CHAPTER XXIV. THE MARRIAGE AT CANA
|Saint Bernard Church (Burkettsville, OH) , the Wedding at Cana|
ABOUT this time the Mother of the Saviour was invited to a marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. A maiden of her acquaintance was to be espoused to a young Nazarene, whose property lay next to the fields which were Mary's inheritance. At this period in that country, where manners were so simple, marriage ceremonies were performed with the greatest solemnity, and no one could refuse to be present when once invited—especially those who adhered to the Law, and deemed it a sacred duty to weep with those who wept and rejoice with those who rejoiced. Each relative, friend, and even neighbor (for neighborhood caused a sort of relationship) came to offer gifts or good wishes to the newly-wed and to sing to them the song of marriage.
Mary, then, went to Cana. Jesus accompanied her, for He fulfilled all the duties of life. The other Mary followed. And her sons, as well as those of Zebedee, formed the escort of the bridegroom. They were, according to custom, to conduct him to the home of his spouse, and accompany him on his return when he brought his wife back with him to their new abode, after the prolonged festivities with which marriages were celebrated.
Mary, most beautiful still in spite of her years, bearing the impress of noble serenity, came, mounted on the foal of Eleabthona, who had died some years before. Kept back by a storm which overtook them in the plains of Esdraelon, the Mother and her Son arrived on the day and hour set for the ceremony. The parents, full of impatience, had wished to begin it. But the young spouses, delighted at the prospect of receiving Mary, whose very name meant happiness to those of Galilee, preferred to wait, rather than begin without her and Jesus, already venerated for His virtues and wisdom.
When they arrived they were conducted to the places of honor reserved for them—under a sycamore, beside the grandfather and father who were to bless the union.
The ceremony began. The betrothed bride, crowned with roses, and clothed in a tunic that was dyed with the saffron of Cilicia, veiled in an embroidered network of silver, came from the house, led by her mother. The bridegroom, who had remained apart from the others, was now conducted forward by one of his nearest kinsmen, he having no father.
He was arrayed in magnificent garb. On his head was a circle of gold. A mantle of Tyrian wool, ornamented with acorns of a purple hue, called zizith, added to the splendor of his manly comeliness. His place was near that of the bride, whose blushes betrayed her emotion through the tissues of her veil. Then the friends of the bridal pair brought, to the sound of musical instruments, a canopy of brilliant stuff wrought with flowers, for the young couple belonged to the rant of rich farmers and the ornaments were rural.
Raising it over the heads of the spouses, the assistants sang: ''Blest, blest be he who comes!" The grandfather, who had remained seated under the tree near the house, arose when he saw the bride and bridegroom approaching, and taking their hands, he united them, saying:
"May the God of Israel be with you, Rachel, and with you, Ananias, son of Achitob! May He bless you even to the third and fourth generation. And may you enjoy together that happiness which, even in former times, caused the patriarch Isaac to forget the tears which he shed at the tomb of his mother."
A cup of wine was brought. The bridegroom offered it to the bride. She touched it with her lips, and returned it to the bridegroom. He tasted it in his turn, and all the guests received it, each according to his rank, his age, or his degree of relationship. After which it was returned to the young husband, who dashed the crystal against the trunk of the sycamore.
At this moment the children present cried out joyously, and brought baskets filled with the golden grain of the last harvest. The mother, approaching near to her daughter, lifted the corner of the tallith, the young husband's mantle, and placed it upon the head of the maiden, uttering words of advice and admonition. The matrons came in their turn. They threw grains of wheat into the air, and as these fell upon the heads of the spouses, they cried aloud:
"Increase and multiply, as this grain has multiplied before God!"
And the canticle of the espousals was begun, while the scribe, seated under the sycamore, wrote out the contract. The ceremony being finished, the bride's veil was removed by her mother, and all present could see the rich ornaments with which §he was adorned, and which were the gifts of her husband. She wore magnificent earrings; chains of purest gold; bracelets of silver; golden circles enclosed her hair and rings glittered upon her fingers. At the sight of so many beautiful jewels the women present exclaimed in amazement and rapture. But the young man contemplated her modest beauty, more charming in his eyes than all the precious gifts that shone upon her.
When Mary, in her turn, approached Rachel, she, too, presented a gift—a tunic the color of the hyacinth, woven and dyed by the hands of the Virgin.
"My child, may you long wear this," she said, "in the joy and happiness of a peaceful union. Be amiable toward your husband. She whose name you bear was loving and amiable to him who toiled twice seven years to gain her and who found, so much did he love her, that those years had passed like a day. Be wise as was Rebecca; faithful as was Sarah, the spouse of Abraham, and the benediction of Heaven be upon you."
Saying these tender words, the holy Virgin kissed the young bride upon the forehead, and in her bosom Rachel felt that her heart was melting under the sweetness of the Mother's caress. From that moment she who had been looked upon as a somewhat frivolous and giddy girl became as if made anew—an accomplished model of meekness, wisdom, and every virtue which is an ornament to a woman—virtues which Mary, the holy Virgin, possessed in so sublime a degree.
Jesus, meanwhile, congratulating the young husband, added His grave words of counsel and benediction:
"Love and protect the wife the Lord has given you. What God has joined together let no man put asunder, and His blessing will follow upon your paths. Your wife shall be in your house as a fruitful vine, and your children, like young olive plants, shall surround your table. Thus will the Lord protect those who fear Him."
These wise words from such grave lips sank deeply into the mind of the young man. Of violent passions and intemperate judgment, he had been feared by many. Now his future was to be marked by peace and wisdom.
These were the inestimable gifts of Jesus and Mary to the bride and bridegroom. By His august presence and divine benediction the Lord manifested the lofty estate of marriage which He Himself has raised to the sublime dignity of a sacrament of His Church.
During the days which followed, the feasts were prolonged under tents pitched in the valley of Cana, a fertile and luxuriant plain watered by abundant streams, and protected from the scorching heats of the south by the heights of Mount Thabor and a chain of shady hills, covered with tamarind-trees, nopals with thick branches, and terebinths of heavy spreading foliage. The maidens danced to the sound of psalteries, of the seven-reed flute, of tambourines ornamented with little bells of brass. The young men contended in races, others threw the quoit, a sport lately introduced by the Romans; others practised sling-throwing, showing wonderful proficiency. Prizes were offered to the players by the bridegroom—a rich girdle, a ploughshare but newly invented, and a cup of sithim wood, beautifully carved.
During these games Rachel remained beside the mother whom she was so soon to leave, and smiles followed tears as she looked upon her, while Ananias, presiding at the feasts, saw that all was in order, and that they were not interrupted. But he was intensely drawn toward the Son of Mary, with whom, until then, he had seldom come in contact, and lingered among the young men who were His relatives and companions. The gravity of their speech, the beauty of their ideas, so completely different to those of the youth of the age, mystified and delighted him. He wondered again and again who Jesus was— his neighbor, true; the Son of Mary, yes; whose father had been Joseph—all this he knew. But at the sound of that mild, but authoritative voice, his heart was stirred within him. He demanded more knowledge of Him, and often he forgot the smiles of his young spouse to remain near Him. Whether He spoke or whether He remained silent, His presence alone infused happiness into the soul of the youth —a happiness he could not describe, but which, nevertheless, he preferred to every other.
The first few days glided away in this manner.