Dear friends in Christ:
In our Catholic Faith, the Sacrament of Marriage is not simply a private or familial act, it is also and primarily an ecclesial action. That is, marriage is an action that is proper to the Church. It is how most of us as Catholic men and women live our faith in Jesus Christ. Catholic marriage is Christian discipleship lived publicly and demonstratively. We show God’s love and we show how we love God by the manner in which we love our spouse and our children. As Christ’s marriage to his bride, the Church, contains the essential elements of knowledge, freedom, fidelity and fruitfulness, so too is the Christian marriage of a husband and wife. God’s love for us is not hidden and so our love for our spouses, children and for the Lord are lived in a similar manner. Can there be a nicer or more pleasing moniker than when our family is known as “A Catholic Family”? Or when we are known as “A Catholic Couple”?
This understanding of marriage also applies to how the Sacrament of Marriage is celebrated as well. Catholic Weddings are not merely family socials or private affairs. They are, in fact, public acts of the Church’s worship of God. This is why the couple cannot simply design their own ceremony or compose their own vows according to their own likes or wants. The wedding liturgy properly is an act of the Church. As an act of the Church’s worship, the proper place for the wedding liturgy is the parish church of the Catholic party. When both the bride and groom are Catholic, the traditional place for the celebration of the sacrament is the parish church of the bride. When considering the liturgy for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, it is always important to remember that for us Catholics the most important thing is not the flowers or the dress, the bridesmaids or even the photographs, it is the profession of the vows of love before God and to God. All else is optional and unnecessary, strictly speaking.
When planning and celebrating a wedding liturgy, the priority is not the bride or the groom, but God! As in all sacred worship, the Lord should always have the highest priority. The reception, the honeymoon, the flowers, and attire are all wonderful and nice but they should never overshadow the most important part, the prayer! Too often and with great sadness, the party atmosphere overwhelms and even displaces the holiness of the occasion. This is a sadness especially for the couple, but also for the families, the attendants and the guests as well. Weddings are happy and joyous occasions, but when we fail to see God as part and cause of the celebration, we are truly cheating the couple, not to mention the Lord. It is amazing how often Catholics attend a Catholic wedding and treat it not as a holy moment in a sacred place, but merely as a social affair. We treat the sacred space and sacred action of the church as though it was a social held in the reception hall. We treat the sacredness of the Marriage Liturgy so casually that one can hardly distinguish the liturgy from the reception! One of the saddest aspects of this neglect is that we miss this beautiful opportunity to share our love for God and our faith with others. When we fail to give any kind of positive witness to our faith at a Catholic Wedding, we settle and focus on the less important aspects. Think of the beautiful (and needed) witness we offer when God has priority at a wedding. Think of what we are saying about the sacredness of marriage when we insure that the worship of God is the most important part of the wedding.
We are proclaiming by word and example that God is not only our main focus but that the couple recognizes this and desires to begin their new life together in the Lord!
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately