113. The Language of the Body: Actions and
Duties Forming the Spirituality of Marriage
By Pope John Paul II
1. Today let
us return to the classic text of the fifth chapter of the Letter to the
Ephesians, which reveals the eternal sources of the covenant of the Father's
love and at the same time the new and definitive institution of that covenant in
This text brings us to such a dimension of the language of the body that could
be called mystical. It speaks of marriage as a great mystery—"This is a great
mystery" (Eph 5:32). This mystery is fulfilled in the spousal union of Christ
the Redeemer with the Church, and of the Church-Spouse with Christ ("I mean that
it refers to Christ and the Church"— Eph 5:22), and it is definitively carried
out in eschatological dimensions. Nevertheless the author of the Letter to the
Ephesians does not hesitate to extend the analogy of Christ's union with the
Church in spousal love, outlined in such an absolute and eschatological way, to
the sacramental sign of the matrimonial pact between man and woman, who "defer
to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). He does not hesitate
to extend that mystical analogy to the "language of the body," reread in the
truth of the spousal love and the conjugal union of the two.
2. We must recognize the logic of this marvelous text which radically frees our
way of thinking from elements of Manichaeism or from a non-personalistic
consideration of the body. At the same time it brings the language of the body,
contained in the sacramental sign of matrimony, nearer to the dimension of
The sacraments inject sanctity into the plan of man's humanity. They penetrate
the soul and body, the femininity and the masculinity of the personal subject,
with the power of sanctity. All of this is expressed in the language of the
liturgy. It is expressed there and brought about there.
The liturgy, liturgical language, elevates the conjugal pact of
man and woman, based on the language of the body reread in truth, to the
dimensions of mystery. At the same time it enables that pact to be fulfilled
in these dimensions through the language of the body.
It is precisely the sign of the sacrament of marriage that speaks of this. In
liturgical language this sign expresses an interpersonal event, laden with
intense personal content, assigned to the two "until death." The sacramental
sign signifies not only the fieri (the "becoming")—the birth of the
marriage—but builds its whole esse (its "being"), its duration, both the
one and the other as a sacred and sacramental reality, rooted in the dimension
of the covenant and grace—in the dimension of creation and redemption. In this
way, the liturgical language assigns to both, to the man and to the woman, love,
fidelity and conjugal honesty through the language of the body. It assigns them
the unity and the indissolubility of marriage in the language of the body. It
assigns them as a duty all the sacrum (holy) of the person and of the
communion of persons, and likewise their femininity and masculinity—precisely
in this language.
Profound experience of the holy
3. In this
sense we affirm that liturgical language becomes the language of the body. This
signifies a series of acts and duties which form the spirituality of
marriage, its ethos. In the daily life of the spouses these acts become
duties, and the duties become acts. These acts—as also the commitments—are of a
spiritual nature. Nevertheless, they are expressed at the same time with the
language of the body.
The author of the Letter to the Ephesians writes in this regard: "Husbands
should love their wives as they do their own bodies..." (Eph 5:28) ("as he loves
himself"--Eph 5:33), and "the wife for her part showing respect for her husband"
(Eph 5:33). Both, for that matter, are to "defer to one another out of reverence
for Christ" (Eph 5:21).
The "language of the body," as an uninterrupted continuity of liturgical
language, is expressed not only as the attraction and mutual pleasure of
the Song of Songs, but also as a profound experience of the sacrum (the
holy). This seems to be infused in the very masculinity and femininity through
the dimension of the mysterium (mystery), the mysterium magnum of
the Letter to the Ephesians. This mystery sinks its roots precisely in the
beginning, that is, in the mystery of the creation of man, male and female, in
the image of God, called from the beginning to be the visible sign of God's
4. So therefore that reverence for Christ and respect which the author of the
Letter to the Ephesians speaks of, is none other than a spiritually mature
form ofthat mutualattraction—man's attraction to femininity
and woman's attraction to masculinity, which is revealed for the first time in
Genesis (Gn 2:23-25). Consequently, the same attraction seems to flow like a
wide stream through the verses of the Song of Songs to find, under entirely
different circumstances, its concise and concentrated expression in the book of
The spiritual maturity of this attraction is none other than the blossoming
of the gift of fear—one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St.
Paul speaks of in First Thessalonians (cf. 1 Thes 4:4-7).
On the other hand, Paul's doctrine on chastity as "life according to the Spirit"
(cf. Rom 8:5) allows us (especially on the basis of First Corinthians, chapter
6) to interpret that respect in a charismatic sense, that is, as a gift
of the Holy Spirit.
A virtue and a gift
5. The Letter
to the Ephesians, in exhorting spouses to defer to each other "out of reverence
for Christ" (Eph 5:21), and in urging them, consequently, to show respect in
their conjugal relationship, seems to point out—in keeping with Pauline
tradition—chastity as a virtue and as a gift.
In this way, through the virtue and still more through the gift
("life according to the Spirit") the mutual attraction of masculinity and
femininity spiritually matures. Both the man and woman, getting away from
concupiscence, find the proper dimension of the freedom of the gift, united to
femininity and masculinity in the true spousal significance of the body.
Thus liturgical language, that is, the language of the sacrament and of the
mysterium, becomes in their life and in their living together the language
of the body in a depth, simplicity and beauty hitherto altogether unknown.
Conjugal life becomes liturgical
6. This seems
to be the integral significance of the sacramental sign of marriage. In
that sign—through the language of the body—man and woman encounter the great
mystery. This is in order to transfer the light of that mystery—the light of
truth and beauty, expressed in liturgical language—to the language of the body,
that is, to the language of the practice of love, fidelity, and conjugal
honesty, to the ethos rooted in the redemption of the body (cf. Rom 8:23). In
this way, conjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgical.