We go deep into the deuterocanonical book of Sirach for this scarcely-used selection from the Wedding Lectionary. It derives from Wisdom literature, and like Tobit and the Song of Songs, has something of a poetic structure. Especially in verses 13-16 you can see the couplets of ideas.
The designers of the Lectionary have pulled out the positives from a rather long reflection (Sir 25:12-26:18) devoted to the contrast between good and evil women. Everything you read here at your wedding is the good:
Blessed the husband of a good wife, twice-lengthened are his days; A worthy wife brings joy to her husband, peaceful and full is his life. A good wife is a generous gift bestowed upon him who fears the Lord; Be he rich or poor, his heart is content, and a smile is ever on his face.
A gracious wife delights her husband, her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones; A gift from the Lord is her governed speech, and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth. Choicest of blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste soul. A holy and decent woman adds grace upon grace; indeed, no price is worthy of her temperate soul. Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.
Ben Sira, the author of the book, didn’t seem to have a positive view of women. He doesn’t dwell on the qualities of the ideal husband, and why would you expect him to? Sirach, like most Biblical books, were written by men for men. Missing also is the vital role of the parent, which we do find elsewhere in wisdom literature and in one or two of the wedding scriptures.
Given all that, this excision is a good meditation on the ideal wife. And being a good wife is part of having a good marriage. The late Fr Joseph Champlin, in his reflection on this passage in Together For Life, focused on the balance in adults between being able to stand alone, and being able to need and be needed in the marital relationship. Do we recognize the need for each spouse in turn, to adapt, to need and be needed?
Most sections for the wife only or for the husband only draw their share of snickers, rib pokes, and all. You need a skilled wedding homilist to get past that. Most couples just bypass the troublesome passages altogether. And that’s too bad. This one has some gems.