, His mother. But something 'Highly Unusual' happened during this Wedding Meal, for a Wedding Feast is ordinarily prepared to Perfection, in every detail.

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Multiplication of Loaves - by Lanfranco

There is a Surprising Contrast between this Meal, and the Multiplication of Loaves, a Meal which was Absolutely Unprepared - it was not even a Picnic, where at least a few things have been Prepared. Nothing had been Prepared, but there were at least the Little Child's Provisions. This is quite Significant: it is the Child who offers whatever he has. I believe that it is Children who are Readiest to Offer what they have. They don't yet have too much of a Sense of Ownership, so they Offer very easily whatever has been given to them. They usually haven't bought it, but it has been given to them. Now Cana is a Festive Meal, a Wedding Feast prepared for a Long Time. In this Wine Country, Wine is essential to a Feast, for Wine is "what Pleases the Heart of Man" and there can hardly be a Feast, without Great Joy. Even so, they run out of Wine. Mary is the First to notice, because she is quite close to the Servants. In these Ancient Customs, the Wedding Couple was surrounded by Men, the Women were in the Kitchen to help; the Wine Servants are Men, but Mary is quite close to them, and she sees their Uneasiness, their Sadness: "What are we going to do"? By herself, Spontaneously, Unhesitatingly, she takes the Initiative, for Jesus had already taken the Initiative of Choosing His Apostles, and may therefore be ready to begin His Public Life. Mary immediately goes to Jesus to inform Him: "They don't have any more Wine". The response of Jesus is very Mysterious; I am not going to enter into its Interpretation, which has been done in many ways. It would indeed be very interesting, because it would allow each of us to look for different Interpretations.

two_small_hearts.gif (9223 bytes) When Two (2) Persons Love each other very much, they say a Great Deal, in very Few Words. When we do not know somebody, we have to use a Great Deal of Rhetoric. There is no Rhetoric between Jesus and Mary: the facts are said very Directly: "they don't have any more Wine". It is a Request and at the same time mentions a Fact. This mention of a Fact is the Strongest Request possible: it leaves all the Initiatives to Jesus. He answers in an Astonishing Way: First of all, He says "Woman. This Reveals to us that the Request is no longer that of the mother of Jesus, but is the Request of the Woman, the New Eve, the Woman "Par Excellence". As Saint Augustine says, Mary is this New Eve, from the beginning of the Church. She is the One who carries the Misery of her People, and I believe that is what Mary understands in Jesus' answer. It is true that they lacked Wine, and this is very Bothersome. But there is something much more important: the Canticle-of-Canticles says - it is the Fiancée, the Spouse who says it - "Your Words are for me a Delicious Wine". In the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 9, Wisdom invites her People, sets the Table, and Offers Bread and Wine. The Wine of Wisdom is the Wine of the Word of God. And the People of Israel, at the time of Mary, no longer had the Word of God. But Mary had lived in the Presence of Jesus for at least Thirty Years; Jesus used to read the Psalms with her, used to Pray with her, and He used to make her Understand in depth, what Scripture is. This, I am sure, could not have been otherwise: Jesus the Light of the World, is the Light for Mary, First of all. Mary knows that her People no longer have any Prophets, and therefore, through this Lack of Wine, a temporary fact which is neither Ordinary nor Normal, Mary could have said: "I won't get involved, I am a Guest; let us be Polite and Act as if everything were going very well". Not at all. Mary gets involved right-away, and wants to Help these Servants; she Loves them because they serve well, and she is quite close to them. But beyond this fact, there is a Deeper Insight of Mary: she sees the Situation the People of Israel are in: they no longer have the Word of God, the Living Word, they no longer have any Prophets, they no longer have any Wine. That is why Jesus replies: "Woman, what are you asking of Me"?

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Mary looks on, smiling Lovingly at her Son

This answer of Jesus to His mother seems almost Shocking to us, at First.

