MARY AT CANA
"They have no wine." At Heaven's high feast
That soft petition still hath place,
And bathes—so wills that Kingly Priest
Whose hour is come—the worlds with grace.
AUBREY DE VERE.
Arriving from the banks of the Jordan where He had just received the baptism of John, and surrounded by a small band of disciples whom He had recently gathered to His side, our Lord came one day, at the very beginning of His Public Ministry, to Cana in Galilee.
Cana is a village about eight miles from Nazareth. Our Lady was already there, having been invited to the wedding of one of her friends who — as has been thought probable—may have been a member of her family.
In the words of the Gospel: "The Mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited with His disciples." (John ii. 1.) It was an invitation which the Custom of the East would have rendered it impossible to refuse; moreover, St. Maximus of Turin is of opinion that by His Presence at this Wedding Feast—
"Our Lord taught by His example that we should not deny that He is the Author of marriage. The Son of God goes to the nuptials, that He may sanctify by the benediction of His Presence what He had of old instituted by His Power." (Hom. XXIII., P.L.)
In reading the account of the miracle at the Wedding Feast it may well be that we are accustomed to think of it as we should think of a wedding breakfast in Europe, where there is a friendly, joyous meal, perhaps with simple, kindly speeches full of goodwill, after which the guests take their departure. It would be only in accordance with these associations of ours to imagine that whilst all were reclining (according to the custom of the Jews) at the Feast, suddenly the wine ran short, and that then our Lady intervened publicly, and the miracle was worked by her Divine Son. Should we have formed any mental picture of this sort, we have forgotten that wedding customs in the East are altogether different from those in the West. In the hospitable East, there is not merely a gathering of an hour or so to wish godspeed to the parting bride and bridegroom; the festivities are prolonged over several days, and the number of guests often is very large. At Cana, judging from the capacity of the stone firkins, (John ii. 6.) which in English measurements would give us about five barrels of thirty-six gallons—the equivalent of some eight hundred bottles—there must have been three or four hundred friends invited to the wedding. It is the Oriental custom for the parents of the bride to busy themselves with the entertainment of the guests, and to leave the actual management of the household details to some trusted kinswoman or intimate friend. It is, therefore, quite possible that our Lady held this position during the Feast. In any case, before there was yet any question of the large party breaking up, the The wine Blessed Virgin observed that the wine was failing. We must guard ourselves from imagining that this was a matter of trifling consequence. Should the supply of wine have ceased, the festivities would have lost all their gaiety, a gloom would have been cast upon all the surroundings, and the family—our Lady's hosts, possibly her relations—would have been taxed with carelessness and want of forethought for the comfort of their guests, at the best reckoning of the situation —with the odious imputation of avarice, at the worst—and this in a country where enormous importance is attached to the cheerfulness that should surround a marriage, as is the case throughout the East.
1 There is, however, a strong local tradition in favour of identifying " the city of Juda," where the Visitation took place, with Carem, the modern A'in-Karim, situated some two leagues west of Jerusalem.