Bishop William E. Lori
Cardinal James Hickey, a former archbishop of Washington, once hosted a dinner for his priests. As his priest-secretary, I made sure that such events went smoothly. After the invocation, the cardinal wanted to propose a toast, but the wine had not yet been served. Calling me to his table with a note of urgency in his voice, he pointed to his guests and said, “They have no wine.” I glibly replied, “What would you have me do? My hour has not yet come.” He then said, “Do whatever I tell you!”
Sympathizing with this couple’s plight, Mary asked her son to help them, just as she often intercedes
If such a delay at the cardinal’s dinner was distressing, imagine the embarrassment of the young husband and wife who ran out of wine at their wedding feast in the Gospel of John. In that time, wedding feasts went on for as many as 10 days, and wine was an important part of the celebration. Fortunately for this couple, Mary, Jesus and his disciples were in attendance. Sympathizing with this couple’s plight, Mary asked her son to help them, just as she often intercedes for us.
At first, Jesus seemed reluctant to become involved in this matter. He said to Mary, “Woman, what concern is that to me?” and added, “My hour is not yet come” (Jn 2:4). Yet, Mary persisted, remembering the signs and wonders that accompanied Jesus’ coming into the world. She urged her son to reveal something of his glory in anticipation of his “hour” — that is, the hour of his saving death and resurrection.
Mary did not wait for Jesus to answer, but instead told the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). The waiters did so, filling six large stone jars with water, and Jesus, in turn, transformed the water into the best of wines.
In the story of the wedding at Cana, Mary’s loving intercession is clearly evident. Whenever we ask Mary to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” we acknowledge the power of her prayers. But the details of this Gospel account, describing the first of Jesus’ “signs,” have an even deeper bearing on our life of prayer and holiness.
In changing water into wine, Jesus “revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him” (Jn 2:11). Praying the rosary, we refer to this sign as a “mystery” — a real occurrence in which something of God’s hidden glory comes to light. Jesus worked this miracle not only to help a newly married couple in distress, but also to reveal the glory of the self-giving love that he has shared from all eternity with the Father in the Holy Spirit.
The miracle at Cana foreshadowed the wine that would become the blood of the new and eternal covenant, shed for the remission of sins (see Mt 26:28). The miracle also reminds us of what Jesus would say at the Last Supper after instituting the Eucharist: “I shall not again drink the fruit of the vine until I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mk 14:25) — that is, until after he had risen from the dead. This leads to another clue that unlocks the meaning of this Gospel account: John tells us that the miracle took place “on the third day” — which brings to mind our profession of the resurrection.
The miracle at Cana looks ahead to what St. Paul would say of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection truly re-presented in the Eucharist: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes in glory” (1 Cor 11:26).
Yet another eucharistic overtone in the miracle at Cana is the sheer abundance of wine. Each of the six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washings, held as much as 30 gallons. This foreshadows the miracle in which Jesus took what few loaves he was offered and produced superabundant food — more than sufficient to satisfy the hunger of the crowds who had gathered to hear him.
THE ETERNAL WEDDING FEAST
It is noteworthy that Jesus first manifested his glory at a wedding feast. In the Gospels of Matthew (22:1-14) and Luke (14:15-24), we find Jesus’ parable of a king’s wedding feast. Many of those who were invited refused to attend, just as many of those who are invited to the Eucharist each Sunday remain absent.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians captures the significance of the miracle at Cana and Jesus’ other references to wedding feasts (see Eph 5:21-32). Paul presents marriage as a fundamental way of understanding Christ’s relationship to his Church: Christ is the bridegroom, and the Church is the bride. Christ gives himself in total, sacrificial love to his Church, eliciting from us, his people, a graced response of loving worship and holiness of life. Christ’s relationship with his Church also helps us to understand marriage in God’s plan. Christian marriage symbolizes the love of Jesus for his Church and, in a sense, makes this love present in the world.
Ultimately, the miracle at Cana points to the paschal wedding feast of heaven, where Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, is exalted at the right hand of the Father. Here, the angels and saints rejoice not with earthly wine, but with the new wine of God’s own life and love.