Wedding Fair

A few days ago I was taking a walk and  passed by a local hotel that was advertising a Wedding Fair.  Unsurprisingly, the hotel management wanted more people to get married and, by hosting the wedding banquet (or indeed the ceremony as well), to boost their profits.

The liturgical celebration of the marriage of two Christians who seriously practice their faith can be one of the most beautiful and spiritual experience to be had in church.  But I think that I can speak for most PrayTell regulars when I say that the liturgical celebrations of the marriage of non or marginally practicing Christians can be less than edifying. In 2016 Pope Francis even went so far as to say that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.”

I think that we can all agree that it would be good to encourage the non-practicing to begin to practice a serious liturgical Christianity, which would include getting married in church as opposed to simply living together.  But the question that I am asking here is, whether we, like the hotel owners, ought to encourage those who are not practicing to get married in church even if they are not interested in becoming more serious in their practice of the Faith? Pastorally speaking, ought we advise these people to get married in church or advise against it? Should we let it up to them? Is it good for them to receive a sacrament, even if they are not practicing the Faith at the moment or would it be better to wait until they actually have a deeper faith life? Is a sacramental marriage a gateway to a deeper practice of the Faith or could it even be a hindrance? Is it pretentious, or even “clerical”, to advise a couple to wait before taking the step of a church wedding? Or, at times, could we be saving them from future heartache? Finally can we even say anything more than this is a matter for serious discernment and that there are no easy answers?

Cover art: Wedding fair in Japan  from Wikimedia Commons







7 responses to “Wedding Fair”

  1. Padraig McCarthy Avatar
    Padraig McCarthy

    Before I retired, when meeting couples asking for a church wedding, I would discuss with them the significance of getting married in a Catholic church. I would also give them a copy of my book, “A Wedding of Your Own.”
    If it became apparent that they were not familiar with the Catholic ceremony or perhaps not even with Mass, I would do my best to encourage them to become more familiar, perhaps going to Sunday Mass in their parish(es) a number of times before the wedding so that it would not be too strange for them. If they really had no interest in this, sometimes I suggested to them to discuss together why they wanted to marry in the Catholic church, and whether it might be more honest to consider a non-church wedding, so that they would avoid some element of falsity in the ceremony.
    No couple to whom I suggested this changed their plans, but I hope that at least it got them sharing with one another on that aspect of their wedding, and that perhaps as a result the wedding ceremony would prove to have deeper meaning for them.

  2. Devin Rice Avatar
    Devin Rice

    “But the question that I am asking here is, whether we … ought to encourage those who are not practicing to get married in church even if they are not interested in becoming more serious in their practice of the Faith?”


    At times, it will save them (and pastoral ministers) from future headaches. More importantly, going through w/ a Church wedding w/o faith teaches the couple (and others in their orbit) that their interior attitudes don’t matter, just as long as they perform the rituals. And teaches them that the Church doesn’t care if the couple actually believes as long as they show up. Such practice can actually put-up hurdles to a future life of faith and virtue.

    I would also say the same about the widespread American practice of celebrating the sacrament of confirmation on those who have no intention on darkening the doorstep of a church ever again. It puts up a barrier to future conversion.

    1. Alan Johnson Avatar
      Alan Johnson

      Ditto First Communion when the parish school is in charge of preparation and it is done by the class, whether or not each child belongs to the tiny minority who ever go to church. These have been some of the most depressing Masses I have played at. No matter how good the catechesis they end up being about the dresses and photo opportunities. Awful.

  3. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    I tend to agree with Devin on this in principle, but it all depends on how it’s done. If the couple’s takeaway is that “They don’t want us” and/or “They think we’re not good enough” it could really transform what might be the passivity of being “unawakened to faith” and turn it into resentment which will become a barrier to ever crossing the threshold again. Fr. Padraig’s approach seems pastoral to me and unlikely to burn bridges.

  4. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    Of course no one will tell them that if they don’t get sacramentally married in the Church, they may more easily obtain a decree of nullity should they wish to marry another person in the Church at a future date…would that be considered a bug or feature these days?

  5. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    When I interviewed Joseph Gelineau in 2003 for the Voices from the Council project, one portion of the interview ran as follows:

    Now, when I was parish priest of a number of small parishes, with very few people practising, I made an empirical discovery, not knowing what was in store for me. This was quite the opposite of what lots of priests were saying and which I even thought myself – what to do with these people? They never come to Mass, they are scarcely catechised, are they really serious about all this?, etc. Except in the case of the baptism of babies – which I attempted to evolve by a strategy of infant baptism in stages, so that it’s the young people themselves who choose, and not everything is predetermined in advance – in every other case I placed my trust in those who were asking for something from the Church – marriage, special Masses, etc – and in every case starting from what I call their sense of the sacred. Before I was a parish priest I would not have believed that this sense of the sacred existed so strongly.

    I remember one day interviewing a boy and a girl who wanted to get married in church. I did not know them, I had never seen them before, nor their families. I asked them why they wanted to get married in church. A long silence ensued. I said to them, when I marry you I will ask you before God and all the people gathered together to exchange your consent. So – when I say “before God”, what does that mean? The boy’s reply was not helpful at all. “My father doesn’t believe in all that, my mother says that if a loving God really existed there wouldn’t be so much unhappiness in the world….” So I asked him if he believed in God himself. “No,” he admitted, “not at all.” So I said to the girl, “Is it the same with you? Because, if it is, I won’t be able to do what you have asked me to do.” She replied, “Well my father also thinks it’s all a load of rubbish, he doesn’t give a damn.” “And what about you yourself?” She thought for a moment, and then said to me “I want to get married in church because marriage is a sacred thing.” I did marry them in the church. It was curious, because I was not anticipating this expression “sacred” from someone who was not a worshipper nor even of any particular religion, and it knocked me sideways; because it is not a question of knowing what their religious culture is, nor whether they are practising or are familiar with the Bible, but whether they have within them a dimension of the transcendent.

  6. Todd Flowerday Avatar
    Todd Flowerday

    Over the years I have found more joy in weddings. Part of that was from serving in campus ministry at a state university where the people engaged (so to speak) had an intentionality about their faith that pervaded the community as well as most of the weddings we hosted.

    When I saw “wedding fair,” I wondered if it was an effort to host one at a parish. A colleague in a huge and busy parish did them three times a year to assist couples in doing paperwork, choosing singers and musicians, hear talks from recently married and long-married couples. I never found support for doing that in my parishes. The clergy worked it their own way, usually. And in a few, they conceded it might be a good idea, but the weddings were so few and some of the couples so far away, it seemed like a lot of work for such small numbers.

    When my wife was more active in music ministry, we would host couples in our home to do the prep for music and the liturgy. It was a parallel of sorts to RCIA’s pre-catechumenate which is held (or used to be) in parishioner homes in some places.

    All that said, every so often I have encountered that glimpse into Fr Gelineau’s observation of the transcendent. I go into my very few meetings with couples these days with more optimism and with an eye to something beyond the ordinary. At the very least, I pray for it, and ask for the grace for them to see it in me as a representative of the Church.

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