Jewish marriages had an established ritual. First there was the engagement, which was a formal agreement made by the fathers. Then there was the betrothal where promises were made. This was a solemn occasion which was referred to in Matthew (Matt. 1:18-25), where Mary was betrothed to Joseph. The third stage was the wedding itself, when the bridesmaids went out with lamps to greet the bridegroom and conduct him to the home of the bride. Their lamps would probably have been made of clay, with a handle and a small spout where the wick would be. They would be filled with olive oil.
Weddings were a symbol in the Old Testament of the relationship between God, the bridegroom, and Israel, the bride. In the New Testament Christ is the bridegroom and the church his bride. There are many references to this in St Paul’s epistles and Revelations. At this time of year, when we mourn our departed loved ones, we are also invited to reflect upon the future life. Olive oil represents many qualities: warmth, healing, lubrication and above all the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our relationship with God is one of love and therefore our lamps should be kept full of oil.
Jesus reminded his audiences of being vigilant. The parable of Lazarus tells of a man who is not necessarily evil, but is self-absorbed and does not notice the poor beggar at his gate (Lk. 16:19-31). At the Last Judgement people will have to answer for how they have treated their fellow human beings (Matt. 25:31-46).
“But you beloved are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are children of the light and children of the day.” (1 Thess. 5:4-5)