Let’s begin by clarifying that the “wedding feast” here refers to Heaven, and the bridegroom is Jesus himself (images already present in the Old Testament). The Church is the Bride of Christ, and each one of us is also his bride. The bridegroom comes to bring the virgins into the feast with him, but only half of them are ready – the foolish half had run out of oil. They were not prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.
What did they need to do to be prepared? They needed to have enough oil to keep their lamps burning until midnight, of course!
Those waiting for the bridegroom are “virgins” – those who seek “the one thing necessary”, as Jesus said to Martha (Lk 10:42). As today’s Psalm reminds us, their souls thirst for the Lord (Psalm 63); they are focused fully on being ready for Jesus to return for them. He is delayed and comes at the very end, at midnight, when they have all become weary and fallen asleep. Clearly, they were not eagerly watching for his coming! But the wise virgins replenish their oil and stoke up their flames.
What is this “oil”? The oil that keeps their lamps burning to the end of their lives when Jesus comes to bring them into the Heavenly Feast signifies grace and love, their loving desire, faithfulness, and prayer, their pure and burning offering of themselves to him. The foolish ones think of these things as a commodity they can run out and get at the last minute, but growing in love and grace and becoming the person we are created to be is the work of a lifetime. This is why the wise virgins cannot give any of their oil to the foolish ones – the oil is a specific image of Christ-life within each of us, and the warmth and light that come from deep devotion and fidelity cannot be handed off to another at the last minute.
Jesus tells us that he has come to cast a fire on earth (Lk 12:49), and he desires that it burn in a unique way in each of us. This fire that God longs to see in each soul grows throughout our spiritual journey, gradually taking its shape in the depths of our relationship with the Lord and with one another. We can let our light shine for others, and others may light their lamps from this fire, but the oil must come from each person’s cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit within them, as they become a unique Image of God.
This is the goal of each individual life and of the whole of human history – to grow in our relationship with God in such a way that we burn with the radiance He created us for so that He knows us as His own and we light up the world and heaven in the way that He has called us to shine.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.