1. During these past weeks, in commenting on the Song of Songs, I emphasized how the sacramental sign of matrimony is constituted on the basis of the language of the body, which man and woman express in the truth that is proper to it. Under this aspect, today I intend to analyze some passages from the book of Tobit.
In the account of the wedding of Tobiah with Sarah, besides the expression "sister"—through which there seems to be a fraternal character rooted in spousal love—another expression is also found, likewise analogous to those in the Song.
As you will recall, in the spouses' duet, the love which they declare to each other is "stern as death" (Sg 8:6). In the book of Tobit we find a phrase which, in saying that he fell deeply in love with Sarah and "his heart became set on her" (Tb 6:19), presents a situation confirming the truth of the words about love "stern as death."
2. For a better understanding, we must go back to some details that are explained against the background of the specific nature of the book of Tobit. We read there that Sarah, daughter of Raguel, had "already been married seven times" (Tb 6:14), but all her husbands had died before having intercourse with her. This had happened through the work of a demon, and young Tobiah too had reason to fear a similar death.
So from the very first moment Tobiah's love had to face the test of life and death. The words about love "stern as death," spoken by the spouses in the Song of Songs in the transport of the heart, assume here the nature of a real test. If love is demonstrated as stern as death, this happens above all in the sense that Tobiah and, together with him, Sarah, unhesitatingly face this test. But in this test of life and death, life wins because, during the test on the wedding night, love, supported by prayer, is revealed as more stern than death.
3. This test of life and death also has another significance that enables us to understand the love and the marriage of the newlyweds. Becoming one as husband and wife, they find themselves in the situation in which the powers of good and evil fight and compete against each other. The spouses' duet in the Song of Songs seems not to perceive completely this dimension of reality. The spouses of the Song live and express themselves in an ideal or abstract world, in which it is as though the struggle of the objective forces between good and evil did not exist. Is it not precisely the power and the interior truth of love that subdues the struggle that goes on in man and around him?
The fullness of this truth and this power proper to love seems nevertheless to be different. It seems to tend rather to where the experience in the book of Tobit leads us. The truth and the power of love are shown in the ability to place oneself between the forces of good and evil which are fighting in man and around him, because love is confident in the victory of good and is ready to do everything so that good may conquer. As a result, the love of the spouses in the book of Tobit is not confirmed by the words expressed by the language of loving transport as in the Song of Songs, but by the choices and the actions that take on all the weight of human existence in the union of the two. The language of the body here seems to use the words of the choices and the acts stemming from the love that is victorious because it prays.
4. Tobiah's prayer (Tb 8:5-8), which is above all a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, then one of supplication, situates the language of the body on the level of the essential terms of the theology of the body. It is an "objectivized" language, pervaded not so much by the emotive power of the experience as by the depth and gravity of the truth of the experience.
The spouses profess this truth together, in unison before the God of the covenant: "God of our fathers." We can say that under this aspect the language of the body becomes the language of the ministers of the sacrament, aware that in the conjugal pact the mystery that has its origin in God himself is expressed and realized. Their conjugal pact is the image—and the original sacrament of the covenant of God with man, with the human race—of that covenant which took its origin from eternal Love.
Tobiah and Sarah end their prayer with the following words: "Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age" (Tb 8:7).
We can admit (on the basis of the context) that they have before their eyes the prospect of persevering in their union to the end of their days—a prospect that opens up before them with the trial of life and death, already during their wedding night. At the same time, they see with the glance of faith the sanctity of this vocation in which—through the unity of the two, built upon the mutual truth of the language of the body—they must respond to the call of God himself which is contained in the mystery of the Beginning. This is why they ask: "Call down your mercy on me and on her."
The spouses in the Song of Songs, with ardent words, declare to each other their human love. The newlyweds in the book of Tobit ask God that they be able to respond to love. Both the one and the other find their place in what constitutes the sacramental sign of marriage. Both the one and the other share in forming this sign.
We can say that through the one and the other the "language of the body," reread in the subjective dimension of the truth of human hearts and in the "objective" dimension of the truth of living in union, becomes the language of the liturgy.
The prayer of the newlyweds in the book of Tobit certainly seems to confirm this differently from the Song of Songs, and even in a way that is undoubtedly more deeply moving.
Source: L'Osservatore Romano