That's right: Many Fathers of the Church have understood it that way. They understood it as a Rupture - "It is no longer My Private Life with you, but something else; it is no longer any of your business, it concerns My Public Life". We can interpret it like that. But we must be careful, for this Dialog takes place between Two Persons who Love each other very much, and therefore this Answer has a much more Extensive Meaning. Otherwise I couldn't understand what follows, when Mary receives this Word of Jesus, and turns towards the servants, saying, "Do whatever He tells you to do". Had it really been a Refusal from Jesus, Mary would have put Him in an Impossible Situation; she would have Separated herself from Him, as if there were a Profound Misunderstanding between her Heart and His. I believe that this word of Mary to the Servants, shows that she understood her Son's Answer, understood it in-Depth. Jesus answered crucifixion_precious_blood.jpg (19933 bytes) Mary's Request, because He always answers all our Requests, although in His Own Way. Jesus responds to Mary's Request at a depth beyond what she Clearly Understands. She asked Jesus, Who is Wisdom, for 'Wedding Wine'. For 'Crucified Wisdom', this 'Wedding Wine' is the 'Wine of the Cross'. Jesus knows in His Heart, that all His Apostolic Life will End with the Cross, and that He has come to bring more than the Word. He has come to bring something 'New', which He will give at the End: He will give this 'New Wine', the 'Wine of His Blood'. We can understand the Surprise of Jesus at the Haste of the Woman, the Haste of Mary. She asks for a Living Word for her People, a Generous Wine which pleases the Heart of her People, in Faith. Jesus responds to this Word in His Own Way: "Woman, what are you asking of Me? You do not know, you cannot understand, My Hour has not yet come". And it is for that Reason, that John does not say that Jesus Performed "a Miracle", but that it was "a Sign". Therefore we ought to Interpret the Miracle as 'a Sign', that is, as something which is directed to something else. Hence we should not stop at the Miracle of the Transformation of Water into Wine, but understand that Jesus is Teaching us here something else, Entirely. This 'Second Wine' is better than the 'First'. Saint Augustine does not hesitate to say that the 'First Wine' is the First Covenant', and that the Wine Jesus gives, is the 'New Covenant'. eucharist.jpg (55349 bytes) And the 'New Covenant' is in the 'Blood of Christ'; it is entirely in the 'Word', but it is also in the Blood of Christ. This goes further, because it is not only the Gift of His Thought, the Gift of His Contemplation, but is the Gift of Himself. He must be Offered as a Victim of Love. The Blood that Jesus gives us is the Blood of the Lamb, Offered as a Victim of Love. Let us compare the Multiplication of Loaves, with the Miracle of Cana. We should look at the Tremendous Differences between these Two (2) Miracles, and at the same time, understand that they are directed-towards something much Greater, much Deeper. This Divine Pedagogy is plunged-in Mystery, one which helps us understand the Last Supper, where the Body of Christ comes from Consecrated Bread, and where the Consecrated Wine becomes the Blood of Christ. The Body and Blood are Separated, for at Mass the Mystery of the Cross is given to us: it is the Mystery of the Holocaust, the Sacrifice of the Cross. This is why there is a Double Consecration - to make us enter into the Gift, which Jesus realizes of Himself: He gives Himself to Glorify the Father in His Adoration, and He gives Himself to us as our Food.


In what sense does Jesus give Himself to us in the Mass?

The Mystical Wine Press - by da Siena - from the Vatican Museum

The Miracle at Cana is a 'Sign' of the New Wine, the Second Wine (the First Wine being the Wine of Cana), the Wine of the Cross, the Wine of His Blood, which He will, during His coming Passion and Death, give to us as a Gift for our Spiritual Food. The Second Wine, of the Cross, is Infinitely better than the First Wine, of Cana.

Here we Touch a very Great Mystery, as the Mystical Wine Press above depicts. Jesus Died once, in a Bloody Way. He Died while letting the Executioners: Empty Him, Wound Him, Crucify Him. He Died in Battle. The Mystery of the Cross can be seen in Two (2) Ways: in an 'Exterior' Way, as the Executioners saw it, as People who were there, looked at it - a Painful and Terrible Spectacle. Men sometimes Love, Painful and Terrible Spectacles - it's Unfortunate, but it is a Fact. The Crowd looks on as Shocked Spectators. Mary wanted to enter into the Intentions of Jesus. What were His Intentions on the Cross? We can discover them in the Great Prayer of the Beloved Son, in Chapter l7 of Saint John. Jesus wants to Offer Himself to Glorify the Father; He wants to give everything. He uses the Brutality of the Soldiers, and the Violence of the Cross, to Offer Himself to the Father, and give Himself completely to us. This 'Interior' Act of Love for the Father, through which Jesus Saves us, is a Silent, Eternal, Ever-present Act.

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As the Apocalypse points out, Jesus is the Eternal Sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb of Sacrifice. His Offering of His Entire Self, is an Offering of Love which is Eternal. The Sacrament of the Eucharist gives us this Eternal Act of Jesus in a Visible, Divinely Symbolic Way. It makes that Gift in a Particular Way, which is not the Way in which Jesus Lives in Heaven, with the Father, in Glory, nor is it a return to what was Lived at the Cross. It is a Sacrifice of Pure Love, Unbloody but Real. That is what we have so much Trouble Understanding. We do not Appreciate the fact that Love may imply a Sacrifice. I believe that when we Truly Love, we understand that, for when we Love, we give ourselves. Love is a Gift, a giving-up of One's-self. This Gesture of Christ at the Cross is Eternal. Since it is Eternal, it can be given to us in a Symbolic Way, putting us in Direct Contact through the Sacrament, but going beyond the Symbolism of the Sacrament, to adhere-to the Reality Symbolized by it. This Reality has a Sacramental Mode, in which Jesus is Truly Present, but Sacramentally. This Sacramental Mode is Completely Oriented towards the Mystery of Jesus in Glory, as it is presented to us in the Book of Revelation: the Eternal Holocaust of the Lamb, the Eternal Holocaust of Jesus. This High Priest, Offers Himself Eternally to Glorify the Father, and Save us. There is something Extraordinary and Marvelous in this Double-Symbolism, Revealed through Melchizedek and Biblical Wisdom, Realized at the Last Supper, and Prepared by the Ultimate Pedagogy of Cana and the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish. What is Amazing, is that Jesus United the Two (2) Symbolisms to express the Holocaust or Sacrifice of the Cross, this Real Sacrifice for us, in a completely 'Interior' Act of Love. He uses the Double-Symbolism to Teach us what Love is in its Deepest Sense. Love is both what we most-Need - Expressed-by Bread - and what most-Pleases our Heart, Fulfills us the most, and is most Gratuitous - Symbolized-by Wine. Wine is for Feasts, and Bread for everyday Meals. Normally we don't have Wine at each Meal, or even every Day, but have it mostly on Feast Days. It is something very Special. We need Bread for the road: let us think of the Prophet Elias, who was tired of being a Prophet, tired of being a Pilgrim. God woke him up at night, and gave him Bread. This reminds us of the People of Israel in the Desert: they did not receive Wine, but Manna and Quail. Wine is served when the Husband is present, when there is a Big Feast, when Jesus is Fully and Totally Present to us. He cannot give Himself more Fully, than by giving us His Heart, His Wounded Heart - by giving us His Blood as Drink and His Body as Food.


How can we live more Deeply the Mysteries of the Mass?

The Whole Gospel of Saint John reveals that to us; it is the Last Gospel, the Gospel of the Heart of Jesus, of His Wounded Heart. It is in fact amazing how the Whole Gospel of Saint John is centered around the Mystery of the Eucharist. Saint John describes Five (5) Meals, and if I had time, I would develop their Theology:

(1) Cana - the whole World understands Cana;

(2) the Multiplication of Loaves - which is Marvelous;

(3) the Meal of Thanksgiving at Bethany - which is not easy to comment on because of the Presence and Opposition-of Judas;

(4) the Last Supper, with the Washing of Feet, and

(5) the Last Little Meal - the Anglo-Saxon Meal, on the Shore of Lake Tiberias, where Jesus calls His Disciples.

eucharist_angel.jpg (16107 bytes) These Five (5) Meals Speak-of or Lead-to the Eucharist, and they all Teach us that Jesus wants to devote Himself to us as forcefully as possible: in a Festive Meal, in a Thanksgiving Meal, or in a Meal taken on the Road, where, because of Work to be done, we hardly have time to stop, remaining for only a few minutes in order not to waste any time. The Five (5) Meals teach us everything, including Five (5) Ways of attending Mass. Sometimes we attend Mass, but don't have much time: this is why there are Brief, Simplified Prayers in the New Liturgy. When we have more time, we can have a Wedding Banquet. What we need to understand is that Jesus wants us to desire receiving Him, to desire receiving this Gift. With Saint Augustine, let us realize that we are not the ones who Transform the Body of Christ into our own Body, nor the ones who Transform the Heart of Jesus into our own Heart. No, it is Jesus, the Living Bread, the Source of Life, Light and Love, Who Transforms our Heart into His Own Heart, our Body into His Own Body. That is why the Eucharist is a Promise of Glory: we already Live the Mystery of Glory, in a Prophetic Way.

Mass is not always a Wedding Banquet! If we were Living the Mass like a Wedding Banquet, there would be many more of us there! We would be there every Morning, not wanting to miss a Day. But we live it in Faith, in the Mystery of Faith: "Sola Fide", "Faith alone", and there our Sensitivity is put to the Test. We Sense only the Appearances of Bread and Wine. Apparently, nothing has changed, but Substantially, everything has changed, having become the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus gives Himself to us as Food and Drink in order to show us that He wants to be the Servant 'Par Excellence': the more you Love, the more you want to serve the one that you Love, or give yourself to the one that you Love. Through the Eucharist, Jesus wanted to make us understand the Unique Quality of His Divine Love - a Substantial Love which can Express itself by the Substantial Service of Food: He gives Himself to us as Food, and as Wine. He gives Himself to us to Teach us that without Him, we can do Nothing: that is the Symbolism of Bread. Without Him we would Immediately Drop from Fatigue and Discouragement. There is also Wine, for Jesus leads us to the Highest Joy, to Beatitude, to the Fullness of Love.


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The Gospel of Saint John describes Five (5) Meals
centered around the Mystery of the Eucharist


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